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.