Monday, April 10, 2006

Witness in Greek is "Martyr"

Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights lawyer in Iran, is reading hurriedly through a stack of documents the authorities have allowed her to examine in the fall of 2000. "The government had admitted partial complicity in a few of the dozens of murders of intellectuals during the 1990s. Some were strangled while running errands, others hacked to death at home. I represented the family of two victims, a husband and wife. The judge had granted us just 10 days to read the entire dossier, thousands of pages."

And so she reads page after page after page, and then:

I had reached a page more detailed, and more narrative, than any previous section, and I slowed down to focus. It was the transcript of a conversation between a government minister and a member of the death squad during the worst wave of killings. When my eyes first fell on the sentence that would haunt me for years to come, I thought I had misread. I blinked once, but it stared back at me from the page: "The next person to be killed is Shirin Ebadi." Me.

My throat went dry. I read the line over and over again, the printed words blurring before me. The only other woman in the room, Parastou Forouhar, whose parents had been brutally murdered, sat next to me. I pressed her arm and nodded toward the page. She bent her veiled head close and scanned from the top. "Did you read it? Did you read it?" she kept whispering. We read on together. My would-be assassin went to the minister of intelligence, requesting permission to carry out my killing. Not during the fasting month of Ramadan, the minister replied. But they don't fast anyway, the mercenary argued; these people have divorced God. It was through this belief — that the intellectuals, that I, had abandoned God — that they justified the killings as religious duty. In the grisly terminology of those who interpret Islam violently, the spilling of our blood was considered halal, permitted by God.