Friday, August 3, 2012

Pay it Forward: Be Kind

On Wednesday, my cousin sistahs Salina and Shazia, chose to celebrate their birthdays by "paying it forward": performing random acts of kindness throughout Toronto, and inspiring others around the world to do the same. I was honoured to be invited to be a part of it, but I was low in energy on Wednesday. The day before was: the 3 year anniversary of my friends' Josh, Shane & Sarah's capture by Iranian forces; the 2 year anniversary of the Toronto benefit concert for them organized by my sistahs' Salina & Shazia and entourage; the 1 year anniversary of our New York City protest outside the Iranian Mission to the UN and Josh, Shane and Sarah's final trial session. As a result of all of the pay it forward (PIF) energy given to them, they are miraculously FREE now. But the last few years are a ton to process and the repercussions on so many of us are HUGE. On many days, I feel more like I need energy than have energy to give.

The positive energy from the group who participated in Salina and Shazia's PIF celebration is seeping in. Today I spent most of the day feeling angry at my neighbours for waking me up at 5:00am by being very loud on their balcony. This is not the first time they have woken me up in the middle of the night. I went for a swim this evening and reflected on how I could handle the situation positively. I decided to approach them and tell them I was glad they were having so much fun (without sarcasm :). And then to ask them if they would mind keeping it down in the middle of the night. I visualized a positive outcome.

On my way to approach them, I bumped into two other new neighbours who turned into an impromptu support group. They too are having challenges with inconsiderate neighbours. They understand exactly how I feel. We shared our experiences of having cigarette butts, alcohol, and beer cans thrown on our balconies, and neighbours running through the halls shouting in the middle of the night. One of them invited me to drop by her place any time to discuss and strategize around the issues. The other offered a very helpful suggestion that I connect with them positively during the day, when they're not drunk. He said that he felt badly for me and hoped I would come to the building turnover meeting. He added that he could represent my concerns if I was unable to participate.

That kindness, concern for me and willingness to be my voice is just what I needed to lift my spirits. It gives me hope that maybe some of the kindness I have paid forward will come back to me when I need it. So that I can then pay it forward. And so on, and so on...

As Shazia says, "It works!" So join our movement!

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Call for Justice for our Justice Defender: 7 Causes in 7 Days

Re-posted from
“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
Nelson Mandela’s wise words capture what felt so impossible to explain over the past few years; what inspired my dedication to fight for freedom for my dear friends, Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd. When they were freed and thanked me profusely I had to try to explain, “What happened to you was so wrong, so unjust, that I had to restore balance to the world somehow.”

Intent blog Ed’s Note: If you’re not familiar with the Free the Hikers campaign, you can read about it and the backstory behind Josh, Shane, & Sarah’s two year imprisonment in Iran here. You can also read Farah’s previous blogs about her personal experience during the campaign here.

Credit: Press TV
I felt a kinship with Masoud Shafii (Sarah, Shane & Josh’s lawyer in Iran) from the start, because I could sense across continents and oceans that he was driven by the same conviction. I could feel his solidarity. Nevertheless he made sure to communicate it frequently, asking Josh, Shane and Sarah’s families to thank me for everything I was doing. He understands me better than anyone involved in the campaign. We share the experience of facing injustices directly resulting from our unwavering fight for justice for Josh, Shane and Sarah.

I deal with ongoing threats and harassment by Iranian agents; lack of understanding and support of workplaces; lack of understanding of some family, friends and people I interact with every day; the loss of significant relationships; and extreme financial hardships. All that is an unjust burden to bear, but Mr. Shafii faces much greater restrictions to his freedom, much greater threats to his well-being, much greater injustice. To punish him for his work to free Josh, Shane and Sarah, the Iranian regime has confiscated his passport. He cannot travel freely and is prohibiting him from practicing law. As Sarah recently wrote in the Huffington Post, “He was just doing his job.”  And doing it so well.
Josh recently shared his thoughts about Mr. Shafii with me.

Courage, integrity, and intelligence. Three words that come to mind when I think of him standing in front of the Revolutionary Courts defending me. I remember the soft persistence of his voice, the truth in his handshakes and the presence in his eyes. A true cosmopolitan and a man, like every citizen, who should be free to work and to travel in liberty–that is, Masoud Shafii.

