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FAYETTEVILLE -- Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, said Wednesday that violence and discrimination against women keeps peace from spreading in a society.

"Peace is a culture. We have to cultivate that inside ourselves so that then we can transfer it to our family and to our society," said Ebadi, an advocate of human rights in her native Iran and elsewhere.

"It's natural that women play a big role in conveying such culture because they raise their children," Ebadi said. But a woman experiencing violent conditions or living under oppressive laws cannot be expected to "cultivate this culture in herself," she said.

Ebadi spoke to about 200 people as part of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville's Distinguished Lecture Series. Her remarks, delivered in Farsi and translated into English, noted violence and discrimination in many cultures, including in Iran.

"I condemn the violence that some Muslims commit," Ebadi said. She also spoke about violence against Muslims, describing homes for the Muslim minority in the southeast Asian country of Burma as "being pillaged and set on fire by Buddhists."

Ebadi, a 2003 Nobel peace laureate, worked in Iran as a judge before the country's 1979 revolution led to a theocratic government. She became an author and attorney advocating on behalf of women and children. She now lives in exile in London.

Ebadi said many modern Muslim philosophers do not call for violence, describing two kinds of Sharia, or Islamic, law.

In one category are rules relating to "our relationship with God, like praying," Ebadi said.

She said it's wrong for governments to punish people for not following religious rules, citing examples from Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as with the Taliban, where people receive such punishments.

Another type of Sharia law has to do with the individual and society, she said.

She said such laws should vary with circumstances. A law that allows polygamy is an example, she said. When Islam was established 14 centuries ago, Ebadi said, "men were engaged in wars, and there were more women in society than men."

But when the numbers of men and women are equal, polygamy should be prohibited, Ebadi said. Other laws also date back to centuries ago and should no longer be in place, such as a law in Iran that calls for the stoning of a married woman who commits adultery.

"Iranians protest this law and many other laws such as this one, but the government always brings the excuse that these are Sharia laws and we cannot change them," Ebadi said, adding that "Muslim intellectuals object to governments like Iran and Saudi Arabia."

"We can be Muslims and at the same time respect human rights and implement them," Ebadi said.

She said Iran and Saudi Arabia "are nondemocratic and they constantly and continuously violate human rights."

Peace will come in the region "only if people in these two countries win and are able to bring democracy to their countries, and I know that that day is not that far away," Ebadi said.

In response to a question from the audience about a speech by President Donald Trump, Ebadi questioned his commitment to women's rights.

"If President Trump really believed in women's rights, he would have elected more women secretaries in his Cabinet," Ebadi said.

An official listing of top Trump officials shows four women out of 24 positions: Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and Administrator of the Small Business Association Linda McMahon.

In President Barack Obama's second term, eight women served concurrently in Cabinet or Cabinet-level positions out of 23 total positions, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.

Metro on 09/21/2017

Print Headline: Muslim Nobel laureate talks at UA

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