Why is Iran Persecuting the Baha’is?

The ongoing trial of the seven Baha’i leaders in Iran and the escalating persecution of the Baha’i Faith in that country require an in-depth inquiry into the reasons for this persecution.

(Author’s Note: This article represents my personal views and should not be taken as representing the official views of the Baha’i Faith or any of its institutions.  This article has not been reviewed by any Baha’i representative or institution.  I recommend following the Baha’i principal of independent investigation of truth, and going to http://www.bahai.us the official site of the Baha’is of the United States, for basic information.)

With international outcry growing against the imprisonment and ongoing trial of seven Baha’is in Iran on trumped up charges, the title question seems obvious, but the question does not seem to get the kind of discussion it demands.  I see descriptions of the persecution and calls for its end, but little discussion of why the Iranian state and religious authorities, as well as many everyday Iranians, have such animosity for Baha’is in particular.

Yes, I want you to speak out against the latest oppressive acts and contact your U.S. Representative and Senators and encourage them to keep the pressure on the Iranian government.  The House and Senate have passed resolutions that condemn Iran’s human rights violations and calls on the government to free the seven as well as all other imprisoned Baha’is.  But you can get all the information you need about that at http://iran.bahai.us.

I now return to my opening question: Why is Iran persecuting the Baha’is?

It is easy to answer, “Because they’re an undemocratic, intolerant theocracy that uses fear and hatred of minorities to stay in power.”  That answer might make you feel good, sitting here in democratic, semi-secular America where Barack Obama is President, but it would also be simplistic and inaccurate on some points.

In a post written several months ago, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen discussed his recent visit to the Jewish community in the Iranian city of Isfahan.  He described a community disturbed by constant official cries of “death to Israel,” but that otherwise goes about its business unmolested.  Cohen, a Jew himself, praised the warmth with which he’s been treated during visits to Iran and criticized the “Mad Mullah” image of Iran.

“[t]he reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric,” Cohen wrote.

I have no wish to paint a caricature of Iran, either.  Cohen’s experience tells us that Iran is a complex, diverse nation that is quite capable of tolerance toward some minorities, in spite of official rhetoric.  The Iranian constitution specifically grants rights to Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians but considers Baha’is “unprotected infidels” with scarcely any rights, whom Iranians can even murder with impunity.

So what is it about the Baha’is?

To answer this question, it is necessary to frankly examine the central claims of the Baha’i Faith, and of all faiths – Islam, Christianity, Judaism and others.  Such an examination is scary for any of us who pride ourselves on our belief in pluralism and embracing difference.  We are likely to find ourselves, like Rodney King, crying out in the wilderness, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

If we actually take the claims of various religions seriously, if we truly accept that followers of different faiths actually believe what they say they believe, then we make it a lot harder to get along.   The warm and fuzzy ecumenism of some Westerners rests upon not closely examining the conflicting claims of different denominations and faiths, or at least not bringing them up in mixed company.

Martin Luther risked torture and death and launched a centuries-long violent conflict because he believed some claims of the Catholic Church were wrong – not just wrong, but immoral and deserving vigorous opposition; and he believed God supported his position.  Today, it’s easy enough for Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Jews, Baha’is, Muslims, etc. to break bread together and strategize about alleviating poverty or saving polar bears, because they all can find common ground for dealing with those issues without confronting each other’s conflicting claims.

The long, hideous history of religious conflict and persecution is also a history of conflicting claims.  Such conflicting claims lead to mass murder, persecution and war precisely because they conflict.  If I accept certain religious claims as true and originating from God, then I therefore reject other religious claims as untrue and originating from some other source.  What I do in my relations with people who accept conflicting claims depends on what else my religion teaches, or the interpretations I pile on top of those teachings.

Taking a detour from Iran to the United States, we can see an example of what happens when we dodge competing claims.  Recent efforts to find common ground between pro-choice and pro-life camps avoid mentioning the term abortion, which is a way of not examining conflicting claims, some of which are religiously based claims.  If I accept the claim that the soul and the body unite at the moment of conception, thereby forming a sacred entity, then how I treat that entity will be very different than if I consider that entity just a clump of multiplying cells that becomes sacred, or at least acquires civil rights, at some later point in its development.  Therefore, let’s dance around the conflict for the sake of our shaky “common ground.”

The majority of Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, as part of a complex chain of events that led to his crucifixion.  The Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him – faced such fierce persecution that he temporarily fled to Abyssinia with his followers, and then later fled Mecca for Medina, and then only triumphed after a series of battles.  Why?

Because of conflicting claims; not competing claims that can co-exist while vying for support, but conflicting claims, claims that cannot all be true at the same time.

When someone appears and claims to bring a new revelation from God, upheavals result, even though followers of existing religions have been eagerly awaiting both the revelation and the revealer.  Much is at stake, socially, politically, culturally, economically, and spiritually.  A new revelation threatens an entire way of life that has been passed down for centuries.  Yes, the religious authorities face the end of their power and influence, and so always lead the resistance to a new prophet and a new revelation, but the common people don’t need that much persuasion to enter the fray.  The people have a lot to lose, too, if the new claimant is right.

Thus, when Jesus appeared and appropriated the title “Son of Man,” which was one of the epithets for the expected Messiah, Jewish authorities rejected his claims, both because he did not meet long-established standards for authenticating his claim, and because widespread acceptance of his claims would destroy their power and privilege.  Christianity has its own narrative of how Jesus did meet the qualifications for being the Messiah, which the Jews did not, or would not, in the Christian view, interpret correctly.  That debate goes on today.