Credit: Reuters/Raheb Homavandi
Josh’s reflection validated the connection we shared on the opposite sides of an insurmountable wall.  Or perhaps it’s just a testament to Mr. Shafii’s courage, integrity, and intelligence – they are evident to everyone, even through impermeable borders.

Since Shane and Josh were released, Free the Hikers supporters have offered to fight for justice for the man who sacrificed so much to fight for justice for Josh, Shane and Sarah. We have been cautious, however, in our actions out of concern for Mr. Shafii, but the time has come for us to speak out and tell the Iranian regime that we will not stand by while they commit injustices to the courageous justice defender for Josh, Shane and Sarah. Please join Free the Hikers on Facebook and Twitter to build support for Mr. Shafii, and to stay informed of further actions you can take to fight for the freedom he so deserves.

This post is the first in a series of seven posts to mark 7 months of FREEDOM for Josh, Shane, Sarah and all of us who fought so hard for their freedom. Each post will feature one cause that I am currently working on and encourage you to support the cause with concrete actions. Stay tuned for the rest of the series focused on human rights and mental health issues.

Farahway Global, my initiative inspired by my Free the Hikers experience, is a non-profit organization that engages the global public in action for human rights and mental health. Now that I have spent such a significant part of my life fighting for freedom and justice, while not feeling free myself, I am compelled to continue my efforts to restore balance to the world through Farahway Global.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Love and Hope Cannot Be Extinguished

This morning Sarah sent Shane, Josh and I this video of an interview Drewery Dyke, Amnesty International Iran researcher, conducted with Amir, author of Zahra's Paradise. Zahra's Paradise is a serial webcomic that tells the fictional story of a mother's search for Mehdi, a young protestor who has disappeared after the 2009 fraudulent elections in Iran.

I watched the video and was deeply moved by how effectively Amir expresses so much of what I found so difficult to adequately explain during the 2 years and 2 months of our 'Free the Hikers' trauma.

Amir talks about wanting to represent that "in a situation of crisis, ...Iranian society helps with this odyssey this mother has to go through...It's at that level...that the love flows."

His words capture so well how I felt about all the seemingly small kindnesses of people around the world, the kindnesses of people towards me, during Sarah, Shane and Josh's captivity. One example of such kindness, that I will never forget, is that of Mike, owner of Broadview Espresso, in Toronto. I was living in Ottawa and came to Toronto for a doctor's appointment. I headed straight to my appointment from the train station, with my suitcase in tow. I stopped at Broadview Espresso on the way, to grab a much needed coffee after the long trip. I had never been there as it was newly opened when I left Toronto. I was so preoccupied with the stress of Sarah, Shane and Josh's captivity, that I left my suitcase there, right in front of the counter. I didn't even notice that it was missing until I had been sitting in the waiting room at the clinic for some time. I frantically called Broadview Espresso, hoping it would still be there. Mike picked up the phone, calmly told me that it was there, and asked me to tell him where I was so that he could bring it to me. I was stunned. Toronto is a very large city and I could have been anywhere. I felt that he had felt the stress I was under, the stress that led me to forget my suitcase there, and wanted to do what he could to alleviate it. He brought my suitcase to me at the clinic and I couldn't adequately express how meaningful his gesture was to me.

People doing whatever they could was exactly what we all needed to get through our unimaginable trauma. Such kindnesses would often make me cry and it was so hard to explain to people why. Amir explains it beautifully.

He goes on to express, "Love is ultimately the force that conquers death...that's where the resistance comes from." My belief in that was my guiding light during our fight for FREEDOM for Sarah, Shane and Josh. As I described in my Valentine's Day blog post, whenever my faith in justice, my faith in truth, faltered, I turned to this quote from Gandhi: 
"Truth triumphs over untruth. Love conquers hatred.”
As Amir emphasizes, love and hope cannot be extinguished. When people asked me whether I felt hopeful about FREEDOM for Sarah, Shane and Josh, I could only answer "I have to." When a CBC reporter asked me over and over, "What if Sarah, Shane and Josh are never freed?" I stared at her incredulously, not even being able to absorb what she was suggesting, and replied "We can't even imagine that possibility. They have to be FREED, and we have to do whatever is in our power to ensure that they are."

