"The children of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time afflicts one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others
Thou art unworthy to be called by the name of Man."
These are the words of the 13th century Persian poet, Saadi. Many may recognize the first two sentences from President Barack Obama's Persian New Year speech to the Iranian people.
Soon after this speech President Obama was faced with the news that Roxana Saberi, an American journalist of Iranian/Japanese descent had been imprisoned in Iran and he did not hesitate to publicly demand her release, which soon followed.
Growing up in Iran, we had our own definitions of what certain countries represented to us: the British were seen as colonizers who tried to steal our oil and the Americans were seen as imperialists who dashed the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people by overthrowing Dr.Mossadegh's elected government in a CIA Coup in 1953. But when it came to Canada, we fell short of any wrong doing to attribute to them. To us, Canada represented a nation that stood for peace, democracy and most importantly, demonstrated a spirit of generosity by welcoming a host of people from countries with oppressive regimes seeking 'security' and 'freedom.'
As I write this letter however, I can't help but wonder if the Canadian government still stands by this principle today. Maziar Bahari, the Iranian/Canadian artist/journalist, might be asking the same question as he sits in solitary confinement in an Iranian prison since June 21 and is probably wondering: will the Canadian government come to my rescue?
Maziar may have been a journalist on an assignment when he was arrested; but those of us who know him well, are aware that he is foremost an artist of the highest caliber, with a great humanitarian perspective. But Maziar's art, whether a piece of theatre, a documentary or a fictional film always remained inseparable from the reality of the world he lived in. He found no choice but to place himself at risk by going to Iraq during the worst days of battle, or to be present for the Iranian election. Unlike many of us artists who choose to live in 'exile' as a space for creativity; Maziar was the storyteller that had to get close to his subjects.
Sadly, Maziar is now trapped in Tehran's notorious Evin prison for some baseless, false accusation made against him by the Iranian government which one needs not repeat as they are so shamefully untrue.
We in the world now are well aware of the atrocities that are practiced in Iranian prisons. And as a fellow artist I can't help but be terribly worried about Maziar's state of uncertainty. His life is in jeopardy as Zahra Kazemi's life was in jeopardy, when she too was taken to this same prison where Maziar sits today. Then the call for help came too late and Ms. Kazemi, a Canadian citizen, was brutally murdered in prison under false allegations.
I think of myself, an Iranian/American artist, and wonder what would I want if I'm ever imprisoned by the Iranian government for the work that I make? I answer: I would hope that the United States government comes to my rescue. I would pray that President Obama would speak in the media demanding my freedom as he once did for Roxanne Saberi Maziar is a jewel of an artist to any society. Let us protect our artists so they can live to go on to tell our stories.
So I am asking you, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on behalf of Maziar Bahari, will you demand his freedom?