by Wahied Wahdat-Hagh
In Iran, state-sponsored hate propaganda and conspiracy theories against the Bahai are never-ending. Now, “crypto-Jews” – also called “Anusim” – are said to have been responsible for the spread of the Babi and Bahai religions in Iran.
Farsnews is not just any Iranian news agency. It is a state-sponsored news agency and mouthpiece of the Iranian military. An example of state-inspired hate speech appeared on 1 March 2009.
State-inspired lies: crypto-Jews are guilty of spreading the Bahai religion
Abdollah Shahbazi, the author of the article that appeared in Farsnews, is not unknown in Iran. He was an active member of the pro-Moscow communist Tudeh party in the days of the Soviet Union. At the end of the 1980s he founded a research institute that openly and closely cooperated with the secret service of the “Islamic Republic of Iran”. And he was one of the prominent figures who supported the election of Ahmadinejad in the ninth presidential elections in 2005. Shahbazi – old communist and new Islamist, anti-Semite and anti-Bahai – seriously claims to have discovered in his researches that “crypto-Jews” have played “an important role in bringing about and spreading Babism and Bahaism in Iran’s recent history”.
Of course the Jews are to blame
Shahbazi is one of the Iranian authors who have been agitating against the Bahai for years. His conspiracy theories consist of half-truths whose ultimate purpose is to defame the Bahai and of course the Jews. He claims that when the Babi religion began in the 19th century, it was not Muslims who converted to the Babi and Bahai religions but crypto-Jews who had merely assumed Muslim names. What is true is that the Babi religion has been stifled in Iran at the insistence of the Shiite clergy and that the Bahai have been persecuted since their religion appeared in Iran. It is also true that a number of Jews became Bahai, but so did many Zoroastrians and Muslims. In various writings, Shahbazi, the “Islamic Republic of Iran” ‘s increasingly influential hate speech propagandist, claims that Jewish Zionists had first decided to invent a new faith some 150 years ago. But, he said, they had been unsuccessful. For this reason some of them had converted to Islam so that they could then assume the Babi faith as Muslims. They had failed as Jews, so they wanted to support the Babi and Bahai as Muslims. The logic of Ahmadinejad’s supporter is plain and simply wrong: he believes that a good Muslim cannot become a Babi or a Bahai, so it must have been Jews that became Babi and later Bahai. This corresponds to the fact that many Jews assumed the new faith when the Bahai religion first appeared. Likewise, it is also true that, despite persecution by the Muslim clergy and hate speech, many Zoroastrians and Muslims became Bahai. It is a historical fact that most Babi actually converted from Islam. It is also a historical fact that more than the 20,000 Babi who were murdered in the 19th century under pressure from the clergy and state authorities were all converted Muslims. But this is precisely what the ideologues of today’s terror cannot admit; therefore they feel forced to invent anti-Semitic stories.
Comte de Gobineau
Shahbazi even quotes from reports compiled by the then French ambassador to Iran, the famous racial theorist Comte de Gobineau, whom Napoleon III sent to Iran in 1855. As it happens, French ambassador Gobineau, who divided humanity into different races and was one of the founders of European racial theory, also wrote about the Babi movement. But Gobineau wrote positively about the Babi movement, this time not for racist reasons but probably because he admired the revolutionary spirit of the Babi. The Babi staunchly supported improved social conditions in Iran. They even abolished a number of Islamic laws that would now be regarded as reactionary, for example they espoused greater rights for women. Napoleon III’s ambassador in Tehran therefore admired the Babi movement, irrespective of his racial teachings. Shahbazi, the old communist and present-day Islamist supporter of Ahmadinejad, is not in the least interested in the reasons why, for example, Gobineau gave his time and attention to a Mullah Yazdi, who was said to have been very learned and to have played an important role at the beginning of the Babi movement. For Shahbazi, it is only important that this Mullah Yazdi must have been a crypto-Jew and have spread the new faith in Khorassan province in order to destroy Islam. For Gobineau, it was entirely irrelevant whether Mullah Yazdi was a convert – presumably Gobineau had no idea. But Shahbazi, who has obviously read Gobineau, makes this great discovery, as if Iranian Jews actually have brought about a religious movement that now, as the Bahai religion, has at least five million followers worldwide. It would be an understatement to describe this stance of Shahbazi’s as paranoid, since this propaganda is not state-inspired “rhetoric” but is instead used for the real persecution of Iran’s Bahai. For Shahbazi, it is important that a crypto-Jew (Anusim) can never become a real Muslim and therefore remains a “covert” Jew and, as a “covert” Jew, he therefore becomes at best a Babi or Bahai in order to fight Islam. Indeed, according to him, the Jewish Bahai in particular are notorious for their hostility to Islam. Yet the truth is that the Bahai respect Islam as a historical religion even though Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Bahai religion, abolished the Islamic criminal code and many other Islamic laws. In fact, the Bahai do not believe that Mohammed was the “seal of the prophets”. Ultimately, it is true that the “Islamic Republic of Iran”aims to enforce anachronistic laws by totalitarian means against the will of the people. In doing so, the totalitarian dictatorship is inhibiting the development and advancement of Iranian society. Anti-Bahaism and anti-Semitism are not “rhetorical” formulas in Iran, as many journalists and academics claim, but fixed components of the prevailing ideology and practice of the religiously legitimised dictatorship.
Freedom of opinion vs. freedom of expression
It is a historical fact that in the “Islamic Republic of Iran” people are free to have opinions but not to express them, as Iran’s senior prosecutor Ayatollah Dori Najafabadi recently confirmed. The Bahai have been eliminated as subjects in society for 30 years. At present, seven leading Bahai are in detention, allegedly for spying for Israel, and it is feared that they will be executed. The Bahai are in fact persecuted and executed solely for open-minded faith. The Bahai International Community has written an open letter to Ayatollah Najafabadi, which is well worth reading. This letter makes it clear that not only is there no freedom of opinion in Iran but that the freedom of conscience of the entire Iranian nation and not just that of the Iranian Bahai is at stake.
Wahied Wahdat-Hagh is a Senior Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels.