Editor’s Note: Iran Press Watch is pleased to share this informed and learned editorial by Dr. Momen and invites other readers to comment or share their own essays.
Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Islamic government of Iran has been trying to paint the Baha’is as the “enemy within”. The Baha’is are, the government claims, one of the main forces of evil in the country; the Baha’is are plotting with external enemies such as the United States and Israel to undermine the country; the Baha’is doing things (usually undefined) within the country to disrupt the country; the Baha’is are trying to destroy Islam. The more the country slides into an economic mire, the more the government needs to build up the seriousness of the threat posed by the Baha’is so as to account for their economic failure.
Show trials are a major tool in the armory of an authoritarian regime. Stalin used them to great effect in consolidating his power in the 1930s, for example. It makes the statement that the government is being active and taking steps to defend the nation against the forces of evil. Since the judge and prosecution is already controlled by the government and the defense lawyers are crippled by not knowing what the charges are, what the evidence against the defendants is nor what will be acceptable as counter-evidence, the result is a foregone conclusion. And with a fanfare the government can announce that due process has been carried out according to the law of the land and the defendants have been found guilty of exactly what the government had accused them of, thus vindicating the dire warnings that the government had given of the threats to the nation.
Such a show trial is about to start in Iran. The seven members of the leadership council of the Baha’is of Iran have been held in prison for over nine months and it has just been announced that they will be put on trial soon (see http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/02/featuretrial-of-seven-bahai-leaders/). The charges are: espionage for Israel, insulting all things holy, and propaganda against the Islamic Republic. Since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2003, he has been doggedly pursuing a systematic campaign against the Baha’is, obviously with Khamenei’s consent since nothing happens without that. This campaign has consisted of a continuous series of articles in the government-run press and television attacking the Baha’is using spurious allegations and forged documents to suggest ridiculous conspiracy theories and improbable historical “facts”; and a systematic economic strangulation of the Baha’i community by getting them expelled from employment and shutting down their businesses (http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/02/featuretrial-of-seven-bahai-leaders/); an attempt to exclude them from all aspects of the educational and cultural life of the nation (by excluding them from universities, for example); and regular detentions and imprisonments of leading Baha’is so as to disrupt their lives.
Since the government-run press and the media have been repeating these charges of espionage for Israel, insulting all things holy, and propaganda against the Islamic Republic for years now, it clearly did not take them nine months to concoct the evidence to bring these seven Baha’is to court now. The timing of the trial is clearly determined by other factors: the forthcoming presidential election at which Ahmadinejad will need to defend his dismal domestic record and the world’s attention being turned elsewhere (with the financial situation and other problems). These factors make a show trial now very desirable.
The Charges against the Baha’is
If we examine the charges, they are of course nonsense and are specifically designed to feed into the prejudices and fears of the Iranian population. They link the Baha’is, the internal enemy, with Israel one of the two great external enemies that the regime has concocted. They set the Baha’is up as enemies of the holy figures of Shi‘i Islam. They set the Baha’is up as fomenters of discord and disruption of society.
The charge of spying for Israel is the most ridiculous of all. Since the government has ensured that the Baha’is are systematically excluded from all government employment and have even been expelled from most private businesses, since they have no access to any military or political secrets, just what information could they possibly have that would be of any interest to Israel? What danger to the Iranian state could be posed by these seven individuals whose occupations before they were expelled from their work by the present regime were: a developmental psychologist, two factory owners, an agricultural engineer, a head-teacher, a social worker and a optometrist? How could people who for thirty years have been under the close watch of Iran’s secret service possibly communicate with the state of Israel?
