Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and former judge and the winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, has written an open letter to her daughters and other Iranians of their generation, asking for forgiveness for her role in supporting the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The following is the text of Mrs. Ebadi’s letter:
This is a letter to my daughters and people of their generation.
I am writing this letter in February 2020, which marks the 41st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution — an event that was brought about by Iranians like me and others of my generation. I am writing to my daughters and people of their age, hoping that they can forgive us for the mistakes we made.
I ask you to forgive us for ruining your world. It was not our intention.
We wanted to create a better world for you and ourselves. We, however, walked down the wrong path. The problem was that millions of Iranians followed a new leader whom they knew very little about and marched in the street chanting “Death To” and “Long Live.” We had rarely heard him speak or read any of his books.
Perhaps no one would have chanted “Death to The Shah” if there was freedom of speech, or people had access to Ruhollah Khomeini’s books, or the media had invited him to take part in open discussions, or political parties could have operated freely in Iran.
We probably would not have followed a leader whom we did not know well if political groups had explained and clarified some of these issues for us back then.
When I look back on those days, I realize that it was not the right time for a revolution. All of the reforms we have heard about for so long should have been implemented 40 years ago.
Instead of following Khomeini, we should have pursued reforms under the leadership of Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar, whose impeccable credentials as a patriot were known to the public — especially since the Shah was in poor health and was well aware of the prognosis. Contrary to some negative propaganda which spread quickly and poisoned people’s mind, Bakhtiar was not a “Powerless Servant.”
All the problems stemmed from us not knowing Khomeini. We thought we could trust a religious leader in clerical clothing, and that he would not lie. We believed Khomeini would not interfere in political and economic matters, as he had said occasionally.
Suddenly he had everything working for him. I remember we would wait to hear his statements read on BBC radio, urging people to march in the streets at a specific time. The Shah used to complain that the BBC was interfering in Iran’s domestic politics and was steering the revolution.
The BBC correctly argued that it was giving equal time to both sides, including statements by the Shah and his opponents. People would listen to BBC radio every afternoon to hear Khomeini’s remarks on the planned marches for the following day.
The purpose of reminiscing about these events is not to blame others, including Farsi-language radios. We were the guilty ones who voted for a governing system about which we knew next to nothing. We were the problem because instead of trying to engage in discussion with Khomeini; we just listened to his speeches and monologues.
We did not even try to read any of the books written by the movement’s leader to gain a better understanding of his thoughts and views. Perhaps he would not have won any followers, and no one would have “seen his face in the moon” if his works were published in Iran, and people could read them.
Ultimately, the unthinkable happened. We have reached a point where our beautiful Iran mourns the loss of its youths, who have given their lives for freedom and to correct the mistakes my generation made all those years ago.
Our young people put their hearts and souls into their studies and endure trying conditions, only to face an uncertain future, including bleak job prospects and no hope of a prosperous life in their country.
Our youth do not experience the freedom and security they crave and deserve in their homeland. Thousands of young Iranians have left their families and emigrated to Europe and America to follow their dreams. They will ultimately contribute to the development and prosperity of their host nations.
Why? Because there is no place left for them in their country. The nation has been reduced to a corrupt gang of 100-families. Those who are outside this exclusive circle have no hope of living independent, prosperous, honest, and dignified lives.
While in Paris, Khomeini spoke about freedom for all Iranians. However, a few weeks after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, he decreed that all women who worked for the government and in offices must wear headscarves. On that day, we realized that a cleric could lie with great ease, and a religious leader can fool people. It was then that I separated the revolution from its leader.
As a female judge, I was banned from presiding over court cases after the revolution. It helped me to understand that such a revolution would never guarantee my freedom and equal rights as a woman. Parting ways with the revolutionaries, however, offered me fresh opportunities and a new horizon.
To ease my shame, I gradually focused on the plights of the victims of human rights violations and became a practicing lawyer. I paid a high price for that. I have to confess that despite my best efforts to make up for my mistakes and the hefty price I have paid, I still owe a great deal to the young people whose country was wrecked because of our mistakes.
Today marks the 41st anniversary of that terrible event. I became a mother after the revolution. I knew when they reach adulthood, my daughters would ask me how I could be a party to a coup that ruined their futures.
Looking at the past reminds me of how much I owe to young Iranians who deserved to inherit a much better country, which sadly never happened.
I carry my share of guilt for taking part in the street marches. I feel it my duty to apologize to them and ask for forgiveness. In hindsight, we must have viewed the situation through a different lens and made better choices.