Editor’s Note: Iran Press Watch is pleased to share the following essay (translated from Persian), and welcomes discussions and follow-up analysis by interested readers.
Over nine months have passed since the unexplainable, unreasonable and inhumane arrests of the leaders1 of the Baha’i community in Iran. Throughout this time, baseless accusations have been hurled upon them and upon the Baha’i community in Iran through wide-spread, pre-planned propaganda. The present leadership and the government of Iran have joined hands to bring an end to the existence of the largest religious minority group in Iran by means of “gradual genocide”. They have established a profession for themselves of “killing human beings” and have been inflicting the most severe forms of physical, spiritual and psychological torture upon the meekest of religious groups in Iran. The boldest of such instances can be witnessed in the “deceitfully devised” manner in which they have approached the innocently arrested leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran.
Judge Hassan Haddad, Tehran’s Deputy General-Prosecutor, announced on February 11 that charges against the seven leaders of the Iranian Baha’i Community have been made and that their cases will be sent to the Revolutionary Court next week for indictment.
This news item can be viewed at: http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/02/featuretrial-of-seven-bahai-leaders/
This news indicates that the charges brought against the accused are “espionage for Israel,” insulting religious sanctities” and “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”
As such, a reasoned analysis of each of these accusations is offered here.
The Accusation of “Espionage for Israel”
A: A Historical Overview
The reason the matter of espionage for Israel is even an issue is because over 150 years ago, Baha’u’llah (the prophet-founder of the Baha’i faith) — who had spent some time in a Tehran prison2 under the most adverse of conditions and the most severe of torturous situations — was exiled from Iran on the instruction of the Qajar government. It was during the second half of the 19th century that — through the designs of the two governments of Persia and the Ottoman Empire to distance Baha’u’llah from Iranian borders – Baha’u’llah was exiled first to Baghdad, then to Istanbul, then to Edirne and finally to the pestilential prison-city of ‘Akka. As it happened, well over half a century later, meaning in 1948, the state of Israel was formed where Baha’u’llah had been banished by the aforementioned governments. Given the obvious nature of the historical context of this situation, even if any accusations were to be made, they should be that Baha’is are agents of espionage for the Palestinians and that the Israelis are spying on the Baha’is — not the other way around!
The question that is raised here is whether it is right for Baha’is to be accused of being agents of espionage for Israel based on this plain historical detail. Does the government of Iran consider its own people as children devoid of any understanding or historical knowledge? Is this not a weighty insult to the integrity of the people of this nation; people who collectively constitute the nation’s greatest asset?
B: A Sociological Overview
In order to expand on this matter, it is best to start with an example. Let us suppose that we do not wish for our children to go out of the house to play with their friends. We can try an unethical method to convince them not to go out into the street, such as saying, “There are monsters in the street that eat children.” Subsequently, our children will be filled with great fear, and will never attempt to go out to play in the street.
Now let us return to the matter of the accusation of “espionage for Israel”. It is a known fact that through the widespread use of such anti-Israeli propaganda as denying the existence of the historical reality of the Holocaust, stating a desire to wipe Israel off the world map, showing Israeli killings of Palestinians in Gaza, or demonstrating other inhumane episodes in which Palestinian women and children are killed or severely injured, a public repulsion has been created in Iran towards the very expression of the word “Israel”! Here “Israel” is to the people of Iran the same as “monster” is to the children in the above example. It is used to spread fear in the people of Iran and incite them to do all that they can in attacking the “monster”!
This means that on the basis of the principle of “Othering” in sociology, Israel has — in the perception of Iranian society – been Othered with violation, barbarism, and such. Therefore if a claim is made in a far off village that a man is somehow associated with Israel, it is very likely that the people of that village would tear the man apart based on the preconceptions engraved on their minds by the Iranian regime.
Although the knowledge and insight of the people of Iran has reached a certain level of maturity that enables them to easily discern the reality of things; yet accusing the leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran of being agents of espionage for Israel is a way of taking advantage of this principle of “Othering” in sociology. It is a pathetic attempt to invert the truth by provoking and inciting the people for the purpose of creating in them a sense of suspicion towards the Baha’i community.
“Israel” is merely a name – a name for which the Iranian nation does not hold any pleasant memories. Therefore, if we were at this instant to claim that a certain famous football player, for example, is also an “Israeli spy”, we have in reality taken advantage of the anti-Israeli feelings latent in the subconscious of the people of Iran to turn them against the said football player. Making the accusation against the leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran that they are spies for Israel is thus completely baseless.
