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Monday, May 27, 2013

Remembering Neda: The Angel of Iran

"You are neither dead, nor will you die
 You will always remain alive
You have eternal existence
 You are the voice of the people of Iran."
.....a poem for Neda Soltan.......
      Simin Behbahani
      Iran's national poet

  On June 20th, 2009, the world witnessed the gruesome death of a young Iranian woman through a cell phone video. The video graphically showed a beautiful young woman lying  on her back bleeding in an alleyway in Tehran and surrounded by friends desperately trying to save her life. Despite their heroic efforts, she tragically died after being fatally shot in the chest by a Basiji officer nearby.
 Through a two-minute video, the world was introduced to a young Iranian woman named Neda Soltan, who had joined thousands of other protesters in peacefully demonstrating the results of a corrupt presidential election in Iran.
 This intense and graphic video was the turning point in my life. It had a dramatic effect on me as it did on the millions of others who watched it.  I was in tears watching Neda gasping for life with her eyes wide open in fear. Something inside me snapped as I watched it. I immediately felt a "calling" to speak out for Iranians. I was outraged that their basic fundamental right to protest and disagree was being met with such violent opposition by an oppressive government. I was astonished to later discover that Neda's
name means, "calling." It was then that I realized that God was using this video as a "calling" for me to be a voice for Iranians.
 Now four years later, I have authored six books and written several blogs about the plight of Iranians for peace and freedom in their country. One of these books  "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom, " is dedicated to Neda, for her courage and conviction to be a voice for her people. I have been blessed to become a friend of Neda's fiance, Caspian Makan, a human rights spokesman living in Canada and have shared my book with him. Caspian has dedicated his life to keep Neda's dream for a free Iran alive through postings, pictures and articles on his webpage.
"The Rose of Nowruz" is now being read on pdf files by many of friends in Iran and giving them hope that one day, a Free Iran will be more than just a dream.
 In my book, Bahareh, a concert violinist, witnesses the Ghaste Ershade beating a woman outside of her apartment window because she wasn't wearing her hijab properly in public.
It was this event in Bahareh's life that motivated her to be a activist and voice for her friends suffering under a corrupt regime.
 There is a special song in my book, written by Bahareh, a song dedicated to the day when Iranians can once again walk down the streets of Tehran without fear. As I remember Neda today, I want to share this song with you. They are words of hope, dedicated to a woman, who through her tragic sacrifice, has illuminated the darkness of Iran with an eternal spirit of courage and freedom.

                                              The Rose of Nowruz

 There is a rose that was silenced that was crushed, but it will grow again, the sun will shine again.
 You gave us hope, gave us freedom, gave us life. You life will never end. The rose will live again.
  The sun is gonna shine again. The rose is gonna live again.
 Give me wings of freedom so I can fly. I wanna fly high. I wanna soar.
  Give me wings of freedom or let me die. I wanna touch the sky. I wanna soar!
                 (Dedicated to the angel of Iran: Neda Soltan)

"A Legacy of hatred, oppression and fear."

