And why I light firecrackers in March
Added: Thursday, 11 March 2010

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March 21 marks the Persian New Year, Naw Ruz. You can Google or Wikipedia it and read up about the history of this festival. But what’s more significant is that the Baha’i Faith (, which is like quantum physics of religions, has really rendered this Persian festival global. Members of the Baha'i Faith live in more than 100,000 localities and come from nearly every nation, ethnic group, culture, profession, and social or economic background and they all celebrate Naw Ruz. It marks the end of the Baha’i fast - the spiritual and physical detox period - and the beginning of the new calendar year.

This year I’ve set up a traditional “haft seen” table. This has nothing to do with the Baha’i faith, but it’s a Persian tradition and lots of fun. On the table you’ll find things like lentil sprouts, dried oleaster, garlic, apples, sumac, vinegar, hyacinths, coins, candles, a mirror, some decorated (easter-like) eggs, a goldfish, some rosewater, a Holy Book relevant to the household religion and some Iranian colors – this year I’ve focused on “green”. They all have meanings, but for me it’s a way of remembering how the message of universal love came from Iran and has spread to the rest of the world.

There are many things I’m thankful for this year. I've chosen six to to focus on in the countdown till Naw Ruz. One of these is the fact that the United Nations has recognized Naw Ruz as an international holiday. The UN is far from being the institution it could be. It favors some countries over others and has a long way to go in realizing the value of the human family, but I think we must be grateful that we live in an age that has given birth to this institution and its underlying idea. Up until 160 years ago, we lived in world that was relatively isolated. Populations did not think in terms of being citizens of one world. Nationalism was our grandest sense of identy/unity. But suddenly, with the birth of the industrial revolution our world rapidly came together and we created global institutions to try and manage the challenges of a world that was becoming interdependent in terms of its social, economic and environmental realities. The United Nations is one child of that era. The Baha’i faith was born in that same era and offers the spiritual guidance and teachings for a world that is effectively one. The nexus at which Naw Ruz becomes global is an exciting one, because for me it signifies that spiritual fertility for the idea that we are the fruits of one tree and the waves of one sea.

A crisis of faith
Added: Monday, 25 January 2010

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So this friend of a friend’s arrives from Iran. It’s his first time out of the country and from the moment he arrives he’s blown away by everything that is different to what he had imagined. First of all, he mentions the beauty and cleanliness of what is an incredible infrastructure. We call and book a hotel in advance and he wonders how it is possible for us to do this without having big-shot connections in the town we’re visiting. We visit the town and he comments again on the incredible beauty. We go to an art exhibition and it takes him half an hour to get over the fact that Black people are artists too. We go to the bank to draw money and he’s stunned that banks are privatized and that they give you credit! How on earth would they trust that you’d ever pay them back? And how on earth do you trust them with what’s yours?

In fact, the whole issue of honesty and trust is a huge revelation for him. He can’t believe we get through a day without bribing anyone or without being jipped. But the issue he comes back to again and again is how amazing our infrastructure is. The roads, the public places, the buildings. Everything is clean and nice. And people throw their garbage in the designated containers (most of the time).

So we’re sitting and enjoying our pasta in one of these marvelous places when the waiter brings the bill. Our friend looks at it and realizes there’s an item called “tax”.

“You’re not really going to pay that, are you?” he laughs? ….

Yes. This man had never made the connection between paying taxes and getting quality of life in return. Because in the society he lives in, nobody trusts anybody for anything – least of all the government.

It’s a complicated society, this Iranian society. People are marching for change, but it better be well thought out and carefully planned. Because democracy without a level of trust - or rather “faith” - in the system and in others will turn out dismal. And we in the “West” know all too well what it means to have a crisis of faith in politics. Because some of us will read all the above and say: you can’t trust banks, and people don’t throw their garbage in the bins; I paid a bribe to a cop just yesterday and to get the best hotel rooms you do need connections…!

But it’s all relative, isn’t it? Seeing our society through his eyes made me appreciate what we do have and the fact that we can voice our concerns and demand transparency. Doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it’s the best thing we’ve experienced so far. For more thoughts on how we could “improve” the democratic notion, please watch our latest little film, Beyond King of the Mountain. I think that the ideas expressed are as exciting for the Iranians as they are for us or Haitians…!!!

Haiti, Iran and what’s in between
Added: Monday, 25 January 2010

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It’s amazing to see the world responding to what is going on in Haiti. Even if you’re a cynic, you have to admit that this kind of reaction is unprecedented in the history of humankind. Never before have we been this exposed to the most personal and immediate stories from people on the other side of the world. We “feel” for perfect strangers more tangibly than ever before. Some of my friends based in the United States are flying to Haiti to lend a hand. Others in places like Bahrain are raising money and say that the city mosques are continuously singing prayers for the wounded and affected. Yes in many ways these are the end-times. But those who “perish” are not those who are dying. What perishes in this fire is our old way of thinking and “humanity's stubborn clinging to old patterns of behavior”. Love is the pillar of our salvation and unity is the arch that will shelter us. I see a tremendous shift in the right direction in these days of hardship.

In all of this heart-wrenching chaos a friend of mine, for whom Haiti occupies a special place in his heart, is frustrated with how major news networks report of “looting” in Haiti. He says it’s just wrong for “Western” media to report on people’s desperation in that way, when the West has spent a life-time looting Haiti. From a place of compassion and emotion for the individual circumstances of people I completely agree with him. It really feels insensitive and out of place to use those terms. From a place of “principle” perhaps, it raises another interesting question – independent of the given circumstance:

How do our principles and deepest convictions pan out in times of adversity? Do we always try and live by our convictions or only when things are relatively balanced? Because in my mind, it’s precisely when the going gets rough that our principles matter the most. If you’re never exposed to another, highly attractive and intelligent woman, you’re probably going to be faithful to your wife. If you’ve always got enough food on the table, chances are, you’re not going to break into someone’s house, put a gun to their head and ask them for their cash. People who commit “transgressions” are always under some kind of pressure. It can be survival, it can be lust, it can be greed, it can be desperation. My point is: our principles are what carry us through the rough times, not the good. They are what matter most when everything else falls apart. Wouldn’t you say?

Even if we employ compassion and understanding in individual circumstances, shouldn’t we strive to hold our principles dear on a collective and societal level - as a compass that directs our course?

The subject is very close to my heart, because while people are sending money and prayers and flying in to help the people of Haiti, there are things we need to do on a day to day basis, that can change the world on a profound level. Let us not think that giving money and sending a check, but then living our lives the way we’ve always done will do any good. Change needs to happen regardless of whether there is an earthquake or not. And the question of having principles, values and laws as the foundation of any functioning society or institution is one of the most relevant ones to ask ourselves as we try and build a new world.


The trial of the 7 Baha’i leaders in Iran has begun. Baha’is have been subjected to human rights violations for over a century. Even though their government does not respect them or their rights (or the rights of their own citizens); even though their government will bend its own rules and ignore international conventions, to which it is a signatory, Iranian Baha’is choose to obey the law of their country as a matter of principle.

What do you think about principles and their relationship to our lives?

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9 August 2009

Wiring a Web for Global Good

We're at a unique moment in history, says UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown: we can use today's interconnectedness to develop our shared global ethic -- and work together to confront the challenges of poverty, security, climate change and the economy.

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Is what we spend most of our lives doing
Added: Wednesday, 29 July 2009

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My life encompasses 3 decades so far. I spent the first decade waiting eagerly to be a teenager and adult. I spent the second decade waiting to finish school and study. I spent my third decade trying to figure out what will be my purpose and how I'll make my mark. With the exception of the first few years of my life, however, I've spent most of it waiting for something. And it's this sense of "one day..." that keeps getting worse:

"One day I'll be happy, have kids, be successful, rich..." – you fill in the blanks. We all have some vague sense of what we want and it comes down to this idea that whatever it is, it will make us happy and fill us up – "one day!"