Love and hope are within our power. As Amir so beautifully encourages, "Amnesty members can light up the candle, the spirit, in all the ways that they wish."

Thank you Amir for your beautiful spirit reflected in your work and words, and Drewery for your beautiful spirit that supported us so strongly in our fight for FREEDOM for Sarah, Shane and Josh.

Thank you both and all Amnesty members and supporters for lighting the candles of love and hope, and keeping them aflame in the darkest times.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

To: Josh Fattal, Subject: Wow

This morning, I watched a video of Josh, Shane and Sarah speaking outside San Quentin prison in California. I was so deeply moved by a combination of pain at hearing more details of their suffering at the hands of the Iranian regime, and pride at their incredible strength and ongoing commitment to justice for all. The best thing we can do with our suffering is channel it into compassion for others that drives us to minimize their suffering.

After watching the video, I was compelled to email Josh to express my feelings. And I am compelled to share that email here as a follow-up to my communication with him that I shared with you when I couldn't share it directly with him. Another step in my resistance to the Iranian regime's attempts to disconnect us. Because connecting with each other makes us stronger every day.

from: Farah N. Mawani
to: Josh Fattal
date: Wed, Feb 29, 2012 at 12:04 PM
subject: Wow

Hey J,

I just watched a video of your speech at San Quentin. Wow.

It pains me to hear about your mistreatment (to put it mildly) and especially to know that they withheld all your letters from friends and supporters.

BUT, most of all I feel SUCH pride knowing how strong you remained and how you fought for yourself in the most unimaginable situation.

And SUCH pride watching you speak SO strongly in front of the crowd (without reading your speech!) and engaging them so effectively.

I remember when I used to watch Alex speak with such ease in front of crowds at our vigils and protests, and think about how you were different. That you were quieter and not as confident (more like me :) - but wow, now I see you taking and OWNing your voice! It makes me emotional (sorry :) and so, so, so incredibly proud.

You continue to be an inspiration to me.

Lots of love,



See the following links for some of my communication with Josh while he was held hostage by the Iranian regime, from most recent to earliest.

Dear Josh (audio)

500 Days without FREEDOM

Fragments of bridges

Dear Sarah, Shane & Josh - My Hope for You 

DAY 330: Bowen Island Hike 'with' Josh

Josh, I hope you can hear me (video)

And here is a note Josh wrote to me during our time living and working together, before he was captured and taken hostage by the Iranian regime.

Spiraling Journey

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Five Months of FREEDOM

Yesterday marked 5 months of FREEDOM for Josh, Shane, Sarah and all of us who love them and devoted every cell of our beings to fight for their FREEDOM. I have held to my vow to only write the word 'FREEDOM' in capital letters to better represent its critical importance to life. It is an indescribable feeling to be marking months of FREEDOM rather than months of captivity. I wish we could have global celebrations to mark each of those months, as we had vigils, rallies and protests to mark the months and years of captivity. But I know that people around the world are celebrating each day of FREEDOM with us. And most importantly, I can celebrate those markers WITH Sarah, Shane and Josh. I'm still absorbing that - yesterday I texted Josh a 'Happy FREEDOM Anniversary' message. It took me the entire day to remember that I could do that. The FREEDOM to text, to communicate, is something I will never take for granted again.

The transition to FREEDOM is not an easy journey. We are all processing so much, feeling so much that we had to hold back in order to direct our focus and energy to our fight. One of the most frightening feelings I had after Sarah, Shane and Josh were freed was the uncertainty of what the next days, months and years would bring. The fear was partly due to growing accustomed to living with daily and hourly uncertainty for the 2 years and 2 months of their captivity. It was partly due to the dramatic shift in my identity that I anticipated - from a FREEDOM fighter to...I wasn't sure what.  I longed to get back to parts of my life and myself that I had to neglect while fighting for Sarah, Shane and Josh's lives but I knew that I had been transformed. I knew that I needed to somehow integrate my traumatic and transforming experience into my life's journey, but I didn't know how best to do that.

