South Africa

And no fair trial
Added: Friday, 18 June 2010

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In yesterday’s game against Uruguay South Africa’s goalie was given a red card – unfairly I might add! ☺ You’re left feeling like you want to defend your position but you can’t! After all in soccer the referee can make a decision like that without consulting anyone. That’s the game.

This past week has been a roller-coaster for me as an Iranian and South African. On the one hand I’ve been enjoying the opening of the World Cup and all the international energy, and on the other I’ve been worrying about people in Iran on the anniversary of the unrest surrounding last year’s elections. Many Iranians are in prison for crimes they haven’t committed and put on trial without the chance to defend their position fairly. It’s kind of like the red card in soccer! Except that you know for sure that the referee is partial.

As you may have seen in our little clip titled 12JuneJoburg, a bunch of us tapped into the positive energy here at the World Cup in order to raise awareness about the human rights situation in Iran. And I think we managed to strike quite a good balance: For us it wasn’t about pulling people down, demonizing Iran or breaking any rules. It was about celebrating the achievements of South Africa and encouraging Iranians all over the world to build a similar future for themselves – knowing that it’s possible.

No matter how the individual soccer games play out, the sense of unity and elation that South Africans feel as a country is overwhelming and healing. Don’t get me wrong. People haven’t shed their prejudices overnight. But they are transcending them in a powerful way. And so even when FIFA packs up and goes home in two months, there will be remnants of this healing process that will help the country move forward.

I think that Iran too will find that its strength lies in embracing the spectrum of what makes it such a rich and wonderful culture. What we need to do is work constructively with a mind to preserving our unity. And that is what 12June.org tries to achieve with its worldwide actions. The worst strategy for any soccer team is to start dishing out blame – internally or externally!

"If religion be the cause of disunity, then irreligion is surely to be preferred." Abdu’l-Baha

“If soccer be the cause of disunity, then get over yourself – it’s just a game!” Leyla Haidarian

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13 June 2010

12 June Johannesburg

People gather in Johannesburg, South Africa during the opening of the World Cup to campaign for human rights in Iran - particularly in support of Mohammad Oliyaifard and Behrouz Tehrani. www.12june.org



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When Iranians flatter the British
Added: Tuesday, 13 April 2010

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South Africa is busy launching a charter of religious rights and freedoms. It’s amazing, really, what this country does in terms of innovations on human rights and concepts of mutualism. Try and sit down a bunch of religious heads anywhere in the world and have them work out what they agree on! South Africa manages it! Incredible.

As someone who focuses on Iranian society and transformation, it makes me chuckle. I know that a lot of Iranians have superiority feelings towards other cultures and for them to see an African country beat them to it when it comes to progressive paradigms and systems must be quite a blow. Let us not forget that despite all political love affairs there still exists a considerable amount of racism for Africans and black people in Iran.

But Iran could do better. It’s the birth-place not only of Cyrus the Great and the first human rights charter, it’s the cradle of a very recent philosophy that originated in 1844 and proposes the equality of women and men, the harmony of science and religion, the eradication of extremes of wealth and poverty, universal education, the unity of religions and the oneness of humanity; a philosophy that provides the blue-print for a mutualistic democracy that safeguards the interests and affairs of all peoples of the world, not just a privileged few. But this philosophy, born in Shiraz and nurtured by a Persian Siyyid was quickly banished out of Iran and into Palestine, which is now Israel. And now Iranians call it a British invention! Which can only flatter the British.

So according to some people's bookkeeping:

Equality of women and men, universal education, progressive revelation, oneness of humanity, mutualistic democracy, human rights = British invention

Suppression of woman, suppression and persecution of minorities and majorities, the inherent division of humanity into good and bad, human rights abuses = Iranian

Hmmm…I guess at the end of the day you have to make up your own mind. But let it not be said that there is no choice. You don’t have to be a Baha’i to be proud of the fact that this movement originated on your soil. Why is it so hard to just celebrate the awesomeness of this rich philosophy and take ownership of it? And of Kurds, and of Sunnis, Jews, Christians and of atheists and of Shi’ih majorities who want to lovingly build a great society and blog about it?

*

The day Iran produces and owns a charter of religious rights and freedoms like the one in South Africa – that’s the day I’ll be buying my ticket to go home.

