Guest Post: Free the Hikers – The Brother Behind the Scenes

Today’s post is written by Cliff Gardner. If you have followed news on the hikers in Iran, or are just tuning in, take a look.

I remember the first time I read the news about three American hikers who were imprisoned in Iran for crossing into Iranian territory and accused of being spies. To be honest, my first thought was, “How could you ‘accidentally’ be hiking so close to an international border?” especially that of an international pariah like the Islamic Republic of Iran. I followed the news on and off as the conflicting details of their detainment was reported in various news sources.

It wasn’t until December 2010 that I would become more closely connected to these “hikers”. I was hosting an event at Harvard with our guest lecturer, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at AmericanUniversityin Washington, DC. After his lecture I was introduced to Alex Fattal, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard. He was introduced to me by Amb. Ahmed as the “brother of one of the “hikers” detained in Iran”. I was fascinated to learn over dinner that night some of the details behind the media stories that I had heard. Alex shared with us about his brother Josh’s story with such passion, empathy and desperation. I found out that Amb. Ahmed had been instrumental in helping the three families work diplomatic, educational and humanitarian channels of communication to try to obtain the release of Josh, Shane and Sarah. You can read more about their story at their website:

I met with Alex later that week over coffee in theHarvard Law School café and was fascinated to hear about all the efforts made on behalf of the three “hikers”. Alex had put his PhD studies on hold to focus fulltime in the effort to obtain the release of his brother and Shane. Sarah had been released in August 2010, and they were all hopeful that Shane and Josh would be released soon as well. I told Alex that I would pray for his release and spread the word among my family, friends and colleagues about their plight. Alex has tirelessly travelled all over the world to speak to government officials, journalists and humanitarian groups to share about their release. I would be in touch with him periodically on Facebook or email to see how he was doing. He’d be at a fundraiser in San Francisco one weekend, in New York for a benefit concert a few days later, and then be interviewed on some news channel the next week.

On August 20, 2011 I heard the news that Josh and Shane were charged in an Iranian court of illegal entry and espionage and sentenced to 8 years in prison. I felt sick to my stomach and yet, prayed even harder for their release.

We woke up yesterday to the amazing news that the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had announced on NBC that Josh and Shane would be released in the coming week, prior to his visit the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. News of this spread like wildfire on the internet and by word of mouth.

As I have followed Alex and the roller-coaster ride of emotion he and his family have ridden since July 2009 I am overwhelmed by the love that he has for his brother. His dogged determination has shown me that one should never give up, even when facing the most Goliath-like of challenges. Alex vs. The Islamic Republic of Iran?

Having four brothers myself I wonder if I would exhibit the same kind of passion and determination he has shown these past two years? We anxiously await the reunion of two brothers on a tarmac embracing each other after such a long and desperate separation.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” – Proverbs 17:17

Bloggers Note: Cliff is the Administrative Officer for the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University. He is also the love of my life.

Books that Inform

Blogger’s note: In light of world events and the often present  ‘information gap’ in conversations on Islam – here are two books that inform!

Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think” should be a mandatory read for diplomats and administrative personnel who hold positions where communicating with those in the Arab world is a regular occurrence.  It is also a good book to recommend for those interested in learning more about this part of the world and the complexity surrounding what the west thinks ‘they’ think and should be concerned about vs. what ‘they’ say they think and what they are concerned about.  This small book with a red cover is the result of a Gallup poll that took place over a few years time.  Thousands and thousands of interviews were conducted in 35 Muslim-majority countries asking clear and pointed questions of the interviewees.  Important to note: this wasn’t the thoughts of either those with extreme views or those who speak as experts but rather regular people going about their lives.  People like many of the protesters in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain.

The second book that I have found to be a great resource is the book “A New Introduction to Islam” by Dr. Daniel Brown. This 269-page book with a beautiful cover is an excellent introduction and ‘go to’ book for history and a greater understanding of Muslim beliefs and practices. For coffee lovers, be sure to check out “The Coffee Debate” on page 116! Full disclosure here – Dr. Brown is my brother and an excellent writer and thinker! But lest there be any accusation of nepotism in my urging people to read I will include the recommendation from Ambassador Akbar S. Ahmed, currently the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC.

“The events of September 11 and afterwards have forced us to ask questions about the nature and history of Islam, Daniel Brown’s clear and authoritative book helps us to understand this world religion now at the center of controversy, discussion, and debate…”

Both of these books are excellent ways to begin to fill the information gap and will make great additions to your coffee table or bedside stand.