2011 Weekly Challenge: Write Year-Round for Human Rights! January 1, 2011Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Human Rights, Iranelection, Saving the World.
Tags: #iranelection, 2011, amnesty international, human rights, human rights challenge, new year, new year's resolution
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Happy New Year! As I mentioned yesterday, today I’m unveiling my 2011 New Year’s Human Rights’ Challenge. Though I created it as a personal New Year’s Resolution, I invite others to join me!
A few months ago I featured this video on my blog:
For the past two years I’ve meant to participate in the Amnesty Write for Rights event (held Dec. 10) and Greeting Cards Campaign (Nov 1-Jan 31), but it’s a busy season for piano teachers, and this year in particular was…chaotic. I did consider about setting myself the goal of writing greeting cards to the 31 prisoners over the 31 days of January. However, these cases have already been widely publicized and by all accounts these 31 prisoners are getting enormous volumes of mail. What Amnesty needs, I suspect, is more people who will make an effort to consistently write appeal letters during the other 11 months of the year.
So my personal goal for 2011 is:
Once a week throughout 2011, I will pick an Amnesty Urgent Action, write and send an appeal letter, and feature the case here on my blog to help spread awareness.
Why this goal?
(1) I’ve known for a while now that I wanted to become more involved in fighting for human rights in a number of regions. I’ve been on Twitter’s #iranelection hashtag for a year and a half now and have sent dozens of Iran-related Urgent Action Appeals for prisoners suffering in Evin or on death row.
However, as my interest in human rights has deepened over the past year, I’ve become less and less content to simply focus on a single country. There are oppressed people worldwide who need our voices, both to demand their rights be respected and to spread awareness. Even if all those in prison in Iran were liberated today, the fight for human rights would go on in many other places…and until all of us are free, none of us truly are.
(2) One of the perennial challenges of blogging is, as a friend observed last night, getting started. If I’ve made a commitment to blog about a human rights case once a week to help spread awareness, this will definitely be a strong motivating factor for blogging in general. A popular #iranelection saying, “We are the media” – “we” being bloggers, tweeters and other social media users – is particularly applicable when it comes to human rights cases, which the mainstream media tend to neglect. If we don’t publicize these cases, nobody will.
(3) A great side benefit of following the current human rights issues in Iran is that I’ve come to know so much about Iran’s amazing history, culture, and language. But Iran’s “story” is only one of hundreds. There are so many other cultures and countries in the world that are equally fascinating. What better way to discover them than while fighting for human rights?
What this means is that I’ll be posting here about a new human rights case each week. At the very least I’ll repost Amnesty’s summary and instructions for writing an appeal letter. If time permits I’ll hopefully do a bit of digging and include some more background. (I may include some sample letters for particularly urgent cases, but Amnesty does encourage people to write appeals in their own words. And really, if it were my life in danger…would I want people sending “form letters” to the only person who could save me?)
Please do leave your responses, comments, questions…I would love to get feedback on this idea! (And if you’d like to participate, please do subscribe to my blog for weekly updates!)
– The Contrapuntal Platypus
Witnessing for…Humanism? July 25, 2010Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in A New Kind of Question, Christianity, Iranelection, Philosophy, Saving the World, Through the Looking Glass.
Tags: atheism, Christianity, Dawkins, humanism, July 24, religious, Sakineh, secular, stoning
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A New Kind of Question, Part 3
Note: This was a personal experience, not a book, but it goes so well under my “New Kind of Question” category that I decided to post it here. :)
I was at our local anti-stoning protest today, June 24, the International Sakine Day Against Stoning. As I live in one of the most politically indifferent cities on the continent, I didn’t expect more than the usual handful of diehards like myself to show up at our local event. When I got to the protest location, though, I was somewhat surprised to see (in addition to the small cluster of Iranians and some interested-looking passers-by) a group of about 6 people wearing matching T-shirts:
I went over to the group. Was another protest happening here at the same time? “Oh, no,” a friendly looking man around my age explained to me. “We’ve just come out in solidarity.” He explained that they were the local Humanist/Atheist Association. Seeing my interested look, he handed me a brochure about their group. “There’s all sorts of meetings if you want to join, or give it a try…”
I took it and quickly skimmed it to be polite, but told him (with more than a little trepidation) that I believed pretty firmly in God and that it wasn’t likely that I’d become an atheist anytime soon. “But,” I hurried to add, “I really admire a lot of what you guys are trying to accomplish – your goals, making the world a better place.” And then the last thing I expected happened.
