The recent attack on the Baha’i Institue for Higher Education (see BIHE website, raid) by the Islamic Republic of Iran has been accompanied by mis-information on the nature and activities of BIHE by the same Government and its agencies. Iran Press Watch is working to provide main references to its readership to resolve any doubts and misgivings regarding the true nature of BIHE. The following short account by Dr. Behrooz Sabet is a second post in this effort. Please see the first post, The Baha’i Institute for HIgher Education, on May 23rd, 2011.
Thou Shalt Not Learn
by Dr.Behrooz Sabet
Ominous reports from Iran reveal that government forces have attacked the homes of teachers, administrators, and students of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) and conducted massive arrests. They have confiscated computers and documents and closed classrooms and laboratories. Such acts are an indictment of education itself; they are threats to the universal human right to learn, and require the attention and response of the worldwide community of nations, human rights organizations, and institutions of higher learning.
As is well known in the international and human rights communities, since 1979, when the Islamic Republic was established in Iran, an intense, systematic, and coordinated campaign of persecution was redoubled against the Baha’i community, which is the largest religious minority in that country. The elected leaders of that beleaguered and law-abiding community were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. Since 1979, more than 200 of them have been executed without due process and with no concern for justice. Baha’i holy places have been destroyed, institutions that manage the affairs of the faith were declared illegal, Baha’i cemeteries have been desecrated and destroyed. Baha’is were dismissed from their jobs, and all Baha’i students have been barred from attending colleges and universities.
Secret documents from the internal apparatus of the government expose the real intention of anti-Baha’i forces: The imposition of severe physical persecution on the Baha’i community and suffocating it culturally. Barring Baha’i students from attending colleges and universities has been a major component of this government-sanctioned attempt to culturally annihilate the Baha’i community and prevent its youth and future generation from becoming educated and socially mobile.
The Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) was created in 1987 by members of the Baha’i community in Iran as a direct response to the expulsion of Baha’i students and educators from Iranian universities. The Baha’i community of Iran decided, with the help of the community’s ex-professors, lecturers, and researchers to establish an institution of higher learning for the education and training of Baha’i students.
BIHE was established on the basis of sacrifice and volunteerism. Classes and laboratories were held in Baha’i homes and basements. In most cases, instructors and administrators worked without compensation and students traveled from city to city to attend classes. Over time, an online component was added to face-to-face classes in order to enhance the quality and reach of the learning environment. As a consequence of this effort, BIHE has been able to offer over 700 courses in law, Persian literature and culture, Arabic, library sciences, English literature and linguistics, business management and accounting, biology, applied chemistry, pharmaceutical sciences, computer sciences and engineering, civil engineering, architecture, sociology, and psychology. Under repressive conditions, BIHE has tried its best to adhere to the highest academic standards and to render its educational operations comparable to and compatible with the standards that animate the world’s finest universities. BIHE applicants must conform to the same rigorous academic standards as other students in Iran. They must pass the national entrance exam, and meet all BIHE academic requirements. As a consequence of its commitment to excellence, graduates of BIHE have been accepted at more than 25 university graduate programs (Masters and Ph.D.) at prestigious universities outside of Iran.
Throughout its short history, BIHE has encouraged and supported scholarly standards of discourse. No courses have ever promoted a partisan political agenda. All the content, discussions, and assignments have remained within the well-established parameters of the best theories and practices of their respective academic disciplines. Although BIHE has been a Bahai-inspired institution, it has never assumed the nature of a seminary. The practice of BIHE has been scientific in its method and rational in its approach to scholarly inquiry. A commitment to objectivity has been its modus operandi.
BIHE has announced its mission as the following: “BIHE students and graduates will be trained to seek knowledge, to search for truth, beauty and justice, to pursue excellence in a spirit of loving fellowship, to become independent learners, creative thinkers and problem solvers, to examine dynamic interactions between scientific facts and universal values as a frame of reference for the meaningful application of knowledge, to appreciate the role of technology in laying the material foundation of civilization, and to draw upon the lessons of the past in order to advance new understanding for the future.”
These are the ideals and activities that the Iranian regime has sought to destroy. A unified response from the world-wide community of university professors, administrators, students, and researchers could embody a moral force capable of stemming the tide of this relentless attack on the Baha’is of Iran and against the freedom to learn that every human person must, without exception, be empowered to pursue.