No Contradictions between Islam and human rights?
Maryam Namazie October 20, 2003

Believe you, me, there are a whole lot of contradictions between Islam and human rights – whatever the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi may say and regardless of how many years she has worked for reforms. Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against Shirin Ebadi and I like reforms a whole lot, thank you very much. But for a woman – let alone a 'human rights activist' - to say that there is no contradiction between Islam and human rights is like a black South African saying there is no contradiction between Apartheid and human rights. Islam is synonymous with sexual apartheid and its first victims are women and girls. This is not just insider knowledge for those of us who have lived under Islamic rule but general knowledge. Islam and human rights are a contradiction in terms. In fact, Shirin Ebadi herself lives with these contradictions – appearing at a press conference unveiled, defending secularism and the separation of state and religion, and more recently calling for the abolition of stoning and amputation – realities that are part and parcel of Islam and Islamic states.

I know that Ms. Ebadi and her Islamic feminist (an oxymoron) colleagues have said and will say that violations of human rights in the name of Islam are not Islam but one need only flip through the pages of the Koran, Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence to see ample evidence otherwise. Ms. Ebadi might actually be able to persuade us of Islam's harmony with human rights if we all had historical amnesia and were living, say, in a future where Islamic laws and political Islam had been eradicated. But she can't really truly persuade us of such when we see and hear otherwise every single day. If that were not the case, there would be no need for Ebadi and her colleagues to reiterate that it is but a question of the mis- interpretation of Islam. If that's all, then maybe after Islam's re-interpretation, we could go back and see whether with a little bit of interpretation, blacks, Jews, Communists and so on could have had their human rights respected under Apartheid or Nazi Germany. Are we really supposed to believe that a little bit of interpretation is all that's needed to end misogyny in Islam? Clearly, the question of re-interpretation of reaction only comes up for those who believe in something and want to superficially pull and tug at it and excuse and justify it to fit into the 21st century. Well I'm sorry but no can do. As an aside, it seems even the Nobel Prize Committee has had some debates on this since its use of the term human rights in describing Ebadi's work is always preceded with the adjectives 'fundamental' or 'vital'. I suppose the rights to choose one's clothing, have sex with whomever one wants, travel without a male guardian, one's sexuality, divorce and child custody and so on are not so 'fundamental' and 'vital' to that Committee. But since a lot of other human rights violations persist in the arena considered 'vital' even by the Committee, reform of Islam is their and Ebadi's response to them. The Nobel Peace Prize has thus been awarded to Ebadi who represents 'Reformed Islam' as if such a thing is possible. Even when De Klerk won the 1993 Prize with Nelson Mandela, it wasn't for 'reformed' Apartheid but for the termination of the Apartheid regime because Apartheid's supporters (including many of the western governments that support sexual apartheid in Iran today) were made to understand by the likes of the ANC and international public opinion that Apartheid couldn't be reformed, wouldn't be accepted or tolerated and had to be terminated. The same is true of Islamic laws and states, political Islam and sexual Apartheid.

I suppose it could have been a lot worse. Khatami or the Pope could have received the Prize. Ebadi has after all done a lot of good work and begun to use her influence to call for the release of political prisoners and an end to amputations and stonings. She has the responsibility, however, to do much more - not as a representative of 'Reformed Islam' but of the women and people of Iran.

A word to Shirin Ebadi: Khatami hopes that you 'who come from a religious family and [have] expressed [your] love for Islam, will pay attention to the interests of the Islamic world and of Iran…' I, on the other hand, 'hope' that you will pay attention to the interests of human beings and their full human rights. Of course, this would mean leaving the ranks of Islamic 'feminism' and 'Reformism'. And of course this would mean joining the equality seeking and liberation movement in Iran, which won't accept or tolerate sexual Apartheid and is demanding the termination of not just Islamic punishments but all Islamic laws and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

This article was first published in WPI Briefing 119 dated October 20, 2003. For more details on misogyny in Islam, see article entitled: Islam, Political Islam and Women in the Middle East, March 18, 2002 on