iran

The birth of something new
Added: Wednesday, 17 June 2009

watch original V-Blog in Persian

In 1979 my mother had to cross the border from Austria to Germany or Switzerland to place a long-distance call to her parents in Iran. A revolution had broken out and she wanted to know how and where they were. Things were going crazy. There was mayhem. And in my mother's stomach I lay, feeling the anxiety of an unsure future.

30 years later and my son is born. He is barely 6 months old and yet he has to share my attention with Twitter, Facebook and CNN because once again, a revolution is breaking out in Iran. In the short term, who knows what will come out of the commotion that was born on Saturday? In the long term, however, we all know that Iran will never be the same again.

The world is hearing a nation wailing for change. Whatever happened on Saturday, it opened a pandora's box of emotions and energy. But above and beyond the noise and the violence, I hope that Iranians will find the love and peace they seek. And my prayer is that they find it with as little bloodshed as possible. Sustainable change takes hard work, and a lot of love and patience.

Maybe my son, Jonah Caspian, can be a participant in that great nation's future.

Only as beautiful as you see me
Added: Thursday, 16 April 2009

watch original V-Blog in Persian

Austria is not Australia, Persian is not Arabic and Palestinians are also semites. Did you know? These things matter to some degree of course, but then do they really? Is my culture a skin color? A custom? A language? All of those? None of those? What about the anomalies in our cultures? The albinos? Or those who don't perform the customs; or those that don't speak their language? While there are many things I don't know about how culture is defined and why it's used to make some people feel better than others, there are some things I do know.

Culture is really only alive and truly beautiful in the context of diversity. I went to an intercultural, interracial, interreligious wedding last week and I sat and watched the bride perform the usual Persian cake cutting custom that I've seen so many times at Persian weddings. And most of my life I've found this custom to be silly and embarrassing. This time it was fun and special. And the reason, I found, was that because of the various cultures that framed the wedding, it stood out and went from being ordinary (in an all-Persian setting) to being extra-ordinary! Same for the African dances that followed.

There is something about diversity that makes us each special and beautiful. I've always felt this. In mono-cultural settings I always feel like a fish out of water. In multi-cultural settings I feel so at home! And the simplest metaphor is the garden metaphor. If every flower in a garden is red, it's no longer special. When each flower has its own unique color, shape and scent, each one stands out and mesmerizes. And oh how beautiful when two different flowers give birth to a whole new kind...

On genocide
Added: Sunday, 1 March 2009

Please visit ireport to watch this video and leave your comments

Dear Christiane,
You are currently investigating the reason why the world repeats its cycle of genocide again and again and again. As a member of a community that is on the brink of experiencing genocide right now, this minute, let me share with you one reason why I think these things are able to happen again and again and again. Our global media has failed to adequately pick up on dangerous societal trends before they fester into full-blown genocide.

Several months ago, 7 Baha'is were imprisoned in Iran. The Baha'i Faith is Iran's largest religious minority and it has been persecuted since its inception, but most viciously in the last 30 years by the current Iranian government. Baha'is have been denied the right to attend tertiary institutions, their properties have been confiscated, their graves desecrated, their pensions withheld, their children vilified in schools and thousands of Baha'is have disappeared or been killed.

When those specific 7 Baha'is were arrested last year, I was one of many who went around to the media in my own country, South Africa, asking them to report on this situation and draw attention to the plight of the 7 Baha'is. They had been arrested without warrants and without communication to the outside world. They disappeared for months and their lawyer, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, did not have access to their case files. She still does not have access to them and faces her own problems in Iran.

CNN and other news channels in the world have been reporting on these developments - on their websites, largely. Thank you. But I have yet to see an actual, big news story on the issue. In my own South Africa, news stations, newspapers and other media have said to me that it's not worth their time to report on these events, unless something newsworthy happens – in other words, unless they are executed. Then and only then, might they begin to report on what is happening.

Now today, those 7 women and men stand to be tried in Iran before the revolutionary court. Their charges are espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic republic. These charges are completely manufactured and such charges have been used in the past to kill Baha'is. So what will probably happen is that Iran will, in the absence of a proper, internationally monitored trial and in the absence of their lawyer Shirin Ebadi, withhold a proper trial from these Bahai's. They will probably say to the world that these Baha'is have admitted to their charges and they will go so far as to execute them. And they will do that quietly, when the world media is not looking. Because we don't find things newsworthy until they become big enough – and bad enough.