The prosecution will undoubtedly drag up the fact that the Baha’i World Centre is in the Haifa-Akka area in the state of Israel. This however is a historical fact that goes back to eighty years before the state of Israel was established. Indeed its was the two leading Muslim monarchs of the world at that time, the Ottoman Sultan and the Shah of Iran who were responsible for exiling the founder of the Baha’i Faith to Akka, then part of the Ottoman province of Syria, thus resulting eventually in the Baha’i World Centre being established there. If anyone is to blame for the presence of the Baha’is is Israel, it is the Iranian government of that time. If it was being consistent in its accusations, then the Iranian government should also be accusing the Islamic authorities who are in charge of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem of being Israeli agents just because the third most holy site in Islam is situated there?
The charge of insulting what is holy in Islam is an equally ridiculous charge. From the very beginning of its history, the Baha’i Faith, and before it the Babi religion, have shown the utmost respect for the Holy Figures of Islam. Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, had this to say about the Prophet Muhammad:
Blessing and peace be upon Him [Muhammad] through Whose advent Bathá [Mecca] is wreathed in smiles, and the sweet savours of Whose raiment have shed fragrance upon all mankind ‑ He Who came to protect men from that which would harm them in the world below. Exalted, immensely exalted is His station above the glorification of all beings and sanctified from the praise of the entire creation. Through His advent the tabernacle of stability and order was raised throughout the world and the ensign of knowledge hoisted among the nations. May blessings rest also upon His kindred and His companions through whom the standard of the unity of God and of His singleness was uplifted and the banners of celestial triumph were unfurled. Through them the religion of God was firmly established among His creatures and His Name magnified amidst His servants. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 162‑3)
And furthermore, Baha’u’llah lamented the sufferings of the prophet Muhammad in these word:
We shall cite in this connection only one verse of that Book. Shouldst thou observe it with a discerning eye, thou wilt, all the remaining days of thy life, lament and bewail the injury of Muhammad, that wronged and oppressed Messenger of God. That verse was revealed at a time when Muhammad languished weary and sorrowful beneath the weight of the opposition of the people, and of their unceasing torture. In the midst of His agony, the Voice of Gabriel . . . was heard saying: `But if their opposition be grievous to Thee ‑ if Thou canst, seek out an opening into the earth or a ladder into heaven.’ (Qur’án 6:35) The implication of this utterance is that His case had no remedy, that they would not withhold their hands from Him unless He should hide Himself beneath the depths of the earth, or take His flight unto heaven. (Baha’u’llah, Kitab‑i Iqan, pp. 109‑110)
Furthermore, Baha’u’llah’s son and successor, ‘Abdu’l-Baha often defended Islam and spoke in praise of the achievements of the prophet Muhammad during his travels to Europe and North America. In London, for example, ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote the following to a Christian journal, the Christian Commonwealth:
So it was with the Arabian nations who, being uncivilized, were oppressed by the Persian and Greek governments. When the Light of Muhammad shone forth all Arabia was brightened. These oppressed and degraded peoples became enlightened and cultured; so much so, indeed, that other nations imbibed Arabian civilization from Arabia. This was the proof of Muhammad’s divine mission. (Christian Commonwealth, 29 September 1911)
And today, around the world, there are millions of former Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists who have come to accept Muhammad as a true Messenger of God as a result of their having become Baha’is. Can people who accept the authority of such teachings and who have never demonstrated anything contrary to these in their lives really be accused of blasphemy against the Holy Ones of Islam?
The third accusation of propaganda against the Islamic Republic is again completely out of character with these seven people in particular and the Baha’is in general. Baha’u’llah’s chief aim was to bring about unity in the world and thus he strongly urged his followers to avoid conflict and discord and to obey the government in power. He wrote:
O people! Sow not the seeds of discord among men, and refrain from contending with your neighbour, for your Lord hath committed the world and the cities thereof to the care of the kings of the earth, and made them the emblems of His own power, by virtue of the sovereignty He hath chosen to bestow upon them. He hath refused to reserve for Himself any share whatever of this world’s dominion. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, pp. 303‑4).