C: A Methodological Overview
Another approach in denying this accusation is by looking at some of the plainly evident ordinances of the Baha’i Faith. By looking at the teachings of this divine religion, we come face to face with the religious law that exhorts the Baha’is “not to interfere in politics”. It is interesting that individuals, who consider themselves Baha’is and who, based on their religious teachings, refrain from interfering in politics, are labelled with such a laughably baseless accusation. Is it possible to refrain from interfering in politics, yet be agents of political espionage for a country?
Another reason to denial of such an accusation is its mere credulity. Even if we were to assume an impossible hypothesis that the leaders of the Baha’i Community were Israeli spies; how could it be that they have been recognised as such only now after all these years? Would a government that is so strongly anti-Israel allow the presence of Israeli spies in Iran for even a mere second? Would making such an accusation not impugn the credibility of the operations of Iranian Intelligence? Does this mean that the Baha’is have – for nearly 170 years – been Israeli spies, and Iranian Intelligence has only now discovered this fact? Would the acceptance of such a thing conform to human understanding and reason? Would this great insult to the intelligence of the people of Iran not be considered the greatest of historic accusations?
In light of the above arguments, accusing the leaders of the Baha’i Faith with espionage is completely and absolutely baseless and devoid of any logical or scientific foundation, and it can therefore be easily dismissed.
The Accusation of “Insulting Religious Sanctities”
A: A Historical Overview
Over a century and a half ago, the Baha’i Faith, one in the series of independent Abrahamic prophetic religions, appeared in Iran. Inasmuch as this world religion places all the divine Faiths in the tradition of the unfolding destiny of this world, the Baha’i Faith considers itself a new independent religion after Islam. In other words, the Baha’i Faith is the only independent religion that recognises the divinity of the sacred religion of Islam.
On the other hand, in the same way that through the revelation of Islam, some of the ordinances of Christianity which did not correspond to the needs and conditions of the time were changed, some of the teachings of Islam were also changed after the revelation of the Baha’i Faith. However, Baha’is — given the special respect that they cherish for the sacred religion of Islam — have overcome all religious prejudices and consider only the Word of God as the axis of their judgment. The respect of the Baha’i Faith towards Islam is to such a high degree that a special and separate Tablet of Visitation has been revealed by Baha’u’llah for Imam Husayn (see http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/01/bahaullahs-visitation-tablet-for-imam-husayn/). Therefore to accuse the Baha’is of insulting Islamic sanctities is to play with the emotions and religious sentiments of the intelligent nation of Iran. In reality, however, not only do the Baha’is respect and value Islam and Muslims, but they also respect and value all religious as well as non-religious thoughts and beliefs for the sake of freedom of thought and speech.
B: A Sociological Overview
Humans are essentially creatures who show strong reactions in the face of change. The characteristic inherent in human nature to preserve conditions as they are is so strong that whenever noblemen have appeared in the course of history to bring about improvements, they have been faced with people’s severe resistance to change! Examples of these cases can be studied in the book Jama’eh Shenasiyeh Nokhbehkoshi3. The point is that governmental authorities in Iran take advantage of this characteristic in Iranians in order to further their own aims. This means that the people of Iran – given their close ties with the religion of Islam — are possessed of certain special religious values; and since the governmental authorities are aware that these religious values have been intertwined with the belief system of the people of Iran, they try to make it appear that the Baha’is are against such values.
On the basis of sociological principles, if a claim is made that Baha’is insult the sanctities and values of Muslims in Iran, then naturally, because humans are unable to endure the fact that others are willing to insult their values, Muslims would turn against the Baha’is and wish for them the gravest of punishments.
Therefore, making the accusation of “insulting religious sanctities” is again taking advantage of a simple sociological principle; while the Baha’is have proven both through their religious teachings and views as well as in their practical lives that they are respectful of all thoughts and views from any religion. In addition, the Baha’i Faith is in fact the only religion that recognises the divinity of Islam.
C: A Methodological Overview
Accusing the leaders of the Baha’i Community in Iran of insulting Islamic religious sanctities is based on childish, illogical, foundations even from a methodological point of view. First, one needs to consider what constitutes such religious sanctities. Is it not true that the values of a divine religion are unique and sacred for all the followers of that particular religion? Is it not true that the teachings, ordinances and history, etc. of Islam are sacred to each and every Muslim? Therefore, if we can prove that the Baha’i Faith recognises Islam and accepts it as a true and sacred religion, we can also prove that the Baha’is, too, regard Islam in the same way as its own followers. It is thus a given fact that the leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran hold the same views, and that accusing them of insulting Islamic religious sanctity is baseless and devoid of any methodological foundation.