And even if Iran doesn't execute them (God knows what they doing to them right now) – the quiet and systematic strangulation of the Baha'i community in Iran can already be called a genocide. Because when your life becomes unlivable, there is nothing left for you but to die a slow, social death.

My call to you is to publicize this story – more than ever. The world needs to know about what is happening to the Baha'is in Iran. The world's spotlight needs to be on this case so that we can prevent yet another genocide.

We as media people, filmmakers, journalists need to talk about dangerous trends all over the world – so that we don't turn around later say why didn't the world do anything about it? Here is a chance to do something right now.

Help prevent a Baha'i genocide in Iran.

Read the Baha'i International Community's letter to the Prosecutor General of Iran.

Please visit ireport to watch this video and leave your comments

Takes the plunge
Added: Saturday, 18 October 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

watch original V-Blog in German

How many times have I stood on the cliff, my ankles tightly tied to an invisible bungee rope – I'm told it will support me if I jump. But I don't know that for sure. I can't "see" the rope. And then I hear these voices in my head telling me not to jump. My heart starts to race:

"Don't call him until he calls you. You don't want to appear desperate."

"How many times have you invited them, but they never offer to pick up the bill? Forget them!"

"You're giving away too much about your project, after all he is your competition."

"Don't share all your recipes, keep some for yourself."

"Don't give away your whole heart, keep some for yourself."

"I wouldn't trust her."

"This world is all about who's on top. Make sure you're the one."

"You did your best, she was going to die anyway."

There are so many voices that keep telling me not to jump, not to risk it, because the pain might be too hard to take. But who said the point in life is to avoid pain? Some of the most beautiful people in this world are covered in scars.

So I take the plunge.

"I don't wanna play games. I'm going to call him."

"I don't really care if they don't pick up the bill. I love their company."

"I don't believe in competition. I don't believe that giving of yourself will leave you with less. On the contrary..."

"Damn the recipes."

"My heart ain't mine anyway."

"If she betrays me, at least I haven't betrayed myself."

"This world is about putting others before yourself."

"No one can ever say they loved or cared enough. You can always do more of both."

The wind rushes through my face – I'm letting go of control – I'm loving – I'm falling and it's light and it's a rush – it's beautiful. And it's true, there is no pain in letting go - and I'm being caught by all the people I've loved and I'm bouncing right back – held tightly by the promise of the Almighty, "Love me that I may love thee, if thou lovest me not, my love can in no wise reach thee..."

I want to jump again – it's addictive!

My world
Added: Saturday, 14 June 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

watch original V-Blog in German

Closely related to culture, language is an expression of who we are and what we value. It is, for example, very telling, that the word for 'education', 'culture' and 'religion' is one and the same in the Chinese tradition. Languages reflect the physical and spiritual reality we live in and they all evolve with time.

Languages merge and fuse, they pick up expressions and words from other cultures and they progress to account for our rapidly changing world. Even within any given language meanings change. "Chatting" meant one thing in Elizabethan English, and something totally different in the age of 'Skype' and 'Yahoo IM'.

Languages are dynamic and alive. Yet some of us try to put them in a box, seal them, isolate them, and make them the cause of exclusion and distinction between "us" and "others" - thereby taking the very wind out of their wings.

In South Africa we have 11 official languages, and because a lot of people associate Afrikaans and English with the languages of the 'oppressor', they go back to looking for the roots of their own languages and cultures. But that in itself is a difficult if not impossible task, because at the root of anything we find only more roots and more offshoots. Iranians the world over are cleansing their language of Arabic, associating what they perceive to have been violent cultural imperialism with their inability to get a grip on their own current lives. By getting rid of Arabic, they feel, they can reclaim some of their old glory. But that glory lies in the past – and so they miss their pursuit of the now and of the future. And what lies at the root of 'pure Farsi' anyway? Sanscrit - and somehow that's again not quite Farsi....So what is an Iranian if he's not defined by his language!?

More important than what we say and how we say it, is what we do. We can preach love and unity in any language, but living it is the challenge. If only we were to define ourselves by our actions, and less by our vocabulary!

If languages are worlds, then we won't live in one common world with one common destiny and in brotherhood, unless we learn to communicate, both by heart and tongue, in one universal language that connects us as peoples and inhabitants of this world.

I often wonder if someone landed from another planet and asked me to take them around the world, how I would explain that I cannot communicate with most earthlings...!

