Language of Violence and the Violence against Language


Dr. Nader Saiedi

Recently Iran’s attorney general, Dorri Najafabadi, has made different statements about the trial of the seven Baha’is. Although these statements all contradict each other, there is a common point running through them all. In all his assertions, violence against the Baha’is is merged with violence against language. This is not surprising. Humans are defined by their capacity to speak, and thus violence against the Baha’is- which is nothing but the medieval worldview of apostasy, ritual impurity, censorship, discrimination, superstition, and therefore a process of dehumanization- necessarily entails a systematic violence against language. Words are systematically abused and distorted and their meanings are reversed and perverted. This is incidentally the same perversion of language (tahrif) that the Qur’an has frequently condemned. In this short discussion I address seven examples of such distortion, examples that represent the essence of Najafabadi’s words.

1. Najafabadi declares that in Iran adherence to any belief system is legally permissible and no one will be punished for the sake of his belief. This statement is of course an outright lie. The policies of the regime in the last thirty years have been guided by the fundamental principle that a particular form of religious belief serves as the requirement for access to political power, economic resources, and status attainment in Iranian society, while thinking differently is punished by harassment, marginalization, discrimination, exclusion, torture, and coercion. That is why organized suppression of freedom of speech and freedom of the press has been one of the main elements of this same policy. In addition, the attorney general’s statement is a falsification of truth, because religious discrimination and censorship as well as the law of apostasy have participated in creation of a brutal form of reactionary criminology. As Durkheim and others have noted, “repressive law” is an archaic form of law in which the main forms of crime are defined as crimes “against God,” which are then severely punished. Such a medieval system is accompanied by a hierarchical definition of human rights. Thus the inequality of humans follows from the main conceptualization of crime that it is a crime against God. In modern society, on the other hand, the reverse takes place. Namely the entire realm of crimes against God disappears, and the concept of crime is defined as a violation of human rights and human freedom. In this system, humans are defined as equal before the law. In other words, the mark of a modern and enlightened civilization is that it has decriminalized adherence to particular beliefs and thoughts. On the contrary, it has defined the violation of the freedom of conscience as the essence of crime in society.

The reactionaries of Iran, however, have reverted to the archaic and repressive system of law and criminology where the most severe crimes are those that are designated as crimes against God, the worst of them being apostasy. Thus if a Muslim changes his religion he has violated the “rights of God”, and thus he must die. The law of apostasy is the ultimate criminalization of thought and conscience, the ultimate assault on human dignity and freedom, the ultimate attack on history and civilization, and in fact the ultimate rejection of God in the name of defending religion. The attorney general’s assertion – that all beliefs are free and legal in Iran- is an outright and deliberate lie, demonstrating the fact that this show trial of the Baha’is is nothing but a spectacle of deceit and violence against the human rights of all Iranians.

2. Attorney general Najafabadi has also stated that in Iran all beliefs are legally free “provided that they are not expressed and verbalized.” This statement is not only extremely offensive to all who love Iran; it is a direct assault on language as well. He is distorting and reversing the meaning of the words. What he means is that in a society ideas are free provided that the society never hears about those views. Thus in the linguistic code of Najafabadi, freedom of belief means this: We will kill you if we become aware of your belief! Such terminology destroys any difference between freedom of conscience and its absolute opposite. By Najafabadi’s definition no system of tyranny can conceivably be defined as devoid of tolerance and freedom. Language has become a tool of self-distortion.

