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3/25/04 - BUSH AND EBADI ON RIGHTS - 2004-03-25

Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi spoke at a conference on Islam and universal values in Jakarta, Indonesia. Ms. Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, said that some Muslim leaders are distorting Islam to justify dictatorship. “Many governments have made a shield of Islam, to hide behind it,” she said. “They justify their tyranny with interpretations of the religion.”

Ms. Ebadi, a lawyer in Iran, made a similar point in an earlier speech on women’s rights in Geneva, Switzerland. She said that democracy is the best way for women to achieve justice and equality in society. But “some Islamic governments,” said Ms. Ebadi, say that “democracy is not compatible with Islam. . . . They are promoting their own beliefs and their own undemocratic practices, imposing those beliefs on the people.”

President George W. Bush says he is impressed by Shirin Ebadi and her struggle for human rights:

“No wonder she won the Nobel Prize. She’s a proud Iranian. She is a devout Muslim. She believes that democracy is consistent with Islamic teachings, and we share in this belief. That’s what we believe in America. A religion that demands individual moral accountability and encourages the encounter of the individual with God is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government.”

“As a matter of national conviction,” says Mr. Bush, Americans “believe that every person in every culture is meant by God to live in freedom”:

“The policy of the American government is to stand for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity -- the rule of law, the limits on the power of the state, free speech, freedom of worship, equal justice, respect for women, religious and ethnic tolerance, and protections for private property.”

“That is what we believe,” says President Bush, “and we’re not going to change.”