You strike a rock
Added: Friday, 21 August 2009

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The phrase "You strike a woman you strike a rock", has come to represent the strength of women in South Africa. On August 9th in 1956, when the apartheid regime legislated that all persons of African descent must carry special passes around with them, women petitioned against this law by marching to the union buildings in the country's capital, Pretoria. They stood outside the buildings in silence, many of them carrying their own children or those of the white family's they worked for. They then began singing Wathint'Abafazi Wathint'imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.)

There is something graceful and noble about the pictures one sees of the time. Although it was a march or a protest, it was done with the dignity and poise that we mostly see from women. When women protest, they don't hurl rocks and they don't burn icons. They demand your respect by giving you respect. This is a quality that our society does not nurture. We live in a world that is constantly nurturing and feeding our lower or baser nature. We may learn the theory of virtues and principles, but in our societal realities, we are constantly encouraged to bend our principles and beliefs in order to achieve goals. You need only watch an episode of RUNNING IN HEELS to witness a typical professional environment that is outwardly female, but loaded with the same "male" outlook which believes that in order to excel, you have to make others look bad, stab them in the back and hold them back from progressing.

The idea of protest is in itself problematic. It's a feature of our current order and a "necessary evil", as long as our societal paradigm is based on fundamental disunity. Its aim is to make a statement, raise awareness and create leverage against those who abuse power. But the problem starts with our understanding of power. We think of it in terms of control; the control of resources. And therefore we think of (and manifest) power as potentially abusive. So by default we need to leverage that power through counter-power and that's how we get social protest or opposition. But really protest buys into the same black and white notion of right and wrong, winners and losers as it claims to defy and it limits the diverse and complex nature of reality. It also means that those with the most sticks and stones will have their way. After all a simple strike can become a threatening situation. Your are essentially threatening and pressuring a person/party into a specific action. How is this really different from the nature of the oppression you're trying to undo?

I believe that if there were more of a female voice in the way the world works, we would see a transformation in the entire paradigm that our world operates on. Women have a much more inclusive view of things. They naturally see themselves and the world as an organic entity. Women are the heart of any family, village and society.

Our role far exceeds that of marching and protesting (even if it is peacefully). We have the ability to nurture other ways of transforming society. If we raise and foster families and societies that put justice, unity and cooperation in the forefront of their agenda, we won't find ourselves in a situation where ruthless oppression – the likes of which we see in many nations right now - must be confronted with another, perhaps socially more acceptable form of oppression.

*

Women's day is a day to celebrate and explore the true and unique potential of women around the world. We have come a long way. Let's not be satisfied and let's keep walking. I know that the idiom of the woman as a rock refers to our strength. We are strong and determined as a rock. Steadfast as rock. And that is beautiful and right. But let's also look at the smoothness and softness of a rock that is slapped by the waves and toned to perfection. What can that tenderness teach us (and teach MEN) about life and existence?

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...

Zimbabwe's right or responsibility
Added: Tuesday, 8 July 2008

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A lot of African nations have been very diplomatic in their attitude towards Robert Mugabe, holding off on any direct criticism. The South African president, Thabo Mbeki, is one of those politicians whose stance has been to respect Zimbabwe's independence. Let them figure it out themselves. Change has to come from within. Zimbabwe is a sovereign nation.

But what is the meaning of sovereignty when that sovereignty starts jeopardizing the sovereignty of others? That – in effect – is what the highly controversial South African politician Jacob Zuma asked the world just last week. In other words it's okay to ignore Mugabe's silent strangulation of his own people, it's not our business after all (so seem to think many). But if that strangulation starts to affect us South Africans, then it sure is our business!

And it's been affecting us for a long time now. Zimbabweans in South Africa make up the highest number of immigrants. They'd rather risk being burned alive by angry xenophobic mobs in Johannesburg than stay in Zimbabwe. They're affecting our social structures, our human rights situation and our economy. Zimbabwe's political "exhaust" is polluting our "environment" and that is really no big surprise.

Because if, as human beings, we are all indeed the cells of one body, as I have argued poetically for so long, then our "rights" and "freedoms", our "sovereignty" - as unique and important as we may be – may all be valuable, but should be subject to the greater good. In other words, Zimbabwe's interests should come second to the interests of the world at large. And so should the interests of any group or nation. The notion of "sovereignty" is null and void if that sovereignty becomes a cancer that threatens to kill the body at large. And which cancer doesn't eventually spread? The wellbeing of the whole should be the first and foremost goal of every just nation (or society, or family or...). At the moment, it is the goal of no nation.

