President George W. Bush has made the advance of freedom a key element of U.S. foreign policy: "As a matter of national conviction, we believe that every person in every culture is meant by God to live in freedom. As a matter of national interest, we know that the spread of liberty and hope is essential to the defeat of despair and bitterness and terror."
Mr. Bush says that basic rights can be assured only within the framework of democracy. This is true, in particular, of the rights of women, says Mr. Bush: "If people aren't free, it is likely that women will be suppressed. Human rights are defined by by a constitution; they're defended by an impartial rule of law; they're secured in a pluralistic society. The advance of women's rights and the advance of liberty are ultimately inseparable."
Iranian human rights activist, and Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi agrees. "The rights of women and democracy are one," says Ms. Ebadi. And Islam, she says, is compatible with both. "A dynamic interpretation of Islam will accept women's rights, democracy and human rights," says Ms. Ebadi. But some Muslim leaders, she says, distort Islam to justify dictatorship.
This is what has happened in Iran. "Women in Iran are terrorized," says Ms. Ebadi. "We are facing discriminatory laws as well as family violence." Ms. Ebadi cites Iranian laws that say the testimony of two female witnesses is equal to the word of one man; that consider the price of a woman's life to be worth half the price of a man's; that allow husbands to murder with impunity wives they consider unfaithful.
Ms. Ebadi says that the government in Iran "creates many problems" for those who fight for women and for human rights. "Some of us are in prison; others are in exile; and others are prohibited to speak in public," she says. Ms. Ebadi recently learned that she faces a new problem from Iranian government authorities. She has been called to appear before Tehran's revolutionary court. "I have done nothing illegal, and I don't know why I have been summoned," she said.
Shirin Ebadi and other Iranians who care about human rights have won the support of people everywhere for the courage they have shown in standing up to an oppressive regime. As President Bush says, "If justice is the goal, democracy is the answer."