by Dr. Nader Saiedi
Recently Gooya News published an article by Naser Mostashar. The article quotes three lines of the letter written by the International Baha’i Community that was addressed to the Iranian attorney general, Dorri Najafabadi, and the rest of the paper is devoted to criticizing those three lines. At the same time that Dorri Najafabadi and his colleagues are paving the way for a systematic attempt at eliminating the Baha’is of Iran, Naser Mostashar, instead of supporting the message of the letter – which calls for justice in the treatment of the Baha’is of Iran by the regime — uses his pen to attack that letter. Worse, the contents of his paper affirm the same errors that have been the main excuses of the Islamic regime to suppress the Baha’is of Iran.
Reading Naser Mostashar’s paper was a sad experience for me. Yet I was not upset with the author — whom I respect very much — because I know that his writings are usually supportive of democracy and human rights. Furthermore, even this paper demonstrates that he is opposed to the persecution of Baha’is. Perhaps he has not studied the Baha’i Faith, and it was because of his inadequate information that he has written such a paper. However, I do not even criticize him for that fact, since he is a victim of the same unhealthy atmosphere that has afflicted all Iranian intellectuals for the last one hundred years.
The problem is that within Iranian culture, the prevalent perception of Baha’is by the dominant culture has always constituted a dark and unconscious corner of Iranian social and religious thought, leading to the fact that the refusal to think independently about the Baha’i Faith has been a feature common to most Iranian intellectuals. In other words, regarding this particular issue, the collective cultural unconscious has been so dominant and powerful that it has deprived many of our thinkers from the courage to think for themselves, leading to a situation that inserts the unconscious in place of consciousness, and collective prejudices and lies in place of scientific and rational investigation. Consequently, due to the power of this collective unconscious, even those authors who bear no particular hostility or ill will towards the oppressed Baha’i minority, and who know very little about them, assume that they know everything about them and feel no need to reexamine the truth of prevalent rumors about the Baha’is.
Of course it must be added that the mark of a truly progressive researcher is that he engages in systematic doubt about various cultural rumors, particularly those that pertain to the oppressed, misunderstood, and marginalized minority groups who are always the target of so much prejudice and censorship. Unfortunately many Iranian intellectuals do not methodically feel the need to doubt the stereotyped rumors about Baha’is, even failing to imagine any need for such a critical approach to this issue, since all they have heard are those same rumors in a culture that systematically prevents the Baha’is from expressing their side of the story.
In this article I take Naser Mostashar’s article as an excuse to focus on the pathology of Iranian intellectual thought, and thus investigate one of the main reasons for the failure of the Iranian revolution. Therefore this article will argue three points: First it argues that during the Pahlavi regime, Baha’is did not enjoy equal citizenship rights in Iranian society. Secondly, it argues that the rumor prevalent among Iranians which states that during the time of the Shah Baha’is possessed and controlled top political positions, for example cabinet posts, is entirely and categorically false, a rumor that unfortunately has been easily and naively accepted by most Iranian intellectuals. Third, it argues that this latter mistake offers the key for understanding a main cause of the failure of the Iranian revolution. In other words, from its very inception, instead of leading to democracy, freedom, and human rights, the Iranian revolution was bound to lead to tyranny, reaction, and organized assault on human rights.
One of the main causes of this tragic phenomenon was the presence of an organized and systematic anti-Baha’i agenda in the revolutionary frame and process.
A. During the Shah’s regime, Baha’is did not enjoy equal citizenship rights in Iran
It must be pointed out that those writers who are still speaking of the presence of equal citizenship rights for the Baha’is during the time of the Shah are falling behind the recent cultural resurrection and renaissance that is now occurring among Iranian intellectuals, because their assertion is the opposite of the point that has been raised by a large number of these intellectuals who wrote and signed a historic apology letter to the Baha’i community. In that letter, many Iranian intellectuals question their own cultural unconscious, affirm the reality of the persecution of Baha’is throughout Iranian history, and condemn the silence or support of Iranian writers in regard to this systemic oppression. That letter announced the birth of a true human rights culture among Iranian intellectuals, because they dared to reject the violence of the social unconscious against the “cultural Other” of Iranian society.