"I will stop Christianity in this country!"
    Iranian President Ahmadinejad

In January 1863, amidst the bloody confrontation between the North and the South, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed an end to slavery by issuing the famous, "emancipation proclamation." The Emancipation Proclamation immediately mandated the freedom of all slaves in the confederate states and issued a call for to the Army to treat as free all those that had been enslaved.
It was Lincoln who later declared on the bloody battlefield of Gettysburg that true government is, "of the people, by the people and for the people."
President Lincoln truly lived up to the calling of his elected office. He served the people with integrity and respect, leaving behind a legacy of freedom for the blacks and putting an end to an era of hatred and racism. 
Every government official, every elected leader, is sworn to his or her duty to uphold the Constitution and serve their consitutuents with fairness, honesty, and integrity. 
While Lincoln serves as a great example of leaving behind an honorable legacy of truth and freedom, Iranian President Ahmadinejad is the complete opposite.
On June 14, Iran will hold its presidential election. Ahmadinejad will step down after eight years and for millions of Iranians it is welcome relief. Unlike Lincoln, who freed millions of slaves, Ahmadinejad instead leaves behind a legacy of lies, hatred, and death. Lincoln brought freedom, while Ahmadinejad brought bondage and death. Since his presidency there has been more adult and child executions than any other country in the world. More than 500 executions topped the list in 2012 and this year so far 90 executions have been reported. Under Ahmadinejad there have been thousands of house arrests of political activists, journalists, bloggers and lawyers, silenced for speaking their minds and subsequently tortured in prisons all over Iran. The United Nations recently issued a stern warning to Iran for the continued gross violations of human rights, calling on them to conform to the international standards for the treatment of human beings.
Murder, imprisonment, discrimination, hatred, repression, the list goes on and on and one grows weary from reading about the fear and oppression resulting from the policies of Ahmadinejad and the Supreme leader of Iran.
Perhaps the single most "cherished" agenda that Ahmadinejad vowed to carry out was the elimination of Christianity in Iran. A few years after he was elected, Ahmadinejad publicly proclaimed, " I will stop Christianity in Iran." Shortly after that public vow, Christians were rounded up and arrested, many of them on Christmas day and put in solitary confinement in Evin Prison. Ahmadinejad kept his vow. Christians were tortured and beaten for their faith with the purpose of forcing them to recant and return to Islam. Despite the fact that the Iranian Constitution allows for "religious freedom," the present regime ignored their own law and began a crusade to purify Iran from any competing religious minorities.
The streets of Iran were filled with violence and death after the 2009 election. Iranians were outraged at what they perceived as an unfair and corrupt election. Many of the protesters to this day are still under house arrest with no hope of freedom, their voices silenced by a corrupt and intolerant regime. Many of my Iranian friends have told me during our chats online that they have no hope and refuse to vote in the upcoming election.
Lincoln left behind a legacy of hope and freedom to our nation. His famous phrase of true government being "of the people, by the people and for the people," is dream that my Iranian friends hunger and thirst for. They are tired of the violence and death that surrounds them. They have lost all hope for a freedom that you and I take for granted every single day.
As Ahmadinejad finally steps down, what can my friends expect from the next leader?
What kind of legacy will he leave?
Please join me in speaking out and praying for my friends in Iran. They need a true leader who will one day leave behind a legacy of
hope and freedom.
It's never too late to begin speaking out and praying.
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves:
 ensure justice for those being crushed."
    (Proverbs 31:8)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Reaching out to Muslims with a circle of love

    "There is no greater love than
     to lay down one's life for one's friends."
          Jesus/ John 15:13

 I'm very excited about my new book, "Tears in a bottle: seeing through their eyes." I have spent over two years wrestling and laboring with the themes of this book in order to present a perspective that I believe has been sadly ignored. As a Christian I am interested in dialoging
 and communicating respectfully with those of "different faiths." In particular, I spend a lot of time on the internet interacting with Muslims in Iran, Malaysia and different parts of the world. My goal in all of this is to first find our common ground and then discuss the theological differences in our worldviews.
"Tears in a bottle," is an open and honest book that attempts to help you and I "see through the eyes" of the average Muslim as they encounter hatred and discrimination in their everyday lives. I felt the best way to introduce my new book is to reproduce the introduction word for word and let you get a glimpse of the motives in my heart for writing this new book.
                                   (A Circle of Love)

When we love and lay down our lives for our friends, we are pleasing to God in the ultimate way. This is exactly what Jesus did for us. He loved us so much that He was willing to give away his life for his friends.
Recently, there was a beautiful example of this sacrificial love demonstrated in the streets of Cairo, Egypt. As protesters and angry crowds collided with each other in outrage over the dictatorship of Mubarak, a group of Egyptian Coptic Christians peacefully displayed a beautiful circle of love. They joined hands with each other and formed a circle of protection around Muslims so that they could perform their Friday prayers. This was one of the most beautiful events I have ever seen. Amidst the violence, anger and outrage, a group pf Christians were willing to lay down their lives so that their Muslims friends would be protected.
Living in a post 9/11 mindset, we have become fearful and judgmental toward all Muslims. Instead of displaying a circle of love and tolerance, we have instead erected a circle/barrier of hatred and labeled every Muslim with a terrorist mentality  Instead of personal conversations and interactions between each other, we have allowed the ratings- driven media to shape and decide who we really are. We don't talk to each other and listen. Instead, we allow the media to paint a distorted picture of our identities and because of that the scars go deeper.
My new book, "Tears in a bottle," is an attempt to bring healing to the scars. The scars of fear, the scars of racism and discrimination and the scars of not listening from the heart. 
There are no scars too deep and there is no hatred too strong that the Grace of God cannot heal.
What I witnessed in Egypt is possible right here where we live in America. We have a beautiful freedom and opportunity to form a circle of love around each other and begin to listen and pray for one another. While everyone else is in the crowd shouting, arguing and accusing, why don't you dare to be different? Take a moment to walk in a Muslim's shoes. Take the time to see, feel, and hear what they hear. When you and I begin to "see through their eyes," we will then have the courage to confront our own hypocrisies and then the world will be a much better place because of it.
Why not begin forming that circle of love today?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Silencing the truth: No other viewpoint allowed!