In further arguing this point, we can refer to some quotations from the Baha’i Writings in relation to this matter:
What could have been the evidence produced by the Pharisees and the idolatrous priests to justify their denial of Muhammad, the Apostle of God when He came unto them with a Book that judged between truth and falsehood with a justice which turned into light the darkness of the earth, and enraptured the hearts of such as had known Him?
(Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 81)
As to Muhammad, the Apostle of God, let none among His followers who read these pages, think for a moment that either Islam, or its Prophet, or His Book, or His appointed Successors, or any of His authentic teachings, have been, or are to be in any way, or to however slight a degree, disparaged. The lineage of the Bab, the descendant of the Imam Husayn; the divers and striking evidences, in Nabil’s Narrative, of the attitude of the Herald of our Faith towards the Founder, the Imams, and the Book of Islam; the glowing tributes paid by Baha’u’llah in the Kitab-i-Iqan to Muhammad and His lawful Successors, and particularly to the “peerless and incomparable” Imam Husayn; the arguments adduced, forcibly, fearlessly, and publicly by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in churches and synagogues, to demonstrate the validity of the Message of the Arabian Prophet…
(Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 108)
What greater proof, it may be pertinently asked, can the divines of either Persia or Turkey require wherewith to demonstrate the recognition by the followers of Baha’u’llah of the exalted position occupied by the Prophet Muhammad among the entire company of the Messengers of God? What greater service do these divines expect us to render the Cause of Islam? What greater evidence of our competence can they demand than that we should kindle, in quarters so far beyond their reach, the spark of an ardent and sincere conversion to the truth voiced by the Apostle of God, and obtain from the pen of royalty this public, and indeed historic, confession of His God-given Mission?
(Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 108)
These very clear selections from the Baha’i Writings can be taken as witnesses to the fact that the religious sanctities of the divine Faith of Islam are sacred to and respected by the Baha’is. Therefore again we prove that the accusation against the leaders of the Baha’i Community in Iran of insulting Islamic religious sanctities is absolutely baseless and devoid of foundation.
The question that can be repeated here again has to do with the history of the Baha’i Faith going back to over 160 years. Has the Iranian Government only now — after the lapse of a century and a half from the inception of the Baha’i Faith — arrived at the realisation of such a weighty crime by the Baha’is? Another question is whether the Iranian Government considers its own people devoid of any true understanding and knowledge? Does the Government not realise that the people of Iran are intelligent enough and possessed of sufficient knowledge in their own religion, and thus quite capable of responding to the Baha’is in the unlikely event that the Baha’is would insult Islamic religious sanctities? Are these religious sanctities identified by the Government of Iran and the country’s leadership or by the generality of the people?
Based on the above arguments, the matter of the accusation of insulting Islamic religious sanctities cannot even be raised, because the mere merit of raising the issue indicates that the government is claiming that the people of Iran have been devoid of any comprehension or understanding over the past 160 years. Therefore making such an accusation will – more than anything – turn the accusatory pointer back to the government itself!
The Accusation of “Propaganda Against the Regime”:
A: A Historical Overview
In light of the fact that the history and literature of the Baha’i Faith goes back more than 160 years, while on the other hand the Regime of the Islamic Republic is 30 years old, the hypothesis that the Baha’i Faith is opposed to the present regime is completely null and void.
On the other hand, if we take a look at the beginnings of the movement of the Islamic Regime in Iran; we will see that after the Islamic Revolution, a historic wave of “Baha’i killings” began surging in Iran, resulting in the innocent sacrifice of the lives of a great many members of the largest religious minority group in the country — meaning the Baha’is. Historical facts indicate that the members of the National Spiritual Assembly4 of the Baha’is of Iran were first to be executed, and that their only crime had been their adherence to the Baha’i religion. In other words, if the same individuals had turned away from their religion, and not introduced themselves as followers of the Baha’i Faith, perhaps today many parents would be alive and living amongst their Baha’i children. However, since the dissimulation of one’s religious belief is not permissible in the Baha’i Faith, a Baha’i cannot – for as long as he/she is an adherent of this Faith — deny his/her belief. Therefore an overview of the historical facts demonstrates that — given their moral and metaphysical constitutions — the Baha’is simply cannot under any circumstances have undertaken any propaganda activities against the Islamic Regime in Iran; nor will they ever be able to undertake any such activities in the future. Therefore again any such accusations against the leaders of the Baha’i Community in Iran are absolutely baseless and devoid of any foundation.
B: A Sociological Overview
In essence, when a society wishes to define its social structure in a wide sphere, it needs to identify a difference between those who “belong” and those who are “the others”. In this respect, “those who belong” are associated with the mental, educational and governmental disciplines of that society; while the “others” are evaluated independently of such disciplines.
