Thursday, August 8, 2013

Four Years After Iran Imprisonment: Remembering, gratitude, and the birth of a boy named Free

Photo: Farah N. Mawani
"Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly
And the dreams that you dreamed of
Dreams really do come true."

Four years ago, on July 31, 2009, my precious friends Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd were captured by the Iranian regime, while on a hiking vacation in Iraqi Kurdistan. Three years ago, I felt the weight of their year held hostage, while centrally coordinating and promoting 40 events worldwide marking that challenging milestone. Two months after that, Sarah was freed. Two years ago, I awaited news of the final trial session for Josh and Shane, while centrally coordinating global events to mark an even more challenging to bear two years of imprisonment. A few weeks later, they were sentenced to eight years in Evin prison, Iran. Two months later, Josh and Shane were freed. One year ago, I wrote about the continued injustices the Iranian regime imposes on Masoud Shafi, the lawyer who fought at such great risk for Josh, Shane, and Sarah.

It’s hard to describe how intense the weight of that anniversary feels when it is loaded with so many traumatic associations. As I experienced during the prolonged ordeal, words are “woefully inadequate to describe my feelings.” My body, mind, and spirit, however, have been feeling this day approaching for some time. Often without me being fully conscious of it. A book on trauma, aptly titled, "The Body Remembers,” asserts “people who have been traumatized hold an implicit memory of traumatic events in their brains and bodies.” My body remembers.
It’s even harder to describe how miraculous it felt to hear the news of the birth of Josh and Jenny’s son, Isaiah Azad Fattal, in the midst of all that intensity. Right when I was thinking about how I could transform the anniversary into a positive one. Josh and Isaiah heard my request. Much like I felt Josh could hear me, when the Iranian regime imposed walls between us for more than two years. As I was longing to hear how he was after Isaiah’s birth, he heard me again. He sent me a message sharing how he felt, and asking me if I was “okay with posting” Isaiah’s birth announcement on our Free the Hikers Facebook page.Josh, Shane, Sarah, and I seek consensus from each other before posting on the page. We decided on that process together when they wanted to honour the immense time and energy I put into building the community on the page, and I wanted them to fully have their voices back.  I’m still honoured every time they ask me if I support what they want to post. Of course I was far more than “okay with posting” Isaiah’s birth announcement!  I was especially grateful that Josh asked me to post it on his behalf.
Birth Announcement_080413 
It felt unbelievably thrilling and fulfilling to post it. That page represented so many things to me, and the Free the Hikers family, during the campaign. Integrated with our website, community blog, Twitter, and YouTube page, it was the “place where we could meet Josh, Shane, and Sarah across the abyss between us, and hold them close.” It was the place we mobilized others to join us on our journey to FREEDOM. It was the place where we sought support to keep our hope afloat. Every time I posted on the page, multiple times a day, for more than two years, I felt Josh, Shane, and Sarah with me. And we noticed every response, in the form of likes, comments, and shares, even when there were 32 000 supporters there. We felt our supporters, including many of you reading this, with us every step of the way.  

I remember our interactions and your multitude of actions, and carry them with me on my journey forward. I remember approaching Gotham, knowing he would understand, because he too had experienced a precious friend unjustly detained abroad – Laura Ling, who was freed from North Korea just days after Josh, Shane, and Sarah were captured. I was right – he responded promptly and compassionately. That time, and many other times when I asked him for support. As did Mallika, and Deepak, and those who work closely with them.  Laura Ling, Euna Lee (detained with her), and Laura’s sister Lisa, who had campaigned tirelessly for their freedom, reached out to offer us support, almost right after Laura and Euna were freed.  Even while consumed by our own crisis, I was astounded by that. Later in our campaign, I remember Laura reaching out at just the right time to let me know that when she was imprisoned, she could feel the vigils people held for them.  Giving me just the push I needed to keep going. And today, when I was feeling drained from the intensity of the past week, and the four years leading up to it, Gotham shared his blog post expressing his joy at the news of Isaiah’s birth. That gave me just the push I needed to complete mine.

Every gesture of support affects me profoundly. As I explained to a twitter supporter at the dawn of the four year anniversary, “Humanity in the face of inhumanity takes on extra special significance." So, I am especially happy that Josh wanted to share Isaiah’s birth with you. Your support is what made it possible for Josh and Jenny to give birth to a beautiful boy with the middle name Azad, Farsi for FREE.  You sharing this joyous part of our journey with us means the world to me. Thank you. May Isaiah Azad Fattal embody the transformation of violence into peace for all of us.

"I hear babies cry and I watch them grow,
They'll learn much more
Than we'll know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world"
~ 'Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,' by Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ode to

The space we inhabited when our precious loved ones, Josh, Shane, and Sarah, were held hostage by the Iranian regime, was a space of immense pain, loss, fear. A dark, oppressive cloud hovered in the air between us and their cells in Evin prison, hovered around us every second of every day, making it difficult to breathe, threatening to stifle the flames within us. 

Our website,, taken down on Jan 4, 2013, embodied everything within us that we couldn’t express for fear of the cracks and fissures in our hearts spreading through our bodies and shattering us into pieces. It was the shared landscape of our journey to FREEDOM; the place where we could meet Josh, Shane, and Sarah across the abyss between us, and hold them close. When we couldn’t speak to or write to them, we posted our love online for the world to see, and hoped it would travel to their hearts in their prison cells in Iran. We hoped it would tell them that we were fighting for them with every cell in our hearts, minds, and bodies; that it would hold them and ourselves together; that it would bring them home. 

It was our “hope in the darkness”. I dedicate this song, "Ghosts That We Knew" by Mumford & Sons, to and every beautiful soul who created it and made it the beautiful, powerful place it was in the darkest of times. 

"These words will be windows"

Trying to express the unimaginable feeling of a loved one held hostage in words. For the 2 years and 2 months Josh was held captive by the Iranian regime, words were woefully inadequate to describe my feelings. Though I was his voice and I called out for his FREEDOM every moment of every day, when it came to expressing my feelings, I embodied the silence imposed on him. I was full of words I could not say, feelings beyond words.

Words still elude me when I try to capture my journey since he was released. I am full of unfinished thoughts, incomplete sentences…words I cannot say, words that don’t exist.

A beautiful friend encouraged me to find words and to share them at a gathering of friends at his home. These are the words I spoke. As Josh said when he started writing a book to tell his story, “These words will be windows, not walls.”

Ocean of emotion

We were two rivers of life
with intertwined tributaries
flowing in parallel
unable  to meet

When you were FREED
our rivers converged
into the crashing waves
of an ocean
of collective emotion

We crash against each other
and pull apart
with the waves

We swim to the surface
fight to stay afloat

We reach for each other
then try to let go

We forge
our journeys forward
our own rivers
from our ocean
the source of
our strength
Our collective heart

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