Where are the enemies?
Added: Wednesday, 28 May 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

Last week, a group called The Friends was arrested in Iran. This group of people, one member of which was arrested earlier in March, is comprised of 7 women and men who take care of the affairs of the Baha'i community in Iran. The Baha'is are the largest religious minority in Iran and have been persecuted since the inception of their Faith. Initially officials entered the homes of The Friends, searched their belongings and then arrested them with no explanation, taking them to the infamous Evin prison. Yet, meanwhile, it is clear that they are not at Evin, nor does anyone know of their whereabouts. It is all very reminiscent of the pogroms undertaken against Baha'is in the 1980s, when members of the Baha'i governing bodies disappeared never to be seen again and were most certainly executed.

A few days after CNN and other news agencies reported on the recent arrests and described the human rights violations that continue to be brought against the Baha'is of Iran, an Iranian government spokesperson, whose authority has, in the meantime been questioned, came out to say that the abovementioned individuals were arrested because they pose "a threat to national security and because they have relations with foreigners"; meaning Israel.

Let's briefly analyze the issue of national security. Any just government has their people's best interest in mind. That is what national security is all about. Because an extensive study of the Baha'i faith is an impossibility even for scholars much less for this blog, let me revert to the Faith's 12 basic principles in order to discern what part of the Baha'i belief-system poses a threat to the people of Iran. The 12 principles are:

-unity in diversity ("the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens")
-the source of all divine religions is One (Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam etc are all true and come from God)
-the elimination of all forms of prejudice
-the harmony of science and religion
-the independent investigation of truth (you cannot be born as a Baha'i, the whole aim of life is to see through your own eyes and hear with your own ears, regardless of your parental or cultural heritage)
-the equality of women and men
-universal education (with preference for the girl-child if a choice must be made)
-universal peace
-world peace upheld by a world government
-spiritual solutions to economic problems
-a universal auxiliary language (imagine a world where the members of the human family could communicate with each other in one language beside their own)
-religion must be the source of unity

Which of these principles is against the interests of the people of Iran? And if so, what does that say about us Iranians; and what, then, is in our interest?

All the efforts of Baha'is in Iran revolve around those principles. Baha'is in Iran focus especially on projects that help underprivileged communities. They do sports, arts, literacy and values education with children from poor neighbourhoods and are careful not to impose their beliefs on anyone, leaving actions to speak louder than words. Yet they are perceived as a 'threat' to national security.

The other accusation concerns relations with Israel. As you may know, the Baha'i World Center, its shrines and global administration are based in Israel. And the reason this is so, is because of Iran itself. Baha'u'llah was banished by the 19th century Iranian government (by Nassereddin Shah), to modern-day Israel at a time when that piece of land was still part of the Ottoman Empire, later became Palestine and finally Israel. Baha'u'llah died there before Israel was Israel.

And besides, this is not a unique feature in human history. The very Emam Hossein, who is a holy figure in Islam, was buried in Karbela, in Iraq. Iraq is a Suni country and does not consider Emam Hossein a holy figure. Yet Iranian Shi'ites go on pilgrimage to Karbela every year, despite being self-declared enemies of the Sunis. It's all very confusing.

Iranian soil is holy to Baha'is, as is the soil of the Holy Land. No Baha'i would ever wish harm or destruction onto Iran. And despite being persecuted, being denied the right to tertiary education, suffering from psychological mobbing in schools and the work place, being restricted from working in many fields and trades and despite the knowledge that at any time they might disappear never to be seen again by friends and family, they remain in Iran. Why?

Here's a beautiful little story that demonstrates why. An old man lived on a farm with his grandson. One winter, the wolves came down the hill and attacked the son, eating him alive. The old man was devastated. So the next day he went to buy large amounts of raw meat and climbed the hill to see the wolves. He cast out the pieces of meat for the wolves, so they would no longer be in need of food and would not resort to killing human beings. So instead of killing and taking revenge, the old man gave his oppressor what he needed the most. Some love.

Is that a crime? If so, Baha'is are more than guilty!

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12 May 2008

You Can't Stop My Love

They lived in the poorest neighborhood of their city. It was the kind of place you'd avoid if you could. But these children had no choice. They were born into misery and would probably die there. Then, one day, things changed. A group of people seemed to care. They came out of nowhere and they showed up every weekend. Unfailingly, their cars would appear on the horizon by 8:30 am. They'd park on the dirt road, next to the cadavers and burned tires. They'd come and spend a few hours with the children. They'd play games with them, exercise them, sing songs, read stories and help with school work, arts and crafts. Nobody really knew why they did what they did. But it didn't matter, because life was never the same again. It was colorful, happy and hopeful. For those few hours, every weekend, the children felt loved and not forgotten. They dared to articulate dreams and they began to take care of themselves and their desolate environment. Things were good. But then again, maybe things were too good. Because one fateful day, those people didn't show up again. Had they stopped caring? Had they found other children? No. They had been arrested. They had been imprisoned for coming to see these very children every week. For this, the court had said, constituted "an offense relating to state security"...