But waiting is always tied to an outcome. You're waiting: for someone to come home, someone to grow up, someone to change, something to change; waiting to find your purpose, your dream partner, the dream life or house. And that's where things get ugly, because outcomes can disappoint – more often than not, they do. If we spend every day of our life constantly waiting for something to happen before we're happy, we'll spend the rest of our lives waiting for something to happen. Because even when they do happen, we realize that we're not fulfilled. Beyond every achievement or goal lies another horizon. It never ends and the sense of panic grows.

How about we begin today to just 'be' the happiness, the joy, we want in our life? Because these are the days of our lives! They're not growing in number, they're shrinking! If you were to be told that nothing were ever to change in your life from this day forward (externally), what would you need to work on acquiring; what virtue or strength would you need to develop in order to achieve happiness? Whatever that is, is what you should probably be focusing on. And maybe instead of 'waiting' we need to be 'patient'. Patience is not tied to an outcome. It is detached. It means that we try and we put ourselves out there, to be the best we can be, but that we find our fulfilment, our happiness, our elation today in exactly that effort and in nothing else.

If we're happy today, if we just start living and being who we want to be - today - and we start thinking and seeing the world we want to live in - today - then we will manifest that reality and things will change; our lives will change, Iran will change, Honduras will change, the housing market will get the picture.

The mathematics of love
Added: Wednesday, 22 July 2009

watch original V-Blog in Persian

"Till Death Do Not Do Us Part" - That was the title of a little talk I gave the other night at a local university. We gathered in an informal venue at one of the residences and I opened with the question:

"Do you believe that once we work on and solve the issues we have in our relationships with one another, we can reach a state of unity?"

Most people thought about their girlfriends, boyfriends or spouses and said "Sure, once you solve the issues. But that's the challenge. Solving the issues...!"

I left it at that and then embarked on one of my infamous excursions into the (often unconscious) values and assumptions underlying our relationships whether they be interpersonal, institutional, political, sociological or ecological. Humanity does, after all, have a relationship with nature too – albeit a terrible one.

My deliberations concluded with the general proposition that, in a world that has literally become interdependent and one, we need to change the values and assumptions underlying our relationships and societal structures – and go from premising them on self-interest to learning how to premise them on mutualism, for lack of a better word in brevity.

And so we came back to my initial question:

"Do you believe that once we work on and solve the issues we have in our relationships with one another, we can reach a state of unity?" or:

"Do you believe that once we work on and solve the issues we have in our societies or in the world at large (such as poverty, inequality, exploitation, violence, crime etc), we can reach a state of unity and peace?"

Though hesitant this time round, most people gave me a half-hearted nod. They knew that what we had talk about probably suggested a different answer, but they didn't know what that would be, so I whipped out one of my favorite quotes of all times:

"The wellbeing of mankind, its peace and security are both unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established."

And the consequence of this statement is that we won't ever solve our issues, whether they be in our inter-personal relationships with each other (as couples, siblings, children, parents or friends) or in our bigger relationships with one another (as communities, nations or interest-groups) until we create unity. It flips the entire equation around. We will be ailing until we tackle the underlying disease, which is lack of unity.

And we spent the last 10 minutes or more, as I now invite you to do with me, reflecting on just what this could mean in practice. What does it mean to build unity in a relationship and to solve our issues from the point of departure? What does it mean to be an institution, not two different people? What does it mean to be a rich, diversely made-up institution or entity and not a series of individuals with conflicting needs and wants? ...and finally - when will we get over our 'selves' and spend our days thinking less about 'me' and more about 'us'?