3. Najafabadi also stated that expression of views with the intention of “disturbing the public mind” is a crime, and that this is actually what the Baha’is are doing. They talk about their beliefs to disturb the public mind. Najafabadi knows very well that he is distorting the truth. He is just trying to evade the real truth: namely his absolute hared and intolerance of the Baha’i faith. What he says is not only in direct contradiction to the declaration on human rights signed by Iran, it is also a direct reversal of truth. What the attorney general considers criminal is the institution of freedom of speech. But the question is whose minds are in reality disturbed by the institutionalization of freedom of conscience, speech and communication in society, the minds of the repressive reactionaries or the minds of the Iranian people? The fact is that all the Baha’is desire is exactly the same thing that all other Iranians want, namely the realization of freedom of speech, equal rights, democracy , and protection of human rights in society. That was the reason for the revolution thirty years ago. People desired emancipation from tyranny and censorship, from discrimination and corruption. They wanted democracy and freedom. Today, all Iranians, more than ever, desire democracy and freedom. What disturbs Iranians is not the existence of freedom of speech but rather its violent suppression by a reactionary ideology. What the people of Iran yearn for is expansion of the realm of communication and free discourse, where all ideas have a chance to be expressed to the public. What really disturbs the mind of Iranians is the fact that they are being treated as children and animals, to be dehumanized and objectified. What disturbs the people is that they are the constant forced recipients of a hate-centered propaganda that is systematically insulting the Sunnis, atheists, Sufis, reformists, Jews, Christians, Baha’is, and Zoroastrians, as well as many other social groups like students, human right activists, intellectuals, women, ethnic minorities, and the like. The despots of the world are always disturbed by enhancement of communication and discourse in society. They survive under censorship, intimidation of the progressive forces and silencing of the voices of reason and progress in society. The people of the world, on the other hand, are disturbed by despotic curtailment of public debate, by violent distortion of communication, and by coercive elimination of an autonomous press, autonomous universities, academic freedom, and the institutions of civil society.

Najafabadi’s statement is the same statement which was made by the Athenian officials who killed Socrates. He was accused by the reactionary forces of corrupting the minds of youth and disturbing the public mind. All defenders of archaic traditions have tried to suppress all forms of innovation and creativity in the realm of culture and politics, using the same reactionary slogans and excuses. It was the same logic of the reactionary church that forced Galileo to recant his truth, a truth that could never be suppressed, and a truth that is now celebrated even by the same church.

Najafabadi’s court is the return of the medieval Spanish inquisition court in the 21st century. Like the Islamic court, the medieval inquisition engaged in various trials in order to suppress the courage to think. Both courts condemn their victims in terms of categories like apostasy, heresy, infidelity, insult against religion, and opposing God. Both courts accuse their victims of imaginary connections and conspiracies. The inquisition court accused innocent people of connections with witches, Satan, and the Devil, whereas the Islamic court accuses the Baha’is of connections with foreign regimes. Both use the same methods of interrogation and argument: torture, intimidation of any other voice, and exclusion of any argument and evidence which can unveil the truth. It is a disgrace that in the 21st century, in the birth-place of religious freedom, the land of Cyrus the Great, courts have degenerated into instruments of inquisition.

Najafabadi’s statement demonstrates the bankruptcy of the ideology that he tries to defend: What he is really saying is that despite 30 years of monopolistic attack against the Baha’is by all media, all educational institutions, and all political and economic resources, and despite thirty years of complete exclusion of Baha’i discourse from the public realm, still the reactionaries are afraid of even a private whisper of Baha’i ideas. This is an amazing sociological fact. The reactionaries know that their ideology belongs to medieval times, and that they contradict reason, science, history, civilization, and human rights. They are also aware of the attractive and modern character of Baha’i ideas which promote a democratic, communicative, and egalitarian culture which celebrates difference and diversity as a source of beauty and strength rather than as a source of evil and pollution. That is the real reason behind this corrupt court.