Rome in the early Christian era tolerated various religious groups that posed no threat to the social, cultural, political, economic and spiritual order, but Christianity posed a threat, because it was not simply another competing cult.  Christianity asserted its claims superseded all other religious claims, and that those claims were not simply wrong but immoral and deserved annihilation.  Before Constantine, periodic outbreaks of anti-Christian violence testified to how seriously non-Christians took the claims of Christianity.   There were periods of relative quiet when Christian communities were able to function more or less openly, but in those early centuries, the threat of violent persecution was always there.

The coming of Muhammad and Islam is another case.  In “Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources,” Martin Lings noted the anticipation among Arabia’s Christians and Jews of the coming of a prophet who would restore monotheistic worship and end the profanation of the Ka’aba by Arab idolatry.1  Once Muhammad appeared and made his claims, however, opposition arose from Jews and Christians, as well as pagans.  Although the pagan Arabs had tolerated Jews and Christians in their midst, Muhammad’s declaration of Allah as the one God and his denunciation of idol worship permitted no such tolerance.  The claims of Islam could not, and did not co-exist with paganism, as proven when the triumphant Prophet returned to Mecca and destroyed the idols surrounding the Ka’aba.  Lings notes that some accounts have Muhammad ordering the erasure of pagan images inside the Ka’aba, but personally protecting an image of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

So, despite its superseding claims, Islam has practiced tolerance as a rule.  The Prophet himself is said to have dictated a document granting rights to non-Muslims, which included protection of houses of worship.  Moorish Spain had a flourishing Jewish community; Christian Spain expelled its Jews or forced them to convert.

Now we move to Iran in the mid-19th century.  As in ancient Palestine and 6th century Arabia, the coming of a prophet was again in the air.  Many Shi’ih Muslims were anticipating the appearance of the Qa’im (He Who Will Arise), viewed as the return of the Twelfth Imam, the last of a series of spiritual leaders beginning with Ali, the nephew and son-in-law of Muhammad.  The Twelfth Imam had disappeared centuries earlier, and Shi’ah believe his return will then usher in the coming of the Mahdi, the figure who would vanquish evil and bring about The Last Day.  Millennial expectations also ran high in the Christian world, as many, interpreting prophecies in the Book of Daniel, believed the Second Coming would occur in 1844.  A group called The Millerites (later Seventh Day Adventists) sold all their possessions and moved to Palestine to encamp at the base of Mount Carmel in anticipation of meeting Jesus on his return.

As in the past, events didn’t transpire as anticipated.  In Iran, a man who took the name of The Bab, or The Gate, proclaimed himself the Qa’im, and declared that his mission was to prepare the way for one greater than himself.  Thousands, known as Babis, eagerly embraced his cause, but the majority of Iranians and the civil and religious authorities responded with arrests, persecution, torture and executions.  The Bab was executed in 1850.  An 1852 outbreak of anti-Babi violence featured savagery reminiscent of the gruesome killings of early Christian martyrs.  Approximately 20,000 Babis were murdered.  Outbreaks have continued to the present day, although mass violence has not reached such a fever pitch in recent years.

Following the Bab’s death, the man whom Baha’is know as Baha’u’llah, The Glory of God, took over the movement and faced continuing persecution and a series of exiles that eventually led him to Akka in Palestine.  In Baha’u’llah’s chief claim, we can find the answer to the title question of this essay:

“Verily I say, this is the Day in which mankind can behold the Face, and hear the Voice, of the Promised One.”2

Baha’u’llah’s claim also comes with full understanding that many would reject it:

“Notwithstanding all the verses of the Qur’án, and the recognized traditions, which are all indicative of a new Faith, a new Law, and a new Revelation, this generation still waiteth in expectation of beholding the promised One who should uphold the Law of the Muhammadan Dispensation.  The Jews and the Christians in like manner uphold the same contention.”3

Baha’u’llah’s claim, like those of Jesus and Muhammad and others, conflicts directly with eschatological dogma.  Most Muslims believe the Qur’an to be the last revelation from God.  They consider Muhammad “The Seal of the Prophets,” understood as ending the line of prophets.  Anyone who then makes the claim to be another prophet, bringing another revelation, therefore conflicts irreconcilably with existing claims accepted and deeply believed by Muslims.  It is important to emphasize here that Baha’is do not claim that Islam is any wrong, only that widely held interpretations of Islam made by fallible human beings are wrong.

If Baha’u’llah is right, then the mullahs are wrong, and entrenched religious, social, cultural, political and economic structures are threatened.  Iran’s leaders understand this more fully, but the general populace gets the drift, with help from official propaganda against “the misguided Baha’i sect.”

So the seven Baha’is, along with others already in prison, face long prison terms and possible death for practicing their religion, that is, for practicing the Baha’i Faith, not just any non-Islamic religion.  It is easy enough to look at a photo of this well-dressed, professional-looking group and say, “What threat could they possibly pose to anybody?”  Indeed, the Baha’is mean nobody any harm, but the claim of Baha’u’llah, in which Baha’is believe, is a threat to the established order:

“The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System — the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.”4

Such disruptions of equilibrium are a pattern in human history.  Jesus and Muhammad are two who created such disturbances, and the reaction against them was predictable and predicted: “And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.  And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.”  (Matt. 10: 21-22).

It is unjust for the Iranian government to deprive Baha’is of equal rights and to slander and imprison them, and the government deserves every possible protest and condemnation.  We won’t, however, fully grasp the nature of the situation in Iran, or understand other religiously based conflicts, unless we study the conflicting claims and come to terms with what is truly at stake.   Those of us who think of ourselves as open-minded, progressive, liberal, pluralistic, etc., should, in other words, take religious belief as seriously as the Iranian government does.

