by Dr. Nader Saiedi
It is now thirty years that the Islamic regime has been engaged in a brutal, systematic and organized persecution of the Baha’is in Iran. This religious sadism, however, has recently been much more intensified. The Islamic Republic forces elementary school teachers to publicly humiliate the Baha’i children, and with utter inhumanity to insult their religion. This is one of the manifestations of their brand of “Islamic Justice” whose like is rarely seen even among the most despotic and racist contemporary regimes of the world. The reactionaries, led in this “holy war” against these children by the leaders of the Hojjatiyeh Association [a secret anti-Baha’i society], have opened up new chapters in the annals of courage and humanity. These brave warriors are not content with just harassing children, instead they systematically attack the organized lines of Baha’i corpses in cemeteries, and after bravely defeating the dead, burn their remaining bodies. From these representatives of the book-burning culture, Fahrenheit 451 culture [after a book by Ray Bradbury: 451 deg F is the ignition point of paper], nothing else can be expected.
During the past 160 years of our Iranian history, attacking Baha’is has been a most effective means of increasing the power of the reactionary clergy. The prejudices of uneducated people and their blind imitation of the religious leaders have been used by the reactionaries to bolster their own economic, cultural and political power by inciting the people against the Baha’is and mobilizing the masses behind their own. Durkheim, Freud, and Adorno, among others, have unveiled the mechanism of such a deceitful strategy of power enhancement. When social solidarity is based upon racism and hatred against diversity of thought, otherness and difference, then boundaries of morality are reduced to the particularistic group boundaries and thus the “other” is dehumanized and brutalized. In this situation mobilization of hatred against the other becomes a potent force for uniting the majority and consolidating the power of the entrepreneurs of violence and hatred.
This tactic is of particular relevance to contemporary Iranian society given the fact that in the past thirty years the main mechanism of political identity-formation that has been encouraged and enforced by the regime has been an obsessive emphasis on an all-encompassing hatred and fear against everyone and everything. The identity that the regime has promoted is an identity that glorifies death, mourning, and depression. It lives in an imaginary past, and violently attacks whatever is alive, novel, progressive, diverse, and friendly. Such identity perceives thinking, loving, and promotion of the principle of equality and human rights as its main enemy. Since in recent years the call for freedom, equality and justice has been raised from all over Iran, and the hypocrisy, sadism and ignorance of the reactionary leaders have been discovered by the majority of Iranian citizens, and the people are no longer content with slavish imitation of religious leaders, the leaders of reaction, particularly the ascending leaders of the Hojjatiyeh group, believe that once again they can divert the attention of the people from the painful economic and social realities of Iran, and by inflaming the fire of hatred and religious bigotry against the Baha’i minority can attract the support of the people and the intellectuals, thus bringing a temporary sense of legitimacy to a form of domination that is increasingly based on mere coercion and repression.
This strategy has been the common method that is used by all racist despots to acquire power and consolidate their domination. They have thus encouraged the racist feelings and prejudices of the people against a minority group and incited them to violence, killing and even genocide of the other group. Despots of the world have consistently legitimized their rule on the basis of the creation of a paranoid culture in which people are made to fear an imaginary “powerful minority” who are defined as an enemy within, an outsider within our border whose mere presence pollutes and violates our honor and masculinity. Thus collective identity is shaped in terms of this common fear and hatred against a particular ethnic or religious minority. Such construction of the enemy consistently requires dehumanization of the minority group and presenting them as objects, dangerous animals, viruses and diseases, plagues and cancer cells. Such construction of the “faces of the enemy” legitimizes and facilitates extreme expressions of violence and brutality against the dehumanized minority. We are no longer in a situation that a human being is relating to another human being, a relation of “I and Thou”, a relation of mutuality and reciprocity. Instead we are in a situation in which a human being is relating to a disease, to an object, to a ferocious animal, a relation of “I and It”, in which it is easier to kill, violate and exterminate the other. That is how the genocide of a million Tutsi by their African brothers could so easily happen, that is how Bosnian Muslims were systematically killed by their Serb fellow citizens, and that is how millions of Jews and other groups could be killed by their German brothers.
Research by historians and sociologists like Ferguson has shown that genocide by hatred-centered regimes has been made possible by four conditions: The first is the decline of the empire, the occurrence of a regional political and military chaos, so that the despotic leaders can assume that no major military power is willing or able to interfere in the implementation of their campaign of repression and extermination. The second condition is the increase in interaction, communication, and understanding between the majority and minority groups in the society, which paradoxically leads to a heightened concern by the racist and fundamentalist regime that the purity of the ethnic or religious majority group is threatened and that the superior race or religion is being polluted by the emerging ethnic or religious harmony among the people. The third precondition is the widespread presence of economic difficulty and pressures in society. Yet the above three conditions need to be accompanied by a fourth factor to be able to facilitate the emergence of mass violence. This fourth factor refers to the monopolistic control of the mass media, educational institutions, and religious discourse by the entrepreneurs of death and hatred, who incite the masses to violence against an ethnic or religious minority, inflaming the cultural prejudices of the majority, and blaming the minority for all their social and economic problems. Surprisingly, before the occurrence of such mass killings the ethnic or religious hostility between the majority and minority has usually been improving. Yet with their exclusivist propaganda and racist rhetoric, the racist leaders succeed to turn many ordinary people into brutal murderers who compete with each other in the art of cannibalistic barbarism.
Likewise, the reactionary rulers of Iran now assume that in the midst of the crushing economic incompetence of the regime, the mounting economic crisis, increasing degrees of religious tolerance and communication among ordinary citizens of Iran, and the explosion of the crisis of legitimacy in Iranian politics, their path to power and legitimacy can be paved through initiating a new campaign of persecution and hatred against the innocent Baha’is, and igniting deep-rooted cultural and religious prejudices against this persecuted minority to foster a new form of solidarity, a solidarity of hatred and bigotry in society, which would divert the attention of the people from the terrible realities of Iranian society and unite them through mutual fear and hatred of this imagined enemy.