I bet you didn't think of Pho
Added: Wednesday, 15 July 2009

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Every word has a specific meaning to each one of us. For one person the word 'freedom' means security and community and for another it means breaking norms and societal restrictions. For some 'religion' is a dirty word and for others it is the essence of all things good. When I hear the word "Vietnam" I think of "Apocalypse Now", war veterans in old age homes and bloodshed. It will take a few more decades before "Vietnam" is washed of its connotations.

Words signify concepts that are somewhat different from person to person and particularly different from culture to culture. That's because every concept has a specific set of values underlying it. For example, in what we broadly call "the West", the concept of "love" is often romantic. Movies, soap-operas and novels suggest that for every person there is that one special someone out there. The young couple falls in love and wants to be together. They don't really investigate each other's characters or care if they have compatible personalities. Rather, they are swept off their feet and defy all odds. They rise up against their disapproving parents, society and any other obstacles in their path.

As a result, when we talk about love while sitting on the Champs-Elysees, sipping Espresso, the values underlying our concept of love will be very different to someone sitting in Karachi, at the local fabric shop. In much of the Middle East, the concept of "love" might have somewhat of a different connotation. Love is seen, perhaps, as a far more practical bond between two people who are building a life with each other. Money and education play a role, the consent from both sets of parents plays a role, and certainly, the lovers do not defy, but rather want to be an integral part of the society in which they live.

And while love is love no matter where in the world you are, there is always a different set of values and assumptions informing our understanding of it. Politics is another word that means different things to different people. While the word "democracy" often has a positive connotation, the term "politics" doesn't necessarily. With democracy, people think of "freedom, brotherhood and equality". With politics they think of "manipulation, self interest and competition". This is interesting, bearing in mind that politics in the West is, after all, primarily experienced through democracy.

I think that's because democracy is an "idea" or "ideal", which many people support. The reality of democracy on the other hand and its day-to-day workings are often thought of in terms of "politics", which conjures up images of "manipulation, dishonesty and cheating"! In our heads then, we seem to resolve the paradox nature of democracy by using different words to describe the "idea(l)" of democracy on the one hand and it's practical every day application on the other.

But in its original sense, democracy means nothing more than "rule by the people for the people". The "how" of it all, is left open. In today's world, democratic governance comes in many forms. But it seems to have developed an adversarial character where power is achieved and managed through competition. This might have to do with the fact that 400 years ago, when our current democratic models were being formed, philosophers and thinkers, like Thomas Hobbes, proposed that man's nature was that of a war of all against all and that people were naturally brutish. Our world was very different from the way it is today. Societies, their realities and economies were far more isolated than they are now.

Perhaps it was the somewhat disjointed reality of our world that made us assume competition would be the best way to organize our various different interests and affairs. And so our culture perpetuates this notion that for some to win and get ahead others have to lose. But in recent decades, we are experiencing some fundamental challenges with this application of the democratic notion. Our world has changed from the way it was when Thomas Hobbes was around. Nations, interest groups and people have gone from having relatively isolated realities to being very interdependent. Our lives have become tightly intermingled and the woman in the fabric store Karachi is directly affected by the couple sipping Espresso on the Champs-Elysees.

Maybe all of this has to do with why Baha'is are said to shy away from politics, something they are criticized for all the time. In a world that is ailing, people ask themselves how this community of 6 million can seemingly stand on the sidelines and not engage? The recent events in Iran are only one example where Baha'is were scrutinized for not marching, rallying or expressing their opinion in political terms. But it's not that Baha'is are not political – quite the contrary. It's the underlying assumptions, the notions, the values that our current political landscape is based on that we believe is not sustainable. So long as "politics" is based on a set of dog-eat-dog values that might have held true half a century ago, we're not political. Instead, Baha'is are trying to encourage others to join them in performing a system upgrade of sorts on "politics". Because – like any science – societal concepts need to evolve and embrace assumptions and values that speak to the needs of the age in which we live! If seen in that way, Baha'is are in the forefront POLITICAL! I'm just curious to see which word transforms first, "Vietnam" or "politics"...