However, one of the main points emphasized by Naser Mostashar is that the Baha’is “like all other Iranians, enjoyed all citizenship rights during the period before the revolution.” It is most surprising that this statement is made by an author who frequently writes informative articles about democracy, human rights and secularism. Indeed it is difficult to understand such a statement by such an author except in the light of the dominance of the logic of the cultural unconscious. How is it possible to speak of equal citizenship rights for Baha’is in a society that under both the current and the Pahlavi regimes recognized in its constitution only four religions, and denied recognition, legitimacy and legal protection to all other religious groups, particularly the Baha’is? How is it possible to talk of equal citizenship rights for Baha’is in a society in which, as Naser Mostashar affirms, the Shah defined himself as the protector of Shi’ih Islam, while all Shi’ih leaders expressed consensus on this point — that Baha’is must be deprived of basic civil rights? How is it possible to assert equal citizenship rights for Baha’is in a society where the mullahs — the sworn enemies of the Baha’i Faith — possessed, parallel to the state, so much effective power and support in the realm of culture and politics? Was the fact that the Iranian mass media had the right (and permission and encouragement) to constantly attack Baha’i beliefs and publish hundreds of anti-Baha’i books, but Baha’is were denied any access to the mass media and public discourse to be able to respond to those accusations a case of equal citizenship rights? Was the fact that by the order of Prime Minister [Abbas] Hoveida, a religious identification line was added to job application forms — leading to denial of many jobs to thousands of Baha’is — a case of equal citizenship rights? Was the secret police (SAVAK)’s active creation and support of the anti-Baha’i Hojjatiyyih association — with the intention of organizing attacks against Baha’is, harassing them, and offending their sacred beliefs — a case of equal citizenship rights?
If one were to say the same thing that Naser Mostashar has said of the Baha’is about racial and ethnic minorities in any part of the world, then everyone, including Naser Mostashar himself, who is a human rights activist and usually a defender of oppressed minorities, would laugh at such a statement. For example, if one were to state that in the last seventy years the American government has not executed any black Americana for being black, and that this proves that blacks in all these past decades have enjoyed equal citizenship rights in America, all sociologists, progressive thinkers, and intellectuals would laugh at him. On the contrary, members of the KKK [Ku Klux Klan] would not only celebrate this statement, they even would go further and argue that the life and destiny of the pure white race have been controlled and dominated by the impure blacks for the past many decades, lamenting this as the greatest sin against God and Christianity.
I know very well the reason for this inconsistent and distorted approach to the Baha’i issue by many intellectuals in the past: the dominance of the collective cultural unconscious in their mind has led them to degrade Baha’is to the level of objects and animals. This dehumanization is the common feature of all racist views. Consequently, when an Iranian writer, imprisoned within the collective unconscious, speaks about Baha’is and their rights, he no longer sees them as humans who are entitled to all civil rights. Therefore the mere fact that under Pahlavi regime the Baha’is were not hanged for their beliefs proves that they enjoyed equal rights. The very fact that these animals were allowed to survive was a gracious privilege that was generously given to them which sufficed as their citizenship rights. They are not fully humans that the right of religious freedom could be a relevant issue for them or their citizenship rights.
Of course with regard to any other group, the presence of systematic and institutionalized social prejudice and cultural intolerance against a minority group is by itself — with or without accompanying legal discrimination — a firm and categorical proof of the presence of discrimination, marginalization and racism in society against the oppressed minority. Yet for Baha’is the mere fact that they are allowed to live suffices them.
Many of our progressive authors have no particular enmity against the Baha’is and even are disturbed by the persecution of this group; yet inadvertently, they assume that they know the truth about this minority and repeat various errors and cultural fabrications about them. The real problem is of course this deep rooted hostility against diversity and difference in our collective unconscious that must be changed, and fortunately it is changing.
This wrong analysis of the citizenship rights of Baha’is during the Pahlavi regime is based upon at least three mistakes, mistakes that any sociologist will easily recognize. First it ignores the most fundamental and basic layer of discrimination, which is the legal/structural discrimination that is even institutionalized in the constitution of Iranian state — namely, exclusion of the Baha’i Faith from legal recognition and protection. It is like adding to the American Constitution a clause indicating that in the United states only the white color of skin is recognized and legitimate and that all other groups, particularly blacks, are considered illegitimate, illegal, and strangers.
