Why are they Afraid of the Dead?

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By Monireh Baradaran

Have you read this news?

“Last night, at midnight, a number of plain-clothes officers attacked the Baha’i Cemetery in Qa’emshahr with a lorry and a bulldozer; and set out to remove the tombstones and to level the ground,  According to a report from the Human Rights Activists Group in Iran, electricity had been completely cut off in the whole area during this undertaking, and a shot was fired in the air when someone from the neighborhood was caught witnessing the activities.  The witness was then seized, his hands and feet were tied up, and he was left alone in this condition in a remote area of the cemetery

The attack and destruction that took place last night was the third in a series and, in a way, the fiercest of its kind since the destruction on 23 Oct and 22 Nov of this year; and the intent was to erase every trace of the Baha’i cemetery in this area.”  (Quoted from http://peykeiran.com/ 19 January 2009)

Another news item on 8 January 2009 was about the destruction of the cemetery in Khavaran[1].  This attack was focused particularly on the destruction of the section in which Baha’i martyrs had been buried.  This section was entirely demolished by a bulldozer.

Attacking cemeteries and breaking the tombstones of martyrs are not new developments.  Tombs of martyrs in Behesht Zahra, including the ones in section 33, where martyrs from the Shah’s time are buried, and even the burial places of our great literary and cultural figures, such as that of Ahmad Shamlu, have not remained safe from these sorts of attacks.

Breaking the tombstone of one who is dead is an act of insult and belittlement, as well as a cultural violation.  All existing cultures, including our own, cherish special reverence for the dead, for remembering those who are no longer among the living, and for performing special rituals in honor of the deceased.  The right to have a designated place for burying one’s dead and for performing the associated ceremonies has always existed in every land.  This right has in fact been more prominent than the rights of citizenship.

However, the complete destruction and wiping out of cemeteries in the last few days has reached new levels of attacking the dead, in which the authorities have been involved throughout the last twenty-something years.  What sort of fear could possibly prompt anyone to commit such acts?

The reason for fearing Khavaran is apparent to everyone:  It signifies heinous crimes!  We know that aside from the tombs with no names, there are also two mass graves there which were dug in September 1988.  Khavaran is a place that binds the families together; and by destroying it the intention is, on the one hand, to destroy criminal evidence, and on the other hand to prevent families from getting together.

Why the attacks on Baha’i cemeteries and their destruction?

The destruction of Baha’i cemeteries is part of the policies concerning the abolition of the citizenship rights of the Baha’is; and in some cases this abolition of rights of the Baha’is includes even their right to life!  In the last few months, pressure on the Baha’is,  arrests and persecution have increased considerably.  How far will these arrests and persecutions go?  Are these meant as preparation for massacring our fellow Baha’i countrymen?

Experience in history has demonstrated that massacres of a racial, religious or cultural nature have always endeavored to annihilate the history and culture of the victims.  To annihilate the creed of a people, their history must first be wiped clean.  Fear of the dead represents the fear of history.  A cemetery is not only a place in which religious and cultural practices are honored, it is also a place that holds history within itself – at least the history of a few generations past!  A cemetery is a witness to the lives of the people in a country.  To destroy a cemetery is to destroy history.  A Baha’i Cemetery reminds us that Baha’is have also been part of this land and have lived in this country.

Demolishing cemeteries is a reminder of the crimes committed by the Nazis against the Jews. Attacking Jewish cemeteries and destroying them began in the year 1933 with the coming to power of Hitler, and it was a prelude to their massacre!  Even today, in pursuit of that same criminal ideology, Neo-Nazis attack Jewish cemeteries every now and again in European cities, break the tombstones and the memorabilia, and engrave on them the swastika.  The destruction of Jewish cemeteries at the time of Nazi Germany was the prelude to the massacre and the physical annihilation of the Jews in an effort to wipe clean their history and any other trace of their existence.

“The Ritually Impure”

There is one common factor between the destruction of the Baha’i Cemetery and that of the Khavaran Cemetery.  Those resting in both places are “ritually impure” [“najes”]! According to Muslim interpretations, Baha’is and unbelievers are ritually unclean and untouchable — even their dead!  One should stay clear of them at all times!  Isolating a people’s dead is in effect to seclude the living and to suppress them. Considering a group of people as untouchable based on their religion or belief is very much a part of the belief system of many Muslims in our country.

However, when such a belief becomes part of a government’s policies, the field is prepared for the persecution and ultimately for the annihilation of the “untouchables” without it being objectionable to the society.  Not only is the culture of considering people of other thoughts as “untouchable” an inauspicious witness to the high elevation of the community’s intolerance, but it also brings about violence.  The “untouchable” becomes the “Other” being; one who is not one of us, and for whose fate we do not care.  We come to consider that although we have not been harmed by him, his non-existence may be for the better.

The culture of considering some as “untouchable” is so deep-rooted in our community that even those who are in opposition to the Islamic Republic have not been able to overcome it!  I will give you an example and, by this example, I do not mean to accuse any one in particular.  Muhammad Ja’fari, the President of the Newspaper of the Islamic Republic at the time, writes the following about being cellmate with a leftist, in his memoirs of the prisons of the Islamic republic in the 80s [presumably 1980s].:

“My cellmate was a young leftist, and certain matters pertaining to being unclean and untouchable – especially in those days – made cohabitation in such small surroundings very difficult.”
(Page 78, vol. 1)

A little while later, he was put together in a cell with a Baha’i. Sadly, he writes:

“I thought to myself, wondering, if they believed in the things they professed, why did they keep Muslims, leftists and Baha’is together in one cell?”
(Page 97, vol.1)

The harsh attitude of anti-Baha’i groups towards the Baha’is and unbelievers — which before the Islamic Revolution also created great catastrophes — has now become government policy; this could turn into a disastrous genocide if we do not weary of it!

[1] Khavaran is a cemetery located in the South-East part of Tehran.  It was designated as a burial place for such religious minorities as Hindus and Christians, as well as Baha’is more recently.  It was also used as a mass grave site containing thousands of corpses from the 1981 executions of Iranian prisoners by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

[Source: http://zamaaneh.com/humanrights/2009/01/post_326.html.  Iran Press Watch is grateful to Gloria Yazdani for the above translation.]

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