And that is the paradigm shift we so sorely need. While 19th century scientists promoted the notion of "the survival of the fittest", an adversarial notion of exclusivity, 21st century scientists and Baha'u'llah's revelation point to the survival of the human race depending on its very unity – a mutualistic, inclusive notion. And this is not only a pretty, happy-clappy and sweet paradigm, it is the only way forward for a world that is crumbling at its foundations.

Beyond our social, economic and political interdependence, the environment, shamelessly borderless and honest, is teaching us that our short-sighted and selfish exploitation of mother earth is coming back to bite us hard. And persisting on our own sovereignty as though we were isolated entities, is going to do the very same.

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11 August 2007

Baha'i Faith - A Way Forward

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A documentary about the Baha'i Faith that focuses on faith in action: "Let deeds not words be your adorning" (Baha'u'llah). This documentary profiles the lives of three South African Baha'is from different social and racial backgrounds who each exemplify at least one principle of the Baha'i Faith in action: These principles include: the equality of women and men, the education of (girl) children and the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty. A look at the lifestyles and daily choices of these featured Baha'is reveals that the Baha'i faith offers practical solutions to today's global problems. Some of these specific solutions are portrayed first hand as we follow our protagonists who live out their faith through their various careers and pastimes. In short, BAHA'I FAITH, A WAY FORWARD shows how faith can transcend the murmur of prayers and syllables and can translate into concrete steps that promote global unity and prosperity.

CREDITS:
A film by: Leyla & Ryan Haidarian
Produced by: Race Productions
Music by: Amal Ma'ani

INTERVIEWEES:
Iraj Abedian, Karin & Nadya Abedian, Tania Atam, Philip Dexter, Nomakhwezi Fudu, Isgaac Gallow, Yasmin Gallow, Walied Jassat, Eunice Mabaso, Tahirih Matthee, Nolunto Ngcwabe, Luvuyo Nomvete, Sue Podger, Natalie Ann Powell



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Waking from the matrix
Added: Wednesday, 28 February 2007

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Growing up in the cushy lap of comfort in Austria, I never thought I'd ever land in Africa - the continent of "problems!" My life eventually took me to Los Angeles, where my husband and I joined the ranks of budding young talent. Ever seen the TV series "Entourage"? That's the sort of life we were engrossed in. Stooped in hype, sweet-talk, and most of all ego. Life was one big conspiracy to uplift us and we were so "it". Sure, we were going to "give back" once we were there at the top. After all, there's so much you can do for the world with money and fame! Just look at all our role models in Hollywood.

I'm not sure what happened next, but it was a lot like Keanu Reeves's experience in The Matrix. We were in the middle of living it up, defining ourselves by the life we led, when someone intervened and woke us up. It was a dear friend, who bought us tickets to come and visit him and his family in South Africa. When we got there, intending to enjoy a holiday of fun and luxury, things started disintegrating. The program that had kept us enslaved began showing its cracks and we embarked on a spiritual detox.

In the three weeks that we spent in South Africa, going on tours of the townships, meeting real people with real concerns and spending time to meditate and pray, we realized that our life thus far had been one big illusion - a matrix. It was a scary recognition, because it meant we had a choice and choices are frightening. Red pill we'd go back to sleep and continue with our self-centered lives in LA or blue, we'd make a change and shift the focus onto serving mankind.

But even if we decided to change our lives, even if we decided to move to Africa - how would we go about it? Where would we get visas? Jobs? A home? We were already burdened with our American credit-card life-style which enables you live on more than you have. How could we take such an irrational step? And what would all the Ari Goldbergs of Tinseltown say?

Our friend spoke of "confirmation". In his compassionate wisdom he asked us to take steps of faith, much like Keanu did when he jumped from building to building. Believe it and you can achieve it. We did. And little by little, the path opened up and we walked along it, never seeing far ahead, but trusting that we would get there.

Life can be so scary and insecure at times. But this experience has taught us to trust in God. In the Baha'i writings Africa is referred to as "the pupil of the eye of humanity" - it is that focal point, through which we can form a perspective. And that is what it has done for us. The Ari Goldbergs of this world wrote us off as nut cases for a while, but that's alright. For in the little things we've been able to do here, lie all the treasures of joy we could have ever imagined. And we've been able to grow and do bigger and better things than we'd ever have imagined for ourselves.

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