Saturday, February 03, 2007
To the editors
Re: "A Credit to Her Crown"
The Post is to be commended for highlighting Vancouver's Nazanin Afshin- Jam's successful campaign to free Nazanin Fatehi from Tehran's infamous Evin prison. Ms. Fatehi languished in prison for two years after being sentenced to death for stabbing a man who was trying to rape her. Since there were not four male witnesses to the attempted rape, as required by Shariah law, Ms. Fatehi was convicted of premeditated murder. Her case drew some media attention, but it was not until Ms. Afshin-Jam -- 2003 Miss World Canada -- took the lead that the world really took notice. The decision by Iran's judiciary to reverse itself is almost unprecedented.
At a recent Public Affairs of Montreal conference on "Questions of Values: Ways of Response to the Islamist Challenge," Ms. Afshin-Jam used Ms. Fatehi's story as a case study, illustrating the embedded discrimination that exists under Shariah Law. In this age of universal deceit, when as George Orwell wrote, "merely speaking the truth is a revolutionary act," Ms. Afshin-Jam's actions are truly a passionate profile in courage. Many in Canada like to argue that we are a "reasonable" society, not a passionate one. Yet the two are not mutually exclusive.
Passion is not the opponent of reason. Fear is. And lives fuelled by fear are not very much at all.
Beryl P. Wajsman, president, Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal
“One person – resolute – abiding by the truth, shall rally a majority”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nazanin Afshin-Jam (at left) Nazanin Fatehi (at right)
As many of you know we have focused much attention on the singularly heroic work of human rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam in her efforts to free 18-year old Nazanin Fatehi from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison where she has languished for two years after being sentenced to death for stabbing the man who was trying to rape her. Fatehi’s case had drawn some world attention, but it was not until Afshin-Jam, who had already engaged in humanitarian work from Africa to Asia, put her life on hold to lead an international effort to save the life of this young girl facing the hangman’s noose because of Sharia law that the world sat up and took notice.
Afshin-Jam not only made Fatehi’s specific case a worldwide “cause célèbre” but expanded her work to draw attention to the general abuse of women in Iran, and throughout the radical Muslim world. Aside from several interviews on this show, we were privileged to have her speak at our recent Institute Conference on “Questions of Values: Ways of Response to the Islamist Challenge” where she used Nazanin Fatehi's story as a case study to illustrate the embedded discrimination that exists under Sharia Law. In this age of universal deceipt, when as George Orwell wrote “…merely speaking the truth is a revolutionary act…”, Afshin-Jam’s campaign of speaking truth to the power of a murderous regime has truly been a profile in courage.
Nazanin Afshin-Jam speaking at a recent Institute conference
We dedicated this show to the two Nazanins because this week an Iranian court reversed Fatehi’s earlier conviction. This review and reversal would not have happened without Afshin-Jam’s efforts on the world stage and her support of Fatehi’s lawyers. The reversal however was not unconditional. Nazanin Fatehi was ordered to pay “blood money” of 260 million rials ($30,600) to the victim’s family before she is released from prison. The term “blood money” is not used here pejoratively. It is a legal term under Iranian law. The money is “due” because there were not four male witnesses to the attempted rape as required by Sharia law. Therefore the family of the rapist, who died from his stab wounds, must be compensated. According to current Iranian law a boy can be executed from the age of 15, and a girl from the age of 9. I do not think further commentary is necessary.
This case and cause is important on many levels and this broadcast examines them with Nazanin Afshin-Jam from her home in Vancouver and three other very special guests. But I am taking the time to write this because I think all of us should do more to help. Let’s help Nazanin Afshin-Jam finish the job. Nazanin Fatehi will not be released from prison – where she has already suffered two heart attacks – until this “blood money” is paid. Her family is grieving. (See the documentary “The Tale of Two Nazanins” at http://www.bodog.tv ) Nazanin Afshin-Jam has set up a site where we can all contribute to Nazanin Fatehi’s freedom. Please go to WWW.HELPNAZANIN.COM and make your contribution now! Remember, on this 62nd commemoration of the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg, let’s all practice the lesson of his life that Nazanin Afshin-Jam has learned so well. When you save one life it is as though you have saved an entire world. ~ BPW
NEWS & COMMENTARY
by Beryl Wajsman
A Canadian Profile in Courage
February 03, 2007
“When one saves a single life it is as if you have saved a world entire."
~"Ethics of the Fathers"
Canadians never seem to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity when it comes to celebrating our own heroism. It is therefore not surprising, though still disappointing, that Vancouver’s Nazanin Afshin-Jam’s successful campaign to free Nazanin Fatehi from Tehran’s infamous Evin prison received such relatively sparse news coverage.
Fatehi languished in prison for two years after being sentenced to death for stabbing the man who was trying to rape her and her niece. She was 17 years old at the time. The man she stabbed died from his wounds. Sharia law demands four male witnesses to attest to an attempted rape. Since there were no such witnesses, Fatehi was sentenced to hang for pre-meditated murder. She has suffered two heart attacks over the past two years.
