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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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Clark Chalks One Up for Peach County Students

For more commentary on Peach County issues, please check out Out of my Mind – Peach County Edition. 

Peach County’s new Superintendent of Schools, Susan Clark, has already earned her $145,000 annual salary with her first big decision, which cleared the way for two new schools that had been delayed for more than a year by unwise Board of Education moves.

As reported by Jake Jacobs in The Macon Telegraph, the BOE voted 4-1 to accept Clark’s recommendation for a new school at the previously approved (then disapproved) site on Kay Road in Byron and a new site on University Boulevard in the Fort Valley neck of the woods.  Chairwoman Norma Givens cast the only dissenting vote.

“Disputes about where to put the schools have gone on long enough,” the Telegraph quoted Clark as saying. “It’s been more than a year, and we’re not serving the children by not building a school. They need one.” 

The cost will be somewhere between $22 million and $24 million, with the state promising to pitch in $5.1 million.  The now rescinded BOE decision to drop the Kay Road site and a 341 site had virtually kissed off about $4.9 million.  Plus, we will now have two schools under construction at the same time, whereas the previous plans begun under Chairman Bill Gresham called for the Byron area school to go up first, then the Fort Valley area school.

Clark also showed resolve, deflecting Givens’ doubts about growth in East Peach and the possibility of students spending too much time on the bus.  Clark expressed a vision of improved schools attracting growth and requiring even more schools.  As for possible trouble with bus routes, she simply said, “We’re too wise to let that happen.”

Indeed, the people who work in the school system every day have showed enough wisdom to get kudos from SACS, which chastised only the BOE.  Is the board seeking Wisdom once again?  Things look promising.

Clark showed she’s in charge; she took the rare but permitted step of calling a meeting herself.  As Jake reported, Givens claimed only the chairperson can call a meeting, but the board’s policy manual (available here) states that any three board members or the superintendent can call a meeting.

Clark can call a meeting a week if she deems it necessary, as long as she keeps winning for the students.

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Positive Models for Peach County Schools

An article in Monday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows it’s possible for a school system facing loss of accreditation to come back from the brink.   The story, “How one Georgia school system was rescued. Can Clayton County be next?”, compares tiny Lanier County in Southwest Georgia with the much larger Clayton County system in Metro Atlanta.

As you’ve probably read, the Clayton schools are on the verge of losing accreditation, with a vote on that scheduled for March 15.  The AJC article highlights steps already underway to rescue Clayton’s schools, and Lanier’s rocky, but ultimately successful road back to full accreditation.

Mark Elgart, the association’s president and chief executive officer, recommends Clayton learn a few things from Lanier County. Two weeks ago, the association voted to take Lanier off probation and fully restore its accreditation

“Lanier was a dysfunctional board — a lot of micromanaging, conflict of interest, a couple of board members interfering with business activities, the board awarding contracts to support local businesses and bad leadership,” Elgart said. “They are a small town compared to Clayton, but their problems were similar.”

Here’s the AJC’s summary of how Lanier County people recall their problems:

In the summer of 2005, former Lanier superintendent Eloise Sorrell and school board member Randy Sirmans filed a complaint with SACS. They accused board Chairman Phillip Connell of changing bus routes to accommodate parents’ schedules, directing a teacher to lay wood chips on a playground and trying to get criminal charges dropped against an employee’s son who attacked a teacher. They say board meetings were full of fights and demeaning comments about staff. Board members negotiated contracts at the grocery store and aligned votes at church.

“Our main concern was the difference in the roles and responsibility of board members and the superintendent,” said Sirmans, who is still on the board. “Board members were overstepping their bounds.”

Sorrell, who has since been fired, declined to comment.

Lanier residents attempted to recall Connell but did not get enough qualified signatures. Connell won’t talk about the recall or the allegations against him.

Maybe you’re feeling better already — it’s not just a Peach County thing!

So how did Lanier claw its way out of the hole the community had dug itself into?  Read on:

The threat of losing accreditation got the attention of most of the Lanier board and they immediately assembled a citizens’ review committee comprised of business and civic leaders, tasked with coming up with a plan to meet SACS’ five requirements.

The board also hired a retired superintendent, Tom Hagler, to serve as an interim leader while the district worked to hold on to its accreditation. Hagler retired after more than 33 years as a superintendent in Bibb and Lowndes counties.

“We really had to hustle and show some progress,” said Hagler, who served as Lanier’s interim superintendent from June 2006 to June 2007. “You got to have a strong person who will not take crap from anybody — the board, administrators, teachers.”

Hagler scheduled board-training sessions with the Georgia School Boards Association. He also set up four public forums with the board and citizens committee to outline their plan and allow residents to vent.

“We tried to bring all sides together,” said Larry Lee, vice chairman of the citizens’ committee and chief executive officer of FMB Bancshares in “The committee allowed citizens to put emotions aside and talk to us.”

So there you have it.  Small, fractured rural county saves its schools.  Let’s make this our headline.

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The Beating Up Goes on at Peach BOE

Never a dull, and rarely a civil moment at the Peach County Board of Education.  As hinted in a previous post, BOE attorney Jerry Lumley has in fact resigned.

