Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dialogues in Oslo

I have returned from Oslo yesterday, but I was too busy until now.

The Oslo Workshop was an invaluable experience of interfaith and intercultural dialogue and proved to be very stimulating and informative for all of us involved. The workshop was held in a historic hotel with traditional settings about 20 km out of Oslo. The antique Persian carpets covering most of the rooms caught our eyes.
We began with an introductory session on Sunday evening , during dinner. The participants were given a warm welcome by Mr Bondevik and Mr Khatami and each person was given the chance to introduce themselves. I spoke about the importance of the event and about the coincidence with the Woman's Day event and the Resolution 1820 of the Security Council which was issued a few days ago and which considers sexual abuse of women in war to be a war crime and crime against humanity.

I also spoke about the importance of exchanging experiences and how certain practices prove effective in changing perceptions on women. I mentioned the case of the Indonesian President Megawati and how she was allowed to first become Vice-President on the basis of the fact that a woman in Iran had been appointed as Vice-President.

The workshop began at 9 on Monday with the opening speeches and I moderated the first and major panel that we had . I spoke on the different views that existed on women's status and rights in Islam and the West and the fact that intra-cultural and religious dialogue was also important. I referred to my resource paper on Natural Peace : The Feminine Factor and noted that compassion is lacking at the level of global politics in today's world. However, I noted that certain women politicians who believe in the power of compassion are still available and then I described the experience I had in dealing with Mrs. Halonen as she was the Finnish Foreign Minister and I was the Iranian Vice President and I invited her to come to Iran when it was still difficult for Europeans to visit Iran but she accepted and came and that had a very positive effect on our relations with Europe and the rest of the world. She maintained those relations when she became President , an office that she still retains today.

We had many informative presentations during the workshop.Dr. Koolae from Iran spoke about the challenges she faced as an MP with traditionalists who did not allow modifications of the marital law to maintain an equitable gender balance. We had two Reverends from the US who spoke on the importance of religious dialogue with the context of the globalization trends. Lena Larsson represented Muslim minorities living in Europe and she spoke eloquently about their challenges and hopes. Sadiq Al Mahdi the former Sudanese Prime Minister noted in his speech that we face three categories of thought on issues like the rights and status of women. The first group are the reactionaries who do not accept any dynamism in religious jurisprudence.

The second are the secular who totally reject religion and take a westernized approach on the issue and third are those who see Islam as a religion with principles taken from revelation but also dynamic in accepting human interpretation and integrating the rulings with the requirements of time and place ,while preserving the principles.

We had some interesting developments in the afternoon. I will post another report on that section shortly.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Workshop in Oslo : Women, Equality and Peace

I will be attending a workshop on Sharing Experiences Women Equality and Peace in Oslo on Monday. The event is organized by the Foundation for Dialogue Among Civilizations , The Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights , The Club de Madrid and The Center for Peace and Environment in Tehran. The Center for Peace and Environment is playing an important role in organizing the event and the Iranian delegation who will be attending. The workshop will be opened by President Khatami and Prime Minister Bondevik ( Former Norwegian Prime Minister). Scholars and politicians will discuss , gender equality in Islamic thought and Western civilization, family rights and women' s challenges in these societies.

I have been given the moderation of the first panel with this topic. Ms Tarja Halonen the current President of Finland will also speak in this panel. Other panels will deal with the role of women in inter religious dialogue and conflict resolution and the effect of war on women and how women can play an important role in international peacemaking.

The workshop has coincided with two important events, first the anniversary of the birthday of the daughter of the Prophet of Islam Fatima Zahra or Women's Day in Iran and the recent resolution of the United Nations Security Council on the condemnation of sexual abuse of women in times of war. I think this coincidence points to the importance of our work in these times. I will post more news about the event and inform you about its resolution.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Iranian bloggers and NGOs

Last night I was invited to the sixth birthday of Persianblog. In addition to this blog I have a blog in Farsi now for over 18 months. I write about the environment , politics , women's issues and everything you could think about . Here is the address . Persianblog is one of the largest Iranian blogger societies. They claim to provide services to over 800,000 blogs in Persian. There was a recent survey done on Iranian weblogs by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. The survey indicated the diversity and large number of Iranian bloggers and the various topics that they deal with.

You could see some of that enthusiasm and fervor in the ceremony last night. Bloggers had polls chosen and preferred some weblogs and they were asked to come up to the scene and receive some gifts and talk about their blog. The ceremony was attended by hundreds of people mostly youth, and they were quite energized and applauding the elected blogs.One of the most attractive blogs was one belonging to a soldier/teacher from a village in south of Iran, a region called Dayyer. The village has 35 inhabitants. The village elementary school has only 4 students and the teacher has managed to get a computer from a local governor and now his blog reports the activities of the smallest school on earth.