However, like all their reactionary ideas, this deceitful policy is also relevant to the past realities of Iran. Thus initiating a mass campaign of genocide of the Baha’is will in the long run lead to no other result except the total collapse of this medieval culture of torture and lies. This is the case because a majority of the Iranian people are no longer a faceless multitude of ignorant children who slavishly accept and follow whatever the entrepreneurs of hate and death dictate to them. People of today’s Iran desire and demand freedom for themselves and for all other Iranians, and they are not willing to support the despotic policy of dividing the population in the name of religion or ethnicity. The result of 30 years of repression, marginalization and dehumanization of the Baha’is by the regime is now the rise of many brave and dedicated non-Baha’i Iranian intellectuals who are publicly voicing their opposition to this medieval and anti-Iranian spectacle of intolerance and savagery that is targeted against their Baha’i brothers and sisters. Unlike the hired writers of the regime, these intellectuals are risking their security and safety to uphold the dignity of human beings and the sanctity of human rights. I salute these true heroes and admire their courage and humanity.
Parallel with organized invasion of the homes of many Baha’is in different parts of Iran, confiscating their belongings, treating Baha’i fathers and mothers rudely and violently in front of the frightened eyes of their children, and arresting them for unknown or imaginary accusations, the Iranian government has announced that it soon will try seven of the Baha’is who were in charge of coordinating the affairs of the community, like marriage, funeral arrangements, and helping the poor, with the charges of conspiracy against Iran and insulting the sacred beliefs of the people. It is one of the ironic facts of modern history that those who came to power with the slogan of “Islamic justice”, who define justice as one of the pillars of their religion, are the ones who systematically have turned the courts and judicial institutions into instruments of oppression and injustice. Treatment of the Baha’is by this judicial system, like the oppressive treatment of all other progressive civil and political groups in Iran by the regime, is the essence of injustice and barbarism. Such oppression is institutionalized at all levels of the Iranian state.
In the first place, justice requires the existence of just law. The differentiating feature of anarchy and justice is first the enactment of just, universal and impartial laws in society. However, in the reactionary Islamic Republic, law is itself the main instrument of crime, discrimination, oppression and violation of human rights. For example the law of apostasy and religious censorship is itself a fundamental negation of justice and humanity in society. This law criminalizes thinking, defines freedom of conscience as a crime punishable by death, and dehumanizes both the majority and minority groups in society. Humans are human by virtue of their right to consciousness and free choice. The Islamic regime and its law of apostasy is the most frightening attempt at dehumanization of humans. Apostasy is even more dehumanizing than slavery and racism. The latter tries to force people into forced labor, but the law of apostasy tries to negate the very essence of humanity — namely their ability and right to think. This criminalization of thought is the most criminal character of the medieval type of law. It is beyond tragedy that in Iran, the birth-place of religious freedom 2000 years ago, we witness the passing of the law of apostasy by its “parliament”. Nothing is more degrading and self-alienating for Iranians than this legislation, whose purport is the utter commodification and objectification of all Iranians. This is an ultimate crime that is dressed up as the law of justice in our country.
To understand this law we should apply it to a society in which the majority are Christian or Buddhist. The logic of this law would mean that “justice” would require the systematic persecution, discrimination and killing of the Muslim minority in those societies. Of course for a reactionary advocate of medieval reaction this argument is invalid because he believes that only his idea is the right idea and all other beliefs are false, and thus he is persuaded that justice cannot be defined in general and universal ways. Therefore, according to this culture of reaction non-Muslims may not insult Islam, but the Muslims may and should insult all other religions. In his reactionary conception of justice, discrimination against Muslims in non-Muslim countries is injustice, but the discrimination against non-Muslims by Iranian Muslims is the essence of justice and morality. In other words, the problem is that the reactionaries have not advanced beyond the limits of particularistic logic, are still fixed in the animalistic and infantile moral and intellectual stage, and are incapable of transcending the oppressive limits of a self-infatuated and narcissistic identity, so that they can realize the reality and the rights of others, and recognize the equal rights of all people. (Piaget’s theory refers to the emergence of formal and universal logical thinking as the mark of cognitive development and maturity. Kant identifies the commitment to formal and universal standards of moral reasoning as the birth of reason and morality among humans, and Kohlberg refers to the application of universal and formal principles in moral judgment as the realization of moral development.) Medieval traditionalism is unable to think and feel in humane and humanizing ways. The world is a jungle for him and the only meaning of justice is brute force and the systematic destruction of that which is different.
The criminal character of this law manifests itself in many ugly expressions. Thus systematic insults against the sacred beliefs and religious symbols of the Baha’i Faith are perpetrated not only by a few ignorant persons but rather by the state officials and the judicial authorities and by the system itself. Yet the same judicial system which day and night is insulting the sacred beliefs of the Baha’is and other groups, including non-Muslims, Sunnis and the Sufis, takes the Baha’is to court under the charge of insulting Islam, a fabricated charge that is not even true. In other words the law is made in such a way that a particular religious belief enjoys protection and privilege by the coercive power of the state, while other beliefs, ideas, and religions are discriminated against and humiliated. This legal structureto begin with is fundamentally unjust and itself is a negation of justice as such. A similar legal structure was found in the racist Apartheid system of South Africa. Until few years ago the superiority of whites was the acknowledged law in that society, and any objection against this racist system was defined as a crime punishable by law. If a black South African allowed himself to contact and communicate with the whites, polluting them through his najis (Islamicritual impurity), or to speak of his belief in the equal rights of all groups, he would have been brutalized with the charge of conspiracy against national security and insulting religious and cultural sanctities. He would be either secretly killed or put to a show trial in the court of “justice”. Such a trial in itself is the greatest proof of the bankruptcy of such a medieval and reactionary culture of dehumanization.
