By Dr. Hossein Bagher-Zadeh
Editor’s Note: Dr. Bagher-Zadeh is a learned Iranian intellectual, a human rights activists and a regular contributor to the online journal Iranian.com, where this essay first appeared. He is a spokesperson for Manshoor 81 (Charter 2003). His weekly column on Iranian affairs (in Persian) appears in Iran Emrooz and other Iranian publications. He lives in England and is not associated with the Baha’i community.
Why Suppress the Baha’is?
The Islamic Republic regime has once again used one of its traditional tricks and generated waves of anti-Baha’i attacks during these heated days when different political parties are trying to win seats for the executive branch of the Islamic Republic, and the regime is enveloped with official and unofficial rumors regarding possible dialogue and ties with the United States – all of this can be seen against a backdrop of an extreme economic crisis which has overtaken the majority of the people, bringing their future into serious question.
This current wave began some time ago with the arrest of dozens of Baha’is, and has culminated in accusations of espionage against seven leaders of the Baha’i Faith.
In the most recent phase of this anti-Baha’i wave, Ayatollah Qorban-Ali Dorri Najafabadi, Iran’s Attorney General, wrote to his counterpart in the Ministry of Intelligence demanding confrontation with the “Baha’i administration”. A few news agencies directly tied to the government have noted that this letter amounts to license on behalf of the Attorney General to instigate a “serious attack against elements of the Baha’i organization” and to see this confrontation through to “complete obliteration of the same”. For this purpose, during Friday prayer sessions, officials of the Islamic regime gathered signatures on a petition calling for “the elimination of the wayward sect [i.e. Baha’i Faith] and the Baha’i organization.” These actions, which are considered the most extreme efforts to eliminate the Baha’is during the 30-year of Islamic Republic regime, could transform existing anti-Baha’ism into widespread genocide and create a complete catastrophe.
Anti-Baha’ism in the Islamic Republic is as old as the regime itself. The Constitution of this regime recognized only a few known religions, and deliberately left out the Baha’i Faith, thus by exclusion making it invalid and outside of any religious category. In practice also, since the inception of the Islamic regime, not only have the followers of this religion [i.e. Baha’is] been deprived of their rights as human beings, but they have also been stripped of all civil rights due to them as citizens of this country.
Many times Baha’is have been subjected to pressure and harm. Their property has been confiscated. Their children have been barred from school. They have been summarily dismissed from work and left without job security. They have been denied pensions and in many cases had to reimburse salaries they had received while working. Their homes and dwellings have been attacked and confiscated. Their places of worship and gathering sites have been demolished and destroyed. Hundreds, nay thousands of them have been arrested and have fallen victim to torture and suffering. More than two hundred of them were executed during the first decade after the revolution. During the reign of the Islamic Republic, apart from political groups, the Baha’is have been more intensely and more bitterly persecuted and suppressed than any other group with a distinct social and belief structure.
The principle reason for anti-Baha’ism in the Islamic Republic is ideology. One religious order, by definition, rejects other religions. With regard to some religions, such as the people of the Book [a term used to refer to the Jewish and Christian religions – translator] or those of Sunni persuasion, such denial becomes relative. However, it becomes absolute when a religion is in direct conflict with the dominant religion. A regime that derives its influence by appealing to the idea of the Hidden Twelfth Imam cannot coexist with any belief that directly challenges that premise [Note: the Baha’i community believes that the Bab represented the Promised One of Islam and that the messianic expectations of Islam have been fulfilled in the persons of the Bab and Baha’u’llah – translator].
From this perspective, it is expected to see the authorities of this regime tormenting, torturing, harassing and executing Baha’is more than any other group, as well as periodically arresting individuals claiming to be the expected Promised One or in communication with Him and executing these individuals.
Since the suppression of the Baha’is is rooted in ideology, that means the intensity of the oppression of Baha’is is directly proportional to the power of “messianics” in the government, rather than to the openness of the country’s political atmosphere. However, these two issues are related to each other.
In the years immediately after the revolution, elements associated with the Hojjatiyeh penetrated the government, and through their influence over various layers of government were able to pressure and suppress Baha’is.
However, harassing and persecuting Baha’is was not exclusive to this group. Many of those competing with Hojjatiyeh or combating against it were also involved in oppressing the Baha’is because of ideological reasons. Many senior people in the government were personally involved in this effort or would lend it their complete support. For example, a large number of religious leaders such as the late Ayatollah Gulpaygani or Khamenei, the current supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, have issued instructions for limiting the Baha’is and barring them from access to educational facilities or from enjoying civil rights.
