Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks to All of You for FREEDOM

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ~ Nelson Mandela

I will forever be grateful for Josh, Shane and Sarah’s FREEDOM. After fighting for their FREEDOM for 2 years and 2 months, I can only write the word in capitals. Through the struggle for it, I have come to realize how central it is to life. It is impossible to feel FREE oneself, when the FREEDOM of loved ones is curtailed.

I am still acutely aware of Josh, Shane and Sarah’s acts of FREEDOM – their ability to send emails and texts, make phone calls, post tweets and facebook messages, and most importantly BE with their loved ones, connect directly with their global supporters and choose their life paths. Being able to advise them on social media and public engagement, and helping them launch their own social media voices is beyond what I was able to imagine when they were captive and unable to communicate via any means. 

I also feel immense gratitude to them for inspiring me to fight for their FREEDOM and that of others, and to do so lovingly and peacefully. Their strength, wisdom and compassion continue to inspire me every day as we recover from the trauma of the past two years and carve a new path forward.  After more than two years of working so hard to represent them and be their voices, being able to work with them directly to carve a path forward together is an indescribable reward. It is a reward that I would not have without the hard work of the Free the Hikers team nor the unwavering compassion and support of my family, friends and supporters around the world.

The Free the Hikers team was formed and grew organically as family, friends and supporters of Josh, Shane and Sarah came together to fight for their FREEDOM. I am so thankful for Josh’s family, who welcomed me as one of their own, expressed remarkable care and compassion for me at the most painful time of their lives, and inspired me with their incredible and unshakeable strength, courage and resilience. I am especially thankful for Josh’s brother Alex, who was a lifeline for me.

Alita Holly, an old family friend of Sarah’s, became a sister to me as we worked together through our shared trauma to build Free the Hikers’ online presence. Alita’s remarkable creativity and technical skills were the perfect complement to my passion for engaging and mobilizing people. She built the tools I used to engage people around the world, and she continues to be there for me during this challenging time of transition.

David Marcus, a friend of Shane’s, held up the website fort so beautifully, even when his second daughter was born. He was always such a pleasure to work with and share joys and frustrations with. It was especially comforting to be able to share New York City campaign events with him in person. Helaine Alon, a friend of Josh’s, made it possible for me to centrally coordinate global vigils and events for Sarah, Shane and Josh. 

Former students of Josh and I were there throughout the painful ordeal, to remind me of the community and history we share with Josh. Many of them contributed immensely to the campaign even as they were going through many important and challenging transitions in their own lives. It gives me great pleasure to hear of them gradually reuniting with Josh, and I long for us all to have a big joint reunion soon.

I am most proud of, touched by and grateful for the diversity of support we built together. We had unwavering, loving support from The Swiss Ambassador to Iran, Livia Leu Agosti, and her colleagues. We also had a fearless Iranian lawyer, Mr.Masoud Shafii, who risked his own life and safety to fight for justice. We are very saddened that the Iranian regime is now restricting his freedom by confiscating his passport and preventing him from traveling freely.

We also had support from global leaders (e.g. Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon), political leaders (e.g President Obama, Sec of State Hillary Clinton, Sultan Qaboos of Oman, Presidents of Iraq, Turkey, Brazil, and Venezuela), high profile public figures (e.g. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky), celebrities (e.g. Sean Penn, Mia Farrow, Muhammad Ali, Yusuf Islam, Deepak Chopra and his family), international organizations (e.g. Safe World for Women, careif, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Witness), Online communities (e.g., care2), and people all over the world. People of all ages, from different cultural and religious backgrounds, with different political beliefs came together with the common goal of freeing Sarah, Shane and Josh. They supported us by organizing events, donating funds, wearing FTH t-shirts and jewelry, signing petitions, writing letters, creating banners, posters joining us on Facebook, twitter and YouTube and spreading the word about Sarah, Shane and Josh. I would not have been able to do any of what I did without them nor my family and friends.

My sister Salina was and continues to be a lifeline for me. She is there for everything I need, from invaluable assistance with Free the Hikers social media accounts and global events, to a shoulder to cry on, to someone to share the joys of FREEDOM with. I am thrilled that she wants to take what we learned and built together forward together.

My mother provided unconditional and immense love and support throughout the ordeal and was the one person in my physical environment who had spent time with Josh, and understood the magnitude of his loss, and was incensed by the injustice against him. She also felt great compassion for the suffering of Josh’s family, and a special protectiveness of Alex.

I am also grateful to my two brothers as the profound impact of my prolonged separations from each of them during our very early childhood, drove me to do everything in my power to reunite Josh and Alex, and to be there for them in whatever ways I could during their heartbreaking separation. My niece and nephew amazed me with their ability to understand the gravity of the injustice and the pain it was causing me enough to take whatever actions they could, despite their very young ages.

Countless other family and friends of mine, and family, friends and supporters of Josh, Shane and Sarah were there for me just when I needed them most; with energy for campaign action, kind words, or a home to share. From Karen Leigh, who reached out daily from all corners of the world, and wrote articles that so aptly captured the pain and loss experienced by Josh's loved ones, to Stephanie McCabe, who helped me to realize my vision of our film, “Josh Fattal: 444 Days in Iran…and counting”, to Karim Bardeesy, who wrote editorials about Sarah, Shane and Josh in our National newspaper, the Globe and Mail. I am especially appreciative of friends of Josh, Shane and Sarah, who are stepping in now to express gratitude, offer me emotional support and share this transformative journey.

Sharing this incredible journey with all of you is something I’ll never forget. Every supportive action and communication of yours has moved me and given me the strength to keep up the fight - and has made it possible for me to be reunited with Josh, Shane and Sarah. Endless thanks to all of you for that. You have changed my life. I hope that you can all feel the gratitude I express to you directly and indirectly every day.

Like Sarah, Shane and Josh, I hope that we can continue to support each other and work together for change.

Co-founder and Online Organizer
Free the Hikers

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lotus Flower

If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now.

And when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.

~ Masaru Emoto, The Secret Life of Water

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dear Josh

My mother and cousin Salina holding banners in Toronto
I haven't posted here for some time. As each day passes with Josh remaining captive in Evin Prison, Iran, I become more speechless. Speechless at the injustice. Speechless at the pain. It has now been more than two years since I have seen, spoken to, hugged, or heard from Josh. I continue to think of him and fight for his freedom every day. I am unable to write to or call him and he is unable to write to or call me. I write to him and speak to him anyway, in the hopes that he can somehow feel me with him. I am posting a couple of previous audio letters here now and will post a new one soon.



Monday, March 21, 2011

Nowruz: Hope for a New Day for Shane and Josh

My community, family and I celebrate Nowruz (or Navroz as we call it) along with Iranians around the world.  Growing up in Canada, where our religious community’s holidays were not marked in mainstream society, I struggled to navigate the two disparate worlds I lived in. It was often difficult for our family to adequately celebrate our special days when we didn’t have public holidays to facilitate us coming together.  So we began to take advantage of the public holidays we do have to celebrate together.

Navroz, however, always felt particularly meaningful to me.  It just made sense to me to mark the beginning of a new year on the first day of Spring, a time of rebirth and renewal. It made sense that the word ‘Navroz’ meant ‘new day’. It always felt like a time of renewed hope and endless possibilities. I loved celebrating that with my family and community, and with my Iranian friends and colleagues.

Since Sarah, Shane and Josh were captured and detained, it has been impossible for me to feel the joy of the new day that Navroz brings. It has been increasingly difficult for me to hold onto hope as the nightmare of Shane and Josh’s imprisonment continues to almost two years. I feel a dark cloud hovering over me, rather than the rays of sunshine I used to feel at this time of year.

This year, I did mark Navroz with my community, but Shane and Josh were ever-present in our minds and hearts. I went to the celebration with my cousin who has just moved back to Canada from working in the Middle East for many years. So we talked about Shane and Josh on the way to the celebration. She asked me how I manage to maintain the fight for their freedom. The only answer I have is “They just have to be free. And I just have to keep doing whatever is in my power until they are.”  At the celebration, I ran into a couple of old friends. One of them said “I just got back from Ukraine last night. I saw the news about Muhammad Ali’s plea for Shane and Josh’s freedom in Kiev!”  Soon afterwards, I ran into a colleague, and the first thing he said, even before “Navroz Mubarak,” was “What’s the latest news about Shane and Josh?”  When I told him that there was no new news, he shook his head, remarking on his memory of our Navroz hope last year.

It seems appropriate that it is snowing today in Ottawa. The new day won’t really be here until Shane and Josh are free. In the meantime I take solace in the support and solidarity I have from my family and community.

My cousin Salina has been an especially invaluable support to me and to our campaign as a whole. I asked her to share her Navroz reflections along with mine:

Salina Abji: Navroz has always been a special time of year for me. I remember how, as a young child, I would look forward to egg painting and scavenger hunts, receiving gifts from my mom and dad, and getting dressed up and going to community celebrations where there would be prayers followed by food and dancing. As I grew older, I learned about the deeper significance of Navroz. This was not only a time for celebration, but also a time for reflection. This was not only a time for sharing joy with family and friends, but also a time for forgiveness and compassion. 

Last year for Navroz, I prayed that Iran would release Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal on compassionate grounds. In August last year, I was moved to tears when Sarah Shourd was released, and I continue to be moved every time she speaks out for Josh and Shane. In fact, Sarah's continued work to free Josh and Shane embodies all of the qualities we revere during Navroz: a willingness to forgive, an inextinguishable sense of hope, and a deep appreciation for all of the things that unite us rather than divide us. It is my deepest, deepest wish that the Iranian authorities will mark this Navroz by extending the same compassion to Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer that they did for Sarah Shourd, by releasing them on humanitarian grounds. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

This is the Sea - The Waterboys

These things you keep
You'd better throw them away
You wanna turn your back
On your soulless days
Once you were tethered
And now you are free
Once you were tethered
Well now you are free
That was the river
This is the sea!

Now if you're feelin' weary
If you've been alone too long
Maybe you've been suffering from
A few too many
Plans that have gone wrong
And you're trying to remember
How fine your life used to be
Running around banging your drum
Like it's 1973
Well that was the river
This is the sea!

Now you say you've got trouble
You say you've got pain
You say've got nothing left to believe in
Nothing to hold on to
Nothing to trust
Nothing but chains
You're scouring your conscience
Raking through your memories
Scouring your conscience
Raking through your memories
But that was the river
This is the sea yeah!

Now i can see you wavering
As you try to decide
You've got a war in your head
And it's tearing you up inside
You're trying to make sense
Of something that you just can't see
Trying to make sense now
And you know you once held the key
But that was the river
And this is the sea!
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!

Now i hear there's a train
It's coming on down the line
It's yours if you hurry
You've got still enough time
And you don't need no ticket
And you don't pay no fee
No you don't need no ticket
You don't pay no fee
Because that was the river
And this is the sea!

Behold the sea!