This is one of the essential characteristics of the culture of reaction that it is unable to liberate itself from the bondage of the self. It is so imprisoned within its own fabricated web that it tries to destroy all that is different and other. Such a culture is characterized by its attempt to exterminate diversity and difference, and to reduce all beings and other humans to its own slaves who are deprived of all rights. In its worldview the other is a mere enemy, an opposition, a plague that must be destroyed. It celebrates oneness, but oneness is defined as repression and exclusion of all diversity and freedom of thought and being. In contrast to this culture of intolerance and violence, the Baha’i Faith, an Iranian religion, declared that all beings while different are sacred manifestations of God, and thus all beings are beautiful, divine and endowed with rights. In accordance with authentic Iranian culture, the Baha’i worldview defines life in terms of the mutual relations and interdependence of beings. Identity is defined not in terms of opposition to the other, but rather through harmonious interdependence and unity in diversity with the other. Thus the equality of all groups and the mutual respect and communication of all religious, ethnic, and cultural groups are the requirements for true life in society. Meanwhile trees, fire, water and air are also sacred and have their own “rights”. The mission of humans is not destruction of the environment and extermination of other humans, but rather loving all beings, feeling unity with the totality of life, recognition of beauty and the sacredness of diversity and cultural pluralism, and worshiping God through respecting and affirming all of His creation. The main reason for the hostility of the reactionaries to the Baha’i culture is rooted in this foundational philosophical difference. These reactionaries have always perceived the Baha’is as cancer cells because the mere existence of this culture of the affirmation of life poses a major threat to the legitimacy of their medieval superstitions, and encourages a call to democracy, peace, and unity in society.
It is also for the same reason that the reactionaries use all means of distortion to accuse the Baha’is of being a foreign phenomenon made up by strangers. The ultimate reason for such lies is the fact that it is the medieval culture of intolerance, violence, and death that is antithetical to the Iranian culture and sensibility, a reactionary culture that is the exact opposite of the one which was announced to the world by the Great Cyrus (Kouroshe Kabir). The reactionaries know very well that the Baha’i worldview is in harmony with authentic Iranian culture, a culture that is based on celebration and affirmation of life.
However, the problem with the reactionary culture of oppression is not limited to the fact that its law criminalizes thinking, being a human, and daring to refuse dehumanization. Despotism and reaction can never be content with its discriminatory law for consolidating its power. That is because even the most oppressive legal codes contain items that pretend that there is some rule of law and justice in society. This is necessary for the sake of legitimization, so that repression is endowed with some hegemonic attributes as well. Therefore the Iranian legal code contains some laws that are contradictory to its own discriminatory law. On the one hand it is a discriminatory law that confirms the law of apostasy and defines the promotion of a specific religion, a narrow version of Shi’ih Islam, as the duty of all mass media, of the educational system and of all cultural and political institutions, while defining even a private discourse in support of other religions, including those of Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews, as an unforgivable transgression and crime. Yet, on the other hand, the same legal code emphasizes the principle of religious freedom and confirms the equal rights of all Iranian citizens before the law! It is clear that the observation of the second law provides limitations for the despotic rule of the reactionaries and creates obstacles for the fulfillment of their insatiable thirst for intimidation and sadistic barbarism against all other groups. Therefore, it is imperative in a system of tyranny and oppression that the reactionaries systematically violate their own constructed discriminatory laws as well.
The first requirement of this violation of the state’s own law is the systematic abuse of all its economic might, coercive means, and the resources of society to inflict pain on religious minorities and other democratic and human rights-oriented groups in society. It thus defines the condition of employment, access to wealth and power, and enjoyment of freedom as the adoption and enforcement of arbitrary discriminatory practices against alternative groups in society. The second strategy is the systematic elimination of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of thought in society. This is the main precondition for the survival of medieval tyranny and despotism. A hate-oriented identity of discrimination and intolerance can only persist under the dark condition of ignorance and distorted discourse. It will not survive within an atmosphere of free debate, rationality, communication, and interaction with other groups. That is why intellectuals should be mass murdered, and through torture authors should be forced to sign confessions of spying for foreigners. Their tongues should be cut out and their pens must be broken.
The third structural requirement for violating and distorting the law is that the judicial power must be devoid of any institutional and ideological autonomy from the despotic rulers, so that reactionary statesmen can do anything they wish, even if it violates their own medieval law, without any fear of any repercussions from the judicial system. Thus the judicial power, rather than being an impartial agent of safeguarding truth and law, turns into an active instrument of suppression in the hands of the tyrants, whose function in many cases is to ignore any transgression of law by their lords, and to justify any breaking of the law by the captains of Gold and coercion. That is why the judicial power many times encourages the torture of the innocent, while publicly denying the existence of torture in Iran. That is why it does everything, from intimidation to direct coercion, to deter lawyers who are committed to human right principles from pursuing the truth, defending the innocent, and upholding the law. The recent disgraceful treatment by the state and its hired media of the internationally renowned human rights activist lawyer, the winner of Nobel Peace Prize, who bravely has committed herself to defend the seven innocent Baha’is, is a shameful violence against every one who loves the sacred land of Iran. The actual court spectacle is also nothing but a strategy of intimidation of the lawyer, humiliation and insult against the defender, and systematic exclusion of any evidence or argument that proves the innocence of the accused.
In a court in which a change of religious belief (from Islam to any other belief) is by itself a crime, and no other proof or factual evidence is required to find a person guilty of a capital crime, any charge against the Baha’is by definition is true. No one remembers that the same state and its hired media at first charged the seven Baha’is with bombing a Hojjatiyyeh organization (Kanoone Vesal) meeting in Shiraz, and later accused them of plotting to bomb different book fairs, followed by the additional charge that they had been systematically trained by American agents in the art of submarine explosions and the like. But then all these charges were dropped without any one in the media or the government issuing a public or private apology to the Baha’i community of Iran for spreading such outrageous lies. But Baha’is are already so dehumanized by these hate mongers that issuing an apology to the objectified group would not even cross the minds of the perpetrators.
After dropping the other accusations, the reactionaries finally returned to their old and usual accusation: insulting Islam and conspiring with Zionism. The change in accusation is most revealing: previous fabricated charges, by nature, were self-defeating: they were empirical charges that could be easily shown to be false by empirical evidence. They were charges that by definition required empirical evidence for their proof. Bombing a place or having years of training under water in the techniques of bombing are empirical phenomena, and accusations of this type are easily shown as false. In addition, these charges were new charges and therefore the people of Iran had not been habituated to them through 80 years of repetition and brainwashing. Thus the people would not automatically accept such charges without evidence. Therefore, the reactionaries returned to their old accusations which by nature do not require any evidence: through 80 years of repetition, the charge of Zionist, British or Russian connections against the Baha’is is so ingrained in the minds of the people that it is part of the collective unconscious of Iranian culture. In addition and by definition, the paranoid conspiratorial nature of the “British did it” mentality does not require any proof for establishing such connections. The accusation is the very proof itself.