On June 10, 1844, Joseph Smith jr, prophet and founder of the Mormon church, along with the city council, voted unanimously to have the printing press of the Nauvoo Expositor destroyed. The newspaper was declared to be a "public nuisance" and later that evening the town marshall carried out the order.
William Law, former member of the first presidency and chief editor of the newspaper, had accused Smith of secretly engaging in the practice of polygamy and openly teaching erroneous doctrines contrary to the Mormon Faith. He had also accused the prophet of becoming obsessed with wanting too much power and desiring to create a theocracy. In carrying out the order of destruction, Joseph Smith jr and the Nauvoo council had clearly violated the Illinois Constitution that granted freedom-of-the press to its citizens and had also trampled upon their first amendment rights.
 False religion is notorious for silencing the truth and prohibiting opposing viewpoints. Fear and intimidation are common tactics employed by a "power hungry" dictatorship. Like Joseph Smith jr, Supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, has chosen the same methods and tactics to shutdown and silence those who oppose the policies of the government. With a little over a month until the next presidential election, the Iranian regime is busily arresting bloggers and journalists, to send a message to its citizens saying, "We will control what you see and hear!"
In January, on a day now known as "Black Sunday," security forces arrested 16 journalists and bloggers and quickly put them in Evin Prison. Since then, the government has stepped up their control over the internet by blocking access to vpn, a device Iranians need to open up filtered websites and get online. The goal of the regime is to disconnect the internet and deprive Iranians of access to any source of news and information during the course of the election. Iran is desperately trying to avoid the violence and bloodshed that occurred during the disputed 2009 presidential election by shutting down outside communications with any other media outlet.
In an ironic twist of events, on April 30, 2013, Iranian President Ahmadinejad was arrested and held for seven hours. He was interrogated by the head of intelligence in reference to some remarks he made about possessing "secret tapes" from the 2009 election. Ahmadinejad reportedly warned associates that if his hand picked successor, Esfandiar Mashaei, was rejected as a candidate, then he would reveal tapes that demonstrated that the 2009 election was a fraud. After a lengthy interrogation, Ahmadinejad was warned to back down from his ultimatum and then released.
Fraud, deceit and cover-ups are the norm for the Iranian regime. They will stop at nothing to deceive and control Iranians in order to conceal what happens behind closed doors.
Silencing the truth is the method Iran employs to shutdown any opposing viewpoint. In
October 2012, Sattar Beheshti, a Facebook blogger, was arrested and put in Evin Prison for writing an article that was critical of the government. Less than three weeks later his family was notified of his death. Although the regime claims it was due to natural causes, there was evidence of beatings and torture after a autopsy was performed.
Things have not changed much since the printing press of the Nauvoo Expositor was destroyed. Power hungry governments are still in the business of suppressing the truth and killing those who have an opposing viewpoint. My friends in Iran that I chat with daily online, told me that they are refusing to vote during the upcoming election. They feel it is hopeless and a waste of time.
For those of us who still enjoy first amendment rights and a government that is "of the people, by the people and for the people," we have a responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless. My heart is grieved that my Iranian friends don't have the same freedom that I have. Proverbs 31:8 gives us a royal command to stand up fro the voiceless.
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves: ensure justice for those being crushed."
 I believe that as we collectively speak out and pray for Iranians, that God will honor our efforts and one day very soon give them true freedom.
There is a day coming when the truth will no longer be silenced.