How then would it be possible to speak of the equal civil rights of African Americans in such a country? From the time of Constitutional Revolution till now, we Iranians have been so accustomed to this medieval and reactionary definition of religious freedom — namely, recognition and legal sanction of only four religions (and even that with unequal rights), that we have become incapable of recognizing the fundamental contradiction of this intolerant structure with any elementary definition of “citizenship” and civil rights. The mere fact that in an entirely discriminatory way, and only on the basis of the particularistic beliefs of one dominant religious group, law and even its constitution recognize a few religions and exclude all other religions from such a privilege is by itself the most decisive mark of the dominance of a medieval culture of reaction, injustice, and ignorance in society. When we witness that the sworn enemies of the Baha’i Faith — namely, the mullahs — are the ones who are entitled to judge whether the Baha’i Faith is a legitimate religion or not, nothing is left of religious freedom except an odorous corpse.
Secondly, as Naser Mostashar has correctly indicated in his paper, the Shah perceived and defined himself as the protector of Shi’ih Islam. Yet, the author ignores the logical and historical consequence of this principle. This is the fact that the Shah frequently gave anti-Baha’i groups a free hand in persecuting the Baha’is — for instance by adding the religious identity requirement for job applications, creating and supporting the Hojjatiyyih group, or demolishing the Baha’i Center in Tehran. There is no doubt that those persecutions were much less severe than the persecutions by the Islamic regime, but this does not mean that there was no discrimination against the Baha’is during the Shah’s time.
Naser Mostashar’s criticism of the Baha’i letter addressed to the Iranian Attorney General on the basis that it calls SAVAK “notorious” is just unfair. Likewise his objection that “no serious objection against the Islamic regime can be found in the letter” is perhaps tragic. Obviously he has not paid attention to the fact that the entire letter is a systematic and meticulous description of the illegal violations of the rights of Baha’is under the Islamic regime. Yet the language of the letter is polite out of prudence, because it is addressed to a court which intends to execute the seven Baha’is charged with “insulting the regime”. The expectation that this letter would use any other language is unfair and inconsiderate, and ignores the purpose of writing the letter — a purpose which is harmonious with Naser Mostashar’s own purpose as well.
The third layer of mistake neglects the complexity and various layers of power and oppression in society. The fact is that the legal and formal layer is just one of the layers of power in society, while the realm of religious leadership, as well as the realm of cultural norms, popular prejudices, and prevalent social stereotypes constitute two other substantive layers of power which are usually even more significant than the legal layer.
In Iran, which is a very religious society, mullahs have always possessed limitless power, because they have been immensely influential among the people. Consequently, their hostility to religious minorities, especially the Baha’is, has consistently led to a great deal of discrimination and pressure against Baha’is in their everyday lives. The presence of cultural prejudice, hatred, and intolerance against Baha’is in all aspects of Iranian society during the reign of the Shah is an undeniable fact, a fact that is adequately emphasized by Naser Mostashar’s paper itself. In such a situation to speak of equal citizenship rights of Baha’is is evidently inaccurate. The equivalent statement would be to acknowledge the systematic presence of racist attitudes and sentiments in American society against blacks and yet to deny that in the last decades there had been any discrimination against that minority in America. The fact is that despite the realization of formal and legal equality of blacks and whites in the last few decades, the persistence of systematic racial prejudice in the minds and hearts of the people has led to discriminatory patterns of behavior by employers, teachers, police officers, jury members, judges, landlords and the like against blacks. These are all well known and undisputed facts among intellectuals. Yet when the same situation applies in the case of the Baha’is suddenly logic, rationality, sociology and humanity disappear from analysis and discourse. For example, many times Iranian courts have let murderers go free because the victim was a Baha’i.
Although I would prefer not to open up my private experiences, yet in order to better inform the non-Baha’i reader of the living reality of these persecutions, I share with the reader only two out of countless relevant experiences of my own life. Both in elementary and high school I was regularly insulted, offended and occasionally beaten up by my fellow students, who used extremely offensive words to insult my sacred beliefs. Many days when I entered the classroom there were insulting words written on the blackboard and some students would shout anti-Baha’i slogans. A few times when I was walking in the street, insulting words were followed by stones thrown at me. However, what was much worse was the fact that some of my teachers – not only in classes like religious instruction but also in courses like physics and history — would abuse their authority and power and waste their time in attacking the Baha’i Faith with a barrage of sadistic stereotyped lies and fabrications.
