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Thursday, February 27, 2014

"No Escape from the Hangman's noose!"

Seven Reasons Why I Should Die
By Hashem Shaabani
For seven days they shouted at me:
You are waging war on God!
On Saturday, they said it’s because you’re Arab
On Sunday, Well, you’re from Ahvaz
On Monday: Remember that you are Iranian
Tuesday: You mock the Holy Revolution
Wednesday: Didn’t you raise your voice to help others?
Thursday: You are a poet and a bard
Friday: You are a man. Isn’t this reason enough to die?

Iran's Beloved poet, Hashem Shaabani, could not escape the hangman's noose. His crime? Voicing his opinion, speaking out against the repression of ethnic Arabs by the Islamic regime in Iran. Since the regime sees itself as "God's representative on earth," there is no freedom of speech or disagreement. A person's fate is sealed when he or she publicly criticizes the government.
I remember one of the most dramatic scenes I ever witnessed in a movie was the powerfully painful execution scene in, "Braveheart."
The Scottish freedom fighter, William Wallace, is brought before the English Magistrate and tried for high treason and condemned to public torture and beheading.Wallace refuses to beg for mercy and submit to the king. The magistrate implores him one last time to beg for mercy but instead Wallace screams the word, "Freedom" and is promptly beheaded.
Just this morning, sitting at my computer, I witnessed my first public execution! This time it wasn't a movie, but real life!
A young man, with his wrists tied, and surrounded by two executioners wearing masks, stood on a platform facing a bright spotlight in the early morning hours right before dawn in an undisclosed location in Iran.
The two filmmakers can be heard discussing amongst themselves what this man must be feeling as he is being prepared to have a noose fitted around his neck.
Then suddenly the victim begins to cry out for his mother, begging to see her for the last time. I could hear the frightening wail of the mother in the audience begging to hug her son for the last time. But her demands fall on deaf ears. The executioners refuse this man's last request.
In desperation, the prisoner pushes over the stool he will stand on to be executed. Then in a frenzied moment he kicks the men surrounding him, trying his best to escape the fate that awaits him. Finally several other men rush to the platform and subdue the prisoner. They assist him upon the stool, tie the noose around his neck and then quickly pull it out from beneath him. He struggles for a brief few seconds, dangling helplessly in the air and then dies.
I will never forget the haunting sounds that followed. Cheers and praises from the audience, not delighting in the execution, but rather expressing their relief that his soul can finally rest and he is no longer suffering.
I sat at my computer, silently weeping, numb from what I just witnessed. I felt guilty that I could not say or do something to prevent this horrible tragedy. The painful reality of what his mother just witnessed gripped my soul with feelings of grief and outrage. Then I remembered the last death cry made by William Wallace in Braveheart, "Freedom!"
Unfortunately there is no freedom for Iranians. Since Iran's new President, Hassan Rouhani took office last August, there have been over 385 executions. There were at least 500 in 2013, 57 of them publicly and in the beginning of this year 85. The government has become relentless in cleansing the political prisoner population. These helpless prisoners suffer from serious health problems while in prison without any intervening medical aid. They are not given any proper representations or fair trials and spend sometimes years enduring daily torture before finally being executed!
After witnessing my first public execution, I am now more committed than ever, to continue speaking out and praying for these victims of injustice. To watch another human being dangling helplessly in the air with a noose around his neck, is horrifying and demands a response, an outage against injustices. I cannot just sit by and be silent. 
I have included the video of what I saw on my blog. I challenge you to watch it. It is graphic! It will forever change your life and you will never be the same. If after watching it, you decide to become a voice for these helpless victims than that is good! This is what the Bible commands us to do,

"Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.
 Ensure (make certain) justice for those being crushed."
                     (Proverbs 31:8)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Be our voice for freedom."

Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed- no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters in your skull.” 
― George Orwell1984

Can you imagine living in a society where your every move and thought was monitored by the government?
 George Orwell's frightening novel,1984, describes a society under the oppressive control of the government that prohibits free thought, sex and any expression of individuality. They have even invented a language called, Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating any words relating to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is a crime and citizens are constantly reminded that, "Big brother is watching you!"
The description of this kind of society is unfortunately a frightening reality for my dear Iranian friend. For security reasons I will not mention her real name but for the sake of my blog, I will call her Zahra.
Zahra lives in Shiraz, Iran. She is divorced and has an eight-year old boy and is struggling to raise him as a single mom. We are good friends. Regularly, we meet on Skype and I spend time teaching her English in preparation for her exams at school.
Recently as we met on Skype, I asked Zahra to talk about freedom and tell me exactly what life is like in Iran.

"Iran is one big prison!"

Many of my Iranian friends have written short stories on the topic of Freedom and emailed them to me. I have featured their stories on my radio program and in my blogs.
However, in this case, I was able to interview my friend and to watch her facial expressions as she described her struggle for freedom in Iran. This was dramatically different than just receiving an email and it had an incredible, emotional impact on me.
Zahra rolled her eyes as she talked about the subject of freedom. You could see the pain and frustration in her eyes and her whole countenance changed to despair. She explained that Iran was "one big prison." 
Then suddenly her face beamed with hope as she looked me directly in the eyes and said, "I want to be free like a bird in the sky."

"Government chooses everything for us like a child!"

