By Shahla Firouz
For the past thirty years, the Islamic Republic has made innumerable mistakes and glaring errors in dealing with the Baha’i community. Some of these errors include summary executions, harassment and imprisonment, confiscation of property, and various forms of economic, social, and cultural isolation. This approach to the Baha’is stems from a distorted ideology that fails to differentiate between what is religious expression and what may constitute political dissent. This confused ideology has yet to define whether Iranian law should be rooted in Islamic shari’a or in fundamental human rights; whether adherence to the laws delineated by the Ayatollahs in their books of Islamic guidance must supersede the respect of the international community; and whether Iran is committed to a democratic society or whether pursuit of an Islamic polity is in its best interests.
At first glance, it may appear that these conflicts in defining the Islamic republic’s identity are irrelevant to its dealing with the Baha’is. However, upon closer scrutiny, we find that this unbalanced duality of the Islamic republic’s ideology is the root cause of its grave errors in dealing with the Baha’i community of Iran. Among many such errors, two mistakes of the Islamic Republic stand out as the most impressive.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, under international pressure, has repeatedly contended that its confrontations with the Baha’is are solely of a political nature and not relevant to the community’s religious beliefs. This assertion is so far from the truth that one would have to question the sanity of anyone who accepts it at face value. A simple review of the expert religious opinion of the Islamic clergy regarding the Baha’i community should suffice to refute this assertion. Islamic clergymen have repeatedly made statements regarding the Baha’is as “untouchables” and dealing with them as “prohibited” within the Islamic framework. Such statements are rooted in religion and not politics. How can anyone of sound mind consider the harassment of Baha’i children in schools to be a political issue?
With the rising wave of persecution against the Baha’is three decades ago, publicly recanting one’s faith was sufficient to prevent one’s execution. To this day, a simple recanting of faith will open the door to universities, reinstate jobs and pensions, provide opportunities for employment, and lift many cultural and social restrictions.
It is this view of a religious community through political spectacles that has burdened the Baha’is community with a great deal of pain and suffering. This approach is reminiscent of the story of Moses when he turned his cane into a serpent, and in turn became frightened of what had transpired. The authorities of the Islamic Republic have likewise labeled the Baha’is as political agents but have forgotten that they were the ones who created this story at the outset.
The consequences of such forgetfulness are not simple, for members of an entire community are viewed as political enemies. While it is possible that a few elements within any party, group, or ideology may be spies, traitors, or enemies, it is a grave mistake to label all its members – children, youth, elderly, women, men, villagers, lay people or educated – as spies, although this allegation may be instantly erased by a simple recanting of their faith as Baha’is.
Baha’is children are subjected to severe harassment in school, and are denied equal opportunity for or access to education. They are vilified, insulted, and belittled. Young Baha’is are deprived of their right to higher education and are categorically denied entry into any university in Iran. Employment in the public sector is not available for Baha’is. Even in the private sector, they are denied many legitimate avenues for progress, and the system conspires to thwart their ability to keep their employment. Many Baha’i families are constantly receiving threats. Their neighbors are often approached by unknown elements that advise them to shun the Baha’is, as they are “corrupt” and because consorting with them may have negative consequences. On a few occasions, threatening graffiti has been spray- painted on the walls of their homes. Other reports have surfaced of arson against Baha’i homes and cars. Baha’is continue to be summarily arrested and detained for undefined periods without charge. It is noteworthy that if all these “suspects”, irrespective of age, gender, level of education, or cultural background are spies, and their crime is well-established, then why are they all not arrested and detained by the security forces? If these actions are simply performed by prejudiced mobs of people, then why are the authorities turning a blind eye to these events? Will any mind of sound judgment accept that a fourth grader may be a spy and his classmates should be advised to avoid conversing or playing with him at school?
Another consequence of viewing a religious community in a political light is that it makes the authorities unable to interpret their social interactions with the community. The authorities will view any peace-loving gesture as being charged with mistrust and antagonistic to themselves. In this light, even if the Baha’is, in accordance with their convictions, engage in acts of service to their communities, their actions are viewed as being against national security and motivated by the desire to spread propaganda against the regime. This is how legal files are created and lives are jeopardized.
Does obedience to the laws of one’s faith and following the directives of its administration constitute action against Islam? Can the steadfastness, loyalty, and faith of a community be justified solely through their financial and emotional support of imaginary political powers? If so, why is it that other political parties did not last and perished? Why did the representatives of political parties “confess” to sins they did not commit on national television? Why is it that the financial support of all political parties always comes from an outside source? Why is it that none of the above scenarios hold true in the case of the Baha’is?
The reason is that the Supreme Leader, the Islamic clergy, the president, other statesmen, the head of the judiciary, and Mr. Najafabadi — the chief prosecutor — are all either in deep slumber or have feigned sleep so as to not recognize that the Baha’i community is a religious community with all the characteristics that pertain thereto, such as spiritual unity, obedience to a spiritual covenant, observation of ordinances, religious gatherings, and promoting the verities of their faith – whether welcomed or not by the authorities. As such, the rules that apply to political parties do not apply to a religious community. The unbelievers of Qurraysh besieged Muhammad and His early followers in the valley of Abi-Talib for three years, but did not succeed in purging their faith. The Pharisees, in collaboration with the Romans, crucified Jesus and set the early believers on fire, but their faith was unshaken. Moses received a great deal of opposition, and Buddha, Abraham, and Zoroaster were sent into exile, but their faith did not cease to be. This time, if history is any indication, the efforts of the Islamic Republic, too, will be futile.
The second grave mistake of the Islamic Republic is its lack of adherence to Islam itself. Otherwise, the authorities would remember the Hadith stating that tyranny will not stand or the Qur’anic verse: “Verily truth has come and vanquished falsehood.” They would practice reciting the verse, “there is no compulsion in religion”, and the five times per day recitation invoking God to “guide us to the straight path” would have done its job. The authorities of the Islamic republic refuse to accept that change is God’s tradition and that God’s tradition may not be altered. They believe that with the Ministry of Intelligence, the Armed Forces, their vigilantes, and thousands of security and law enforcement forces, they can control the trend of change and prevent the inevitable, as if they were trying to stop the earth from rotating or the Sun from rising. Recall the story of Galileo, who under the pressure of the “Revolutionary Court” of his time and out of fear of the “Armed Forces” of the church verbally retracted his assertions of change, but addressed the earth with a stump and exclaimed, “Thou shall continue to revolve around the Sun.”
Whether we desire it or not, the world is progressing at an astonishing speed. It is time to part with outdated beliefs and allow the fresh blood of change to flow and prove its effectiveness. Those who soar to the skies and have a broad vision and cheer the rise of the shining Sun are protected from the tyranny of the uninformed. However, those who have sought their homes within the dirt and the rocks see naught save their surroundings. Ultimately, these are the ones who are anxiety-stricken and are in denial about change.
[The above essay was originally posted at http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=67629665134&topic=10223 and appears here in an edited form. Iran Press Watch thanks Kavian Milani for this reference. Translation by Nizam.]