Fortunately, my journey is unfolding organically with some hard work thrown in. The way in which I spent the 5 month anniversary is a good illustration of that. I spent the morning advising two political prisoner campaigns on organizing coordinated global actions, based on my Free the Hikers experience. I then went to a conference focused on addressing access to care for individuals living in Canada without health insurance.  I brought a guest, who I met through the Free the Hikers campaign, to help expand his networks.  It was wonderful to introduce him to long-time colleagues and friends as I reconnected with them post-Free the Hikers.

My worlds are colliding and merging into one land mass. There are still fissures and fractures in that land mass that I hope will mend in time to provide me with the solid ground I need to be my strongest self. I left the conference early for my weekly trauma therapy session, where I confronted and expressed some of the ongoing pain associated with Sarah, Shane and Josh's hostage-taking. While running some errands afterwards, a bright butterfly-covered scarf caught my eye.  I wear it today to honour my ongoing transformation and to remind me that Spring is coming and with it hope for new growth sprouting from the merging ground of my former and transformed self.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Put a Little Love in Your Heart

Okay, I’ll admit, I have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day. Like many, I’m not a fan of the commercialization of love. I do, however, feel that a reminder to reflect on the importance of love in our lives, is not a bad thing. I’ve had intensive opportunities to reflect on love over the past few years. I was driven to fight for FREEDOM for Josh Fattal by love. Love for him, love for justice, love for truth.

Whenever my faith in justice, my faith in truth, faltered, I turned to this quote from Gandhi: 
"Truth triumphs over untruth. Love conquers hatred.”
It reminded me of my deeply held belief. It kept me fighting towards our goal, no matter what curve balls were thrown our way.  No matter what hatred was thrown our way – by the Iranian regime and their agents, and more shockingly by members of the general public. Even when dealing with the Iranian regime, love did conquer hatred. Truth did triumph over untruth.

My pain associated with the loss and fear of loss of Josh, though excruciating, connected me more deeply to the love behind that pain. We so often realize how much love we feel when we lose someone or are at risk of losing him or her.  I did lose the ability to communicate with Josh in any way whatsoever for 2 years and 2 months. In this world of telecommunications where we can communicate instantly and simultaneously by text, email, phone, video, Facebook, twitter, etc., being completely cut off from someone I was with all day every day for months beforehand, was like losing a part of myself. 

Now that he’s free, my heart, that broke a little bit more every day of his captivity, is slowly mending, and rejoicing in his FREEDOM, his LIFE.  My heart is gradually growing as I absorb the FREEDOM of Josh, Shane, Sarah and all of us whose hearts were held captive with them.

But as I try to recover and reconnect with my loved ones and my life outside of FREEDOM fighting, I’m facing other losses – the loss of the intensely close Free the Hikers family that formed to FREE Sarah, Shane and Josh, the loss of Alex, the other half of my campaign-self, and the loss of the Josh I lived with and the me that lived with him. Josh and I are now separated by living for 2 years and 2 months with an impenetrable wall between us, and by thousands of miles.

As all of us in the extended Free the Hikers family are going through major lifelong transformations, I’m also faced with other unexpected losses.  There are big changes in my immediate family that affect us all. And the father of two of my oldest friends is dying.  It is so difficult for me to absorb that, let alone write that.  My father left my brothers, our mother, and me when I was a child. My friends’ father is like a father to me. He consistently expresses great pride in my accomplishments, and glows with pride at my Free the Hikers accomplishments and my ongoing Human Rights work.

Knowing that someone you love is in physical and/or emotional pain and not being able to do anything about it is excruciating.  Dealing with losing them on top of that is unbearable. The next hardest thing is sharing the pain with the people closest to them. Those were the hardest parts of the Iranian regime holding Josh hostage. They are the hardest parts of Cam’s suffering.

Knowing that Alex was suffering indescribable pain during Josh’s captivity, pain that I could not alleviate, was almost impossible for me to bear.  And now I’m watching two of my closest and oldest friends deal with the threat of losing their beloved father, while I too am faced with his loss.

I can’t prevent his loss so it’s extremely difficult to know how to help him and how to help his family. Like my experience on my journey to FREE Josh, Shane and Sarah, I know that being there for the journey, in whatever way I can be, is the most precious gift of all.  That is love. Being given and received.

May you all give and receive love today, and every day.

Put a little love in your heart.

With love,