In fact, so far — that is, after three decades of the Islamic regime — only one senior religious leader — namely, Ayatollah Montazeri — has emphasized the civil rights of the Baha’is and has defended their rights in this regard. Apart from this case, while currently the founders of the so-called sect of Qa’imis [those who expect the immediate arisal of the Promised Imam of Shi’i Islam] have taken over the government and once more waves of anti-Baha’ism are sweeping across the country, governmental authorities and different agencies are competing with one another in a game to see who can become more antagonistic towards Baha’is!
In addition to ideological motives, other factors are also involved with anti-Baha’ism. Frequently, during periods in which no major changes in government personnel have taken place, there have been ups and downs in pursuing anti-Baha’i policies. For example, the current government structure has been the same for the last three years, whereas the current anti-Baha’i wave has become intense only in recent weeks and months.
What has changed in these weeks that on one hand seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders are being charged with espionage and are on the verge of execution, while at the same time the country’s Attorney General orders the complete eradication and obliteration of all Baha’is, and urges all government agencies to increase their propaganda against the Baha’is?
Is this not because the government wants to divert public opinion from certain issues, or to conceal a certain crisis, or to promote a certain group through diversionary propaganda and tactics?
Experience has proven that during periods of crisis or uncertain times, corrupt totalitarian regimes adopt such techniques as provoking public opinion against a helpless minority so they can divert public thoughts and preoccupy people’s minds, thereby gaining relief from popular criticism. Under the present theocracy in Iran, the minority group that more than any other can be used as an instrument for this purpose is the Baha’i community, which has to pay through the sacrifice of the lives and possessions of its beleaguered members the high cost of deceit by Iran’s rulers.
Ayatollah Dorri Najafabadi, who under the rule of so-called Islamic “justice” administers the judiciary branch, has boldly issued orders to eliminate and remove all Baha’is, while the entire propaganda machine of the government is feeding the fire that this man has ignited.
Najafabadi has a long and checkered history in confronting through legal means as well as by direct action the religious or political opponents of the Islamic Republic. Ten years ago, he was the Minister of Intelligence, and all his deputies and managers had significant roles in slaughtering such dissidents as Forouhar [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dariush_Forouhar], [Mohammad] Mokhtari [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chain_murders_of_Iran], Pooyandeh [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Jafar_Pouyandeh], and many others. He himself is one of those principally accused for issuing the command for all these killings through his religious verdicts. It was for this reason [i.e. excess brutality] that he was dismissed from the office of Minister of Intelligence.
Now it very likely that once again Najafabadi is the leader in suppressing a vulnerable and defenseless minority group, and officially presides over a planned massacre and annihilation of this group. He could be the instigator aiming to use the Baha’is as scapegoats for hiding internal conflicts within the government and to divert attention from political and social unrest.
Whatever his motive, there should be no doubt that this action could lead to total tragedy – a tragedy that elements in the government would use to incite public and religious sentiment against the Baha’is, which would be intended to bring about waves of terror and fear among the Baha’is in order to completely suppress and silence them.
The suppression of the Baha’is within the religious community of Iran, especially given the massive and intense propaganda against them over the course of so many decades, is not a difficult task. Most certainly a universal protest and movement would be required to repel the onslaught of this coming suppression of the Baha’is and its resultant calamity. The recent open letter, “We are Ashamed” signed by more than two hundred Iranian prominent figures residing outside the country is a serious measure in this direction. [Ayatollah] Montazeri’s pronouncement a little while ago in defending the rights of Baha’is to citizenship and to civil rights is also a noteworthy and helpful step in changing the view of Islamist groups, particularly his own followers, about the Baha’is.
Within the country, enveloped in a most alarming and dangerous atmosphere, [Nobel prizewinner] Mrs. [Shirin] Ebadi and other members of the Human Rights Defenders have courageously arisen to defend the legal rights of the imprisoned Baha’is.
It is also time for other civil rights activists to join this growing and historic movement, and to neutralize governmental propaganda against the Baha’is. In addition, it is possible that reformists and heterodox thinkers within the religious fold may follow the example of [Ayatollah] Montazeri, and such activists as Emad al-Din Baqi, and defend the rights of the Baha’is, and prevent government authorities from taking advantage of their silence to profit from anti-Baha’i policies.
The suppression of the Baha’is, like the suppression of any other defenseless minority, is a national tragedy no matter what the pretext or excuse. Remaining silent places an awful burden of responsibility on those who are able to raise their voices but who fail to do so.