Monday, May 18, 2015

Murder With Impunity

Murder With Impunity

7 years ago, May 14th 2008 I woke up from a dream. I dreamt I held in my hand 3 documents that appeared to be blank until you looked at the bottom of each page. Strangely, the blank white sheets only contained the 7 signatures of the Yaran, the seven Baha’i Leaders in Iran who tended to the spiritual and social needs of the Iranian Baha’i Community. What stood out about those blank documents was that it didn’t contain all the 7 signatures at once. At the bottom of the first page, there were 3 signatures. At the bottom of the second page there were 2 more. And the remaining 2 signatures filled the bottom of the 3rd page.

I woke up that morning not knowing what to make of that dream nor was I aware of the news that awaited me at work (I worked in the media department of the Baha’i National Centre in the US). That day, all of us at the BNC received a message that the Secretary General had an important announcement to make within the hour. As we sat at that meeting, we learned the night before (which was early morning in Iran), 6 of the 7 members of the Yaran were arrested in their homes during early morning raids. What was foreboding about these raids and arrests is how it paralleled the abductions and executions of numerous Baha’i leaders during the 1980’s. The 7th member was arrested 2 months earlier on a road trip.

They remained incarcerated for a period of 20 months without any formal charges, during which they endured appalling torture, both of a physical and psychological nature. A court date had finally been granted to them but by the time of their trial, they were given less than one hour’s access to their legal counsel. They were ultimately charged with espionage, propaganda against the Islamic republic, the establishment of an illegal administration and spreading corruption on earth, charges which were adamantly denied by all the defendants. Although these charges were brought against them as a matter of formality, the basis of their arrest stemmed on their religious belief. Their only crime was being a Baha’i, the largest religious community in Iran that has been the target of government and mob pogroms since the inception of the religion 171 years ago. For many Bahai’s in Iran, membership within the community has resulted in imprisonment, execution, termination of employment, desecration and destruction of their holy places, cemeteries and most recently, the boycott of all Baha’i businesses and the prevention of all Baha’i students to a university education.

7 years have passed and these same 7, ordinary men and women: a farmer, an engineer, a psychologist, an industrialist, a social worker, an optometrist, and a school principal; fathers and mothers, ranging in age from 41 to 81, who for decades now have been stripped of their professional contributions to society, continue to remain in prison for their religious beliefs. Their crime is the same crime that you and I commit everyday, the ability to choose a personal and sacred belief system for ourselves.
I still don’t know what to make of this dream. I don’t know the meaning or symbolism behind the 3 page blank documents containing the 7 signatures of these prisoners, nor can I be dismissive of its connection to this event. I can say that from day one, I’ve always felt connected to this story and have always held these 7 individuals whom I’ve never met, close to my heart.

In an effort to shine a spotlight on the darkness that has taken over what was once my homeland, I made this video. It was made 7 years ago while the 7 Yaran were still awaiting a trial date and I share it with you again today, hoping you would do the same. Although I was extremely limited on photographs and media footage concerning their situation (all I had access to was one photograph), I decided to use archival footage and photographs from the early 1980’s, a time when the focus of a systematic, government sponsored persecution of all Baha’is in Iran was at it’s zenith in a most brutal and heinous way. I chose to parallel the stories of the many who lost their lives on account of their beliefs and contrast it with current events relating to the Yaran.

If this story has nestled its place within the close confines of your heart, I ask that you please join me during this global online campaign for human rights and consider your role in the freedom of these 7. Please share their story and get involved by clicking the link below to learn of their story:

Friday, January 2, 2015

I Have Learned / I Believe…

I Have Learned / I Believe...

1. I have learned that when your wife annoys you while you’re taking a shower, spraying her with the shower nozzle is not the best way to communicate your frustrations.
2. I have learned that removing light bulbs from the light fixtures in your home so you can ambush your roommate every night as he comes home from work by throwing a stack of corn tortillas at him in the dark can eventually hurt his feelings. I now realise that. Sorry Michael.
3. I have learned that raw red meat is the best way to surprise your friends during a snowball fight.
4. I believe my children will be the greatest mischief I will have ever concocted.
5. I have learned that insight is the crowning achievement of every human being, but worthless without action.
6. I have learned that my strength is solely in me and is not derived by the numbers of others.
7. I have learned that abuse is an infectious cycle and when loved ones do not sever ties from that environment or the abuser, the mindset and the iniquities of that act are then passed on.
8. I have learned that families are an institution, no different than a school or a church. If either is guilty of hiding any form of #abuse to protect its reputation, both the institution and the abuser have to be named.
9. I have learned that what binds and connects us with one another, are not the things we show off in our lives. It’s the other stuff we most often keep hidden.
10. I have learned that my wife is sometimes funnier than me. Sometimes.
11. I believe there is not a musician out there in the world that can hold a guitar and stand on stage next to Prince.
12. I have learned that too many of us carry a mindset that unconsciously protects a rape culture.
13. I have learned that too often in our religious communities and in our families, we use “unity” as a weapon against justice and truth.
14. I believe our world has a chance and the children we bring into it are its very agents of change.
15. I have learned that self-respect is mandatory, never to be compromised or negotiated with.
16. I believe music is the greatest Time Machine we have available to us.
17. I have learned that my wife is always right. This is why I call her “The General.”
18. I have learned that love is the greatest source of my power.
19. I believe it was photography that opened the aperture of my heart.
20. I have learned that neither family, culture, nor religion should persuade us from showing our fellow human being the respect, compassion, dignity and justice they are owed.
21. I have learned that it is our responsibility as men in this day to stand and defend women against the sexist beliefs we have inherited from our forefathers, as is the responsibility of Whites to use their privilege and become allies with people of colour against the legacy of racism.
22. I believe Bass Zanjani to be an intelligent man with a great character but he should be forced to roam the earth with a distinct mark on his brow, which would indicate that it was he who suggested the voice of Prince be removed from all his music and be replaced by the voice of Bryan Adams.
23. I believe #‎BlackLivesMatter‬, especially in a country that has yet to come to terms with the post traumatic effects that slavery has had on Black lives and the White psyche; where an institutionalised legacy of violence is constantly reinforced through concurrent membership in organisations such as law enforcement and the Ku Klux Klan.
24. I believe comedy, which contains profanity, is the greatest nutrition for my soul.
25. I believe #‎EducationIsNotACrime and the Iranian government should be ashamed and held accountable for systematically depriving Baha’i students their right to an education based on religious beliefs.
26. I have learned that statutes of limitations relating to sexual assault and abuse exist to financially protect some of the greater institutions within the United States from bankruptcy.
27. I have learned that throughout my life I have always taken a strong stance against racism but never recognised the misogyny that existed in the music I listened to or the films I watched.
28. I have learned that if you sit in silence, no one else will stand for you.
29. I have learned that family is what is created, not what you are born into.
30. I believe that every night should be a movie night with Domily.
31. I have learned that what makes me strong, impenetrable and beautiful as a person are the cracks, the scars and imperfections that I once believed were wrong with me and kept hidden from the world.
32. I have learned that transparency in my life allows me to receive grace from others.
33. I have learned that my friends are my greatest source of oxygen. Thank you.
34. I have learned that my experiences in life have caused me to see the world through who I am, rather than for what it is.
35. I have learned that far too many of us are going through the same thing.
36. I believe #‎AdnanSyed‬ should be free.
37. I believe in the purifying powers of Lake Minnetonka.
38. I believe, which is why I have survived.
39. I believe in the power of storytelling.
40. I believe I am still finding it hard to accept that my wife is sometimes funnier than me. Sometimes.