By Dr. Majid Naficy
Editor’s Note: The following is part 2 of Dr. Naficy’s cogent article, translated by Iran Press Watch.
Author’s Biography: Before Dr. Naficy’s article is presented, we offer the following brief biography of the learned author: Majid Naficy was born in Iran in 1952. He published poetry, critical reviews and an award-winning children’s book in Iran. During 1970s, Dr. Naficy was a political activist against the Shah’s regime. After the 1979 Revolution, as the new regime began to suppress the opposition, his first wife, Izzat Tabaian and his brother Sa’id were among the many to be executed. He fled Iran in 1983 and eventually settled in Los Angeles with his son Azad. He has since published six volumes of poetry in English and Persian, as well as numerous other books on literary criticism. He holds a doctorate in Near Eastern languages and cultures from the University of California in Los Angeles. His doctoral dissertation, Modernism and Ideology in Persian Literature: A Return to Nature in the Poetry of Nima Yushij (University Press of America) was published in 1997. Dr. Naficy is also the co-editor of Daftarhaye Kanoon, a periodical in Persian published by the Iranian Writer’s Association in Exile.
Baha’is Need Justice! (Part 2)
By Dr. Majid Naficy
3. From Tahirih to Izzat
From 1964 to 1981, occasionally I associated with Baha’is, and heard good things about them from my friends. For example, I heard about Bahram Sadeq, a renowned storywriter from Najafabad who was a Baha’i.
However, it was on September 17, 1981, when I felt I had the same destiny as Baha’is. It was over two years since the revolution in Iran. The government was based on a new footing. Fundamentalist militant rulers were violently persecuting and executing members of the Iranian National Front and Communist Parties. These groups were the ones that had played a crucial role in uprooting the Pahlavi regime and bringing the Khomeini regime to power.
On September 16, my wife and colleague, Izzat Tabaian, left the house. That night, she phoned a friend and hurriedly told him that while being chased by the Islamic Militia, she had fallen and broken her pelvic bone. My wife asked him to contact me and tell me to quickly destroy all incriminating evidence in the house. The next day, the same friend asked if I had a safe place to spend the night, knowing that our home would not be spared from attacks. When I replied that I had nowhere to go, he suggested a large house on Lashkar square that belonged to his old aunt. I knew his aunt was a Baha’i, and her house would not be a safe place either. However, after knocking at the doors of a few acquaintances, we had no choice but to go to his aunt’s house. A deft servant opened the door and led us in. The old aunt told us how Islamic forces had arrested the last members of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Tehran. She was worried about her own safety as well.
That night, I had the strange feeling that Tahirih, the courageous Babi Poetess, was talking to me from the edge of the well into which she had been thrown after being strangled, 150 years before. I was seeing a connection between Tahirih and the painful fate of my wife in the claws of her tormentors. A few years later on September 18, 1986, I wrote a poem, printed in the compilation Raftam Golat Bechinam [I went to take your flower] in memory of my wife Izzat, and the old Baha’i woman who offered me her home as refuge:
I have fled from the altar of sacrifice of a communist
To seek refuge in the altar of sacrifice of a Baha’i
Yea, is it a learning lesson for me?
In an abandoned yard
Where vine leaves rustle
And the wayward fish swim in murky water
A secret is revealed to me
The bloody body of Zarrin Taj [Tahirih]
Is still hanging from the edge of the well
I am pulled back
Have you seen my Ishmael?
In the old house,
I only hear my own voice.
Izzat and Tahirih had the same destiny. On January 7, 1982, Izzat and another leftist woman, along with fifty leftist men, faced the firing squad. Their bodies were dumped in the Khavaran cemetery located southeast of Tehran. Two months before that, I had gone to the same cemetery with my wife to visit the grave of a relative, Sadeq Okhovat, who had faced the firing squad. At that time, there were perhaps fewer than 30 graves at Khavaran. The second visit was for my wife, and I was accompanied by my brother-in-law, Husayn Okhovat. However, when Husayn was executed a few weeks later, I could not bring myself to visit the Khavaran cemetery again.