The reactionaries have their own unique linguistic code for manipulation and distortion of truth. They say that the seven Baha’is have confessed to a connection with the Zionist state. What they really mean is that the seven Baha’is, like all Baha’is all over the world, publicly, unanimously and proudly announce that their system of administration is a democratic one, and that the elected leaders of the international Baha’i community, The Universal House of Justice, are consulted by all Baha’is regarding the affairs of the Baha’i community. These elected representatives of the Baha’is are located in Palestine, not because of a Jewish conspiracy but rather because of a joint conspiracy of the Iranian Muslim clergy and state during the Qajar dynasty who exiled Baha’u’llah to Palestine, thus making the shrine of Baha’u’llah in Palestine the spiritual center of the Faith. This however has nothing to do with Israel or state of Israel which came into existence 80 years after such exile by the order of Muslim divines and officials themselves. The Baha’is have always said that they are in touch with their elected representatives. This has nothing to do with contact with the state of Israel. When Khomeini was in Iraq, some of the Muslim leaders were in regular contact with him, but this was not the same as spying for Saddam Husayn or for the Iraqi State. When Khomeini was in France, a country that supported Israel, when the French state gave him full freedom of political action, and when all Iranian Islamic radicals were looking for guidance to France, no one accused all these Muslims of conspiracy against Iran by contacting the government of France and cooperating with the Zionist agenda. In regard to the Baha’is, however, no logic is needed for persecuting the Baha’is. The simple truth is that what bothers these reactionaries is the very existence of the Baha’is. They just want to kill them; everything else is just a fabricated excuse.
Max Weber in his sociological analysis sometimes uses a methodology of mental experimentation, a counterfactual deduction. Let us try his method and apply it to the case of the Baha’is to find out if the accusations against them are valid or not. The present regime argues that it is not persecuting the Baha’is for the sake of their beliefs and they add that in Iran every one is free to have their own beliefs. It claims that the reason for systematic persecution of the Baha’is is that they are spies of foreign countries. We now want to find out if this claim is true or false. We put aside the obvious fact that the regime’s argument is based on a big lie, since the law of apostasy is the law in Iran[Baha’is in Iran are all considered to be apostate Muslims and therefore by Islamic law subject to the death penalty, even if they have never had any faith other than the Baha’i religion, or if they or their parents or grandparents converted from Judaism or Zoroastrianism, simply because Baha’is accept the truth of Islam and its Prophet Muhammad, but believe that Islam has now been superceded by the Baha’i Faith], which means that there is absolutely no freedom of religious belief in Iran. But we want to see the truth or falsehood of the specific claim that the regime is making against the Baha’is. One way to know this is to imagine a situation in which it has not even crossed the mind of the reactionaries that the Baha’is are foreign spies. We have to ask ourselves if in this hypothetical situation whether the reactionaries would still continue to persecute the Baha’is or not. If the answer is negative, then it means that the reactionaries are truthful in their claim that they believe the Baha’is are foreign agents. If the answer, however, is affirmative, then it means that the regime itself is fully aware that its charge is pure falsehood and fabrication. Now anyone who knows the Iranian clergy can readily answer this easy question. The answer is positive. Having said that, this is not simply a mental exercise. In fact it is not a hypothetical case: the reason is that the charge of foreign connections against the Baha’is is a relatively new phenomenon. No enemy of the Baha’i faith in Iran accused the Baha’is of such a charge in the first 90 years since the inception of this Faith. No state official and no clergy in any of their thousands of public pronouncements against the Baha’is had charged the Baha’is with such charges. Indeed we know that the political charge was first fabricated during the 1930s when the previous religious charges of heresy were losing their power and legitimacy among the emerging intellectuals. Thus we have an actual situation which can give us the answer to our question in an actual and not hypothetical manner: the religious leaders of Iran for 90 years did not believe that the Baha’is were foreign agents and yet they acted in the most sadistic ways to exterminate the Baha’is. Does any one think that the Hojjatiyyeh association would have ceased to kill the Baha’is if they had not believed in political charges against the Baha’is? We only need to remember that the law of apostasy is the ingrained logic and sentiment of these medieval minds. They kill as their religious duty; their enemy is diversity of thought and critique of traditionalism. That is the real enemy and all else are pragmatic excuses.
Now we should ask ourselves what is the real reason for this ferocious attack and hatred of the reactionaries against the Baha’is? The answer is not that difficult: the reactionaries are very well aware of the bankruptcy of their hate-centered ideology and its utter contradiction with the requirements of life, development, and rationality. That is why they have an obsessive phobia against the Baha’is. It is this extreme fear of the Baha’i worldview that makes them so frightened. We have a most interesting sociological situation: For the last thirty years, the reactionaries have monopolized exclusive control of the reign of power in Iran, for thirty years they have deprived all the Baha’is of Iran of the right to education and access to university; for thirty years they have engaged in a massive anti-Baha’i campaign of distortion through all mass media, books, educational institutions, public rhetoric, “research foundations”, mosques and universities, for thirty years they have bombarded the people of Iran with all kinds of disgraceful lies and accusations against the Baha’is without giving them any access to the media or educational institutions to be able to defend themselves against these brutal attacks. Yet, why is it that the regime is so frightened by the pen and the tongue of the Baha’is so that even a Baha’i private whisper in his own home with his friends about the falsehood of all these accusations is perceived as so threatening by these reactionaries that they invade Baha’i homes, harass them in their jobs, arrest them arbitrarily, and put them under a Nazi-like show trial? The only reason for this absurd sociological paradox is the fact that these reactionaries are announcing to the world and to history that they know that their ideology is a dead idea which is in contradiction with human rights, with the march of human history and with the rational and tolerant features of authentic Iranian culture and tradition.