Therefore, the Government of Iran is yet again taking advantage of another sociological principle and is trying – by overstepping one of the most fundamental legal rights – to introduce the Baha’is as the “others”; place them in the opposing side against the people of Iran; and consequently label them as “others” with the accusation of propaganda against the present regime. In reality, the Government of Iran is engaged in a paradoxical manoeuvring. It knows on the one hand that the Baha’is are citizens of this country and are therefore considered part of the Iranian nation; on the other hand it is trying to separate this part of the nation from the whole and — by placing it aside from the rest — introduce the Baha’is as “the others”! Therefore the baselessness of this accusation in a sphere of sociological definition can easily be proven. The leaders of the Baha’i community simply cannot have attempted any propaganda against the regime of a people, where they themselves are part of the political structuring of the same society. Such an attempt would mean rising against one’s own regime, and surely the leaders of the Baha’i community are more intelligent than to do such a thing. Therefore the accusation of propaganda against the Islamic Regime in a sphere of sociological definitions is automatically denied and its baselessness is quite apparent.
C: A Methodological Overview
Accusing the leaders of the Baha’i Community in Iran of propaganda against the regime introduces a great number of fundamental problems even from a methodological point of view.
The best approach to this matter is to refer to some quotations from the Baha’i Writings:
According to the direct and sacred command of God we are forbidden to utter slander, are commanded to show forth peace and amity, are exhorted to rectitude of conduct, straightforwardness and harmony with all the kindreds and peoples of the world. We must obey and be the well-wishers of the governments of the land…
(Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 440)
Such obedience and submission is made incumbent and obligatory upon all by the clear Text of the Abha Beauty. Therefore the believers, in obedience to the command of the True One, show the utmost sincerity and goodwill towards all nations; and should any soul act contrary to the laws of the government he would consider himself responsible before God, deserving divine wrath and chastisement for his sin and wrongdoing.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 293)
Based on the quotations that are cited above, one can easily deny this absurd accusation of propaganda against the Regime. Because quite simply if a Baha’i ignores the above ordinances from the Baha’i Teachings and disobeys its government, he/she is no longer considered a Baha’i. The leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran are “Baha’is” and have always obeyed their government, and therefore the accusation against them of propaganda against the regime is completely and absolutely baseless and devoid of any foundation.
One could raise the question as to what exactly is “propaganda against the Regime”. Based on the above line of argument, meaning given the fact that Baha’is consider themselves duty-bound to obey the government as part of their belief structure and that their values compel them not only to love their people and nation but also to serve them sincerely, could such an accusation even in the form of a question ever be addressed to the Baha’is?
It seems therefore that the aforementioned accusation by the government has no logical basis, and that in fact the Iranian government is guilty of making an accusation that is fundamentally faulty in the extreme.
Now that we have examined procedurally the accusations hurled at the leaders of the Baha’i community, and — by analysing them based on various principles – proven the baselessness of those accusations, one fundamental question is raised and that is:
What then is the crime of the leaders of the Baha’i Community in Iran?
In order to respond to this question, it should be mentioned that – given the transparency of their activities and the moral and ethical values with which they are associated by virtue of being Baha’is — the leaders of the Baha’i Community in Iran are not guilty of any political misdeeds, and their only crime is that they are Baha’is. This is the very crime that has led to the sacrifice of the lives of a great many Baha’is during the reign of the present regime of the Islamic Republic.
Yes, the leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran are now being kept incarcerated merely because of their beliefs. Meanwhile, the Iranian Government, in contradiction to the Iranian Constitution, which promotes the freedom of belief and religion, is trying to cover up the real reasons for the arrest of the Baha’is, and instead is accusing them of political crimes.
It should now be easy for any reasonable individual to judge justly as to whether the crimes of the leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran are indeed what they are being accused of or if they are guilty merely of their religious beliefs.
1 A national-level committee in charge of coordinating the activities of the Iranian Baha’i community.
2 The Siyah Chal [Black Pit] was an underground dungeon in which Baha’u’llah spent four months with a heavy chain on his neck.
3 A book by Ali Rezagholi, in which he discusses the root causes of despotism in Iranian society and deals with three political figures in Iran such as Qaem-Magham Farahani, Amir Kabir and Dr. Muhammad Musaddegh.
4 A committee of 9 elected by the representatives of the Baha’i community in a given country, in charge of the affairs of that Baha’i community. At the onset of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, members of this national committee were executed. However, since Baha’i administration is now banned in Iran, the Baha’i community no longer elects this National Spiritual Assembly, and its affairs are coordinated by a temporary group of seven, all of whom are now standing accused by the Iranian Government, as this article explains.