In 2006, I was living in Salt Lake City and attending the University of Utah's Middle East Center. I had been recommended as an interpreter for Shirin Ebadi by someone who knew me at the University of Southern California. At the time, I felt proud to be assist a Nobel Laureate, especially one from my own native country.
It was more than my language skills that were required. It was thought that I shared the same political views - and I was also told by her agent over the phone that although 'Shirin is really quite funny, she comes across as very dry and humorless', and basically I understood that it was desirable for me to offset her shortcomings -- for lack of better words. I cannot say if this was required of all interpreters
I was having butterflies waiting for her at the lobby of the Millennium Hotel in New York. When she approached me, I noted that she would have been lost in a crowd. On our first working day, we had a 'closed' meeting with the members of the press, including NYT, etc as she was promoting her book. I could see why they needed someone who would convey humor as much of what she said was nonsense and I had to smile as if making a joke although she was serious. For example:
When speaking about democracy and Iran, she made a point of mentioning Iran's nuclear program and said: "Nobody is afraid of a democracy having a bomb, who is afraid of France or India having a bomb". This Nobel Laureate had to be reminded that the only person who used the "bomb" was a democracy - that India was a nuclear-armed pariah state. (Of course India had its appeal given its cooperation in illegally sending Iran's dossier o the UNSC). She was also asked: "You have two daughters, what do you wish for your daughters?". Her answer was for them to live in freedom like they do here, "so that they wont have any one eavesdrop on their telephone conversations". The reporters could not restrain their laughs -- this was at the height of the Bush eavesdropping controversy.
After the press conference, she gave a one-on-one to a representative from 'O' Magazine. She told her that the Iranian people don't support the nuclear program and all this was a show put on by 'paid Basij'. It was a real struggle for me to translate a lie versus doing a job I was asked to do. The ''O' Representative looked very surprised and insisted on repeating the question, thinking the question or answer had been lost in translation. Interestingly, the uniting factor in Iran is the nuclear program. A 2004 poll showed that , 75-80% of the Iranians rallied behind the Islamic Republic of Iran in support of its nuclear program including the full fuel cycle (Takyeh, Ray. Interview with Steve Inskeep. National Public Radio Morning. Morning Edition. 25 Nov. 2004) . A 2007 poll not only confirms this, but goes in detail and states that 2007 poll of the Iranian people conducted by the U.S. Institute of Peace, it was revealed that 84% of the Iranians thought it very important that Iran should have a full fuel-cycle nuclear program,. Even with the crackdown on liberties, free press, and the increasing oppression in the country, the poll found that 64% of those polled said that US legislation repealing regime change in Iran would not be incentive enough to give up the nuclear program and full fuel-cycle.( downloaded December 5, 2007 http://www.usip.org/iran/iran_presentation.pdf)
Her distortion of facts, her behavior, left me so stunned that I called her agent and made some excuse that I could not continue to be her interpreter. At William and Mary college she continued to play into the hands of 'Bush' policies. This was pointed out to her by a Georgetown professor and since I do not have the liberty of mentioning her name, I will refrain from doing so.
She claimed one million people came to greet her (not even Khomeini had that many come to greet him at the height of his popularity when he first arrived) and it soon became apparent that the more she exaggerated the difficulties she faced, and talked about the 'dangers' surrounding her, real or not, the more she was admired and they likened her to Dr. King and Nelson Mandela.
Today, I wonder what the Islamic Republic has to gain by taking her 'medal' and what Ebadi has to gain with her claim since the IRI has denied it.
I draw my conclusion from her track record.
I wonder if anyone has questioned how this woman who was awarded a Noble Prize managed to be a judge during the Shah's regime who was known for his brutality, his oppression, and his use of SAVAK -- known for their tortures? Did she ever protest, defend the rights of the Iranians at that time? No she became a judge. What a wonderful and cushy job to have in the Shah's dictatorial regime.
What had she has done that others in Iran have not done -- indeed, she was an unknown and many others in Iran work as hard for the 'liberties' that the Western perspective can recognize and relate to - yet she was hand-picked. I am not certain who nominated her. There is a wonderful book by Tony Smith called "A Pact with the Devil; Washington's bid for world supremacy and the betrayal of the American promise" (Routledge, NY 2007) -- a must read for anyone who has not. Citing Noah Feldman (from his book After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy) who was active with the occupation of Iraq as a law professor to help write the constitution for the country, Feldman argued that "democracy and Islam are both what might be called mobile ideas". It does not surprise me that Ebadi received a Nobel Peace prize. Iran was next on the agenda to be 'occupied' -- or "democratized'.
Two short months after the invasion of Iraq, neocon William Kristol, cofounder of PNAC wrote: “[T]he war in which we are presently engaged is a fundamental challenge for the United States and the civilized world ….The liberation of Iraq was the first great battle for the future of the Middle East. The creation of a free Iraq is now of fundamental importance…But the next battle ..will be for Iran.”(Weekly Standard, May 12, 2003).
Smith cites many sources on neoliberal literature in promoting 'democracy' (which he refers to as "liberal imperialism") in places of interest, i.e. Iraq and Iran. which is very interesting. A new wave of neoliberal thinking began to emerge that the way for 'democratizing' was to promote an individual. "And even more important, one could point to the success of leaders like Kim Dae Jung, Nelson Mandela, ....."
"Transition from Authoritarian Rule: Prospects for Democracy" (Edited by Guillermo O'Donnell) proposes that focusing on "political strategies" and introducing "indeterminancy" and "uncertainty" into the process of political change was ground for cautious optimism that democracy could catch on (Smith).
Neocon William Kristol, cofounder of the Project for New American Century, wrote: "Moral seriousness means political seriousness.. Make a real effort to destabilize Ahmadinejad in Iran. Do what it takes to defeat Zarqawi and secure Iraq." (source: Weekly Standard, March 20, 2006).
It is also interesting to note that Ms. Ebadi, this devout Moslem (who loves her alcohol), has not once spoken up in defense of the Palestinians. This would not help her ambitions, would it?