He smiled warmly. “What we’re really just aiming for is to get people to ask questions,” he explained. “Why do they believe in God, or not? What are their reasons? We just want everyone to think about their beliefs, so that things like this -” he pointed to the Save Sakineh signs behind us – “like a country deciding to stone a woman to death for religious reasons – don’t happen.”
I was amazed. I’d been expecting debate, arguments against God’s existence, assertions that religion poisons lives and cultures, all the usual rhetoric. Not this sort of…quiet openness. It made me think. This was, I realized, an example of a humanist group doing what Christians are always “supposed” to be doing: witnessing. And doing it more effectively than most Christians.
Often so much of the time atheists and Christians see each other, ironically, in very similar ways. As combatants. Hardcore, closed-minded fundamentalists out to beat and bludgeon the other side with any ammunition at hand into accepting “the truth.” Christians hurling verses and texts and commentaries, thumping their Bibles, blustering and ranting about hellfire and damnation and eternity, interrogating passersby with “Are you saved”? And atheists returning a volley of “scientific facts” and statistics and anti-religious rhetoric, brandishing their copies of God is Not Great or The God Delusion, demanding belligerently, “Don’t you know you’ve been brainwashed?”
I think it’s time for both sides to maybe drop our respective weapons, calm down, pick up some olive branches and just…ask questions. Like the humanist I met at the rally. Not questions designed to interrogate or intimidate or set up philosophical traps or to preach. Just sincere, real, open-ended questions. And to answer in the same spirit: not trying to “convert” the other side to our own belief system. (It doesn’t work anyway, only drives them further away.) Just…to talk.
I think most of us will find we’re not nearly so far apart as we tend to think on what really matters: helping others, fighting for human rights, making our world a more just and equitable and peaceful place. After all, we’re all human beings…who can have different beliefs on religious matters and still be kind, sincere, caring people. Not lost souls doomed to unending hellfire. Not brainwashed peons hypnotized by primitive superstition. Just people. :)
– The Contrapuntal Platypus
On Making a Big Stink July 1, 2010Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Iranelection, Saving the World.
Tags: #iranelection, activism, amnesty, human rights, maziar bahari, mohammad-amin valian
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“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” John 3:20
This post is dedicated in gratitude to all my friends on #iranelection who each day do research and write letters and construct websites and retweet news on #humanrights abuses…far too many to list, but you know who you are. Thank you…always.
When I logged into Twitter this morning, the first news item to catch my eye was an article from the New York Times. Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, a human rights activist, was murdered in Congo nearly a month ago; his killer has not yet been found but is suspected to have connections to the government.
It is with some embarrassment I must confess I had never heard of this heroic man before learning of his death this morning. Mr. Chebeya was one of those courageous and utterly essential people who very simply and quietly go about doing the right thing and speaking out against injustice, no matter what the personal cost. For years he had documented arbitrary imprisonment, torture and execution in a country where human rights violations are rampant and corruption is endemic. And in the end he had died for it.
This tragic news hung in my mind, a poignant counterpoint, as I thought back over the previous evening’s online chat with a close friend as I told her about my group’s efforts this past year on #iranelection. I mentioned the website we had constructed containing information on dozens of death-row prisoners in Iran; the Amnesty International Urgent Action items we retweeted; our sample letters urging authorities to halt impending executions and free those arbitrarily detained.
She seemed unimpressed. “And these letters stop people from being executed?” was her skeptical question. It is a challenge I have heard repeatedly over the past year – that at one point I too accepted. How naive are you, she seemed to be asking, what kind of fairy-tale world are you living in to think that repressive regimes will care what you think of their brutal atrocities?
In answer I showed her this:
The observer effect, or reactivity, is a well-known principle that experimental psychologists must account for in any study: merely the knowledge of being observed will tend to influence a person’s behavior.* Generally the subject will act more in accordance with societal norms, respond to the experimenter with “acceptable” answers or behaviour even if there is nothing “in it” for them – no possible reward or punishment attached to the outcome.