The very existence of the Baha’i faith is a testimony to this fact, a fact that must, they aver, be coercively banished from public and private consciousness. It was the Baha’i Faith which for the first time in Iranian history defended the idea of historical consciousness, democratic politics, elimination of all institutions of priesthood, equality of men and women, unity of all religions, prohibition of holy war and violence, emphasizing a culture of communication, peace and life, and affirming the principles of the equality and dignity of all human beings and their inalienable rights. The Baha’is do not believe that women are deficient in reason, and they do not believe that an imaginary Child Imam has been kept alive for more than a thousand years to justify a culture of superstition, violence, moral resignation, and slavish dependence on the imaginary representatives of the imaginary Imam — namely the reactionary clergy. The Baha’is do not believe in the law of apostasy, instead, the freedom of conscience is their fundamental article of Faith. The Baha’is do not believe in the racist idea that non-Muslims are najis and impure, and that all contact and communication with polluted and polluting others should be avoided. The Baha’is do not define divine justice in terms of universal intolerance and mass murder of all who refuse to believe in Shi’ih Islam. Baha’u’llah declared that religion is a historically specific and dynamic phenomenon, and that no religious system of law, including his own, can be eternally valid. He declared that freedom and human right require the separation of church and state. He declared that religion must be in agreement with reason and science. Thus he created a hermeneutics that looks at various scriptural stories like Adam and Eve as metaphorical and allegorical statements. He declared that religion must be the cause of amity and peace, and that otherwise it is better not to have any religion. These are the reasons that the reactionaries are afraid of the Baha’i Faith. It challenges the core of their archaic and intolerant identity.
This fear has been increasing recently. The reason is that a resurrection is occurring among the non-Baha’i Iranian intellectuals. They are beginning to understand that the reactionaries say nothing but lies, and that the persecution against the Baha’is is the persecution of all Iranians. That is why the regime is even more afraid of the Baha’is. Killing the Baha’is has become the symbol of all suppression of human rights against any Iranian group.
In the remainder of this paper I will investigate the hypocrisy of four common features of anti-Baha’i discourse among the reactionaries:
- One of the strangest accusations raised by the regime is that the Baha’is insult Islam. Of course the fact that all sacred Baha’i writings are filled with praise of Islam as a religion revealed by God is a fact that can easily be verified by any cursory look at the Baha’i writings. But the reactionaries have a point that there is a real enemy of Islam that is operating in Iran. The question is who this enemy is. We can find the real answer to this question by looking at the religious dynamics of the last thirty years. It was thirty years ago that the people of Iran, united and with ardent love for Islam, engaged in a revolution that they thought would bring them democracy, freedom, tolerance, justice, and prosperity. Yet thirty years later we witness the fact that a countless number of the Iranian population is now so disgusted with Islam that either they have become hostile to all religion or secretly are converting to other religions like Zoroastrianism, Christianity or Buddhism. In the history of the Middle East such mass de-Islamification and mass disbelief in Islam has never happened. The question is why? Every one knows the answer to this question. It has been the intolerant, corrupt, discriminatory, anti-democratic, and repressive policies of the Islamic reactionaries themselves which have led a fundamental assault on Islam. The real enemies of Islam are the very people who think by their medieval ideas and brutal methods they are defending the sanctity of Islam. With such friends Islam is in need of no enemy. Needless to say the systematic harassment of the Baha’is, including this Nazi-like show trial, is one of the main mechanisms of hostility to Islam. If the reactionaries wish to silence the anti-Islamic forces, they should silence themselves. The ironic phenomenon is that the Baha’is are probably the best friends of Islam. Not only do all their sacred writings acknowledge the sanctity of the Islamic revelation, but they also engage in a progressive interpretation of Islam in the context of a historical consciousness which portrays a positive picture of Islam to the world. Even more ironic is the fact that those same Baha’is who are being killed by the regime for their alleged hostility to Islam are being criticized by some Iranian intellectuals for being too friendly with Islam!
- The other frequent feature of anti-Baha’i discourse of the reactionaries is that they define the Baha’i Faith as a cancer that is destructive of health and life, and that therefore it should be surgically removed and destroyed. This metaphor turns into an argument to prove that the violation of all human rights principles is justified in relation to the Baha’is. It is interesting that the enemies of reason and justice have no rational argument for the justification of their medieval and uncivilized policies, and therefore their only recourse is to hide behind the cloudy distortions of a metaphor. Yet this same metaphor unveils the true essence of these reactionaries. The entire ideology of the reactionaries revolves around the principle of dehumanization of humans. Reduction of humans to the level of dependent children, animals, and commodities is the essence of their ideology and political function. Patriarchy, the racist idea of the najis or ritual impurity of other people, and the law of apostasy and criminalization of freedom of thought, are a few examples of this dehumanization of humanity. It is by such reduction that humans can no longer be defined by their consciousness, dignity, and essential freedom. They should be treated like animals and deprived of all autonomy, dignity, and rights. One of the main mechanisms of this dehumanizing strategy is the use of metaphors in political discourse and then confounding the metaphor with concrete reality. In this way the metaphor is not just a metaphor, it becomes a full description of the concrete reality, and thus the reality can be deduced from the metaphor. This reduction of the social and cultural to the physical and biological is the common methodology of all dehumanizing discourse. The use of the cancer metaphor for describing some destructive and harmful cultural practices can at times be legitimate. It is also true that cancers should be surgically removed. But the meaning of this surgery in the realm of culture and freedom can no longer be deduced from this physical metaphor. In the ream of free culture and civilized society battle against repressive ideas takes place not through killing the advocates of those beliefs but rather through observation and institutionalization of freedom of speech and open debate and critical discourse and dialogue so that the public has the opportunity to be exposed to all arguments, and thus the force of argument and reason would invalidate the harmful ideas. [One might use the concept of evolution, through the selection of those ideas which are proven to be “fittest” by their usefulness to and acceptance by humanity.]Yet the main question is this: what is the cancer of present Iranian society? The answer to this question is easy. Cancers destroy life. They grow under conditions of the suppression of oxygen. Their purpose is death and destruction. Health and life are defined by growth, adaptation to new conditions, creativity, novelty, and dynamism. It is clear that in the realm of culture, cancer is the ideology of medieval fixation and regression, the ideology that defines all novelties as heresy punishable by death, the ideology that fosters ossification, celebrates death, prevents open space and freedom, and suppresses growth, dynamism, and change. It is the ideology of najis of other human beings, the ideology of keeping women as hidden sexual objects who are deficient in mind, faith and rights, the ideology of censorship and murder, and the ideology of killing apostates. These are the enemies of history, the enemies of life, and the enemies of health. It is the violent culture of reaction that is the cancer of Iranian society. The reason for so much fear of the Baha’is on the part of the reactionaries is precisely this: they know that they are themselves representing the cancers and they know very well that cancers survive under the suppression of oxygen. They have to eliminate any voice of reason and freedom. That is their only chance for survival.
