Editor’s Note: The following is an invited editorial on the Iran’s controversial statement on “Minorities and the Right to Education”. We refer our readers to IPN’s annual report on violations of the right of Baha’is in Iran to education for background information on this topic.
by Munib Kiani
At the United Nations Forum of Minority Issues, the Islamic Republic of Iran has published a statement titled “Minorities and the Right to Education.” Documents of this type are produced by many countries, and traditionally pass into history without controversy. This particular document is rendered fascinating by the century-long opposition to Baha’i education in Iran and the government’s denial of any persecution of its largest religious minority. A reading of it demonstrates as much by its phrasing as by its content.
It begins with a supportable argument: “Education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to fully participate in all spheres of life in socoiety (sic).”
Ipso facto, the reverse must be true: withdrawal of education would depress the marginalized into poverty, and leave their potential unrealized. Fortunately, the Republic documents its successes and continuing dedication to educate all, so it seems that all is well. Unfortunately all isn’t well at all – there is ample proof (http://denial.bahai.org/) that education is restricted for the Baha’i community, as is illustrated in the many sad stories featured on the pages of Iran Press Watch, of youthful zeal and energy denied.
Even if you were to discount proof presented by the wronged minority as being biased, official internal documents detailing how the Baha’i question is to be answered, the treatment promulgated by the government include “Permit them a modest livelihood” and that “The government’s dealings with them must be in such a way that their progress and development are blocked” (From the leaked 1991/1993 memo) confirming what we already knew, what is intended for the Baha’is includes no aspirations, no excellence — the mother of all glass ceilings. One might wonder at the motivations behind this denial, for which I defer to the pithy analysis of others.
Continuing, the document defines what it means by marginalized groups, identifying different ethnicities, language (groups), nationalities, nomads, culture, races and provincial sects and tribes. Pause… re-read that list!
The Islamic Republic makes no mention at all of religion — the closest it gets is “sects”. This is an omission, which while including Christians and Jews, is specifically directed at Baha’is, inasmuch as they are the only group which is systematically denied higher education and who have repeatedly objected to this and drawn international attention to it. These objections have resulted in many international bodies and groups of prominent individuals issuing reproving messages condemning Iran’s actions, and calling upon them to desist. Iran, though superficially unworried in the face of this deprival, nevertheless responds by changing policies, an example (in our opinion) being the shift from assaulting the Baha’is directly to the covert denial of rights and opportunities previously enjoyed. Re-addressing the document: if the Baha’i Faith is – erroneously – reduced to a mere sect, its members would merit education, however, since this is not the case, we posit that the authors of the document intentionally left religion out, because they were fully aware of the policy towards the Baha’is, and simply used the catch-all term “etc” to refer to all other groups in order to avoid the real issue.
The above point is strengthened when the proud assertion: “Under the existing laws, all students irrespective of their race, language, ethnicity and nationality are equally entitled to educational facilities in the country.” True, but the Islamic Republic again omits religion — why?
Next, reference is made to the Iranian Constitution — that the country provides free education for all to a secondary level and “higher education to the extent that the country meets its own needs.” It is interesting that a population of 300,000 Baha’is whose teachings give very high value to education and its pursuit, and who before the revolution were one of the most educated groups in the country, provide so few students at the university level, and that Baha’i students who performed excellently on a national level were denied their right to higher education. These statements refer to the laws omitting reference to actuality, and then hypocritically mentioning that “decisions are based on the principles of equality and justice.”
What kind of equity is it when students who have achieved the highest level in national tests are then denied their right to higher education, when Baha’i citizens who desire nothing more than to contribute to their country and to support their families are prevented from earning a decent living, are then denied pensions at the end of their working life, and in the final desecration, whose graves are violated by an unfeeling regime?