The case had drawn some world attention, but it was not until Nazanin Afshin-Jam was informed of Fatehi’s plight through a serendipitous e-mail from France that the world sat up and took notice. Afshin-Jam, a former Miss World Canada and first runner-up in the Miss World competition, had already established an enviable record in human-rights and humanitarian aid work. She had been on the ground around the world from advocating for hospitals in east Africa to raising funds and helping aid workers in Tsunami- ravaged southeast Asia. But the Fatehi case consumed her and putting aside her budding singing career she made the tale of the two Nazanins as dramatic and heroic as it gets.
Nazanin Afshin-Jam started a petition almost a year ago that has now grown to over 300,000 names. She set up the HelpNazanin.Com legal aid fund. She presented the petition to the United Nations Human Rights Commission; flew to Geneva to plead with UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour for action; debated at the Cambridge Union; and brought the Fatehi case front and centre at Amnesty International’s World Day Against the Death Penalty in Berlin. She was awarded a UN Prize for Human Rights advocacy. She recorded a song about Nazanin Fatehi, and indeed about the betrayal of the Iranian people, called “Someday” that will lead off her upcoming album. And she filmed a compelling documentary called “The Tale of the Two Nazanins”. All the while she made countless media and speaking appearances underlining the universal aspects of the Fatehi case.
Afshin-Jam not only made Fatehi’s specific case a worldwide “cause célèbre” but expanded her work to draw attention to the general abuse of women in Iran, and throughout the radical Muslim world. As president of The Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal I was privileged to have her speak at our recent Conference on “Questions of Values: Ways of Response to the Islamist Challenge” where she used Nazanin Fatehi's story as a case study to illustrate the embedded discrimination that exists under Sharia Law. On radio, I was immensely gratified with the response to the fund-raising efforts we helped with in her campaign. In this age of universal deceipt, when as George Orwell wrote “…merely speaking the truth is a revolutionary act…”, Afshin-Jam’s campaign of speaking truth to the power of a murderous regime has truly been a profile in courage.
Nazanin Afshin-Jam rallied international civil society and even Iran had to take notice. On June 1st 2006, in an almost unprecedented decision, Iran’s Head of Judiciary Ayatollah Shahroudi announced a stay of execution and called for a complete new trial. The new trial took place on January 10th, 2007. The five judges that reviewed her case determined that the death resulted from an “unintentional” act on Fatehi’s part and that it was a case of self-defence. Nazanin Fatehi was exonerated from the charge of murder. However the court also ruled that disproportionate force was used by Nazanin while trying to defend herself and her niece. Accordingly, they ordered her to pay $35,000 USD compensation, or "diyeh" (blood money), to receive a pardon from the family of the deceased before she could be released from prison.
Nazanin's lawyers intend to appeal the payment of restitution but since this appeal may take several months, they requested bail so that Nazanin may be released from prison immediately. The court set bail in the amount of 400,000,000 Rials (approx US$45,000). Thanks to Nazanin Afshin-Jam’s efforts that money was raised and Nazanin Fatehi was released from Evin prison this past Wednesday.
Commenting on Fatehi’s release Nazanin Afshin-Jam said, "We're thrilled that she is free and reunited with her family. But we must not forget the 23 other juveniles (including Delara Darabi, Kobra Rahmanpour, Ashraf Kalhori, Fatemeh Haghighat-Pajouh and Malak Ghorbani) currently on death row in Iran. Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also the Charter of the Rights of the Child, which forbid the execution of persons under the age of 18, although Iran continues to do so. We must get to the root of the problem and put pressure on the Iranian officials to change the laws once and for all." Under current Iranian law boys can be executed from the age of 15 and girls from the age of 9.
The teaching in “Ethics of the Fathers” that when one saves a single life it is as if you have saved a world entire does not relate only to the physical world that emanates from the person saved. It relates to the saving of our own souls and therefore of our very selves. Acts of courage rouse our own individual conscience and character empowering us with the passion to live life to the full as free and courageous spirits. The only way life is really worth living. Never to give in to stifling demands of parochialism whether in family or community. Never to believe that our singular, individual passions cannot move mountains. Never to succumb to the self-abnegation that is the result of living in fear producing lives that are dry and brittle and parched.
Many make the mistake that because we, as a society, strive for reason, that we must therefore abdicate passion. Yet passion is not the opponent of reason. Fear is. It is fear that makes too many of us adopt the most retrograde, biased orthodoxies in order to be accepted and just get along. All to protect the most petty aspects of our lives while surrendering any aspirations toward more noble, and yes passionate, inclinations.
Nazanin Afshin-Jam did not forget passion and did not submit to fear. In her single-minded pursuit of justice for Nazanin Fatehi she has served as an example for all Canadians making us realize that we are at our best when we transcend our narrow narcissisms and become involved in mankind’s transcendent yearnings for redemptive change. In her quest she personified Robert Kennedy’s faith that “Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from thousands of different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Beryl Wajsman is president of the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal www.iapm.ca ; publisher of Barricades magazine www.barricades.ca
and host of “The Last Angry Man” on Corus Radio’s New940 Montreal.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org