If you wish to understand this, imagine that in all elementary and high schools of America teachers singled out the black students and gave a long lecture on the inferiority of blacks and their natural impurity. Imagine that in such a situation some persons were to claim that blacks enjoy equal civil rights in America. When I was 17 years old, because I would respond to insults and accusations against the Baha’is — and out of youth and immaturity sometimes in excited and aggressive ways — one of the leaders of the Hojjatiyyih anti-Baha’i association ordered some of his gang members to beat me up on my return home from school. I was accompanied by another Baha’i friend of mine and we were attacked at the corner of the street on which we were living. They punched and kicked and beat me up severely, breaking my glasses. My friend immediately ran to the Pepsi Cola company which was just one block away from the corner of the street to bring help. The attackers realized this and after a little pause they decided to escape. Accompanied by my horrified parents, that evening we went to a local police station. The moment the officer in charge saw my bruised and swollen face he approached us with utmost affection and sympathy and assured us that he would pursue and punish those who had committed that violence. I remember the soothing and assuring voice of that officer. His words and warm mannerisms gave me comfort and peace.
However, immediately after describing the event and recognizing that we were Baha’is and that the violence was committed by the Hojjatiyyih group, his face and voice radically shifted. The affection and warmth of his face were replaced by indifference and coldness, and he quickly terminated the conversation by stating that this is a religious matter and he could not become involved in it. I will never forget that change of voice and facial expression. This event happened at the height of the power of the Shah, seven years before the revolution. After that, the same people wanted to make sure that I would not attend the final examination which was the requirement for receiving a high school diploma, without which I could not enter the university entrance examination.
The day we had the test for algebra and trigonometry they attacked again. My brave and agonized mother had to run with me to the place of the exam with bare feet. I was taking the exam while I knew that many gang members were waiting for me to get out of the exam to beat me up or kill me. I will not describe the story of that and subsequent days.
I did pass my diploma with the highest grade and passed the university national entrance examination. I attended university and eventually became a college professor. Yet this happened not because of any particular “preferential treatment’ by society but rather despite all that systematic and sadistic harassment and cruelty against me as a Baha’i. I studied hard because it was my belief and the belief of my beloved parents that it is the spiritual and moral duty of Baha’is to acquire knowledge and to be of service to Iran and the human race. I learnt to turn the experience of persecution into a self-constructive orientation of hope, pursuit of excellence and commitment to the universal dignity of human rights. These were the tokens of my enjoyment of equal citizenship rights during the reign of the Shah.
B. False rumor: Baha’is possessing top political positions
The article by Naser Mostashar suffers a fundamental contradiction. On the one hand it is clear that the author is opposed to the persecution of Baha’is under the current regime. Yet on the other hand the paper repeats the same errors and accusations that have been propagated by the regime over the last thirty years as its main excuse for legitimizing its violence against the Baha’is — namely, the accusation that during the Shah’s regime top political positions were held by the Baha’is. This lie, which was created by the mullahs in order to delegitimize the Shah, enhance their own political power, increase their control over the Shah, and finally take the reins of political power into their own hands, was easily accepted by Iranian writers as well. The reason for this unenlightened approach was the fact that with regard to Baha’is many intellectuals were ready to accept any prevalent rumor as true. The underlying logic of all these accusations was a culture of racism and dehumanization against Baha’is. Analysis of this sociological phenomenon is not that easy since we have to challenge many layers of the cultural unconscious, which is not possible in just a short paper.
Let me affirm first that the Baha’is do not engage in dissimulation (taqiyyih) of their beliefs, and as every one knows they suffer all kinds of savage persecution because they do not deny their faith. This is one of their central beliefs. Therefore if one is a Baha’i he or she will declare his or her Faith. On the contrary, the mere fact that one denies being a Baha’i is sufficient evidence that he is not a member of the Baha’i community. Of the many names that are mentioned or implied in Naser Mostashar’s paper, only two are Baha’is: the Shah’s personal physician, Dr. Ayadi, and a successful and progressive entrepreneur, Mr. Sabet. The religious affiliation of the Shah’s physician could only become an issue in a racist and prejudiced culture of backwardness. The fact that a leading entrepreneur was a Baha’i is by itself neither a negative nor a strange point. Another entrepreneur mentioned in Mostashar’s paper by the name Yazdani had been a member of the Baha’i Faith, but due to deviation from Baha’i laws was later rejected from the Baha’i community; he does not now consider himself to be a Baha’i. In any case, neither of these people were either a cabinet member or a holder of a top political position.