  1. Lings, Martin.  1983.  “Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources,” pp. 15-16.  Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.
  2. Baha’u’llah (Shoghi Effendi, tr.).  1983 edition.  Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 10.  Wilmette, IL: Baha’i Publishing Trust.
  3. Baha’u’llah (Shoghi Effendi, tr.)  1983 edition.  “The Kitab-i-Iqan (The Book of Certitude,” p. 239.  Wilmette, IL: Baha’i Publishing Trust.
  4. Gleanings, p. 136.

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Baha’i Letter to Prosecutor General of Iran

The persecution of the Baha’is of Iran has reached a new stage with the pending trial of seven Baha’is on false charges.

On March 6, 2009, a statement from the Iran Students News Agency the case against a group of seven Baha’i men and women would be presented this week for indictment and subsequent trial. The seven have been imprisoned for about one year in the notorious Evin prison and have been charged with crimes such as spying for Israel and “illegal administration.” This March 4 letter from the Bahai’ International Community speaks to those charges and summarizes the history of the persecution of Iran’s Baha’is since the 1979 revolution.

Ayatollah Qorban-Ali Dorri-Najafabadi
Prosecutor General
Islamic Republic of Iran

Your Honor,

Your recent announcement regarding the administrative affairs of the Bahá’ís of Iran has brought to the arena of public debate issues which not only affect the safety and livelihood of the members of that community but also have profound implications for the future of every citizen of that esteemed nation. The steps that have been taken to formulate the response of the Iranian Bahá’í community to your announcement have surely been communicated to you.

The Yaran and the Khademin, the small groups that have been attending to the spiritual and social needs of the several hundred thousand Bahá’ís of Iran, the former at the national level and the latter at the local, have expressed their willingness to bring to a close their collective functioning. This decision has been made for no other reason than to demonstrate yet again the goodwill that the Bahá’ís have consistently shown to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for the past thirty years.

The Universal House of Justice has assured us that the disruption in the functioning of these groups need not be seen as a cause for concern. There is no doubt in the minds of millions of Bahá’ís residing in virtually every country around the world — nor in the minds of many others who are watching these events with impartiality and who are aware of the historical development of the Faith—that the Bahá’ís in Iran will find ways of managing the spiritual life of their community, as they have done for generations over the past one hundred and sixty-five years of persecution. However, given the gravity of the accusations leveled against the Yaran and the Khademin, we feel obliged, as the representatives at the United Nations of one hundred and seventy-nine National Spiritual Assemblies encircling the globe, to bring certain fundamental points to your attention in an open letter and request that you examine them with the sense of fairness they deserve.

In reference to Article 20 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran pertaining to the rights of its citizens, as well as Article 23 related to freedom of belief, you have stated: “Adherence to a principle or belief is free [to anyone], but to openly express and proclaim it in order to cause deviation in the thoughts of others, to manipulate, pretend, disseminate ideas], and otherwise attempt to deceive and confuse people will not be permissible.” Such a statement tests credulity to an extreme. It is widely recognized that similar statements have been used repressive regimes throughout the centuries to justify the arbitrary suppression of conscience and belief. The suggestion that it is possible to separate the convictions held by an individual from their expression in words and action begins an entirely false line of reasoning. To see its absurdity one need only ask oneself what it means to have faith if it is not consciously manifested in one’s relationships with others. Qualifying the argument by implying that only those expressions of belief which cause deviation in the thoughts of others are objectionable may appear reasonable at a first glance. In reality, of course, it is a means of granting license to those in authority to suppress whomsoever they wish, for it leaves open the possibility of labeling any action or comment not to their liking as a cause of deviation in the thoughts of others. In any event, the record of the Bahá’ís of Iran is clear in this respect. They have never sought to cause such deviation, nor have they ever attempted to deceive and confuse people. Since you have raised the issue of freedom of belief in the context of the articles pertaining to
the rights of Iranian citizens, knowing full well the Bahá’í record, we can only assume that you have made curtailment in the functioning of the Yaran and the Khademin a condition for according the Bahá’ís at least some of the rights which they have been denied for some thirty years now.

The facts of the matter are, of course, well known to you:

• Following the Islamic revolution in 1979, the Bahá’ís of Iran, who had long been the victims of periodic outbreaks of violence, the later rounds of which had been instigated by the notorious SAVAK, were subjected to a fresh wave of persecution.

• In August 1980 all nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Iran—a national council whose election and functioning are prescribed in the Bahá’í teachings and which forms part of the Bahá’í administrative structure in all countries — were abducted and disappeared without a trace. Undoubtedly they were executed.

• Members subsequently elected to this council, as well as scores of individuals with influence in the Bahá’í community, including several members of Local Spiritual Assemblies — councils operating at the local level—were executed by the government in the years immediately after.

• In response to the announcement made by the Prosecutor General of Iran in 1983 calling for the dismantling of the Bahá’í administrative structure, the National Spiritual Assembly of Iran dissolved itself and the rest of the administrative structure in the country as a demonstration of goodwill towards the government.

• Subsequently, ad hoc arrangements were made to tend to the spiritual and social needs of the 300,000 Bahá’ís in Iran through the formation of the Yaran at the national level and the Khademin at the local level.

• For some twenty years, government agencies had regular contact with the Yaran and the Khademin — some times friendly and other times in the form of unreasonably long and aggressive interrogations — consulted with their members and were entirely aware of their activities. The possibility of some degree of dialogue between the Bahá’ís and government agencies seemed to be emerging.

