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Parisa Khosravi Addresses the Conscience Plenary

Parisa Khosravi addressed the Conscience Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Good thoughts, good words, good deeds. These three principles are what we were raised and grew up with as Zoroastrians. Zoroastrianism originated in Iran and is one of the world’s first monotheistic religions. Zartosh was our prophet, and Avista is our holy book.

Good thoughts, good words, good deeds. Simple yet profound and all-encompassing. Giving the right to every human being to make their own choices in life. The ultimate self-determination and equality with the personal responsibility informed by one’s conscience. The focus of our plenary today is about the moral concept of conscience.

In other words, every human being’s innate ability to distinguish between right and wrong, choosing good over evil and light over darkness, all of which are the most prominent concepts and major tenets emphasized in the Zoroastrian religion. Each one of us is impacted when wrongs are being done to our fellow human beings.

As the Persian poet Saadi wrote in his famous poem, “Bani Odam,” the translation of which hangs in the halls of the United Nations, “Human beings are members of a whole in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain. If you’ve no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain, Saadi.” We are all one, and as beings on this earth, when one suffers, the ripple effect of that suffering impacts all of us at some point or another. Sadly, in so many places, women are suffering and fighting for their basic rights. In the past year, we have been witnessing courageous women in Iran fighting for their basic human rights and so much more. Zan. Zendegi Azadi. Woman, life, freedom. 

I was a 13-year-old schoolgirl when the last Iranian revolution came to pass. In an instant, our world changed. Over four decades later, and as a former journalist who covered quite a few revolutions throughout my career, I watched with a mixture of pride, concern, and amazement of what is happening in my motherland. As I watched women of all ages, schoolgirls to grandmothers, bravely protesting in the streets, removing their headscarves, and showing their defiance while fighting, and being faced with beatings, maiming, attacks in schools, imprisonment, and even death. Their courage and bravery is beyond anything we have ever seen. It is a revolution being led by women. 

The time has come for the free world to get up and walk the walk with the freedom-seeking women, men, and youth of Iran. Iranian women are showing the world what it means to be a shirzan, a lioness. Two such women are journalists Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi who have been in prison for reporting on Jina Masha Amini since last September.

In the past year, dozens and dozens of journalists in Iran have been imprisoned, about a third of them women, making it one of the biggest jailers of women journalists in the world. The time has come for the global media to provide full coverage on this unfolding historic event in Iran. 

As a former news executive, part of my responsibility was the safety and security of our journalists who I would assign to report from different war zones or hostile environments. It is tragic to see journalists being jailed in their own country for simply doing their job. 

Iran is where Cyrus the Great proclaimed the first-ever human rights charter. The first-ever human rights charter came from Iran over two-and-a-half thousand years ago. In its history, Iran has had women as kings, Tooran Dokht and Azarmin Dokht. They were both kings of Iran. They were not just the wife or daughter of a king. These women ruled and led as kings. By the way, these women kings, as was the case with Cyrus the Great, ruled during the Zoroastrian era in Iran.

The founding fathers of the United States were inspired and influenced by Cyrus the Great as they wrote the U.S. Constitution. The time has come for conservatives, liberals and feminists to act in agreement, together, and in support of this singular nonpartisan issue of freedom. Freedom for Iranian women, freedom for Afghan women, freedom for Middle Eastern women, freedom for all women and girls around the world who are oppressed, freedom to choose our path, and freedom to communicate and express ourselves.

I chose my path to become a journalist at a young age. To me, journalism was the ability to shed light on oppression and injustice. My joy and passion as a journalist was the opportunity to give voice to the voiceless. In my personal life, this has also become my quest as I help to ensure individuals like my son, Payam, who’s autistic and non-speaking have their voices heard and most importantly, listen to and not marginalized. For 14 years, Payam had essentially been trapped in his body and unable to reliably communicate after endless efforts and therapies. We tried a method called RPM, rapid prompting method. With the help of skilled and trained teachers in this method, Payam started pointing to an alphabet board and later a keyboard and spelled out his thoughts one letter at a time into words and sentences. When we finally got a glimpse inside his thoughts, we realized he is wise beyond his years. 

I now dedicate my main focus in helping to bring about fundamental change in our perceptions and understandings of non-speaking autistics. Payam is not an exception. They’re all capable of learning. I mentioned this as many of you in the audience likely know an autistic individual and you can help to make a huge difference in their lives. Just because they don’t speak doesn’t mean that they can’t think. As Payam wrote for his United Nations address, “Try to imagine what life would be like living without direct control over words, limbs, and motor actions. This way of living is all I know, but nothing is worse than being perceived as less capable than you truly are. My friends and I have dealt with this lack of honest understanding most of our lives, treating individual people as though they not only matter but can make a difference in this world is essential. There must be fundamental changes in our belief in all of humanity.” Payam is a big advocate for the rights of individuals who have any type of label put on them which limits their lives. He has presented at universities, United Nations, keynoted international conferences, and will soon publish his first book. You can watch some of Payam’s presentations by Googling Payam Autism, P -A -Y -A -M space autism. 

I have lived a life full of experiences as an immigrant due to a revolution, as a journalist for three decades directing the international coverage for CNN, and as a mother to a non-speaking autistic son. Our thoughts, be it an assumption about a neurodivergent person, our words, be it a comment on social media, or our actions, be it a decision made at work, all have ripple effects. 

Remember, human beings are members of a whole, and we can each create our own positive ripple effect with good thoughts, good words, good deeds. Thank you.

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