None of the cabinet members whom Naser Mostashar explicitly or implicitly assumes to be members of the Baha’i community were actually Baha’is. The main reason for this fact is that for the foreseeable future, the acceptance of a political position, especially a cabinet position, by a Baha’i is absolutely prohibited in the Baha’i Faith. This principle has been emphasized in all the Baha’i writings hundreds of times, and it is a fact that has been attested by all Baha’is all over the world. Therefore, for one who has the slightest degree of fairness, knowing that a person is a cabinet member is by itself sufficient proof that he or she cannot be a Baha’i. Why is this simple issue so difficult for Iranians to understand? The reason is the pervasive penetration of a racist and unconscious approach to the Baha’is in the prevalent Islamic culture.
Racist and prejudicial attitudes have many basic features: The first characteristic of all racist ideas is engagement in a systematic fabrication of lies, of which the accusations against African Americans in 19th century America and against Jews in medieval Europe are well known cases. In regard to Baha’is there is no limit to the extent of these shameless fabrications and lies. During the past hundred years of Iranian history, the mass media have been exclusively controlled by reactionary enemies of Baha’is who have continued to fabricate all conceivable lies against the Baha’i community. Yet if Baha’is — who are denied the right of access to public discourse — dared to privately question any of these lies they would be arrested and tried on charges of “disturbing the public opinion”, “threatening national security”, and “insulting Islam”.
What is most disturbing about Naser Mostashar’s paper is the accusation that he repeats a number of times in his short paper. He claims that SAVAK was created and controlled by the Baha’is because General Nematollah Nassiri the head of SAVAK was a Baha’i. Honestly, I do not know what to write and how to respond to this pure lie and fabrication. Obviously Naser Mostashar knows nothing about what he is writing. Not only was Nassiri not a Baha’i himself; none of his family members were Baha’i either. Naser Mostashar’s accusation is as true as the statement that Imam Khomeini was a Baha’i (even though a number of Muslims who hate the regime, like Dr. David Yazdan, have made this accusation), or that Naser Mostashar himself is a Baha’i (assuming that there is no Baha’i member in his entire extended family). The proof for these two statements is exactly the same proof that is offered for the claim that Nassiri was a Baha’i. It is surprising that even the most hideous official Iranian publications that are nothing but instruments of fabrication and distortion in regard to the Baha’i Faith usually do not include the name of Nassiri on their alleged list of Baha’is. Only occasionally do a few of the Hojjatiyyih members — caught in their enjoyment of fabrication ecstasy against the Baha’is and seeking the blessings of their idols — have mentioned Nassiri’s name on such a list. Naser Mostashar has not even doubted this most outrageous and absolutely groundless lie, and has blindly accepted it simply because a few insane murderers have asserted it. In all other matters, an Iranian intellectual requires proof and evidence in his research projects, but in regard to accusations against Baha’is many authors feel no need for any critical analysis, research or documentation. Woe to this culture of unconsciousness and prejudice that turns our intellectuals into mere instruments of oppression, distortion and fabrication.
The second characteristic of the racist approach is that since it perceives the oppressed minority as impure, it defines any one who has even a trace of minority blood in his veins as a member of that group. For example, in America if a person has from seven sides [i.e., back three generations] a white background but has only from one side a black lineage, he would be defined as black and impure. Added to this classification system is the fact that the racist viewpoint defines every single act of the oppressed minority person as being representative and an effect of their impure racial character.
Of course when we speak about religious affiliation, this racism is doubly accentuated. In general the mere idea that religious affiliation — which is in principle a matter of consciousness and ideas — can be culturally reduced to an ethnic, biological, and blood orientation is the greatest evidence of the institutionalized persistence of dehumanization and objectification of humans in that culture. According to the Baha’i Faith, religion is not a biological or natural matter; rather it is a matter of culture, faith, conscious choice, and voluntary belief. This means that one is a Baha’i if and only if this person consciously chooses to become a Baha’i and voluntarily decides to join the Baha’i community. Therefore the presence or absence of Baha’i relatives in one’s family is entirely irrelevant to the identity of a person as a Baha’i or non-Baha’i.