• During that same period, however, a 1991 memorandum signed by Hujjatu’l Islam Seyyed Mohammad Golpaygani, then Secretary of the Iranian Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council, came to light. It called for the “progress and development” of the Bahá’ís in Iran to be “blocked” through a number of specific measures it advocated and for a plan “to confront and destroy their cultural roots outside the country.”

• While the harassment and ill-treatment of Bahá’ís continued uninterrupted during this period, they have been taken to new levels of intensity in recent years as certain elements that have historically been bent on the destruction of the Bahá’í community have assumed growing influence in the affairs of the country.

• The official campaign to malign the name of the Faith through the mass media — through newspaper articles and Web sites, through radio and television programs and films — escalated around 2005; it has proceeded unabated to this day. There can be little doubt that systematic steps are being taken to implement the provisions set out in the 1991 memorandum.

• In March 2006 a confidential letter from the Iranian military headquarters, dated 29 October 2005, asking various intelligence agencies and police organizations, in addition to the Revolutionary Guard, to identify and monitor Bahá’ís around the country, came to the attention of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, raising great concern throughout the world for the safety of the Bahá’ís.

• For more than two decades young Bahá’ís were barred from entering university through an application process that would require them to deny their faith. Though a modification in the process, achieved through worldwide public pressure, enabled a few hundred to register at the start of the 2006–2007 academic year, their hopes of pursuing higher education were soon dashed. That same year the Ministry of Science, Research and
Technology issued a letter to eighty-one universities, instructing them to expel any student known to be a Bahá’í.

• The abovementioned letter was followed by another in April 2007 from the Public Intelligence and Security Force restricting the involvement of Bahá’ís, already barred from employment in the public sector, in some twenty types of businesses. The document reinforced ongoing efforts to strangle the economic life of the Bahá’í community.

• In these past few years, the number of Bahá’ís arrested without cause has climbed; the confiscation of Bahá’í personal property has grown; attacks on Bahá’í homes have escalated; acts of arson against Bahá’í properties have proliferated; the desecration and destruction of Bahá’í cemeteries have spread; the sealing of shops owned by Bahá’ís has increased; refusals of bank loans and business licenses to Bahá’ís have multiplied; harassment of landlords with Bahá’í tenants has intensified; threats against fellow citizens who associate with Bahá’ís have mounted; and the vilification of Bahá’í children in their classrooms by teachers has been on the rise. That such acts are being systematically orchestrated city by city is unquestionable.

• Then last year the seven members of the Yaran were imprisoned, one of them in March and the remaining six in May. For some time they were held in solitary confinement and denied access to their families. Although eventually family members were allowed brief visits under strict observation, the prisoners have yet to be given access to legal counsel.
The conditions of their incarceration have varied in degree of severity over the course of the past several months, with the five male members confined at one time to a cell no more than ten square meters in size, with no bed.

• Finally, after some nine months of imprisonment, during which time not a shred of evidence could be found linking the members of the Yaran to any wrongdoing, they were accused of “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” and it has been announced that their case will soon be submitted to court with a request for indictment.

• This announcement was followed almost immediately by news reports which indicated that you had written to the Minister of Intelligence stating that the existence of the Yaran and the Khademin in Iran is illegal, while at the same time raising the question of the constitutional right of Iranian citizens to freedom of belief. You then made an official announcement to this effect.

Your Honor, the events of recent years and the nature of the accusations made raise questions in the mind of every unbiased observer as to the intent behind the systematic perpetration of injustice against the Bahá’ís of Iran. Even if there might have been some misunderstandings about the motives of the Bahá’í community during the early turbulent days of the revolution, how can such suspicions persist today? Can it be that any member of the
esteemed government of Iran truly believes the false accusations which have been perpetuated about the Bahá’ís in that country? Are not the following facts well known to the authorities in the various branches of the government?

• In whatever country they reside, Bahá’ís strive to promote the welfare of society. They are enjoined to work alongside their compatriots in fostering fellowship and unity and in establishing peace and justice. They seek to uphold their own rights, as well as the rights of others, through whatever legal means are available to them, conducting themselves at all times with honesty and integrity. They eschew conflict and dissension. They avoid
contest for worldly power.

• It is a fundamental principle of the Bahá’í Faith that its followers strictly refrain from involvement in any partisan political activity, whether local, national or international.

Bahá’ís view government as a system for maintaining the welfare and orderly progress of human society, and obedience to the laws of the land is a distinguishing feature of their beliefs.

• To take any action in willful violation of allegiance to one’s own country is explicitly proscribed in the Scriptures of the Bahá’í Faith. Adherence to this principle has been amply demonstrated by Bahá’ís everywhere.

• The Bahá’í administrative structure, which is established in more than one hundred and eighty countries worldwide, is a means for channeling the energies of Bahá’ís in service to the common good and for organizing the religious and social affairs of the Bahá’í community itself. For Bahá’ís, the concept does not imply in any way the existence of a political agenda or any kind of interference in the affairs of the government.

• The international headquarters of the Bahá’í Faith is located within the borders of modern-day Israel as a result of the successive banishments imposed on Bahá’u’lláh in the mid-nineteenth century by the Persian and Ottoman governments. Exiled from His native Persia, Bahá’u’lláh was sent to Baghdad, Constantinople and Adrianople and finally to the fortress-city of Acre in 1868, eighty years prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, where He eventually died in 1892. That Bahá’ís in all parts of the world are today in contact with the international headquarters of their Faith regarding their individual and collective affairs is entirely natural and is a well-established fact.