4. Asserting his other accusation against the seven Baha’is, Najafabadi states that these people are Zionist spies because the “the fact that Baha’is are spies is a well-established and documented fact.” This statement of the attorney general clearly demonstrates that all his accusations are baseless lies and fabrications. The statement is intended to trigger unconscious prejudices among the reactionary followers of the Iranian clergy, prejudices that they themselves have systematically created during the last 80 years by accusing the Baha’is of being foreign agents. The attorney general hopes that these images, which are taken for granted, unexamined, and unconscious, would replace rationality and consciousness, and therefore, without the existence of any legal proof or empirical evidence the seven Baha’is would be perceived as guilty of the imaginary crimes. What the statement of the attorney general really means is that despite many years of constant surveillance of these seven Baha’is, controlling all their activities, communications, and connections, they have found not a single shred of evidence for any espionage activity. Since they have no empirical proof, no rational evidence, they revert to the old stereotyped general accusation: the fact that Baha’is are spies is a well-established fact, it has been documented at all times, there is no doubt about it, we do not need any further specific evidence against the activities of these seven victims. Their existence is itself a crime, and the accusation is the evidence itself. In other words, this is the logic of the attorney general: because we are prejudiced against you, because we are not impartial, therefore whatever we say about you by definition is true – no other evidence is required. The brutality, injustice, and violence of this statement of the “attorney general” are just beyond belief. We have a KKK court, where the evidence is nothing but the well-established and documented fact that all blacks by nature are dangerous and polluting animals. It is a Nazi court where the crime of all Jews against Germany is a well-established and documented fact. Indeed the resemblance between the Nazi accusations against the Jews and the reactionary accusations against the Baha’is are amazingly similar. The main slogan of Hitler against the Jews which was publicized every where in Germany was this statement: “Judaism is not a religion. It is a conspiracy against Germany and the purity of the Aryan race.” The Islamic court is following in the footsteps of the Nazi precedent.

The political creation of this image of the Baha’is as the “cultural other” of Iranian society, portraying it as a stranger within our borders, an enemy inside, began by the fabrication of the so called “Political Memoirs of Kiniaz Dolgoruki” in 1943. It was claimed that this had been written by the Russian ambassador to Iran. This documents describes how Dolgoruki came secretly to Iran, lived as a religious seminarian in Iran and Karbala, became a well-known Muslim clergyman, met Baha’u’llah and the Bab and deceived them into making prophetic claims. This forged document was publicized by all the reactionary clergy who controlled the public mind; thus they succeeded in creating a collective image of the Baha’is as agents of foreign forces (in this case the Russians). However, the fact that this was a low class forgery is beyond any real dispute. All non-Baha’i scholars who have examined its contents have testified that it is a forgery. Mujtaba Meinavi and Abbas Eghbal Ashtiani, for example, have pointed out some of the gross historical inaccuracies of this writing and proved that it is a fabricated document. Kasravi, who has written an anti-Baha’i work, states in his Baha’igari that not only this is a forgery but that he also knows the person who forged it. Aside from numerous contradictions of the text, the life history of Dolgoruki, documented in various books and encyclopedias, shows that all those years when he supposedly was resident in Iran and Karbela deceiving the Bab and Baha’u’llah he was in fact residing in the Netherlands and Istanbul!

Despite the fact that all scholarship has proven the forged character of this document, the reactionaries, including the Hojjatiyyeh group, continue to use this “document” as absolute proof of the espionage and foreign connections of the Baha’is. Of course the nature of the foreign country changes in different anti-Baha’i polemics. Sometimes it is Russia, sometimes Britain, and now of course Israel. In this short paper I will not address the irrationality of various espionage charges against the Baha’is. I have discussed it in detail in another paper published in Iran Emrooz. But it is important to remember that all those documents to which Najafabadi is referring are based on this forged document. This is their evidence and facts. The fact is that for 30 years the reactionaries of Iran have examined all Baha’i documents that they have confiscated from all Baha’i institutions; for thirty years, they have examined all the shredded documents of the American embassy; for thirty years they have examined all the documents of Savak; for thirty years they have put all Baha’i activities under surveillance; and for thirty years, they have penetrated the Baha’i community through Hojjatiyyih spies, and yet despite all these they could not find any empirical evidence for their accusations against the Baha’i community. In a civilized society, in a society of human beings, such a situation would have led to the issuance heartfelt statements of regret and apology by the clergy to the Baha’is, a systematic attempt to restore the civil rights so unjustly denied to them, and a systematic attempt by state and educational institutions to combat the roots of this culture of hatred and intolerance against their Baha’i brothers and sisters. Yet in a society that is politically dominated by the forces of reaction we find the opposite. It seems that there is no trace of humanity among these entrepreneurs of hate and violence. Their reaction to their failure to find any evidence of espionage among the Baha’is is to return to old stereotyped metaphysical accusations, cloudy and medieval deductions, textual distortions, and reliance on images from the cultural unconscious of paranoid conspiracy from the uneducated segments of society. They invade the homes of Baha’is, arrest them rudely and violently, deny them basic legal rights, and charge them with espionage on the basis of metaphysical deductions and linguistic perversions.

