By Iraj Adibzadeh
Editor’s Note: Iran Press Watch is pleased to bring to the attention of its readers a translation of an interview held by Iraj Adibzadeh (firstname.lastname@example.org), a reporter for Radio Zamaaneh. This article was entitled in Persian: “To be Iranian does not mean to be Shi’ah”. Towards an ongoing dialogue on these important issues, Iran Press Watch welcomes the comments and reflections of its readers.
“We are ashamed” is the title of a statement sealed with the signature of Iranian academicians, authors, artists, journalists, human rights and social activists throughout the globe addressed to the Baha’i community in Iran (see http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/02/feature-we-are-ashamed/).
In this statement, these individuals have expressed their shame as Iranians for whatever has been done to the Baha’is over the last 150 years in Iran – the martyrdom of 20,000 Baha’is due to their beliefs, the setting ablaze of their homes and workplaces are instances of this severe persecution.
During the thirty years of the Islamic Republic of Iran, killing Baha’is has become legal. More than 200 Baha’is during these three decades have been martyred, and some are in prison. Their children have been deprived of studying in universities; their retired persons after serving their homeland for years have been denied their pensions, and even their cemeteries have been attacked and demolished.
The statement “We are Ashamed” further adds, “… a group of intellectuals have justified coercion against the Baha’i community of Iran.”
At the end, those who have signed this statement from different continents note, “We, the undersigned, asked you, the Baha’is, to forgive us for the wrongs committed against the Baha’i community of Iran. We will no longer be silent when injustice is visited upon you. We stand by you in achieving all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
One of the signatories is Ms. Shahla Shafigh. She is an author and researcher, and describes what has been done to Baha’is as an irruption of apartheid:
I signed the statement with utmost pleasure. I have always referred to the suppression of the Baha’is in my interviews and articles. For example, in a book published in 2002 in France about the suppression of Iranians I have dedicated some sections to this subject. I think this is a significant topic. The suppression of Baha’is has aspects and dimensions that other religious communities do not have.
An ideological government rules Iranian society and authorities have used religion as means of achieving power. Therefore, all other religions, and even Muslims who do not share the same beliefs as those in the government, face suppression. Examples of this are widely observed, including those against them and even sometimes individuals close to them, such as [Sadegh] Ghotbzadeh [Khomeini’s close aide in exile, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic 1979-80, executed for subversion in1982].
Consequently, silencing these groups included all, even the Muslims.
However, the question of Baha’is raises both symbolic issues and in reality a very specific and sensitive question. Since the Baha’i religion appeared after Islam, the Islamic regime, due to its ideology, assumes their slaughter of Baha’is is completely lawful. Accordingly, Baha’is do not have any right to life.
When we look at the freedom of religion in Iran, it can be noticed that the issue of the Baha’is is quite significant, because in regard to this case, unimaginable pressures and restrains are imposed on them. For example, talented Baha’i youth cannot enter universities. In fact, they have imposed a kind of apartheid upon Baha’is, which is quite shocking.
Another issue that I have to point out is the existence of a kind of silence in this regard. This silence needs to be broken. I think the Baha’i issue, with respect to the fears that the Islamic regime is cultivating, suggesting that Baha’is are agents of such and such, has caused even a great portion of those who are against the Islamic government to keep themselves aloof from this issue.
Therefore, this case certainly needs to be discussed. An atmosphere has to be created so that this meaningless aggressive suppression is ended.
Muhammad Jalali Cheymeh (known as M. Sahar) is a resident of Paris; he comments on this issue as the suppression of Iranian humanity for the reason of one’s beliefs. He states:
When I received this statement [“We are Ashamed”], I felt that I had to sign it simply for the reason that when those with different religious faiths are Iranians, they are first and foremost Iranians. They have to have the rights of citizenship and Iranian nationality.
Suppressing Iranians for their beliefs, putting them under pressure, or as it is practiced in Iran, depriving Baha’i youth of being allowed to study in universities, is inhumane and grossly unjust.
I was deeply saddened when I heard that in Qom they had prepared a petition against the Baha’is. Four months ago I wrote an article and composed a poem in regard to this event. I have stated these facts in there, “Nobody chooses one’s faith at the time of one’s birth. To be Iranian does not mean to be a Shi’ah. Iran has a very ancient history. It has embraced a variety of religions and their followers have always lived in this land. This country is their homeland. They have grown up here. Therefore, they have an inalienable right to reside here. They have served and are serving the country.”
To suppress an Iranian under the pretext of religion is a crime. This should be kept in mind. If there was laxness and silence on the part of Iranian intellectuals, then this disgraceful and dishonorable neglect should be remedied.
Shahrokh Meshkin-Qalam is an artist and theater director in Paris, and he believes that the significant aspect of this problem — that is, the suppression of Baha’is in Iran — concerns lack of democratic values and disregard for human rights:
Attacking Baha’is is nothing except a diversion. The main theme of this letter concerns the extent to which the concept of democracy has been instilled in our minds rather than being a Baha’i or being from some other religious minority. The problem is respect for different thoughts and perspectives, for different ideas, for different religions whether minority or majority, for different lifestyles, and for different needs.
We should not let others decide the way we want to lead our life. What is painful for me and made me sign this letter was not that I was born into a Baha’i family. It was about how we could allow ourselves to determine the life of others according to what we like or dislike. This is surely not what is desired. When one is born in this country, say, in an Armenian, or Jewish, or a Baha’i family, it is not due to one’s own decision.
Baha’is have been one of the central targets of attacks in Iran since many years ago, and unfortunately have been mostly ignored by intellectuals. The reason is that they did not have the power of the Jewish community to defend themselves. The Jews have always been capable of fighting back or supporting themselves throughout the world – even though they have been wrongly put under pressure and their rights violated.
But nowadays, merely being a Baha’i carries a verdict of execution, or dismissal of employment – a deprivation of life. The Jews have at least been able to secure these rights in Iran. Therefore, one of the reasons I dared request that my friends sign this letter was to focus on democratic vales and to renew these standards for all mankind. It was certainly not due to them being religious, or coming from a specific religion, or even being an atheist.
What makes me feel proud is that democracy and humaneness have been important for all those who have signed this letter. They have a variety of ideas, a variety of religions, and a variety of political persuasions. But cherishing democratic ideals is their common denominator.
Lastly, I asked the reaction of Ms Diane Ala’i, the representative of the Baha’i International Community in the United Nations, concerning the statement of academicians, authors, artists, journalists, human rights and social activists throughout the globe by the title of “We are ashamed”. She stated:
This was a very important and courageous step taken by Iranian intellectuals and artists. Of course, these Iranians live abroad and are able to openly perform such actions. However, we know that there are many in Iran who defend the rights of the Baha’is. This is, in fact, a human rights issue. It reveals that there is a unity and integrity throughout Iran about defending the rights of others and ending violations of human rights there. This is great progress and gives hope to every one of us concerning the development of human rights and the promulgation of democracy in Iran.
[Published on 5 February 2009 at: http://zamaaneh.com/adibzadeh/2009/02/print_post_287.html.]