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

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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...

The world is falling apart!
Added: Friday, 4 January 2008

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So last year this time I was in Nairobi, Kenya and life was real good. A year later and there's mayhem. What happened? Are Kenyans instable, unreasonable and incapable of democracy? Is Africa in trouble with all its reports of corruption, crazy dictators and economic instability? And did you think that you, in your cushy home in Vienna, LA, or London are safe from such inexplicable spurts of violence and chaos? And do you think that countries where things 'go wrong' have nothing to do with you? That the people there have problems and issues, which must be solved so we can achieve a peaceful world?

I'd venture to disagree. At the moment, the world is under the illusion that war, crime, corruption, poverty, abuse, inequalities and every other conceivable ill can and must be remedied before the world can come together and peace and stability can be established. Do you agree with that? Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Now I want you to imagine that sound you hear in Jeopardy when the answer is wrong. Because: 'rrrr', it's wrong! The fallacy that most people subscribe to is that all these ills are individual, isolated problems that can be tackled by an NGO, a religious group, a corporate social investment program, community engagement or a government scheme. That's wrong. These ills are nothing but symptoms of a much grander, underlying disease. The disease is disunity amongst the peoples of this world and it affects each and every one of us. Its only remedy is unity.

Consider your own body or your mind. If you're in disequilibrium, that is, if any parts of your body or mind are ailing and in disunity, then you're in an unnatural, unhealthy condition that keeps you ill and weak. You need to bring things back into equilibrium in order to heal. So if you're mind is not at ease, because you've been acting (or thinking) contrary to your principles, then correcting your actions will bring peace. Trust me, I've tried it. It's the unity of your principles with your actions that brings about this peace. The same is true for the body and its health when the unity of its parts is restored. No use trying to get that fever down with foot baths, if you're still feeding the patient poison! The prerequisite of healing all of our societal ills lies in the creation of unity; an honest, sincere, deep and loving unity that renders us one human family and citizens of this world.

And how does that affect you? Well for me it means I have to bring myself to account each day, examine my prejudices (passed down and self-made) and actively work to change them. It means that until I am personally an active agent of unity and love amongst all peoples, nations and religions, I'm contributing, directly or indirectly to the disease that is killing our world and which erupts randomly like a giant sore, such as it is currently doing in Kenya. What I'm talking about is not the cheap, lip-service kind of love and tolerance (I hate the word tolerance) for all the peoples of the earth. It's easy to accept people as noble and equal in theory, but it's a great challenge to live it out. To love, without being hypocritical, people you consider prejudiced, careless, lazy, selfish, primitive, barbaric, violent, offensive, strange, crazy and unreasonable, heathens, ungodly people, fanatically religious people, stupid people, passive difficult. But unless we wake up to the fact that we are one human organism that is ailing from the disease of disunity (=lack of love and cohesion), then we are contributing to the darkness that can take over a nation like Kenya from one day to the next. So even your decision not to invite that 'different' person to your party because it's easier to be amongst your own kind; or that thoughtless, humorous but hostile comment last night at dinner is contributing to the disease. And this I promise you: the side-effects of the disease will, if they haven't already, assuredly spill into your cushy life.

Edmund Burke said, "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". And did you know it, most people are good - they just don't do much to get out of their comfort zone and change this world. Most of us chose to stay 'happy', or numbed, in our "pastime paradise" that Steve Wonder so poignantly sings about. We spend most of our lives in it, blaming others for the chaos and oppression in the world. It's never us – we've got an alibi, we were watching MTV. But that's not enough. We must get up and work hard to spread love with a sin-covering eye, teach our children to love every human being regardless of their outer labels, cease to slander and gossip, look for the gems in others and actively create unity in diversity.

This simple formula is the fundamental cornerstone Baha'u'llah's teachings that are, each and all, intended to heal the ills of this world:

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

-I'd like to recommend H.B Danesh's academic work: UNITY, the creative foundation of PEACE

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2 May 2007

Remembering the Beginnings

Cover image3 successful, shining young adults remember their beginnings: Before they became confident, educated and productive members of society, our protagonists were vulnerable children from world's most destitute areas. Jarusa of Masaai land, Ben from Kenya's Kibera slum and Joseph, an orphan of the Rwanda genocide were each fortunate enough to be embraced and supported by the African Children's Choir, a non-for-profit organization changing the lives of hundreds of children all over Africa.

A film by: Ryan & Leyla Haidarian

Contribute to the African Children's Choir.

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Let deeds not words be your adorning
Added: Saturday, 24 February 2007

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When you live in a country like South Africa you come across many NGOs and community projects that try to help society in various ways. But I've seen few that achieve lasting changes and it's easy to get disillusioned. The desire to help and uplift others is often corrupted by the budding selfish inclinations of people who see opportunities for themselves.

But one organization has certainly stood out for me: the African Children's Choir. What they do might seem to explain why, but there's more that blesses this endeavor than meets the eye. The way it works is, they go into destitute areas around Africa, identify a village that is most needy and create a boot camp for the orphans/children in the region. From those children they will pick the 25 most promising performers and turn them into a choir, by adopting those who have no parents and getting permission for those who do. The children are trained in singing and performing, live in a boarding-school type environment and get all the benefits of love, food and education. They tour the world, raising money with their heart-warming songs and return home with the prospect of tertiary education and support for their home communities.

It is absolutely breath-taking to see the changes in these children, as they go from weak, dazed and dirty tadpoles to flowering, strong, confident and loving individuals who are willing to give back to society.

But there is one component that makes all the difference: faith. These children's hearts and souls are transformed by faith and the people who help transform them are motivated purely by faith. It is in their love for God that they are able to render selfless service.

Now some will role their eyes and say 'well faith seems to do more damage than good these days' – and I can't blame them for thinking that. But remember that people who preach faith but act with hatred are the poison of society, wolves in sheep's guise. All they're doing is using religion as a front for their deep Godlessness.

True faith manifests itself in actions – not words. And this is what the children truly witness and give testimony to. This organization is run by Born-Again Christians. No matter what religion motivates people, it can be the cause of the greatest good. It is only when we put ourselves and our selfish needs above those of others that we manipulate religion, or science or any other God given gift.

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