All cabinet members of the Shah’s regime as well as political individuals like Parviz Sabeti, who are claimed by the enemies of the Baha’i Faith as Baha’is, are actually Muslims. Yet some of them have had one or more Baha’i relatives. Following their racist viewpoint, the enemies of the Baha’i Faith define any person who is biologically related to a Baha’i as Baha’i. No matter how frequently that person declares his faith in Islam, observes Islamic laws and rituals, goes to Mecca for pilgrimage, and marries with an Islamic marriage, he still is branded as Baha’i by this racist ideology. The fundamental reason for this form of classification and identification is the racist belief in “nejasat” or ritual impurity of infidels, particularly Baha’is — the reduction of religious affiliation to a biological and blood characteristic coupled with the reduction of all relatives to this same logic of impurity, defining them all as impure Baha’is.
All unenlightened Iranians consider one of the prime ministers of the Shah, Abbas Hoveida, to have been a Baha’i. The truth is that he was never a Baha’i, but his grandfather was a Baha’i. Research of the authors who make this claim is confined to a number of rumors in Keyhan and other formal instruments of distortion and violence against the Baha’is. These authors even do not trouble themselves to read the only scientific work on the life of Hoveida that has been written, by Professor Abbas Milani, in which the Muslim identity of Hoveida is proven beyond any doubt.
But let us dissect the racist nature of these accusations a little bit. To claim that Hoveida and a few of Shah’s cabinet members were Baha’is is exactly like saying that the vast majority of Iranian communists are Muslim (since they are born in Muslim families with a Muslim father, mother, brother, sister, wife or husband…) and thus under the Islamic Republic of Iran all Iranian Muslims should be deprived of all civil rights because those who do not believe in God are actually Muslim and thus atheism and violence against God is the nature of Islam and Muslims! By this same logic no Muslim Iranian should be allowed to receive higher education in Iran! Of course any sane human would laugh at this argument, and would respond that one who does not believe in God is not a Muslim and thus he is not the representative of Islam, and therefore Muslims should not be considered to be responsible for his beliefs and actions. Every sane human thus realizes that the fact that a communist is born in a Muslim family does not make him a Muslim. Yet in Iranian discourse, surprisingly, when we are talking about the Baha’is all capacity for thought, logic, rationality, judgment and fairness vanishes in the air. The mere fact that a person has a Baha’i relative is the decisive and categorical proof that he himself is a Baha’i, even if this person rejects the Baha’i Faith, opposes it, and acts in contradiction and defiance of all Baha’i beliefs, including the prohibition of assuming high political office. This racist logic considers such a person to be a Baha’i, reduces all his actions to expressions and effects of his alleged Baha’i identity, defines him as a representative of the Baha’i community, charges all Baha’is with responsibility for the acts of that person, and collectively punishes all Baha’is for this racist fantasy of violence and distortion. This is racism pure and simple.
No Muslim makes the argument that aside from hundreds of Muslim cabinet ministers, SAVAK officials and high political officers, the ultimate, despotic, and singular center of power in Iran, namely the Shah himself, was a Muslim, and therefore all crimes of the past regime were committed by Muslims and that therefore all Muslim Iranians should be deprived of all civil rights under the Islamic Republic. No Muslim Iranian argues that since the murderer of Imam Husayn, Yazid, was a devout Muslim, therefore all Muslims should be found guilty of killing Husayn and collectively punished for their crimes. No Iranian Muslim says that since the vast majority of Iranians who drink alcohol are Muslim, therefore all Muslims– including non-drinkers — are drunks and must be punished by lashes of the whip. No Iranian Muslim says that all apostates — those who have rejected Islam and converted to atheism or another religion — are in fact Muslim since despite what they say they were born into a Muslim family, and that therefore all Muslims are apostates who should be killed according to Islamic law in present Iran. All these statements are not only inaccurate and illogical, they are also comical and stupid. Yet our Iranian culture has consistently and systematically used the same logic, the same argument, the same rule of inference and deduction with regard to Baha’is, and it has never doubted or felt ashamed of such a dehumanizing pattern of racist classification and identification. Woe to this culture of superstition, violence, prejudice and racism that has degraded many of our intellectuals to this level of medieval hostility to reason and humanity.
