Iran To Execute Youcef Nadarkhani, a Pastor, For Converting to Christianity

This is Youcef Nadarkhani

Youcef Nadarkhani is a 34 year old man who converted to Christianity at age 19. He came under the Iranian government’s radar in 2006 when he applied for his church to be recognized by the Iranian government.

Three years later, he went to local officials to complain about the indoctrination of Islam at his children’s local school, saying that his children should not be forced to learn about Islam. He was subsequently faced with a court order to renounce his Christian faith, which he refused to do. He is now facing the death penalty, being put on death row.

The Christian pastor faced charges of “apostasy” and “evangelizing muslims.” The widespread condemnation has led  the Iranian court to accuse the pastor of committing rape and other crimes as well. As of today, he is still alive.

For reference, Iran is one of the signatories of the Human Rights charter, as well as various United Nations agreements, which guarantee religious freedom. The US congress has also unanimously approved of a resolution to condem the sentencing.

The Iranian government is known to carry on execution sentences at random times. Nadarkhani’s sentencing can be carried out immediately or dragged on for years. His supporters fear his case might be used by the Iranian government as leverage against the sanctions imposed on the country.

Youcef Nadarkhani with his family

I honestly cannot fathom how some governments can rationalize decisions like this in the 21st century. Not only is the Iranian government violating every single human rights agreement it has signed, it’s also doing so flagrantly. How can a government sign an agreement to ensure religious freedom and then kill those who do not follow the religion enforced by the state?  How can the judges of said Iranian court remain sane with them fabricating charges for a man whose only “fault” was to change religions?

Even Nadarkhani’s wife was arrested and found guilty before she appealed the decision and got released two weeks later. Her arrest was seen by many as a pressure on her husband to renounce his faith.

Religious minorities in Iran, such as Christians, Jews, Bahais, etc… face social marginalization, persecution and political isolation. The Iranian government, however, saves its hardest punishment to those who “abandon” Islam. It even has fatwas that demand the death of apostates.

Iran’s secretive judicial system leaves the international community questioning Nadarkhani’s fate. But the international pressure being put on Iran by various governments and organizations is paying off. Pastor Nadrakhani would have been executed already if his case hadn’t caused outrage.

It looks like world is still concerned with religious freedom, as is evident by people from various political fields (conservatives and liberals), countries and religious views (Atheism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity) coming together to help Youcef Nadarkhani. So what can we do? We can help by spreading the word. The more people know about Nadrakhani’s case, the harder it will be for such oppressive governments to let it slide. It is high time we stand up for our basic liberties, such as our freedom to choose whatever religion we want to follow. When it comes to one’s relationship with God (or any other entity), the government should have no say – let alone punishing a person for not having the relationship it deems appropriate.


PS: For the Lebanese reading this who will accuse me of being one-sided, the same applies to the Saudi government’s oppressive view towards religions (and other basic liberties) too.


Batroun’s Bal3a Dam: The Iranian Interference

This is Bal3a

Bal3a is a region in the mountainous village of Tannourine, in the east of the Batroun caza, North Lebanon’s first district. Home for its famous sinkhole, Bal3a is also the source for the “Joz” river, Batroun’s main water source.

A very ambitious project has been in the works for Bal’a for a few years now. The plans for a dam, to be built on the Joz River, have been in motion. This dam would increase the water resources for the whole Batroun caza by drastic amounts.

To build this dam, bids were submitted to the government back in June. Moawwad and Eddeh Contracting Company won the contract to build the dam, with a total amount of $32 million. For reference, this is the same company that built the Shabrouh Dam in Keserwein. However, this company was surprised a few weeks ago with a decree issued by the government, via the ministry of energy, to accept an Iranian donation of $40 million with one stipulation: an Iranian company was to build the dam, a project that would take four years.

The Lebanese company has filed an official complaint with the ministry of energy, managed by nonother than son-in-law prodigy Gebran Bassil. As if the electricity crisis was not enough for Bassil. The company still hasn’t gotten a reply as to what exactly happened.

But let’s contemplate this. The project will take four years. If everything goes as “planned” for Bassil & co, the Iranians will be roaming the Batroun mountains freely, under the umbrella of a security network, which will be provided by Iran’s allies in Lebanon: Hezbollah. Who knows what they’ll do other than build the dam.