Zahra is not a practicing Muslim, but just in name only. Her biggest objection to the "Iranian way of life" is the government determining what you should believe.
"Religion is personal. The government doesn't have the right to tell you what to believe,"
 Zahra objected. .
 I could see the bitterness and frustration in her eyes. 
 Then she gazed intently into my eyes with a passionate stare.
"Government chooses everything for us like a child! We don't have the right to choose!"
 Zahra paused for a moment and gathered her thoughts. Then she boldly proclaimed,
 "Freedom is our right. It is God's gift to us!"
 I could not agree more. Iranians understand that freedom is a gift from God that has been stolen from them by a corrupt and power-hungry dictatorship.

"Be our voice for freedom!"

As our brief interview came to a conclusion, I informed Zahra that I would be having a book signing for my new publication in a few weeks and asked her what message I could give to my customers from her. A huge smile beamed across her face and without hesitation she immediately answered, "Tell them to please help us. We are prisoners here. Be our voice for freedom!"
I struggled to hold back the tears. I promised Zahra I would do this for her and all of her Iranian friends. I asked her to type for me what she said in Farsi and that I would make a poster of it and display at my book signing.

Loftan be ma komak konid
Ma inja zendani hastem
loftan sedaye ma bashid baraye azadi.

Please help us. We are prisoners here. Be our voice for freedom!"

Can you hear the desperate cries from Zahra's heart? It a very simple request and yet something you and I take way too much for granted everyday!
I intend to keep my promise to Zahra. She is a dear friend that I pray one day will be that bird flying free in the sky as she described during our interview.
There is a promise in Scripture that God indeed hears the desperate cries of Iranians. My prayer is that He will soon
answer their cries and give them the precious gift of freedom.

"He will rescue the poor when they cry to Him.
He will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them.
He feels pity for the weak and needy, and He will rescue them.
He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to Him."
     NLT....(Psalm 72:12-14)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

"How deep the deception!"

"We have allowed politics, position and power, 
 to rule our hearts instead of mercy.
 How deep the deception......."

In December of 2013, Naghmeh Abedini, wife of Saeed Abedini, currently in prison in Iran, testified before a special congressional committee in Washington and sadly declared, "I feel abandoned by my own government!" 
Just one month earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iran's foreign Minister Zarif in Geneva including several other nations and together they reached an agreement that would freeze part of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for a relief in the sanctions.
 Amidst all of the political haggling back and forth and the constant attention paid to the media for "photo ops," both sides failed to address the more important issue, the forgotten and neglected issue of human rights. Saeed Abedini's name was not brought up once. Kerry failed to confront Iran and make Saeed's release as a "pre-condition" to any further discussions of the nuclear issue. Instead, Iran was promised a relief to any further sanctions and we shook hands with a nation that promotes terrorism and hates Israel.

"How deep the deception!

The Obama Administration has allowed politics, position and power to rule its hearts instead of mercy!
They have turned their backs on Saeed and the thousands of political prisoners in Iran fighting desperately for their lives every day! Since Rouhani took office last year, as the new president of Iran, more than 500 executions have been carried out! Before Rouhani took office, there was maybe 10 executions a month. Now there is more than 25 executions a day! That is astronomical!
Shiva Mahbobi, spokesperson for CFPPI (Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran) in a recent meeting with European delegates, sadly explained that the Iranian Regime deliberately deprives prisoners of any medical supplies and then forces their families to pay for the cost of medication that they never receive! Many of the political prisoners are suffering from untreated diabetic and heart conditions and will eventually die unless they receive immediate medical treatment.
Recently Saeed Abedini was evaluated for his internal bleeding by a doctor who recommended surgery to treat his condition, but the Iranian Regime refuses to come to his aid.

"We can no longer stand by and be silent!"

I woke up this morning to a picture that horrified me and broke my heart. It was a picture of a young Iranian filming an execution on his cell phone in Qazvin. A crowd of people stood by and watched in despair as a lifeless man hung high above the earth at the end of a boom crane! 
Iran is a culture of death, a culture that forbids the exercise of human rights, a culture that prohibits free speech and any disagreements with their government. We sit down across the table with a government who is systematically on a daily basis, committing a slow genocide, a cleansing of political prisoners who dare to speak a word of disagreement. We reach across and shake hands with a government that wants to destroy Israel and wipe them off of the face of the map!
We can no longer stand by and watch and be silent! We have a responsibility to the citizens of Iran to show mercy and compassion. Our silence is an endorsement that what they are doing everyday is acceptable! We have exchanged nuclear rights for human rights!
One one occasion, Jesus was asked by an expert in religious law, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
 Jesus quickly responded, "You must love the lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your strength and all of your mind and, love your neighbor as yourself." The teacher was perplexed and asked, "Who is my neighbor?"
 Jesus then told the story, a famous parable of the Good Samaritan. He  explained that a Jewish man from Jericho was attacked by robbers and left for dead. A priest came along and saw the man but crossed to the other side of the road. A temple assistant walked over and observed the wounded man but instead of helping him went on his way. However a despised Samaritan arrived on the scene and was moved with compassion. He put the man on his donkey and took him to a local inn and paid the innkeeper to take care of him.
Jesus then gazed into the teachers eyes and posed the important question, "Which of
 the three would you say was a neighbor to this man?"
 The teacher replied, "The one who showed mercy!"
Jesus commended the teacher for his excellent answer and admonished him to "go and do the same."

 "The one who showed mercy!"
That is the correct answer. The teacher was right! Mercy rather politics! How deep the deception. If we claim to love Jesus than we must love Iranians or else our claim is bogus!
Political prisoners are suffering everyday in deplorable conditions, crying out for mercy!
Like the Good Samaritan, we must respond with compassion and mercy. We must speak out, sign petitions and pray for these hopeless prisoners.
God desires our mercy rather than our politics.

"He has shown you O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly before your God."
                                   (Micah 6:8)