Later I learned that three days before my wife was executed — that is, on January 4, 1982 — six members of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Tehran had been executed and their bodies had been dumped in the same cemetery.
On January 2009, this cemetery was demolished by the Islamic Government of Iran. It was the resting place of 50 Baha’is, and thousands of other freedom-seeking Iranians.
4. The Test of the Broadmindedness of Iranians
I know about the sufferings endured by Baha’is not only from books, but also from seeing it first hand in my own day-to-day life. Their sufferings date back to the time of the Shah of Iran, particularly in the 1950s ,when with the Shah’s approval and using the national radio, Muhammad-Taqi Falsafi would deliver blistering sermons which provoked mobs to attack Baha’i holy places.
This trend has continued under the present reign of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has been governing for the past 30 years, and has executed over 200 Baha’is solely on the ground that they were Baha’is. Baha’is do not have the slightest basic human or civil rights as Iranian citizens. This inspired to me write an article in 2004 about Shirin Ebadi, freedom of conscience, and human rights. In that article, I recognized:
Defending the Baha’is must be considered a litmus test for any intellectual Iranian claiming that they honor human rights. In the Islamic government of Iran, there is no place for any Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, or the like. This is because according to Article 13 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, the only recognized religious minorities are Zoroastrian, Jewish, or Christian Iranians.
Among the many minority groups that are legally deprived of their right to freedom of conscience, the situation of the Baha’is has been in particular the bleakest. From the inception of this religion, dating back to the era of Muhammad Shah Qajar, the Iranian Shiah clergy have been leading open attacks on this community [i.e. Babis and Baha’is]. The clergy imagined that the appearance of the Bab robbed them of their messianic claim to the expected Hidden Imam, Who is suppose to appear at the “end of time” to fill the world with justice. They believe that the appearance of the Bab took away from them the raison d’etre of Shi’ism.
During the final decade of the Shah’s regime, rumors began to be spread by fanatical groups known for their anti-Baha’i stance, aimed at provoking Iranian’s mentally-sick view and hatred against the Baha’is, that Baha’is were supporters of the Shah. These false rumors became so widespread that even after the 1979 revolution, when in 1981 the regime began to intensely suppress the Baha’is, Iranian intellectuals hesitated to defend the Baha’is against oppression – even when they could see perfectly well that Baha’is were being imprisoned, tortured, and executed merely for being Baha’i.
It is for this reason that I consider the single most important quality of a democratic-minded Iranian is to be a supporter of the right of Baha’is to their religion and not heed the fictitious excuse that “Baha’is are members of a political party and not a true religion”.
5. The Test of the Broadmindedness of Baha’is
After the publication of my article on Shirin Ebadi and the freedom of consciousness referred to above, I was asked: if the test of broadmindedness of an Iranian is in his defense of the rights of Baha’is, then what defines the broadmindedness of a Baha’i?
In my opinion, a democratic Iranian Baha’i must not only defend the rights of all heterodox thinkers in Iran, but must first and foremost defend the rights of the followers of Azal who call themselves by the name Bayani. Only then can a Baha’i be worthy of the title of free and democratic.
To make this matter more clear, I will explain something that happened in 1987 in Los Angles. I was invited to a poetry night, and recited the poem raftam golat bechinam, which was quoted above. Among the attendees was a Baha’i couple. At that time, in this poem I had used the word Babi instead of Baha’i. Afterwards, the Baha’i woman asked, “Why did you use the word Babi? Today there are no Babis and they all have become Baha’is.”
Her question and comment not only demonstrated the narrow-mindedness and exclusivity of some Baha’is towards the minority group of the Babi-Azalis, but it also illustrates the narrow-mindedness of many Iranian leftists, of which I had been one, as well.
At this point is it necessary to briefly look at the history of the emergence of the Babi movement and the divisions that took place within it.
[Published on Thursday, March 12, 2009, at http://fa.shahrvand.com/2008-07-14-20-49-09/2008-07-14-20-49-46/2284-2009-03-12-17-58-08. Translation by Iran Press Watch.]