If this Iranian company ends up beginning the constructions, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard would have gained a stronghold in one of North Lebanon’s main mountains. And with Tannourine’s geographical contact with the Beqaa, a known Hezbollah stronghold, along with its proximity to other Mount Lebanon mountains where Hezbollah has already set foot, the possibilities become endless.

Let alone the fact that the Lebanese government has apparently preferred to hire an Iranian company over a Lebanese one, I have no idea how Gebran Bassil can let his own region be defiled in such a way and consider it simple “contracting” with the government. How can Gebran Bassil think he has a viable chance at getting elected in 2013 when he’s letting the people who killed Tannourine’s own Samer Hanna into his home?

And just a final question so I don’t let this drag on. Why, as a Batrouni, do I have to bear with someone I did not choose to represent me?

A Separation – Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s new movie, A Separation, opens with an Iranian couple in court. Simin (Leila Hatami) is asking for a divorce from her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) because he refuses to travel with her to a European country now that their visa paperwork is in order. The visa has 40 days left to expire and Simin wants to leave now. “Has this man beaten you or cheated on you?” the judge asks her. She replies negatively. He simply refuses to leave. Why can’t Nader leave? Because e can’t abandon his father who has Alzheimer’s. “Your father doesn’t even know you,” Simin tells Nader. “But I know him,” he replies. Simin and Nader also have a daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi – the filmmaker’s daughter). Being eleven years old, Termeh can choose the parent she wants to stay with after the divorce and both want to bring her to their side.

As he goes back home, Nader is faced with the realization that he cannot tend to his father all day long due to his work obligations. So he hires Razieh, a very religious woman, to look after his dad while he’s at work. But taking care of Nader’s father will prove much more difficult than Razieh had anticipated especially with her strict religious rules. One day, Nader comes back home and finds the house empty and his father almost dying on the floor next to his bed. Razieh is nowhere to be found. Money is also missing from the drawer in his house – the exact equivalent of a day’s work for Razieh. When she comes back, he accuses her of theft and pushes her out of his house. She stumbles on the stairs. And soon, Nader finds himself in court being accused of causing the miscarriage of Razieh’s nineteen week old fetus.

Peyman Moaadi, as Nader, delivers a great performance as the morally torn father between his own family and his obligation to his own father. You can see him making the decision of choosing to take care of his dad every single day of his life with every action he does, every word he speaks. One scene in particular is so masterfully acted out by Moaadi that it will play on your heartstring. Soon after he pushes Razieh out of his house, Nader breaks down as he cleans his father in the bathroom – the father that doesn’t even know who his son is.

Leila Hatami’s role is much more limited than Moaadi. She gets much less screen-time and her character isn’t as like-able as his. She comes off as the woman who wants her husband to let go of his parents even though on one particular scene, Nader’s father holds her hand and calls her name as if telling her that no one can really take of him the way she did.

A Separation is not a movie strictly about a divorce. In fact, the divorce aspect of the movie – the separation of a couple – takes very little time to unravel compared to the other plot elements offered in the movie. The problem that arises with Nazieh’s miscarriage is most of what the movie is about – how Nader deals with it in a way to protect himself and his daughter and how Nazieh, the mother of a little girl, is trying to deal with it in her way to protect her little girl and her unemployed husband.

A Separation’s forte, however, is simply its brilliance realism. There’s not one scene in the movie that is impossible to have been acted out in real life. It also transcends stereotypes of an Islamic society and offers a cinematic experience that can be relatable to anyone who watches. It’s not simply the manifestation of male dominance in the court of law in an Islamic country. It’s the legal, political, dramatic and intriguing family dissolving that the movie is about.

A Separation is multi-layered. It’s not bland. It runs deep. It showcases its characters in a way that reveals their secrets, their vulnerabilities. It does not shy away from ripping bandages dry. It doesn’t flinch from showing the hurt. It also smartly maneuvered around obvious Iranian censorship and managed to become Iran’s official submission to the Oscars this year. It is, at the end of the day, a moral dilemma revolving around family. It takes on gender, class, social, family issues and spins them into a fabric that a sort of critical view of Iranian society. The actors and actresses in the movie stand out. The screenplay is very sharp and the directing exquisite.