• Bahá’ís have the highest respect for all religions. Our Writings refer to Islam as “the blessed and luminous religion of God” and the Prophet Muhammad as “the refulgent lamp of supreme Prophethood,” “the Lord of creation” and “the Day-star of the world,” Who, “through the will of God, shone forth from the horizon of Hijaz.” The station of Imam Ali is described in terms such as “the moon of the heaven of knowledge and
understanding” and “the sovereign of the court of knowledge and wisdom.” In the Tablet of Visitation revealed by Bahá’u’lláh Himself for Imam Husayn, He refers to him as “the pride of the martyrs” and “the day-star of renunciation shining above the horizon of creation.”

• Bahá’ís are exhorted to evince a high sense of moral rectitude in their activities, chastity in their individual lives, and complete freedom from prejudice in their dealings with people of every race, class and creed.

*
In light of these well-established facts, Your Honor, it is difficult to understand how words such as “manipulative” and “deceitful,” “dangerous” and “threatening,” can be applied to Bahá’í activity in Iran. Do you consider dangerous the efforts of a group of young people who, out of a sense of obligation to their fellow citizens, work with youngsters from families of little means to improve their mathematics and language skills and to develop their abilities to play a constructive part in the progress of their nation? Is it a threat to society for Bahá’ís to discuss with their neighbors noble and high-minded ideals, reinforcing the conviction that the betterment of the world is to be achieved through pure and goodly deeds and through commendable and seemly conduct? In what way is it manipulative for a couple to speak in the privacy of their home with a few friends confused by the portrayal of Bahá’ís in the mass media and to share with them the true nature of their beliefs, which revolve around such fundamental verities as the oneness of God and the oneness of humankind? What duplicity is there if a child at school, after listening to offensive language about the Founder of her Faith Whom she so loves, politely raises her hand and requests permission to explain to her classmates some of the
teachings she follows? What deceit is there if a young person, committed to the acquisition of knowledge and learning, seeks the right from the authorities to enter university without having to lie about his faith? What harm is done if several families gather together periodically for communal worship and for the discussion of matters of concern to them all? Given that the human soul has no sex, is it so alarming for someone to express the view that men and women are equal in the sight of God and should be able to work shoulder to shoulder in all fields of human endeavor? And is it so unreasonable for a small group of people, in the absence of the administrative structures prescribed in their teachings, to facilitate the marriage of young couples, the education of children and the burial of the dead in conformity with the tenets of their Faith?

These are but a few examples of the various endeavors for which the Bahá’ís of Iran are being so grievously persecuted. It is the right to engage in such activity that has been denied them for thirty years.

Your Honor, many times over these twenty years the Yaran and the Khademin have been told by government officials that they are in fact protecting the Bahá’í community from those who regard its members as a negative element in society. It is true that there may be a small fraction in any populace who, succumbing to the forces of hatred and enmity, can be incited to perform acts of cruelty and oppression. But, in the main, our vision of the Iranian people does not correspond with the one projected by such officials. Narrow-mindedness and pettiness are not the qualities that we attribute to them. Rather do we see the staunch commitment to justice
evinced by the citizens of one town who petitioned the government when several shops owned by Bahá’ís were closed without reason. We see the fidelity shown by the young musicians who refused to perform when their Bahá’í counterparts were prohibited from playing in a recital. We see the courage and tenacity of university students who stood ready to prepare a petition and to forgo participation in examinations that their Bahá’í classmates were barred from taking. We see the compassion and generosity of spirit exhibited by the neighbors of one family, whose home was attacked with a bulldozer, in their expressions of sympathy and support, offered at all hours of the night, and in their appeals for justice and recompense. And we hear in the voices raised by so many Iranians in defense of their Bahá’í compatriots echoes from their country’s glorious past. What we cannot help noting, with much gratitude towards them in our hearts, is that a majority of those coming out in support of the beleaguered Bahá’í community are themselves suffering similar oppression as students and academics, as journalists and social activists, as artists and poets, as progressive thinkers and proponents of women’s rights, and
even as ordinary citizens.

Your Honor, the decisions to be taken by the judiciary in Iran in the coming days will have implications that extend well beyond the Bahá’í community in that land –– what is at stake is the very cause of the freedom of conscience for all the peoples of your nation. It is our hope that, for the sanctity of Islam and the honor of Iran, the judiciary will be fair in its judgment.

Respectfully,

Bahá’í International Community

cc: Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations

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Ominous Arrests of Baha’is in Iran

Iranian intelligence agents arrested six members of an informal Bahá’í committee on May 14 in a development that strongly resembles earlier arrests that ended in disappearances and executions.

The six men and women were arrested at their homes, which intelligence agents searched for several hours.  The six were then taken to the notorious Evin prison in Tehran.  They are members of a committee that looks after the needs of the 300,000-member Iranian Bahá’í community.  A seventh member of the committee was arrested in the northeastern city of Mashhad in March.

The latest arrests bear a disturbing resemblance to an earlier series of arrests in 1980 and 1981, shortly after the revolution of 1979.  All nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Iran were arrested in August 1980 and disappeared without a trace.  Eight members of the replacement assembly were executed in December 1981.

Since the Iranian revolution, over 200 Bahá’ís have been killed or executed in Iran, although there have been no executions since 1998.  The May 14 arrests are the latest events in an escalating campaign of persecution against the Bahá’ís, the largest religious minority in the county.  Among other recent developments:

  •  A campaign of harrassment, intimidation, abuse and expulsion of primary and second school students;
  • A group of young Bahá’ís working with underprivileged youth was arrested and imprisoned;

This week’s arrests have aroused numerous responses:

  • The U.S. State Department issued a statement condemning the arrests.  “We urge the authorities to release all Baha’is currently in detention and cease their ongoing harassment of the Iranian Baha’i community,” the statement says.
  • The non-partisan Institute on Religion and Public Policy issued a statement about the latest arrests.  “These latest arrests, however, are particularly disturbing because they signal that the government is worsening its abuse of and increasing its attacks against Bahá’ís,” the statement quoted IRPP President Joseph K. Grieboski as saying.
  • The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center issued a statement: “The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center is gravely concerned for the safety of the detainees,” citing the 1980 and 1981 arrests and executions.  In a blog posting, National Review Online called IHRDC “one of the most careful and politically-neutral human-rights organizations.” 
  • The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a statement on the recent arrests: “This development signals a return to the darkest days of repression in Iran in the 1980s when Baha’is were routinely arrested, imprisoned, and executed,” the statement quoted Commission Chairman Michael Cromartie as saying. 