It is not just the Baha’i community that has been victimized by this culture of reaction and dehumanization, it is also the entire Iranian nation that has been rendered incapable of thinking and feeling by this malodorous prejudicial culture of superstition and discrimination. Needless to say, some of the people who occupy high political positions in the current Islamic Republic have also Baha’i relatives. If this disease of violence against the Baha’is is not cured, in future once again it will be the Baha’is who will be defined as responsible for the crimes of the Islamic Regime. Undoubtedly hired and sadistic pens like Shahbazi will then produce on the basis of “research” a list of such Baha’is (he already has started doing that).
One of the most bewildering expressions of this racist culture is the fact that when reactionaries note that the Shah and hundreds of his cabinet members and SAVAK leaders were Muslim, they do not scream by pointing out the crimes that were committed by “Muslims”. Instead they argue that this has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims since they were not “true” Muslims, and hence they celebrate Islam even more. Yet when they are dealing with the Baha’is, it does not even cross their minds that maybe these alleged Baha’is – who indeed were not Baha’i at all, and who were appointed or forced to their positions by the dictator Shah without the desire or consent of the Baha’i community — were not “true” Baha’is, were acting in ways that were contrary to Baha’i principles, and thus the Baha’is should not be held responsible for their actions, good or bad. This inability to think in a formal and universal manner and apply consistent and universal criteria and logic to all groups is one of the most troubling features of the racist and narcissist culture of Islamic reaction. It always has one standard for Muslims and another for non-Muslims, especially for Baha’is. Thus, for example, anyone in any part of the world who insults Islam has committed an unforgiveable crime, but when Muslims insult the sacred beliefs of any other group or religion, this is a moral virtue. These are all tragic indications of the failure on the part of the reactionaries to reach moral and intellectual maturity.
C. Anti-Baha’i Prejudice the Key to the Failure of the Iranian Revolution
Everyone is still wondering what happened when a revolution that was initiated by a desire for democracy and freedom so quickly led to the death of all those ideals in the post-revolutionary period. Of course social phenomena have always multiple causes and they cannot be reduced to one single cause. Yet in dealing with this specific issue one cause has been systematically overlooked by researchers. It was the presence of organized and pervasive anti-Baha’i sentiment in both the motivation for revolution and the dynamics of the revolutionary process that led to the emergence of a paradoxical situation in revolutionary Iran: the desire for democracy and freedom coincided with religious intolerance and racism; hence in the name of democracy a system of reaction and discrimination came to existence in Iran. Although it was not true that in terms of high political positions the Baha’is were preferentially treated by the Shah, it is true that due to the distortions of mullahs the people of Iran actually believed that the regime of the Shah engaged in a policy of affirmative action on behalf of the Baha’i minority. This means that at the time of the Shah and in relation to this imaginary idea of preferential treatment of the Baha’is, the people of Iran were confronted with two alternative options: The first option was to think and feel like a human being and in accordance with a civilized and moral sentiment. This would have meant that when they thought that an oppressed minority which had been the target of all kinds of injustice and discrimination throughout Iranian history had been subject to preferential treatment by the Shah, they would have celebrated and rejoiced at this fact. Consequently when this humanitarian and moral-minded society decided to launch a revolution, it would have revolted “despite” this imaginary affirmative action, and not “because” of it. In other words Iranian culture would have considered such imaginary affirmative action as one of the positive characteristics of the Shah’s regime and not as a violently hated phenomenon that would cause a radical mobilization of hatred and prejudice against the Shah. In this case, the Iranian revolution would have occurred despite that imaginary idea, and simply out of opposition to the authoritarian character of the regime and the desire for democracy and freedom. This revolution would not have identified democracy with government by mullahs, would not have accepted the guardianship of the jurists (Khomeini’s philosophy of wilayat-e faqih), and would not have defined its identity in opposition and hostility to the Baha’is. Such a revolution would not have been doomed to failure from its inception. The alternative option was to think and feel in a medieval and racist way — that is, society could conceive this imaginary preferential treatment of the oppressed minority as the greatest crime and sin, a threat to society, as violence against the purity of the Muslims, and as a war against God. In this case a major motivation and organizing principle of the revolution would have been anti-Baha’i sentiments and the desire to further violate the human rights of this minority and legalize even more severe forms of the medieval system of suppression, discrimination, marginalization, and murder of the Baha’is.