There is a reason why Mr. Chebeya was murdered. There is a reason why Iran has imprisoned and silenced dozens of human rights reporters from organizations with no political affiliation and that pose no direct threat to the ruling regime. Repressive governments do not like to have their atrocities watched, reported upon, advertised to the world. And time and again we have seen – for example, in the cases of Mohammad-Amin Valian and Maziar Bahari – such attention has led to vastly better treatment of the detainee in question and, often, their sentences being quietly overturned. Others, who are not so fortunate and have nobody to draw attention to their cases, are kept in prison under inhumane conditions or even executed. The last thing oppressors anywhere want is for us to break the silence, make a “big stink” and draw worldwide attention to their violations of human rights – which is precisely why we have to, very deliberately and continuously, go on making one.
Perhaps equally important to a political prisoner, though, is the knowledge that they are not alone: the outside world has not forgotten them, people care about their fate and are working to try to set them free. As Maziar Bahari wrote after his release from Evin, “The prisoner’s worst nightmare is the thought of being forgotten.”
This reminded me of an article posted a month ago on #iranelection (translated by our own @nchevre – thank you!!) It deserves a frequent re-reading to remind us how important our support truly is to those imprisoned and threatened by totalitarian regimes everywhere:
Let us not forget our loved ones as forgetting them is a worse fate than execution.
As always, he was interrogating me from somewhere behind me. Suddenly his mobile phone rang. After a few loud sentences he said “No, he’s still alive and kicking and sitting in front of me.” They exchanged a few more words. When his conversation was over he asked “Do you know so and so?” I responded “Yes”. He named a few more people and I said I didn’t recognize them or know who they are. He said “They were apparently together, talking and claiming that Hamze Ghalebi has been executed.” He said his friend wanted to check with him. To be honest, I’m not sure why he brought this particular subject up. I’m not even sure if the conversation he pretended to have on his cell phone was real, or yet another means to create more physiological pressure. What is interesting is that contrary to his objective, his words made me stronger and more resilient.
One of the interrogation techniques that resulted in the most pressure was their ability to make you believe that everything is over and that everyone has forgotten you. People are living their own lives. Your friends are busy and have moved on. I don’t know how to explain how painful and difficult it is to feel that you have been forgotten. It is more than difficult. No words express it accurately.
He said “A few people have talked about your execution.” I am not sure what his motivation was, but by the way he expressed himself, it became clear to me that unlike his assertion, I had obviously not been forgotten after all. I told myself, hey at least a few people were upset to hear of my execution. I hid my smile immediately so that the interrogator would not notice.
If you were to ask me “What is the most important way to help someone in prison?” I would respond “Make sure that their family stands with them and after that, make sure that they are never forgotten.” This in my opinion is even more important than working towards their release from prison. I believe that this is our minimum obligation to our imprisoned friends. It is our duty to make sure that their family is not alone and that they are never forgotten.
Keeping alive memories that have been imprisoned because of personal beliefs or politics is not just a moral obligation, but also has social and political consequences. By keeping the memories of an individual alive in our collective memories, we give a social significance to their action and their sacrifice. Every symbol, sign, phrase or message will demonstrate that those outside prison are still aware and as such enable the prisoner to further resist suppression. The more we remember, the taller they will stand and the louder they will speak. That is why keeping their memories alive and speaking about loved ones is one of the most important ways we can continue our resistance and fight against tyranny.
Keeping the memories of those who have suffered alive in our collective consciousness will allow us to build upon our experience and avoid mistakes. We must make sure that we never forget the suffering, that we keep it alive in our minds, that we remind ourselves every day so that it becomes an alarm in our ears, helping us to avoid mistakes that result from forgetting the past.
Written by Hamze Ghalebi (original post in Persian)
…When we act and speak out for victims of repression and violence in Iran or anywhere in our world, it does make a difference – more, perhaps, than we will ever know.
Thank you all for reading, and caring.