My colleague Jake Jacobs reported in the Macon Telegraph Sunday that Lumley ” ‘just got kind of tired of having to deal with (school board member) Jody (Usry),’ ” in addition to having too many other commitments.  Lumley also said Usry “likes controversy and ‘puts a negative spin on anything the board tries to do. I’m just tired of it.’ ” It might be true that Usry likes controversy, but there’s plenty of controversy going around, no matter who’s on the board.

Usry responded ” ‘I hope our next attorney has a better sense of his roles and responsibilities, and works for the school district rather than as a protector of individual persons, as this board looks to the future and strives to let go of the recent ugly past.’ ”

Lumley didn’t have a good word for brand new Superintendent of Schools Susan Clark, either.  ” ‘She has a high opinion of herself,’ ” Lumley told The Telegraph.

Lumley also called Citizens for Better Education ” ‘spoiled kids’ ” who throw temper tantrums if they dont’ get their way.  He lamented ” ‘a continuous lack of civility’ “on the group’s part.

CBE spokesman and County Comissioner Roy Lewis countered: “There’s plenty of frustration to go around, and it’s caused me and others many sleepless nights the past year.”

Lumley was on the ball about one thing: lack of civility, and it continues.  All the sources gave us in the Telegraph article was more tit for tat.  All parties convinced they’re right.  And to top it off, a knock on Dr. Clark just as she begins what any fair observer can see will be a difficult job.

It ain’t over til it’s over, and it ain’t over.

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More Clayton-Peach Comparisons

Today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution includes an article about a citizen protest against the Clayton County School Board.  Clayton is only two weeks away from a vote that could revoke their accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

My Feb. 27, 2008 column in The Leader-Tribune noted the similarities and differences betwee the Peach County BOE and their Clayton counterparts.  In short, both boards are in hot water for “infighting among board members, meddling in day-to-day operations of schools and violations of board procedures.” However, there now seems little the Clayton BOE can do to fight off losing their accreditation, while the Peach BOE has about a year to get things right, and who knows how much longer after that year, depending on the outcome.

Some Clayton protesters wanted the whole nine-member board to resign; others focused on four members who’ve caught the most flak.  Likewise, in Peach County, some call for a whole new board, others would settle for the heads of Norma Givens, Kay Whitley and Jamie Johnson.  Board member Jody Usry did offer to resign at one point, which led to an exchange of letters in the The Leader-Tribune, some declaring it’s about time, others saying Usry is the last one who should resign.  Some have called for recalls in both counties. Clayton protesters plan to make their resignation demand in the BOE’s faces Monday, and, failing to get that demand met, plan to present recall petitions to the state board of elections Tuesday.

Peach County has an opportunity, with brand new Superintendent Dr. Susan Clark, to plug the holes and right the listing ship.  Before we ask for heads on a platter, let’s see what Dr. Clark can do.  The last thing she needs to start an already difficult job is even more turmoil.  Let’s give her our enthusiastic support and save the rotten tomatoes long enough to see some results.  What say you all?

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Dose of Reality for Peach Regional ER Patients

Management at Peach Regional Medical Center has made a wise choice to give a potentially bitter bill to some of the 1,500 or so people a month who flock to the emergency room.  Starting tomorrow (March 1) a 7 a.m., a new Medical Screening Process will go live.  A doctor will see every patient, but those whose condition doesn’t qualify as an emergency will be asked to pay a deposit if they still want treatment at the ER.  Those who don’t wish to pay will receive financial counseling and be given a list of area doctors and clinics for further treatment.  Those who do ante up will receive treatment, but might have a long wait, while staff treat people with more serious conditions.

The MSP will likely upset that population that’s grown used to using the ER as a free medical clinic — free, that is, for the patients; but it’s been said over and over in discussions of healthcare problems that the ER is the most expensive place to treat anything that isn’t a genuine emergency.  PRMC chief Nancy Peed noted today that a visit to a doctor or clinic for a routine illness might cost around $80, but that same visit could cost $300 – $600 at the ER.  It helps neither the patient, whose credit will eventually reflect that unpaid bill, nor the hospital, whose bottom line will eventually reflect that unpaid bill.

 Let’s also remember that the bill won’t really be unpaid.  Someone will pay eventually, either taxpayers or every other patient and insurer who does pay.

Public hospitals have been rolling over for too long against the tide of entitlement.  At an earlier meeting with county commissioners, Hospital Authority Chairman Tom Green said PRMC had long been reluctant to ask for money up front for political reasons.  There might be protests from advocates for the poor (and there are a lot of poor people and advocates for them in Peach County, especially Fort Valley).  These are the advocates who claim moving the hospital is itself discrimination.  Imagine the fun they’ll have with PRMC asking people to pay for medical care.  The nerve!

Let the protests come.  Public hospitals do have obligations to serve the public and the poor, but that doesn’t mean providing treatment on demand to anyone who walks in the door, regardless of the cost or the needs of other, sicker people.

PRMC is in a struggle for survival.  Improved financial performance will help get the planned new hospital built, which will allow better service for everyone.  With Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers putting the squeeze on PRMC and other hospitals, it’s time for the public to squeeze a little less, for everyone’s sake.

For complete coverage of this month’s hospital authority meeting, see the March 5, 2008 issue of The Leader-Tribune.

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