The instructions to Baha’is are explicit and are here given on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, the third head of the Baha’i Faith:
The attitude of the Baha’is must be twofold, complete obedience to the government of their country they reside in, and no interference, whatsoever in political matters or questions. (Lights of Guidance, p. 449)
The record is clear. Since Baha’u’llah first put forward his claims in the 1860s, there has been no occasion on which Baha’is have plotted or campaigned against the public order or conspired to overthrow any government. And there is no evidence that any of these seven people have ever departed from this line.
Thus all of the charges brought against them are concoctions that are the standard rhetoric of the Iranian government against the Baha’is. The government hopes that by constantly repeating these charges they would become accepted as the truth. The show-trial is just one more weapon in the armory of totalitarian regimes. They can use it as an opportunity to re-tell and re-affirm all the lies they have told before in the hope that it will become established as fact in people’s minds. Since they have total control of the media, they can print whatever lies and conspiracies theories they like about the Baha’is and the latter have no way of responding. It is to be hoped (and there are encouraging signs that this is beginning to occur) that the people of Iran will eventually see through the constant barrage of lies and misrepresentations of the Baha’i Faith thrown at them.
April 9, 2009 11:46 pm
I have a question about this article.
Since then I have thought about Dr. Momen’s position in this article, and I would have to disagree that the trial we are waiting for in Iran can be called a show trial. The thing about show trials is that they serve a social function to cement the legitimacy of a regime by demonstrating to the populace that the internal “enemies” really do exist and the government has them under control, all glory to the revolution.
But to do this as a show trial means that the trial must be public, and this trial in Iran is certain not to be. The show trials of Communist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe were aided in this goal by ensuring beforehand not just a guilty verdict, but a guilty confession through various means. Again, it is highly unlikely that the Iranian Baha’is would succumb to this, no matter what was done to them, since they so rarely have in the past.
So, as far as show trials go, the Iranian government has almost no chance of pulling one off, and although they aren’t the most intelligent group of people in the world, they are not complete idiots either. Trying to conduct a real show trial would backfire because they could never get the right message out, and, even if they could, all but the most uneducated and ideologically rigid among the people would simply see it as the sad joke that it is.
April 10, 2009 12:36 am
“A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.” ~George Washington, ~page 269 of The 5000 Year Leap.
“The nation which indulges toward another habitual hatred or habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interests.” ~ George Washington
“Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.” ~ Thomas Jefferson
April 10, 2009 6:37 am
People all over the world are becoming educated and exposed to situations and experiences that enable them to independently investigate truth.
We all find ourselves in a common sea of change. Some react by trying to “go back” to the imagined greener grass of the past but others respond by embracing the principle of oneness with enthusiasm and courage.
The Yaran and their brethren who are suffering persecutions are among the latter. They are an inspiration and an example.
Mahalo nui loa!
April 11, 2009 11:29 am
If the world’s most powerful nation has been brought to its knees into negotiating with a bunch of thugs for the release of one of its chaps then what chance has it to be heard by a multitude of thugs masquerading as a government holding a whole people in bondage. The US and the west, as all others, have long abdicated the moral high ground. Such scenario of course, has been played out before and even now is being enacted in other nations besides Iran. On the other hand popular revulsion is a terrible thing and the history of nations shows that once mass revulsion is set in motion, the old order is speedily relegated to history’s trash heap. Instead of individual states, now in our time, the whole human race, buffeted by injustice in all vistas of its life, is swiftly moving toward world revolution and planetary cataclysm destined to set our world on its head. And, deservedly so. One should therefore, take heed not to get on the wrong side of Justice and truth when one sees even a mouse’s tail trampled underfoot by an elephant. There is no neutrality in the moral order and looking the other way when the chips are down will certainly find us beside the “beheaded oppressors” whose time to disappear is fixed “neither too soon, nor too late.”sura XXIII.43.
April 15, 2009 11:47 am
Many thanks for such a clear represention of the situation – it is very helpful.