5. The attorney general of Iran has repeatedly stated that the seven Baha’is have themselves confessed to their charge of contact with Israel; yet the Baha’i International Center denies the charge. The violence against language reaches painful heights in this deliberate lie. The fact is that what the seven Baha’is have “confessed” is the exactly same thing that is stated by the Baha’i International Center, and they both state the same thing that all the Baha’is in Iran or in any other part of the world explicitly and publicly have always affirmed. All Baha’is all over the world regard the Universal House of Justice as their democratically elected leader and representative. Baha’i leadership is elected by all the Baha’is in the world. Thus in any part of the world, including Iran, Baha’is are in regular contact with the Universal House of Justice for consulting about the affairs of the Baha’i community. This is the “confession” of the seven Baha’is. But this statement has been publicly made by all Baha’is during these last thirty years, a fact that all Baha’is in the world publicly and proudly declare.

Yet the reactionaries have their own linguistic code. By entering that code of distortion, words change their meanings and turn into their opposites. Since the Universal House of Justice is located in Haifa , Israel, therefore, the linguistic code of the reactionaries converts the phrase “contact with their spiritual leader” to “contact with Israel,’ and then “contact with the state of Israel”! This then becomes a “confession” which proves the accusations of these hateful oppressors!

The ironic fact is that it was the same reactionary clergy, and the same logic of intolerance and violence, that led to the presence of the Baha’i International Center in current Israel. It was neither a Jewish conspiracy nor a Baha’i hidden agenda. It was the conspiracy of the mullahs, and the two despotic Muslim rulers of the Qajar and Ottoman kingdoms. By exiling Baha’u’llah to the Ottoman empire in 1853, and then banishing him to the prison-city of Akka in 1868, intolerant Muslims decided that it would be in Palestine that Baha’u’llah would pass away, and thus Palestine would become the spiritual center of the Baha’i Faith. This happened during the Ottoman Empire. It was 80 years after the exile of Baha’u’llah to Palestine that this part of Palestine became the state of Israel. Thus the linguistic code of the reactionaries turns the presence of the Baha’i shrine in Palestine to an argument for the Zionist character of the Baha’is. It is like defining all Iranian Shi’ihs as spies of the government of Saudi Arabia or Saddam Husayn’s Iraq because of the presence of the Kabih [the center for prayer of all Muslims] or the shrine of Imam Husayn in the territories of those governments. Thus, in the ossified mind of these reactionaries, the Baha’i statement that they are in contact with their spiritual leadership is turned into a statement that they are in contact with the state of Israel. An analogous situation would have been the time when Khomeini was in Iraq and all these reactionaries were contacting him. According to the logic of Najafabadi all the leaders of Iran, including Najafabadi himself, should have been charged with espionage for Saddam Husayn. Needless to say, they all have confessed to their crime.

6. While paving the way for further violence against the Baha’is, Najafabadi has repeatedly claimed that the Islamic republic is committed to the principle of religious freedom. How can the reactionaries systematically violate all the civil rights of the Baha’is while pretending that they respect and enforce religious freedom? The answer is surprisingly simple. They arbitrarily devise a new language, one in which the Baha’i Faith is not called a “religion.” Similarly all religious groups that they wish to persecute are designated by them as non-religions. Therefore by definition they are never violating religious freedom! But this violence against language is more comic than tragic. The ironic fact is that the charter of human rights and the international ratification of the principle of religious freedom were partly a product of the Nazi atrocities in which Judaism was defined not as a religion but as a political conspiracy against Germany and the Aryan race. The international commitment to the principle of religious freedom came into existence so that such an atrocity could never be repeated by any state. The Iranian reactionary regime, however, intends to do exactly the same thing that was committed by the Nazis. It wants to repeat massive religious persecution by engaging in another round of linguistic distortion, perversion of words, and arbitrary definitions of categories.