- The third frequently used image in the anti-Baha’i discourse of the reactionaries is the image of espionage and the enemy stranger. Of course the Islamic regime defines all those who think differently as enemies of Iran and instruments of foreign interests, from the British to the Zionists. Yet this charge is used with unique obsession against the Baha’is. In this article I will not discuss this ridiculous charge. (Readers can look at my Persian article on the same subject in Iran Emrooz). Yet in the espionage discourse of the reactionaries, the name of the Baha’is is recently accompanied with two other names: the Sufis and Wahhabis, which are all defined by the reactionaries, particularly the Hujjatiyyeh group, as British-made ideas. Aside from the historical inaccuracy of all three charges, the internal relations of these three accusations are most revealing. The reactionaries accuse Sufis of being British-made because relative to the brutalizing ideology of the reactionaries, Sufis are closer to the Baha’i ideas of tolerance, peace, communication and unity. Yet the accusation against the Wahhabis is of a different nature. They are accused of espionage because they are the twin brothers of the Iranian reactionaries themselves. The Iranian regime sees in the Wahhabis its own image. Wahhabism is the mirror in which the reactionaries can face themselves. Psychoanalytically speaking, they see their own image, and yet they see it as something different. This allows them to project their own self-hatred, their own awareness of the bankruptcy of their ideology to an external entity. By defining this entity as a foreign made and British-fabricated phenomenon, they can hide from their own reality, banish their own painful self-consciousness to the realm of the unconscious, and feel good about themselves as being not the ego, but the alter. There is absolutely no doubt that the Wahhabi ideology, like its twin mirror image in Iran, is a violent rejection of progress, prosperity and freedom in Islamic societies. But the more interesting question is this: whether Wahhabi ideology is similar to the ideology of the anti-Baha’i reactionaries or to the Baha’i worldview? Is the Wahhabi belief in violently forcing societies to regress to a thousand years ago similar to the belief system of the reactionaries or the idea of the Baha’is? Is the Wahhabi policy of censorship, torture, beheading, and kidnapping of others compatible with the policies of the Iranian reactionaries or the peaceful methods of the Baha’is? Does the patriarchal obsession of the Wahhabis fit the ideas of the dehumanizing reactionaries or the Baha’i belief in the equality of men and women? Is the Wahhabi violent objectification of others as impure and polluting (najis) similar to the common belief and practices of the reactionaries or to the Baha’i rejection of any idea of ritual impurity? Is the Wahhabi murder of the apostate in line with the reactionaries’ worldview and practice or to the Baha’is abrogation of the law of apostasy? And does the insistence of the Wahhabis on unity of church and state resemble the suppressive ideology of the reactionaries or the Baha’i thesis of the separation of the two institutions? This is indeed one of the major wonders of our world that the reactionaries assume that they can repeat lies of this magnitude and absurdity and that the people of Iran would actually believe them!
- Finally, another shameful feature of the anti-Baha’i discourse of the reactionaries is their abuse of the name of Imam Husayn for justifying their cruel and inhumane treatment of the Baha’is. Igniting the religious emotions of the uneducated and the unconscious, and preventing people from deliberate thought and rationality have been a frequent device that has been used by the reactionaries to pursue their particularistic interests in Iranian history. Yet we should ask ourselves whether the methods used by the reactionaries against the Baha’is are similar to the methods of Husayn or Yazid? Was it Imam Husayn who was surrounded by the brutal forces of injustice or was it Yazid? Was it Imam Husayn or Yazid who was an oppressed minority who was attacked and murdered by a brutal and murderous majority army? Was it Husayn or Yazid who ordered the persecution of the innocent children of the oppressed minority? Was it Husayn or Yazid who violated even the cemetery of the Imam and his followers, digging out the holy corpses, and burning them in the fire of hate? The fact is that the reactionaries are the very image of Yazid, while Baha’is are the modern peaceful return of the martyrs of Karbala. Imam Husayn is clear of all these inhumane and brutal suppressions of the rights of all Iranians, including those of the Baha’is.
Let us dream of a day in which all Iranians — Shi’ih and Sunni, atheist and Christian, Jew and Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Baha’i — live together in peace, dignity, harmony and communication, a day in which the entrepreneurs of hate fail to divide Iranians in the name of God, a day when all Iranians, committed to democratic rights of all Iranian citizens, perceive cultural diversity as a source of strength and beauty, a day when once again the name of Iran is globally celebrated as the birth-place of the Kouroshe Kabir (Cyrus the Great) and of the charter of religious freedom and human rights. For every Baha’i, this is not a mere fantastic dream; it is rather the destiny of this great sacred land, the requirement of its authentic culture, and the will of God.
February 24, 2009 11:28 pm
Excellent, Dr. Saeidi! Write more!
May every single moment of our lives be dedicated to a Cause that aims at bringing peace and unity to all nations of the world! May we be able to serve such Cause as our sisters and brothers do under the opression of an unkind regime.
February 25, 2009 5:08 pm
This is an excellent analysis of the problem. Rational, reasonable people are slow to understand the mental disease processes herein described, so it is helpful that Dr. Saiedi has so thoroughly explored multiple intellectual approaches to the phenomena.
The rational mind also mightily resists the inescapable conclusion that there is no reasoning with such insanity. What then is left to do? How should the rest of the world deal with such delusional, barbaric, paranoid, narcissistic, despots? It seems to me that is the most important remaining question.
February 25, 2009 7:14 pm
I am reading this article and re-reading it with such speed. It is the best piece I have yet to read that analyzes the medieval nature of religious reactionaries such as those ruling Iran, and the reasons why they oppose pluralism and unity in diversity, such as promoted and proclaimed by the Baha’i Faith. Thank you, Dr. Saiedi.