– The Contrapuntal Platypus
*Interestingly, the “observer effect” is not confined to psychology but is a recurring motif throughout all branches of science. The strangest example is perhaps quantum mechanics, in which particles will literally behave differently when they are being observed (as in the double-slit experiment). But this really deserves a separate post of its own… :D
Lux Aeterna (or, Some Thoughts on Dawn-Watching) June 29, 2010Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Iranelection, Music, Nature, Saving the World.
Tags: #iranelection, activism, counterpoint, dawn, interconnectedness, Julian of Norwich, lauridsen, lux aeterna, morning, mysticism, Ramadan, Renaissance
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…The promised sequel to “Luminous Piano Music“, with a bonus: some reflections written last September and reposted here.
My cat Rumi woke me up at dawn this morning, as he generally does, demanding food in piercing tones and grabbing my ankle in his teeth upon my utterly inexcusable delay to wash a spoon (upon which I shrieked and flung a handful of water in his general direction). Either it was the ankle bite, or the early morning light and scent of the cool air drifting through my window, but I simply could not get back to sleep after having plopped the food in his dish and staggered back to bed.
Instead I began remembering last September, where I’d woken up before dawn each morning to eat a hurried meal before sunrise as part of the #iranelection Ramadan solidarity fast. This involved not eating (or, for the truly hardcore participants, which I was not, drinking) between the hours of sunrise and sunset. I was surprised at how much less difficult this was than I’d feared, though I won’t say it was exactly fun…
One of the truly wonderful aspects of the experience, though, was being able to watch the sun rise each day. Often I would put on my favorite piece of “luminous” music, Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, as the pure, translucent light of early morning streamed into my room.
Lux Aeterna is one of my favorite pieces of “classical” music of all time. Though written fairly recently it recalls the intricate choral writing of the late Renaissance (particularly Palestrina) in its intricate use of counterpoint paired with a transparent, pure harmonic texture. (I happened to pick up the CD as a library discard one day; if it were not for this stroke of fortune, I would probably never have heard this beautiful but still little-known piece, and my musical life would be significantly poorer for it.) The work is in five movements, all of which I love. Though my all-time favorite is the fourth movement (which will get its own post later, I promise), the opening of the first is to me the most vivid depiction in sound of the gentle light just before sunrise. Here it is, together with some of the thoughts that came to me during that month of dawn-watching.
(Performed by Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia Orchestra with Paul Salamunovich, Conductor- thank you so much for releasing the first good public-domain performance of this piece I’ve been able to find! :) )
One of the aspects of Ramadan I’ve truly enjoyed has been the opportunity to watch the sun rise each morning. When I was quite young I used to wake up automatically at sunrise each day, but over the years have gotten out of the habit. In some ways it’s my favorite time of day: the cool, fresh, calm air, the light breeze on my cheeks, the birds that wheel and soar in the pale light. I have an excellent view of the eastern sky from my sixth-floor apartment, and over the past few weeks have had a great deal of pleasure watching from my dining room table as I eat my morning meal.
A few times the show has been magnificent, a brilliant sunrise in the conventional sense: massed clouds glowing a sinister dark red, gradually changing to fluffy “cotton candy” tinted by pastels, light pink and orange against the pale blue sky. But the cloudless sunrise of most days is actually my favorite: simply a slow, calm, gradual illumination of the sky with light — blue, pale green, yellow, orange and finally the red of the sun’s rising disk.
The whole sky fills gradually up with this light. Against it, the buildings of the city seem to fade into irrelevance, faint silhouettes against a glow that is far more real and substantial than they are. My eye is drawn inexorably out, past the swoops of the wheeling birds, past the buildings, to the immense arc of the sky and down to the horizon.
The world suddenly seems like both a larger and a smaller place. Larger, because I realize anew how little my own corner of it is: such a tiny piece of the whole. Smaller, because at the same time I sense that I am connected to the world in its entirety, as immense as it might be. Somewhere far over that horizon where I am gazing, over the curve of the world, are my friends in Iran, and the same sun rose over them eight hours ago that is now rising over me. I feel that I could almost lean out and wave to them, if I tried hard enough.
At the same time I am struck by a sense of the beauty of the world – and of responsibility. I strongly believe that our world was made by a being (call him/her/it what you will) who loves it, and who loves us, and who has done us the immense honor of placing its future and well-being into our hands. And since my corner of the world is connected to every other part, my own responsibility extends far beyond my own city or country – rather, it encompasses the entire world.