There is, however, a problem. The Nazis engaged in religious persecution prior to the emergence of the United Nations and the international commitment to religious freedom. The Islamic Republic, however, intends to do the same after this ratification and despite the fact that it has itself signed the international agreement. The result is not only the use of the same Gestapo tactics, but a comic version of that past tragedy.

What is happening here is that the reactionaries replace the legal and civilized definition of religious freedom with their own medieval and uncivilized definition of the same words. Therefore, they commit whatever violation of human rights that their hateful culture requires, and transgress all civilized and legal principles of religious freedom, while pretending that they remain faithful to the concept of religious freedom. Such a declaration of war against language and all international agreements is a major characteristic of all despotic regimes. For example, in the legal and civilized definition of religious freedom all individuals have a right to change their religion, convert to any other religion, or cease to believe in religion at all, without the slightest fear of intimidation or discrimination. In the medieval and reactionary definition of religious freedom, however, a change of religion from Islam to anything else – namely apostasy – is the ultimate crime against God, which is punishable by death. In the legal and civilized definition of religious freedom all religious groups have the right to defend and promote their religion. In the medieval and reactionary definition of religious freedom, however, Muslims are supposed to turn mass media and educational institutions into instruments of promoting Islam and insulting other religious beliefs. Yet if a non-Muslim tries to promote his religion he should be killed. In the legal and civilized definition of religious freedom the main indicator of freedom of religion is the adoption and enforcement of policies by the state which protect religious minorities against the prejudices of the majority religious leaders, and which try to use the educational system to encourage norms of religious tolerance and understanding. In the medieval and reactionary definitions of religious freedom, however, religious freedom means active support of one particular religious belief, deliberate suppression of minority religious groups, and organized abuse of media and educational institutions for the purpose of fostering religious intolerance, prejudice, and hatred against other religious groups. In the legal and civilized definition of religious freedom, the question concerning what belief system should be counted as religion (and thus legally protected) would never be decided by the advocates of one particular religion who are prejudiced against other religions. Thus no group of religious leaders could be perceived to be capable of an impartial decision concerning the identity of alternative religious groups. In the medieval and reactionary definitions of religious freedom, however, it is precisely the most reactionary, the most ignorant, the most hateful, and the most biased leaders of a particular religion who are given the authority to sit in judgment about the identity of various religious groups and decide if they should be defined as a religion or as a conspiracy. Finally, in the legal and civilized definition of religious freedom all religions have equal rights before the law in society. In the medieval and reactionary definition of religious freedom, however, law becomes an active instrument of religious suppression, which recognizes only four religions in its constitution and excludes all other religions from the realm of legal protection and identity. Thus Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism are recognized by law (although not as equal, and not as entitled to the same rights), while all other religions are by definition non-religions and are thus deprived of all civil rights.

Needless to say, such arbitrary “recognition” of a few religions, and exclusion of all other religious groups from such privilege is by itself the greatest distinguishing mark of a medieval cult of religious intolerance and bigotry, and is clear evidence that in such a situation religious coercion and discrimination is institutionalized at all levels of society. The ultimate problem is this: the principle of human rights and religious freedom requires the adoption of an impartial, universalistic and formal approach to specific religions. Yet the medieval system of inquisition is imprisoned within a particularistic worldview. It cannot think in universal and formal terms, and thus cannot recognize the existence and the right of the others. That is why signing the international principle of religious freedom by a medieval system of religious oppression necessarily leads to linguistic violence, distortion, and perversion. There is no other way out of this foundational dilemma. In a society in which Muslim clergy, the sworn enemies of the Baha’i faith, are endowed with the authority to judge whether the Baha’i Faith is a religion or not, religious freedom is already nothing but a stinking corpse.