February 26, 2009 7:01 am
Dear Dr. Saeidi,
Thank you very very much for your excellent and deep article! It is a profound analysis of the situation of the Bahá’ís in Iran. It should us really hope so awake at least some of the blind and dumb minds against Bahá’ís. Let Moreover, it contains valuable intellectual material for my research of the problem of freedom of speech, a question so crucial in today’s world. I will read it over and over again very carefully.
Dr. Yrjö Mikkonen, researcher of concepts and conceptualization
February 27, 2009 1:50 pm
This article is just a tide of ignorance and prejudice. It is sensationalist and lacks perspective. The world is full of problems; the situation of the Baha’is in Iran is far from the top of the list.
February 27, 2009 3:30 pm
What Andrew says is the best confirmation of the accuracy of Saiedi’s analysis. Andrew is dehumanizing the Baha’is by saying that oppression and injustice against this particular group is no problem because in his list such oppression cannot be important, and hence condemning it or calling for the application of human rights to this particular group is not only unnecessary but something evil! Racists of the world either explicitly defend their racist prejudice and call it rational analysis (like the Nazi scientific racism or Islamic version of the law of apostasy and nejasat), or hide cowardly behind an indirect strategy that divides oppression in two categories, one that is important and one that is not. Of course Andrew is probably a Hojjatiyyih sympatheizer and he knows very well that it is the Hojjatiyyih racists who argue that Baha’is are the root of all problems. So in fact Andrew even lies. He really believes in his racist ideology that the Baha’i problem is the most important problem, yet his cowardice makes him contradict his own belief and pretend that he does not consider this issue as important. Justice means universal condemnation of all oppression. It is only the racist oppressor who defines some injustice as unimportant and therefore unworthy of discourse or action. This is the essence of that particularistic logic that is the heart of all forms of violence and racist construction of the other. The truth is that all forms of violence are related to each other. Disregarding or justification of one kind is justification of all forms of injustice. Old Testament, and later the Qur’an, has said that killing any human being is killing the entire human race. Compare this sublime logic with the KKK-like logic of Andrew. Needless to say all other forms of oppressions in Iran are products of the same phenomenon that led to the systematic persecution of the Baha’is: namely a culture of hate, prejudice and ignorance that was advocated by the Muslim clergy which led to the backwardness of Iran for at least five centuries, suppression of the rights of women, rights of other religious minorities, murder of human right activists, censorship and the like.
February 27, 2009 3:36 pm
Nader Saiedi is writing passionately about the Baha’i case because he has lived it and because every Baha’i identifies with the innocent people being targeted. It is a false prioritization when we minimize any human rights violation as being “far from the top of the list” because “the world is full of problems.” The current growing list of attacks on the Baha’is is the signal of a much more intense, coordinated, and systematic approach to “eliminating the perverse Baha’i sect from Iran” as one cleric put it. This isn’t hyperbole. It is intended to be followed up by action. In the past 30 years, the authorities have successfully eliminated virtually the entire Baha’i presence in rural Iran and small towns. Villages where the majority of people were Baha’is have been emptied through systematic deprivation of livelihood, homes, property, and education, and through persistent attack – threatened and real. It is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing. The last stage of cleansing is “if we can’t get you to leave, we will kill you all.” Baha’is are tired of it and they are also tired of people who have absolutely no experience dismissing the Baha’i case as nothing. in iran, it is everything because the Baha’is represent the regime’s and the clerics’ demon – the absolute other against whom anything is permitted because they are not regarded as human.
February 27, 2009 10:30 pm
Mr. Saiedi’s article is very accurate in regards to the persecution of the Iranian Baha’is, but I disagree with his position on Islam and Muslims. I don’t think Islam is an inherently anti-progressive religion. I think the majority of the religious scholars are either traditionalists or conservatives, but the leaders of all religions tend to be conservative in their worldview. Even the Universal House of Justice is made up of Baha’is with a conservative worldview, although many Baha’is entertain liberal ideas. I think it is the very nature of religious authority that seems to lend itself to conservatism for some reason. That could be another article for Mr. Saiedi to write in the future. Perhaps that tension is needed. Perhaps if the religious leaders/body was liberal, the religion would become “too liberal” as a whole, and become “watered down.” I don’t know.
I am a Muslim, and I don’t believe women are “deficient in intelligence”, or that if I touch a non-Muslim, I have been “tainted”, or that women are “hidden sex objects.” I am appalled by such ideas, and don’t think that I have to distance myself from Islam in order to be “progressive” and “democratic.” Much of Mr. Saiedi’s discourse is motivated by his righteous anger, which I think is self-defeating at times. It is good to be angry at an injustice, but when anger becomes poisonous and full of sarcastic remarks, he can put a lot of well meaning Muslims on the defense because they feel like their religion is under attack. It is hard to get people to help you out, if you’re bashing what they believe and imploring their conscience at the same time. Not only can it be seen as rude and disrespectful, but it could be self-defeating as well. That’s my only critique of Mr. Saiedi’s style of writing.
But as far as data, facts, and a sociological perspective is considered, I think he understands the situation very well.
February 28, 2009 3:04 am
Dr. Saiedi’s article is critique of reactionaries’ interpretation of Islam, and the sad fact that such interpretation has been the dominant one in Islamic culture. he never identifies Islam with the ideas of reactionaries. For example as a Baha’i, Dr. Saiedi probably believes that Islam has foretold the coming of the Baha’i faith. yet Muslim reactionaries believe otherwise, reducing Islam to a cult of ahistorical traditionalism. But of course the reactionaries have their textual and scriptural arguments to prove that their views are the real Islamic ones. For example to use your example, the idea that women are deficient in mind is exactly a quotation from Nahj Al-Balagha, a text that for all the Shi’ih is the greatest book after the Qur’an, written by Imam Ali. In that work it says “verily women are deficient in intellect, deficient in faith, and deficient in rights”. Or to give another example, it has been the consensus of the Sunni and Shi’ih jurists that according to Islam the apostate must die. They quote for example Muhammad as saying “whoever changes his religion behead him.” It is interesting that not a single jurist or Islamic intellectual prior to 20th century has ever questioned this law. Obviously this is not easily compatible with even elementary principles of a democratic or progressive politics. Yet Dr. Saiedi mentions in the same paper that the Baha’is offer a progressive interpretation of Islam that is historically specific and qualitatively different from that of the reactionaries. But of course such interpretation is never allowed to be expressed in Iran.