The fate of 7 Iranians hangs in the balance
Added: Friday, 10 July 2009

watch original V-Blog in Persian

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the martyrdom of the Bab, who was the forefunner of the Bahai Faith. When I hear the word 'martyrdom' I cringe. This has to do with the excellent job many have done in blowing themselves and others up in the name of God. How unfortunate. Those who are familiar with the story of the Bab will know that the concept of martyrdom has a completely different underlying paradigm. It has to do with sacrificing yourself for the good of others, not destroying the fabric of humanity in order to impose your warped understanding of a belief system on it.

Being a 'Bahai' is likewise an iffy concept in Iran. It means you're an invention of the British, a spy for Israel, an agent for America and that you're behind all the unrest and media "hype" surrounding the recent events in Iran. Bahais are perceived to undermine "Iran" when in reality they are its well wishers. One of the reasons I started this blog - and particularly the Persian version of it - was to dispel some of the misconceptions around Bahais and their beliefs. Psychologists say your first impression of a person or concept is very important and hard to replace. People's first impressions of the Bahai Faith in Iran is tainted by the crafty and negative images that Iran's mainstream media fabricates about Bahais. That's one reason why I'm very afraid for the fate of the Yaran, seven Bahais who are currently in prison.

These women and men who are due to stand trial tomorrow form the leadership of the Bahai community in Iran. They've committed no crime, but are being tried on a number of nonsensical charges, similar to those of Roxana Saberi. In her case the media hype turned things around for her. In the case of Bahais, the media has remained largely marginal. In honor of the Yaran, tomorrow has been declared as Bahai Rights day. May their lives contribute to a better tomorrow for the people of Iran. I emphasise 'lives', in the hopes that they will be spared...

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29 June 2009

Stand by Me - Andy, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora & Friends

On June 24, Iranian Superstar Andy Madadian went into an LA recording studio with Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora and American record producers Don Was and John Shanks to record a musical message of worldwide solidarity with the people of Iran. This version of the old Ben E. King classic is not for sale - it was not meant to be on the Billboard charts or even manufactured as a's intended to be downloaded and shared by the Iranian give voice to the sentiment that all people of the world stand together....the handwritten Farsi sign in the video translates to "we are one". If you know someone in Iran - or someone who knows someone in Iran - please share this link

Andy - Vocals
Jon Bon Jovi - Vocals
Richie Sambora - Electric Guitar and Vocals
John Shanks - Acoustic Guitar
Don Was - Bass
Patrick Leonard - Keyboards
Jeff Rothchild - Drums
Tiffany Madadian and Nikki Lund - Background Vocals
Produced by Don Was & John Shanks
Recorded and Mixed by Jeff Rothchild at
Henson Studio C, Hollywood, CA
June 24, 2009
Thanks to Faryal Ganjehei
Written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller
Farsi lyric by Paksima Zakipour
Video Edited by Gemma Corfield
Mastered by Stephen Marcussen

Presented by:
Free MP3 download

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Iran's crisis foretold
Added: Thursday, 25 June 2009

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"From all sides today one hears cries of protest against endemic corruption, political manipulation, the mistreatment of women, a shameless violation of human rights and the suppression of thought. What is the effect on public consciousness, one must further ask, of appeals to the authority of the Holy Qur'an to justify policies that lead to such conditions?

Ruling elites can make no more serious error than to imagine that the power they have managed to arrogate to themselves provides an enduring bulwark against the relentless tides of historical change. Today, in Iran ... these tides roll in with insistent urgency and tumultuous force. They are not merely at the door of the house, but rise up irresistibly through its floors. They cannot be diverted. They will not be denied...

...Your long night will end, and you will have the joy of witnessing with your own eyes the mighty structure your sacrifices have raised"

-excerpt from a letter from the Baha'i World governing body 26.11.2003

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