In some ways it is an infinite challenge. There is nothing about which we can shrug and say “Not in my backyard”, no atrocity or conflict or violence against our own Earth which we can dismiss as being far-away and unimportant to us personally. Any John McCain or Ann Coulter who calls lightly for bombing Iran or another nation – who thinks that war is an acceptable solution for international relations and that violence against another people doesn’t matter if they live far enough away – should be forced to get up before dawn for a month and stare out at that sky.
“[God] showed me something small, about the size of a hazelnut, that seemed to lie in the palm of my hand as round as a tiny ball. I tried to understand the sight of it, wondering what it could possibly mean. The answer came: ‘This is all that is made.’ I felt that it was so small that it could easily fade to nothing; but again I was told, ‘This lasts and will go on lasting forever because God loves it. And so it is with every being that God loves.’”
I couldn’t do better than end with that.
In the Beginning III… June 25, 2010Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Iranelection, Poetry, Saving the World.
…the beginning of #iranelection that is…
A lot of this blog is going to relate to online activism, most specifically the Twitter #iranelection hashtag, so here’s some quick background about how I got involved with these issues. I posted a few thoughts a week ago on the #iranelection hashtag and got a good response so…here it is again. Looking back from June 2010 to June 2009, when it all began…
A year ago this evening, I read these words and my life changed forever.
“I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…” – an Iranian blogger, with more courage than most of us will ever know.
In the short time it took to read those words, so much changed in my own mind and heart. I saw in a single flash how utterly self-absorbed and detached my own life had been up until that point: focused on my own goals and wishes and assumed needs. How little I had cared for the suffering and struggle of others for the most basic human rights: liberty, peace, freedom of speech and religion, food, water. How much I could have done to help our world and had failed to do…
If I, not the nameless protester who wrote these immeasurably brave words, had died the next day, what could be said about my life? What had I done to truly help even one of the millions of people on our planet in need?
I had always thought I was a fairly good person. I didn’t exploit people or start wars. I wasn’t particularly greedy for wealth or power over others. I was a law-abiding citizen who bought fair-trade coffee and recycled most of the time, even donated to charities now and again when the urge struck me. I did my “fair share” and, I felt, a bit more. I was “nice”…
It was only when I read these words that I realized: being nice is not enough.
A few months later a close relative was to ask me, “Why have you become so driven to make a difference? Isn’t it enough to do one’s part and let others do theirs?” My answer was an absolute no: that there is no such thing as “good enough”. That if we truly care for our world, we must not act merely out of a sense of duty but out of love: love for our planet and for every being on it. Otherwise our own half-hearted, “nice” efforts will be overwhelmed by those who do not care: who actively exploit and prey upon other human beings and on our environment, or are simply apathetic. If we are not as passionate in our defense of freedom and peace and humanity as this young blogger was, then NOTHING will change in the long term. We cannot simply do “the minimum” out of a sense of duty, always holding ourselves aloof and untouched by the desperate need of others on this planet, people just like us but not lucky enough to be born into our affluent and secure Western society.
If we truly wish to fight the evil, indifference and greed that we see in the Iranian regime and everywhere else in our world – from famine to genocide to the BP oil spill – then we must be prepared to sacrifice whatever is necessary. Our money. Our time. Yes, even our lives if we find ourselves in a similar position to the blogger who wrote these words. But most of all we have to be willing to keep caring – not only to feel emotionally moved by others’ suffering but to act. To actively and consciously work, every day of our lives, to bring about positive change in our world. Or else it is simply not going to happen.
It was around the same time that I read the famous Saadi poem that has been so often quoted on #iranelection in response to the Iranian regime’s violent repression of those seeking freedom from tyranny. If I had read it even a few weeks before, I think it would have left me more or less untouched. But now I truly understood what it expressed:
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.
بنی آدم اعضای یک پیکرند
که در آفرينش ز یک گوهرند
چو عضوى به درد آورد روزگار
دگر عضوها را نماند قرار
تو کز محنت دیگران بی غمی
نشاید که نامت نهند آدمی
June 19, 2010