February 28, 2009 3:58 pm
Dr. Saiedi’s article is critique of reactionaries’ interpretation of Islam, and the sad fact that such interpretation has been the dominant one in Islamic culture. he never identifies Islam with the ideas of reactionaries. For example as a Baha’i, Dr. Saiedi probably believes that Islam has foretold the coming of the Baha’i faith. yet Muslim reactionaries believe otherwise, reducing Islam to a cult of ahistorical traditionalism.”
I would disagree that it is the “dominant” interpretation in Islamic culture. I think the majority of Muslim lay people are moderate in their interpretations of Islam. Most of the scholars are traditionalists and conservatives, indeed, but that is different to say that most Muslims are traditionalists. Besides that, I don’t think traditionalism is necessarily “wrong.” I disagree with it, but I don’t think it is 100% bad.
“But of course the reactionaries have their textual and scriptural arguments to prove that their views are the real Islamic ones. For example to use your example, the idea that women are deficient in mind is exactly a quotation from Nahj Al-Balagha, a text that for all the Shi’ih is the greatest book after the Qur’an, written by Imam Ali. In that work it says “verily women are deficient in intellect, deficient in faith, and deficient in rights”. Or to give another example, it has been the consensus of the Sunni and Shi’ih jurists that according to Islam the apostate must die. They quote for example Muhammad as saying “whoever changes his religion behead him.” It is interesting that not a single jurist or Islamic intellectual prior to 20th century has ever questioned this law.”
*Everyone* has textual and scriptural evidence to support their interpretations of a religion. Moderates, extremists, traditionalists, liberals, progressive *all* claim to derive their beliefs from the same texts. So, I don’t think that just because hardliners say they get their beliefs from scriptural evidence, that that means they must be “right.” Secondly, I doubt that Nahj Al-Balagha was actually written by ‘Ali. If anything it was probably written by various scholars who followed ‘Ali throughout time. Thirdly, I am pretty sure that there was at least “one” Muslim jurist prior to the 20th century who rejected the notion that a Muslim who converted to another faith should be killed. We’re dealing with over 1200 years and possibly hundreds of thousands of jurists, so it is near mathematically impossible for there to be 100% agreement on said issue. Fourthly, even if a person believes in the complete authenticity of Nahj Al-Balagha, it doesn’t mean that they will automatically treat women as if they are deficient in intelligence. All Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the word of God, but you don’t see a billion Muslims cutting off peoples hands for stealing. Such a news story would not have been lost to the media’s eyes, sir :-)
“Obviously this is not easily compatible with even elementary principles of a democratic or progressive politics. Yet Dr. Saiedi mentions in the same paper that the Baha’is offer a progressive interpretation of Islam that is historically specific and qualitatively different from that of the reactionaries. But of course such interpretation is never allowed to be expressed in Iran.”
Of course it is not compatible with the principles of a democratic or progressive political ideology, but that is the problem with any theocracy. I’m a secularist, so I believe in the separation of Religion and State. Nevertheless I believe in God, and try to be a Muslim. I don’t see a contradiction. I recommend reading “Islam and the Secular State” by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im and “The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists” by Khaled Abou El Fadl if you feel like it.
March 1, 2009 7:05 pm
You seem to say what Dr. Saiedi is saying. You support a liberal interpretation of Islam and criticize the traditionalist idea. Dr. Saiedi is also criticizing the traditionalist idea and its role in persecution of all progressive groups including the Baha’is in Iran. Many of those that Dr. Saiedi salutes their courage in signing the petition against the persecution of the Baha’is are also Muslims but Muslims like you who care for human rights and are not the true enemies of Islam. I wish there would be more of this type of approach to Islam at thelevel of political and public discourse. Ordinary Muslims do not know much about Islam. In addition, they are too much relying on the conservative clergy. That is why they can be deceived so easily, as the people of Iran were deceived. They thought they are engaged in revolution for the sake of democracy and freedom, but since they trusted the clergy they allowed it to be a theocratic state, which destroyed all forms of freedom. To this day the Baha’is are being killed in Iran because they ask people to think for themselves and not to imitate any other human being.
The fact that you do not think Naj-Al-Balagha is written by Ali is immaterial. The point is that all Shi’ih, liberal or traditionalist, lay or clergy, believe it is the sacred and binding word of Ali. It was the Western scholarship that, despite so much disdain by the Shi’ih, argued that it is not written by Ali. If you say this in Iran publicly you will be arrested as insulting Islam. It is even the case that for many scholars even the Qur’an is not written by Muhammad. But the fact that someone may think that way is immaterial. The point is that the Muslims or at least most Muslims believe in its authenticity. That is the point. Namely, that is the way the religion had been understood, and that is a culture and message that is in contrast to the realities of this time as well as the Baha’i worldview. The fact that Muslims may not always cut the hands of the thief is a good news, but it does not change the fact that Islamic law requires it, or that the old scriptural law is in contradiction to the realities of modern times. Dr. saiedi would not have complained of the brutality of the reactionaries and the contrast between medieval culture of reaction and the Baha’i message of equality and peace if the Muslims of Iran would not have acted in the way they do in the name of Islam. That is why whenever Shariah law is enforced the result is abject violation of human rights every where. Your pure speculative point that there should be at least one jurist who has rejected the law of apostasy is strange. You talk in generality because you know very well that acceptance of the apostasy has been the absolutely dominant view among all Muslims. And that is the point. It does not matter if a few have deviated or not. The dominant Muslim culture has perceived it as the true Islamic idea.
You refer to works that suggest separation of church and state. It is interesting that you are saying what Baha’u’llah said 150 years ago, and he and his followers are being persecuted to this day for that assertion. Your ideas are similar to the Baha’i ideas, and there is a contrast between medieval ideas on these issues and your modern liberal views. Dr. saiedi’s article is exactly affirming the same contrast.
March 13, 2009 8:06 pm
This is the most stunningly right-on and moving article I’ve ever read! Dr. Saiedi, you have most skillfully unmasked the Iranian regime [the Emperor has no clothes here]. I’m moved to tears of gratitude whenever I think of what you’ve written in defense of the innocent. This brilliant, most powerful article should be read in the United Nations.