For more information on the persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran, go here.

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering House Resolution 1008, which condemns the persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran.  In a letter, U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia’s 8th District informed me that he is a sponsor of the resolution.  Thank you, Rep. Marshall, on behalf of Bahá’ís everywhere.

 

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Educating Hillary Clinton and Every Other Girl

The Bahá’í Faith believes education will open all doors for girls and women, just like it did for Hillary Clinton.

DISCLAIMER: This and related posts discuss issues raised by the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, and the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith on those issues.  In keeping with Bahá’í principles of non-partisanship, this post and others related to it are not intended to, and should not be interpreted as, endorsing or opposing any candidate, party or political program.  The views in this and related posts are my own and have not been reviewed by any Bahá’í institution.  For official information about the Bahá’í Faith, please visit the sites of the U.S. Bahá’í community and the International Bahá’í Community.

In her 2007 Mary Louise Smith Lecture at the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton recalled the Harvard professor who told her, “We don’t need any more women at Harvard.”  So it’s Yale that has the chance to put a law school alumna in the White House, if voters choose her.  Harvard did wise up in the ensuing years, and now has a woman president, Drew Gilpin Faust.

In the years since Hillary Clinton entered Yale Law School as one of 27 women out of 235 students, a lot more doors have opened for women.  The U.S. Congress has its first female speaker, Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.)   Women have become governors, U.S. representatives, U.S. senators and cabinet ministers.  The first door to open for all these women, which opened all the other doors, was education. 

In her lecture, Sen. Clinton hailed, “The teachers who tell our daughters, ‘You are just as smart and capable as the boys, don’t you fail to live up to your potential.’ I think about my 6th grade teacher Mrs. King quoting from the Bible said not to hide your light under the bushel basket.”

The Bahá’í Faith believes in opening all those doors for girls and women through education, which is a fairly new idea:

” … if woman be fully educated and granted her rights, she will attain the capacity for wonderful accomplishments and prove herself the equal of man.  She is the coadjutor of man, his complement and helpmeet.  Both are human; both are endowed with potentialities of intelligence and embody the virtues of humanity.  In all human powers and functions they are partners and coequals.  At present in spheres of human activity woman does not manifest her natal prerogatives, owing to lack of education and opportunity.  Without doubt education will establish her equality with men.”

Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet/Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, said those words around 1912.  Women were still nine years away from the right to vote in the United States.  Wesleyan College, in Macon, Ga., chartered in 1836, was the first college for women.  A few others followed, such as Mount Holyoke in 1837, Vassar in 1861, and Smith in 1871, to name a few.  Boston University was the first American university to grant a Ph.D. to a woman, Helen Magill, a classicist, in 1877.   Wellesley, Hillary Clinton’s undergraduate alma mater, was founded in 1870 and admitted students in 1875.  The future, at least in America, looks bright for women, who, as Sen. Clinton pointed out, are now the majority of students in college and in law school.

College in particular gives women the opportunity to form the relationships and attitudes that create access to power and influence.  Women are increasingly gaining that power and influence.

“It has been objected by some that woman is not equally capable with man and that she is deficient by creation.  This is pure imagination.  [Italics added.]  The difference in capability between man and woman is due entirely to opportunity and education.  Heretofore, woman has been denied the right and privilege of equal development.  If equal opportunity be granted her, there is no doubt she would be the peer of man.”  Abdu’l-Bahá

But in the Bahá’í teachings, the importance of educating girls and women extends far beyond knowledge, skills and power.  Their education is vital to the development of children and thus to the progress of every nation and the whole human race:

” … the education of woman is more necessary and important than that of man, for woman is the trainer of the child from its infancy.  If she be defective and imperfect herself, the child will necessarily be deficient; therefore, imperfection in woman implies a condition of imperfection in all mankind, for it is the mother who rears, nurtures and guides the growth of the child.  This is not the function of the father.”  Abdu’l-Bahá

 The above statement does not imply that fathers have no role in raising and educating children.  Abdu’l-Bahá meant that mothers’ nurturing relationship with children is vital to their moral and spiritual development, which is enhanced by mothers’ education.  Bahá’ís consider this role so important that, if resources are limited, societies should give priority to educating girls and women.  The Universal House of Justice, the highest governing authority in the Bahá’í Faith, wrote this in 1985:

” … No nation can achieve success unless education is accorded all its citizens.  Lack of resources limits the ability of many nations to fulfill this necessity, imposing a certain ordering of priorities.  The decision-making agencies involved would do well to consider giving first priority to the education of women and girls, since it is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most effectively and rapidly diffused throughout society.”