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8 May 2008

How Long Will This Go On?

Dedicated to anybody who believes in equality of men and women: A short clip on discriminations against women all around the world.

Hilda Hashempour is an Iranian/Canadian actor, producer and director recently residing in United States. She left Iran on 2003 due to religious oppression as a Baha'i.



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23 April 2008

You Can't Stop My Love

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They lived in the poorest neighborhood of their city. It was the kind of place you'd avoid if you could. But these children had no choice. They were born into misery and would probably die there. Then, one day, things changed. A group of people seemed to care. They came out of nowhere and they showed up every weekend. Unfailingly, their cars would appear on the horizon by 8:30 am. They'd park on the dirt road, next to the cadavers and burned tires. They'd come and spend a few hours with the children. They'd play games with them, exercise them, sing songs, read stories and help with school work, arts and crafts. Nobody really knew why they did what they did. But it didn't matter, because life was never the same again. It was colorful, happy and hopeful. For those few hours, every weekend, the children felt loved and not forgotten. They dared to articulate dreams and they began to take care of themselves and their desolate environment. Things were good. But then again, maybe things were too good. Because one fateful day, those people didn't show up again. Had they stopped caring? Had they found other children? No. They had been arrested. They had been imprisoned for coming to see these very children every week. For this, the court had said, constituted "an offense relating to state security"...



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Pride or prejudice?
Added: Wednesday, 2 April 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

Since the movie came out, the number '300' evokes some strong, angry feelings amongst Iranians of all religious or political backgrounds all over the world. We Persians might kill each other by day, call each other names and destroy each other's lives, but we're pretty unified about one thing: Iran's history is something we can all be proud of. And if you attack us, then we'll stand united against the onslaught. In that way, our psyche thrives on pride more than the Greeks'! Serious!

For a while I used to brush off the violent reactions of Persians who complained to me about the movie. Some of my Moslem Persian friends said, "I bet you the filmmaker was Jewish!" Ironically, Xerxes and his grandfather, Cyrus the Great, were defendants of the Jews and Jewish people all over the world honor them as righteous kings. Meanwhile my Jewish Persian friends accused the Greeks of being the real culprits behind this tasteless movie. All the while my rationale was that it's just a movie. And who cares? The Persians looked pretty tough anyway. I even went so far as to think: maybe we Persians need a kick in our behinds just to realize how rotten the rest of the world perceives us to be. Because rather than a historically accurate film (which it in no wise was), it was a reflection of the barbarism we've come to represent.

I held that view for a while. Until last night. I was having seafood dinner with some of my Persian friends and they explained to me the pain they were feeling over the movie. My friend, Shiva, told me how evolved the Persian civilization had been at the time. Cyrus the Great was the first figure in recorded human history to have articulated a human rights declaration. A declaration that is set in stone at the entrance of the United Nations office in New York and reminds us all of how world leaders should be treating their people. His buildings and cities and those of his grandson, Xerxes, were the only ones ever to be built not by slaves, but by a paid work force. In those days; unheard of! He had a policy of paying women equally to men. In fact women and men were treated equally. Not like they are today in Iran. You would think we've regressed. He made sure that the people had health insurance, that their children were educated and that they received shares in the work that they performed. In short ; his civilization was highly evolved and, well, 'civilized'. So for Xerxe's empire to appear barbaric, animalesque and backward is a serious blow in the stomach. And it was to me too, last night, hearing the explanation of my friend. It doesn't matter who you are, if something beautiful is misrepresented it hurts you. If someone misrepresents your religion (the way we see the Baha'i faith being portrayed in Iran), your family or anything else that is dear to you – it simply hurts. And it hurt me last night on a personal and also philosophical level.

I know more than anyone that Persians don't look very good right now. '300' reflected that. Or maybe it was just a "harmless" fun movie with no deep meaning or attempt to portray something accurate. But I know how Persians feel. They feel like they're in a straight jacket with masking tape around their mouths. They can't explain to you why they're so messed up and lunatic-looking right now, but they wish they could scream and shout to you about how great they were before. - - - If only they could sit at one table and figure out how they can become great once again.

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