7. But in the most recent statement of the attorney general, linguistic perversion and violence against words have reached an unprecedented level – indeed no word is capable of describing its extreme brutality and shamelessness. In this statement, Najafabadi states that the Iranian government has always encouraged a “loving” treatment of the Baha’is. He mentions that Baha’i citizens are entitled to all opportunities in Iranian society. Furthermore he adds that Baha’is enjoy even a higher degree of access to opportunities than the rest of Iranian citizens! Any sane man needs no other proof to become entirely convinced of the fabricated, deceitful and dishonest character of the accusations of the attorney general against innocent Baha’is. We witness here the birth of a new language of deception and hypocrisy. From now on, “love” has a new definition and meaning. Loving a person now means insulting his sacred beliefs by allavailable means, “teachers” brutally humiliating his children in front of other students, calling him najes (impure), thus boycotting any friendship, communication and interaction with him, chastising him as an apostate, an infidel, and a member of a misguided and misguiding sect, invading his house, burning the corpse of his parents and relatives, firing him first from all governmental jobs and then from various private jobs, cutting his retirement salary, even killing his livestock and burning his harvest. Likewise, the phrase “enjoyment of opportunities not only equal to others but even to a preferential extent” now has a new meaning. The Baha’is are indeed treated differently. They enjoy rights that no other group enjoys: they are systematically fired from any governmental jobs, their properties are arbitrarily confiscated, their right to employment and self employment is systematically violated, and they are denied the right to higher education. The Baha’is are being treated in Iran in the same way that blacks were treated preferentially by the KKK, the Jews were treated by the Gestapo to gas chambers, the martyrs of Karbala were treated by Yazid, and “witches” were treated by the Inquisition.

Let us hope for the birth of a new culture, one in which language is a means of thinking, communication, understanding and love, and not an instrument of distortion, escape from freedom, alienation, and hate.


9 Responses

  1. Anonyme

    March 6, 2009 11:51 pm

    Thank you, Dr Saeidi. This is another masterpiece of impassioned, yet well-reasoned and logical, speaking of truth to power. May God continue to bless you and yours.

  2. Nasser

    March 7, 2009 3:35 pm

    Dr. Saiedi, you are a geneous! I love this article. It cuts Mollahs’ arguments into shreds like HOT knife through butter!!!! I have highlighted your points and have saved them so as to educate the people I come in contact with. I will also share them with members of my community and ask them to do the same and to pass it forward… Thank You!

  3. Mike

    March 7, 2009 7:33 pm

    Absolutely brilliant – needs to be shared – beautiful exposition of sensible and cogent answers to the subject of intolerance and persecution of an innocent and loving people – the Baha’is.

  4. FE

    March 7, 2009 10:15 pm

    Dear Sir,
    Your profound knowledge written in this article about the power of language and its abuse in public information should be made accecible to all those who study communications at universities.

  5. Mario Larose

    March 8, 2009 5:02 pm

    We are thankful to you Dr Nader Saiedi.

    Verily what you are writing is marking an important step in the way Iranian citizen will discover the true signification to be a Baha’i. We pray God to help you in your endeavor to bring those who perpetrate such injustice to the these innocent Baha’is to discover the Truth. We are always with you.

  6. Edward K

    March 8, 2009 8:03 pm

    There is a great irony. Although Baha’is tend to be political quietists, the private expressions of Baha’is of Iranian extraction did a great deal to encourage the American liberals to protest the Bush Administration’s proposal to deal with Iranian nuclear research through areal bombardment of suspected facilities. Just as the lynching of Blacks in the Southern States was a rebellion against the power of the United States Congress to pass the 13th, 14th & 15th Amendments, the prosecution of the Bahai’s is transparently a challenge of the United Nations Declaration of human rights. It is extremely embarrassing to American liberals, since this sort of behavior on the part of the Iranian leadership makes it impossible to argue with confidence, against the conservative opinion that a guided missile strike on Iran’s nuclear research facilities might save more lives than it would destroy. In the eyes of the world, it is really Iran that is on trial.


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