 So we can see that the Bahá’í writings declare that equal education for women is indispensable to the material, social, cultural and spiritual progress of every nation and the world.  But it goes further.  Equal education and the equality it brings to women will not merely give them equal power in the same world, it will change the world:

“When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed.  Without equality this will be impossible because all differences and distinction are conducive to discord and strife.  Equality between men and women is conducive to the abolition of warfare for the reason that women will never be willing to sanction it.” Abdu’l-Bahá

If women leading the world to peace seems far-fetched at the present moment, that is because women haven’t yet won equality in much of the world.   America is further along than other nations.  We’re giving a woman a fair shot at becoming President, although we’re behind other nations.  But it it will take more than electing a woman here and there, as important as those victories are.   It will take a village, to borrow Sen. Clinton’s words — it will take every village, town, city, state and nation educating its girls and women.  It is only a matter of time.  How much time is up to every one who hears the message in the words quoted above.

SOURCES:

Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Ill.  2008 Edition.

Women: Extracts from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice.  Bahá’í Canada Publications

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

The Iranian Woman Who Made Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Possible

On Hillary Clinton, Gender Equality and the Future of Politics

OTHER POSTS OF INTEREST:

Obama Stirs Multiracial Dialogue

A More Pefect Union Through Race Unity

A More Perfect Union Through Race Unity: Cure the Cancer!

A More Perect Union Through Race Unity: Multiracial Possibilities

Obama’s High Ground on Public Dialogue

A Prayer to Rein in ‘Forces of Division’

 

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Everything You Know is Wrong! or Escape from the Kingdom of the Proknows

“Everything we know” said Hillary Clinton would win the nomination, Barack Obama couldn’t, John McCain was finished and The Patriots would win the Super Bowl, but The Oracle of The Matrix would tell us it ain’t necessarily so!

There’s a line from a sketch by the comedy group Firesign Theater: “Everything you know is wrong!”  This much I know.

Recent events have me pondering this line.   I’m tempted to speak like the Merovingian in “The Matrix: Reloaded,” and declare it as the only real truth, but modify it thus: “Everything we know is wrong!”  or “What ‘everyone knows’ is wrong!”

There are people who “know.”  Call them “professional knowers,” or experts, consultants, gurus, etc.  In the media, we call them, as a group, “punditocracy,” “the chattering classes,” or “denizens of the blogosphere,” — or shall we call it “the blowhardosphere”?  Every field has its experts.  Let’s call them “ProKnows” — one characteristic of ProKnows is to coin phrases.  Politics is rife with ProKnows.   Some of them have bona fide credentials — degrees in this or that, or experience covering politics; others have forced their way into the public forum through tenacity, or high volume or because they provide quotable copy for other chatterers.  And yet, particularly in the past year or so, the one thing we really know about this crowd is that all of them have been consistently wrong.

Just think of what the ProKnows “knew” at some time in the past year:

  • Hillary Clinton will walk away with the Democratic presidential nomination because of her name, her connections, her money, and the army of ProKnows at her beck and call, but she can’t win in November;
  • Okay, so this Barack Obama guy has thrown his hat into the ring, but he doesn’t have a chance (see previous item); besides, he’s black, or not black enough, and he has that unfortunate name, and nothing to his name but a nice speech from 2004; only starry-eyed neo-yuppies longing for the next JFK will vote for him;
  • John McCain has no chance to win the nomination because he’s too old, the Christian Right doesn’t trust him, he spoiled his independent creds by pandering to the Christian Right (that doesn’t trust him), his campaign stumbled early on;
  • Rudy Giuliani’s (short-lived) front-runner status, despite his divorces, and pro-life, gay rights positions, proves the Christian Right doesn’t matter any more (even though John McCain won’t win because of the Christian Right), and besides, once people get a look at him, they’ll drop him (actually, that turned out to be the case);
  • Mike Huckabee’s success proves the Christian Right still matters;
  • Mike Huckabee’s success proves the Christian Right doesn’t matter any more;

Some of these declarations were contradictory, while others were nearly universal, such as “Hillary is inevitable.”

I like to go back to “The Matrix.”  For me, not all roads, but a representative sample, lead to “The Matrix.”  Agent Smith, Neo’s archnemesis in the trilogy, keeps declaring the inevitability of his victory and Neo’s defeat and death.  He’s wrong repeatedly — although ultimately kind of right, but that’s another topic.  Also central to “The Matrix” is the battle between the computer programs named The Oracle and The Architect.  The Architect is the archetypal ProKnow: Even though, by his own admission, he has failed six times to create a flawless Matrix, he still searches for the technological fix, the more elegant equation, the extra bit of data that will somehow lead to a stable, infallible system based purely on everything “knowable.”

The Oracle, the archnemesis of The Architect and guru to Neo and his crew, possesses her own “knowledge,” but it is knowledge that escapes the known and the knowable, a.ka. the empirical, the verifiable, the quantifiable.  As she explains to Neo, The Architect’s job is “to balance the equation,” hers: “to unbalance it.”

We, the ProKnows, find ourselves often just like The Architect: confounded by what escapes our cultivated, quantifiable or at least rationally comprehensible “knowledge.”  And so, when we find ourselves, for instance, watching the New York Giants defeating the flawless New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, we witness the limits of our ProKnow knowledge, and fumble for some empirically feeble answer, such as “the Giants wanted it more” or “they found a way” (“life finds a way” sayeth the chaos theorist in “Jurassic Park”).  In other words, there was something beyond the playbooks, something we couldn’t draw on the screen with X’s, O’s and arrows — something that unbalances the equation.

Let’s go now to the final scene of “The Matrix: Revolutions,” the end of the trilogy.  The Oracle sits on a park bench, basking in the blazing new sunrise created by the child-genius Sati in honor of Neo.  Seraph, the Oracle’s faithful companion, asks the Oracle about this improbable outcome:

“Did you always know?”

“Oh, no,” the Oracle says, the sun illuminating her face, “I didn’t.  But I believed.  I believed.”

