x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dubai resident to create world's largest symbol of peace out of buttons

Having experienced the ravages of war first-hand, Iraq-born Fareed Lafta hopes to promote peace so that others do not experience what he did.

Fareed Lafta, a daredevil and trained cosmonaut, at Burj Plaza. The Iraqi has enlisted the aid of at least 100 pupils and students in an attempt to make Guinness World Records for the biggest peace sign. Jaime Puebla / The National
Fareed Lafta, a daredevil and trained cosmonaut, at Burj Plaza. The Iraqi has enlisted the aid of at least 100 pupils and students in an attempt to make Guinness World Records for the biggest peace sign. Jaime Puebla / The National

DUBAI //Adventurer Fareed Lafta is a trained cosmonaut with thousands of skydives and base jumps to his name – but his next world record attempt is distinctly more down-to-earth.

The Iraq-born Dubai resident hopes to create the world’s largest symbol of peace out of buttons.

Mr Lafta, 33, will begin his mission armed with 1.2 million red, white, green and black buttons on March 2.

By March 9 he hopes to have completed a dove, measuring 19 metres squared, at Burj Plaza on Downtown Dubai’s Emaar Boulevard.

“Peace is not made by politicians or celebrities or me, or even Angelina Jolie,” he said. “It is made by society. It’s by choice.”

Mr Lafta has invited school pupils and university students to help him place the buttons.

He said there were 100 volunteers lined up for the event but there was “always room for more”.

“We don’t need to go to a place of conflict to promote peace,” he said. “Actually, we can promote a successful society as a role model for sustainable peace.

“I think Dubai is one of the best places for that because we have more than 200 nationalities and a lot of different politics, ideologies and religions here, but everybody is happy to live beside each other.”

Mr Lafta experienced the ravages of war first hand during his time in Iraq. In 2004, he was shot in the leg in Baghdad while his brother was kidnapped (and later released) by insurgents.

“When it happened, they came in three cars – 10 men,” he said. “They were shooting and shooting and the army just ran away. It was noon and there were thousands of people but everyone just ran.

“They came to him, put him in the trunk, shot me and I was left on the ground.”

Today, Mr Lafta uses his daredevilry to promote peace, hoping others do not experience what he did.

His button for peace project already has the support of the Dubai Government, Dubai Sports Council and the Peace and Sport charity in Monaco.

Now Mr Lafta hopes representatives from Guinness World Records are equally supportive.

It is not his first attempt at entering the book of records. Last year he was listed for skydiving with the biggest flag.

Mr Lafta has nurtured these kinds of ambitions since he was very young.

“I was jumping off the cupboards since I was two,” he said. “I always thought I could fly.”

His first port of call after moving to Dubai was Al Boom Marine’s shop on Jumeirah Beach Road, where he trained for a scuba diving instructors licence.

When he was not in the water, he was climbing rocks, racing Suzuki bikes at the Dubai Autodrome, learning to skydive in Umm Al Quwain – living his dream.

“My parents thought I was possessed,” Mr Lafta joked.

In 2008, he made the record books by flying to the peak of Mount Everest and jumping from a height of nine kilometres.

“It was amazing to be at the roof of the world,” he said of the dive, which had to be completed with an oxygen mask. “It was like total Nirvana.”

A year later he made the Jump of Peace over Iraq, the first civilian sky dive into Baghdad.

That was followed by another in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“It was the stupidest thing I did. With a huge red canopy, I could have been shot any time,” Mr Lafta said.

His antics drew the attention of the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space Sciences, and he was selected for training to become the first Arab in space.

Mr Lafta has yet to make it to the stars, but he did co-pilot a MiG 29 to the edge of space.

eharnan@thenational.ae