Unfortunately the process of revolution from decades prior to the revolution itself was framed by the second racist, intolerant and medieval option. That meant that from the very beginning the imaginary equation of “Shah’s regime=Baha’i” would be accompanied with the other equally imaginary equation of “mullahs=democracy and freedom”. Therefore in framing the revolution, the desire for democracy was conceptualized as an anti-Baha’i and thus theocratic desire. Needless to say a medieval system of discrimination, intolerance and reaction is not content with discrimination against Baha’is. It is rather in its very nature to be patriarchal, dehumanizing of all people, and opposed to freedom of conscience, speech, and thought. In fact the real reason for the violent opposition of the mullahs to the Baha’i Faith has been this very same fact. It was Baha’u’llah who for the first time in the history of Iran talked about political democracy, abrogated slavery, defended the equal rights of men and women, emphasized the principle of unity in diversity, celebrated cultural differences, encouraged a culture of communication and association with all religious and ethnic groups, affirmed the principle of the equality of all human beings, supported human rights, and categorically abolished the violent institutions of priesthood, jihad, impurity of other people, and the inhumane law of apostasy.
One should wonder how it was possible that the people who gave their blood for freedom and liberation from tyranny could have voted for the religious tyranny of mullahs who believed that all apostates must be killed. This is an absolute contradiction. The law of apostasy argues that the mere fact that one becomes a Muslim or is born into a Muslim family is sufficient grounds for depriving that person of any right to freedom of conscience, and of the right to think and choose. Such a law is the essence of all kinds of commodification and dehumanization of human beings, where thinking itself becomes the ultimate crime, punishable by death. This paradox become even more bewildering when one notes that this decree against apostasy was not a hidden idea. In the published book of all those grand Ayatollahs the law of apostasy is explicitly discussed and affirmed without the slightest reservation. Then how was it possible that people who desired democracy and human rights voted for a mullah-centered regime of reaction? This paradox becomes understandable when we note that it was the mobilization of unconscious hatred and hostility against the Baha’is which paved the way for this mass refusal of thinking, leading to the realization that it was unconscious religious prejudices which were driving the process and the outcome of the revolution.
In the recent US presidential election, the people of America had two options. One was to think in terms of KKK logic: because of affirmative action for African Americans over the last four decades, and because of the presence of blacks like Rice and Powell in “key positions” in the cabinet of George Bush, Americans could argue that the purity and sanctity of the white race and Christianity had been violated by past administrations, and therefore desire to reinstate slavery and vote for KKK candidates. The other option was to think like a human being and argue that the preferential treatment of this oppressed minority is not sufficient, and that Americans should take a historic new step to dismantle racism from America, and thus they would vote for a Muslim-born black man for president. Fortunately the first option was not a possibility at all, since none of the candidates were KKK members. Americans chose the second option, and this was a sign that they had attained a higher level of moral and cultural maturity in America, a fact that has led to universal and global admiration of the American people and their choice. The opposite case was the democratic vote in Germany in 1932 for the Nazi party which brought Adolf Hitler to power. Although the choice of Hitler was realized through democratic procedures, this same choice was afflicted from the beginning with pathological and racist sentiments against the Jewish minority, blaming all their misfortunes on the Jews. Hence the outcome of that democratic choice destroyed the very process of democracy that brought it to existence.
Let me be frank: it has now been thirty years during which the Islamic regime and a few of the present Iranian intellectuals have continued to persecute Baha’is on the basis of an excuse which is purely imaginary and untrue, which is the existence of a policy of affirmative action on the part of the Shah for the Baha’is. Yet, if Iranian culture and political thought had advanced and matured in terms of dedication to genuine ideas of democracy, human rights and freedom, such an imaginary idea would have led them to an even more resolute commitment to democracy, human rights and the expansion of genuine citizenship rights to all Iranians, with especial attention to the plight of all minorities, including the Baha’is. Such a revolution would have led to the institutionalization of human rights and to support for the oppressed minorities of Iran, instead of this savage assault against the freedom, democracy and human rights of all Iranians, including the Baha’is. Until Iranian intellectuals liberate themselves from this malodorous pit of anti-Baha’i and anti-minority sentiment and thought, and until they stop this racist, backward and medieval discourse of apartheid, they are neither true intellectuals, progressive thinkers, human rights supporters nor advocates of equal citizenship rights for all. As long as we accuse the Baha’is of an imaginary situation — an accusation that itself is rooted in a racist logic — and sadistically justify the persecution of the Baha’is on those grounds, we have not and will not enter the refreshing and emancipatory space of freedom, democracy and human rights.