And now to the part that would interest any Lebanese movie enthusiast. Is A Separation better than Where Do We Go Now? I’m sad to inform you, dear Iranians, that the answer is no. No, I’m not being biased. While watching A Separation, your emotions are roused. You feel compassion to the characters and the story is interesting enough to keep you grounded. But it doesn’t offer the emotional roller coaster that is presented by Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now. You don’t find yourself laughing and then crying. You don’t find a smile on your face while watching A Separation as tears trickle down your cheek. A Separation is more tense. But Where Do We Go Now is more universal, more heartfelt, more approachable and more genuine.

For those who are still shocked, yes… I have watched an Iranian movie. Yes, it was also spoken in Farsi.


AUB Elections: Vote Students At Work

You know what baffles me about pro-Hezbollah (and affiliates) people attending AUB? They tend to forget that it’s the AMERICAN University of Beirut.

All they do is go there and bash the American system left and right, totally ignoring that they are in the midst of what they’re criticizing. I guess the Lebanese proverb: “2e3ed b7edno w bientof bida2no” applies here. And you know what’s even sadder? The Aounists that join Hezbollah, SSNP and other political parties in their chants against the “American devil.” You’d think they would know better than to be this brainwashed.

Let’s get one thing straight: as an AUB student who graduated back in 2010, I voted three times in my university’s elections and was almost nominated twice with Students at Work. I have every reason not to want to support them but my reasons are personal and not as relevant to the greater picture. But here’s what you need to know: the amount of work any student body would put into enhancing your student life is minimal. But at least with Students at Work, you know they will actually attempt to do something and not live in the orgasm of their victory for a whole year straight.

The independents didn’t do anything as well the year they won via a political play with March 8th people, which happened to be during my junior year. Students at Work needed one more seat in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences back then, one they had relinquished in my year to leave an open list. Their list would have won if it had been fully closed.

With Students at Work, you’ll know that AUB’s Main Gate will not turn into a shouting fest where a slogan calling for the death of a major Lebanese leader is chanted and celebrating the assassination of one of our country’s most inspiring presidents. With Students at Work, Main Gate will not turn into this.

So come Wednesday and you’re standing in front of a ballot, thinking about who you need to vote for, remember that you are at the American University of Beirut because you and your parents believe this is the best education that can be provided in Lebanon today. Remember that the level of the university you’re in is not the way it is because of people whose daily habits have hypocrisy written all over them and remember that your future endeavors, soon after finishing your degree, will not take you to Iran. You’ll be going to the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and France. Don’t be a hypocrite. Vote Students at Work. It may not change your scholastic life but at least you’ll know you’re voting with the air of freedom of the institute that is providing your future.

Lebanon Bans Iranian Movie “Green Days”

I honestly do not get Lebanon these days – or maybe I do and don’t want to admit that our newly formed government is as uptight and horrible as we thought it would be, but the Iranian movie “Green Days” has been banned from being screened in the country.

What is the movie about? The 2009 Iranian protests against Ahmadinejad.

The movie “Green Days” was directed by Hana Makhmalbaf, aged 22, daughter of Mohsen Makhamalbaf, who is close to Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, whose followers led the 2009 protests. A General Security personnel in Lebanon said the ban was fulfilled after a request from the Iranian minister in Lebanon.

Since when does a request by an ambassador actually get fulfilled in Lebanon? Especially if it’s something as silly as them asking to ban a movie that details the regime they represent in a hideous light? It’s nice to see Iran’s main allies in Lebanon looking after their love’s interests over here. After all, why should Lebanese be allowed to watch a movie that details Iranian protests? I think that’s something Khamenei banned, no? Therefore, we should not be allowed to watch it! What an abomination that would be to our souls and to the good of the glorious nation of Iran!

But wait! Isn’t Lebanon a mutlicultural country where the say of one group or sect shouldn’t apply to the rest of the people? You’d think Mr. Orange, carefully looking out for the “best interests of Christians”, would stand up against such an atrocity. You’d think the “best interest of Christians” would be them exposed to all the different cultures the world has to offer. Guess now we know who’s truly ruling the country, regardless of how many ministers they have in our awesome new government.

I don’t know about you but I shall be downloading this movie (along with subtitles) and making a few copies to distribute just to spite the ambassador and the holy Lebanese resistance whose only job these days, by the looks of it, is to ban movies. How does that work against Israel again?