I spoke for a few minutes about blogging and how the human factor is still alive in Iranian blogs . I meant the compassion and values which we lack so much in today's industrialized and computerized world.

Earlier in the morning I had spoken in a NGO gathering to appreciate the efforts of journalists and media directors who had reported on environmental challenges we face. I mentioned the importance of freedom of speech and and freedom after speech for informed decisions that we need to make to protect our precious environment.

I enjoy being among these young and enthusiastic people who will lead Iran into a new era of advancement and prosperity. Those who contemplate the notion of attacking Iran are totally ignorant of what goes on in the heart of the Islamic Republic.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Who is to Blame?

World leaders have committed themselves to the environmental agenda in paper. In action however, they have proven that there are other priorities. They initially questioned the scientific basis of the findings thereby delaying the commitments, now they are looking for other scapegoats. The realities are painful and striking . The rich bloc is consuming the world's resources at an alarming rate, environmental degradation, pollution and natural disasters are all taking their toll initially on the poor and disadvantaged, although I believe the rest of the world is will also suffer eventually. The urgency of issues like food prices and hunger, as well as fuel prices (the rise of taxes in the North and the decrease of subsidies in the South) all indicate how things can easily get off hand even in the prosperous industrialized countries.

For years environmentalists have been warning decision makers about the consequences of unsustainable policies and the great economic and social losses that their societies will face. For years now in international fora politicians have been committing themselves to conservation and environmental standards. Unsustainable trends and the disruption of the ecosytem balance continues.

Why do we not see the results , why do we not see any improvement in the status of the world's environment? Is it not because politicians , private and corporate sector forces all see their profits before anything else? Is it not because the capitalist -materialist view leaves no room for human and environmental concerns? Is it not because deep inside the material minds and hearts there is no respect for creation , for nature or for the will of God?

The world is facing environment crises one after the other, global warming is just starting to take its toll. Science and technology can provide some of the solution most of the solution lies in the attitudes and mentalities of those who are leading the world and therefore in the minds and mentalities of the decision-makers.

To prevent the disaster we need faith, resolve and change of direction. We may, other wise, decide to be the first species that has played a major role in its extinction.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Legacy of Imam Khomeini

The legacy of Imam Khomeini is, on the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, still very relevant to contemporary global issues. Imam died on this day 19 years ago after leading the Revolution for several decades and establishing the first modern Islamic Republic as an independent and viable system of governance. The personality and character of Imam as a progressive thinker and inspiring political leader, who led his nation through a peaceful revolution, facing a major global power with empty hands and only hearts filled with faith and resolve is worth studying. Imam set an example of integrity and high ethical standards for political leadership. He revived a modern and forward -looking interpretation of Islam that resonated with the concerns and aspirations of the young generations.

Imam relieved the followers of the religion from both backwardness and westernized alienation at the same time. During his leadership he provided a practical and viable model of governance and moral, spiritual as well as political leadership. Contemporary Islamic scholars and leaders could not match Imam's progressive insight into modern challenges such as economic policy, music, and women's rights. Imam believed and fought for the democratic values of the Republic at the same time as he stood for the Islamic quality and values.

His perspectives were not limited to the realm of the Islamic world alone but he addressed humanity in many of his statements ;as he felt that they faced common challenges and sufferings . His legacy provided inspiration for the downtrodden and oppressed, he identified with them as a religious leader and questioned the unjust world order that had undermined their existence for the benefit of a few.
I can never forget the numerous instances where in different parts of the world I have witnessed how Imam Khomeini had conquered the hearts and minds of millions.

In 1985, I was in Kenya for an international event and we had some time to visit Mombasa in outskirts of Nairobi. When the local people realized we had come from Iran they gathered to welcome us and while one of them took me to her small hut to show me how she had a picture of Imam on the wall of her room another young boy ran back home only to bring back a black and white copy of his picture carefully pasted in a wooden frame.

Imam was rarely depicted realistically by the major world media which were mostly American and a few European. He was designated by Time Magazine as Man of the Year in 1979, yet in a clearly biased and distorted manner. His message however, had spread and his vision of a rational and progressive Islam which was revolutionary and motivating but not reactionary and violent was welcomed by people who identified themselves with those values.

Influenced by maligned propaganda against the Revolution, scholars and academia in the West have rarely been able to objectively address the issue and to study and assess his personality and lifetime achievements. Only after the advent of Talebanism and Al Qaeda did they realize how inherently rational and reasonable the campaign and Revolution of Imam Khomeini stands today.