Coming soon: More examples of “everything you know is wrong.”

 

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A Family is a Nation in Miniature

Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jim Wooten independently confirms this quote from the Bahá’í writings: “A family is a nation in miniature.

This is a brief helping of food for thought.

I just read a column by Jim Wooten of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Forum on manhood misses the mark.”  It’s a discussion of an article by Macon Telegraph reporter Ashley Tusan Joyner about the “Let Us Make Man” workshop, a gathering of 500 educated African American professionals held back in March at Macon State College.  Its theme was “reclaim black manhood.”  For information about the event, go here.

Wooten’s beef is what apparently wasn’t brought up at this gathering: the importance of intact two-parent families.  (Wooten freely admits he wasn’t there.  Neither was I.)   He cites the now familiar statistics: “25 percent of white children, 46 percent of Hispanics and 69 percent of blacks are born to unmarried women.”  This, as we well know, is costly both economically and socially.  Read the column for more details.

At the end of the column, Wooten quotes Leah Ward Sears, Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court:

“Healthy marriage is not only the best place to raise children, it is the indispensable institution without which all other social reform efforts will fail,” she said. “Healthy and intact families are the cradle of thriving societies.” Preach that. Teach that. Counsel that.

This is what the Bahá’í Faith preaches, teaches and counsels.  Abdu’l-Bahá, son of Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet/Founder of the Faith, put it this way: “A family is a nation in miniature.”  It is valid for all racial and ethnic groups and all nations.

Look at families, between divorces and out-of-wedlock births.  Look at the nation.  I agree with Wooten: to the extent that government can influence social conditions, policies should preach, teach and counsel creating and maintaining families.  But it’s not just government’s job.  All together now: “Preach that.  Teach that.  Counsel that.”

For more information:

“A Case for Strengthening Marriage,” Leah Ward Sears

U.S. Bahá’í Website

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Persecution of Baha’is Making News

In an earlier post, I outlined the renewed persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran and the progress of House Resolution 1008, which condemns that persecution and calls on the Iranian government to full religious and civil freedom to the Baha’is.  I’m happy to report that my own representative, Jim Marshall of the 8th District of Georgia, is co-sponsoring that bill.

But the Baha’is are not the only people being persecuted in Iran.  Non-Baha’is are persecuted, and part of that is associating them with the Baha’is.  In an article in the Canadian site National Post, Payam Akhavan, a law professor at Canada’s McGill University, discusses the plight of Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi:

… Most recently, a shadowy group calling itself the “Association of anti-Baha’is” warned her to “watch your tongue” and stop “serving the foreigners and the Baha’is” — a reference to Iran’s largest religious minority, whose faith has been described by the government as a “heresy” and vigorously persecuted. Particularly disturbing is the warning that because her daughter is involved in the “un-Islamic and Baha’i based faith … we will kill her.”

In Iran, just being like a Bahá’í can get you threatened and possibly killed.  But Akhavan sees such tactics as a sign of the regime’s weakness:

As the country’s vast oil wealth is squandered by corrupt leaders, leaving little hope of prosperity for Iran’s highly talented younger generation, and as demands for an open and democratic society are brutally crushed in torture chambers and public hangings, the nuclear issue and confrontation with the West is an expedient means of exploiting nationalist sentiments and distracting attention from the profound failures of the government. It is in this context that Dr. Ebadi and the Bahá’ís become the source of all evil; a scapegoat for people’s daily woes.

But Akhavan also warns the West against giving Iran’s regime too much credit:

In the Western imagination, Iran is often perceived through the incendiary polemics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and visions of an imminent nuclear apocalypse. George W. Bush speaks of the “axis of evil,” and his cowboy diplomacy gives the illusion of acting tough against fanatics. Other alarmist commentators even speak of birth rates among Muslims as the biggest threat to Western survival. But to well-informed observers, Iran powerfully demonstrates that these same Muslim youth are the generation that yearns for freedom and pluralism, and constitute a great source of hope that deserves our support.

The emerging civil society in their midst also demonstrates that giving a privileged platform to Islamic demagogues that satisfy our fantasies of a new crusade against loathsome barbarians does a great disservice to those such as Dr. Ebadi who struggle for universal values and prepare the path for a future with a shared humanity, rather than leading us towards a catastrophic clash of civilizations.

Peta’s Journal discusses the plight of Bahá’ís in Egypt.  She reports with some delight finding out about a group called The Muslim Network for Bahá’í Rights.  Peta quotes the Bahraini founder of the group from a BBC article:

“When I talk to my friends about the Bahá’í faith, they tell me that it is a satanic religion. I ask them to provide me with one of the principles of this religion, but they have no answer. Some think that the Bahá’í s are a sect of Shi’i Islam which is also a mistake. They don’t know anything about it, but they are nonetheless suspicious of its followers.”

The Muslim Network for Bahá’í Rights lists “several cases of injustice against Bahá’í s in Egypt, including the exclusion of an Egyptian seventeen year old high school student from her final exams. Failing to complete said exams excludes the student, Kholoud Hafez, from consideration by universities.”  But Reuters reported progress, including permission to obtain government identity papers that don’t mention their faith — since that information would often work against them.

Why this persecution?  Philippe Copeland, in a post on Bahá’í Thought, argues it’s a question of power:

While the Revelation of Baha’u’llah is strictly non-partisan and supra-national in nature, its implications are political in the sense that it is ultimately about the radical redistribution of power from its concentration in the hands of the few to the masses of humanity who must participate as equals in the creation of a global society. Such a radical redistribution of power is truly the last becoming first and the first last, a resurrection of human nobility and possibility, long buried beneath an unjust social order.

 

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