The “Iran Without Hate” social media campaign, in Persian and in English, was to address discrimination against Iran’s Baha’i community and to help reduce this discrimination in Iran. A Twitter storm with the #StopHatePropaganda hashtag in English and, in Persian, #Iran_Without_Hate, attracted the support of influential figures around the world. How can the campaign reduce hatred against religious minorities in Iran? IranWire spoke with the organizers and some of its supporters.
Systematic harassment and official hatred against the Baha’is in Iran is not something new. Confiscation of property, illegal detention, long prison sentences and denial of work or education are some of the coercive actions of the Iranian government against Baha’is that we often read about in the media.
But this is not the only aspect of the situation. There is also hatred against Baha’is at the community level; ordinary people in various professions and social positions sometimes ridicule them, out of ignorance and prejudice. This discrimination is less visible in the media or the public space.
The Iran Without Hate campaign on social media was a program launched in August 2021 at the initiative of the Baha’i International Community (BIC), a civil society organization that represents the Baha’is at the United Nations and at other international and regional bodies. The campaign’s ultimate goal, as Simin Fahandej, a BIC Representative to the UN in Geneva, says, “is to reach a point where no one in Iran is discriminated against by the government, or anyone, for their beliefs or for any other reason.”
Empathy and Support from non-Baha’is
Narges Mohammadi, a political activist living in Iran, the actress Mahnaz Afshar, comedian Maz Jobrani and artist and broadcaster Sina Valliolah and the Stanford historian Abbas Milani were among the figures who participated in this campaign and protested against the repression of the Baha’is in Iran through posts to social media.
Mahnaz Afshar, asked why she supported the campaign, tells IranWire that “When it comes to human beings, I don’t discriminate or judge based on background or faith and believe all humans have the right to life and deserve citizenship rights … All of us should go beyond words and act on the basis of what we see as justice and morality, first in our own lives and interactions, so that an Iran and a world without hate can become a real possibility.”
Fahandej says the campaign in English was organized under the hashtag #StopHatePropaganda and was supported by thousands of people from about a dozen countries.
Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Austria, Ireland, India, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States were among the participating countries. According to Fahandej, a total of more than 5,000 official statements and tweets or retweets from celebrities and officials were posted online, as well as stories of personal experiences shared by some Iranian Baha’is, and reached more than 88 million people on Twitter. The campaign also attracted support from private citizens – including many Iranians inside and outside Iran.
Simin Fahandej says in this regard: “For many years, many articles have been published in reputable international media such as The New York Times, Reuters and Time magazine, which have documented the situation of the followers of the Baha’i faith in Iran. These articles have made people around the world more aware of this harassment and discrimination.”
“The Iranian government has always waged a propaganda war against the Baha’is, but it has not seen much response [from Baha’is or others],” Roya Boroumand, a human rights activist and one of the founders of the Abdol Rahman Boroumand Foundation, tells IranWire. “In the last 20 or 30 years, however, the situation has changed and Baha’is have become more active. They give interviews, publish court rulings in several languages and write books. All of this worries the Iranian government.”
Changing the Iranian Government’s Approach to the Baha’is
The systematic persecution of Baha’is in Iran has increased since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and has taken many forms, including the denial of the right to education, confiscation of property, legal action, or even the demolition of cemeteries. And in recent years, as Fahandej says, this harassment has spread to cyberspace as well, as seen through cyberbullying on social networks, creating divisive debates in the Clubhouse and in other forms of online harassment and hate speech.
Boroumand says: “The tone of the Ivel case’s judge in confiscating Baha’i homes is different from the usual court rulings and seems more angry,” referring to confiscations of properties owned by Baha’is in the village of Ivel, Mazandaran province, earlier this year.
“The government suppresses minorities whenever there is instability and concern,” Boroumand says, “because it is a form of pressure that has less political cost. In the case of the Baha’is, however, contrary to ordinary repression, as in the case of Christians and converts, the government is also seeking to suppress religious rivals. The Baha’is are better known and more active than other minorities and this forces the government to use more diverse methods of repression.”
Abbas Milani, a historian and expert in Iranian history who participated in the Iran Without Hate social media campaign, says regarding violence against the Baha’is in Iran: “Over the past hundred years, there have been three types of hatred or violence against Baha’is. The first is a form of physical and legal violence that includes the non-recognition of the Baha’is as a religion and labels them as ‘impure; by people like [Supreme Leader] Ali Khamenei. The second type is verbal violence perpetrated by people with prejudiced thinking. They believe Baha’is are conspiring against them and they hold extreme views of those who do not think like themselves.”
Milani believes that the third type of violence against the Baha’is is “silence” in the face of this “historical injustice.” But he is optimistic that this “terrible wall of silence” has begun to fall in recent years.
He sees the breaking of this silence as a positive sign: “If the violence [of the past] had not occurred in the form of silence, and some of our intellectuals had not repeated these mistakes … the possibility of change would have increased.”
Hope for the Future
The government of the Islamic Republic has systematically discriminated against Baha’is for many years. The Houthis in Yemen, aligned with the Iranian government, have also harassed Baha’is living in the country over the past several years. Fahandej says this discrimination in Yemen is even provoked by the Iranian government.
Given the scale of the Iranian authorities animosity toward the Baha’is, can campaigns such as Iran Without hate hope to effect change?
Abbas Milani says that activists and citizens must be optimistic. He cites historical examples: “Throughout history, there have always been opposing views. If you read the books of Shakespeare, you will see that the Catholics had serious opposition to the Protestants, and these two groups against the Jews, and all of them opposed the Muslims. Luther, who preached the reform of religion, equated Islam with Satan and placed the image of the Prophet of Islam next to Satan. In Iran, too, Ayatollah Montazeri emerged from a tradition that had its origins in anti-Baha’ism.”
According to Milani, however, all this has changed: “In Iran, Ayatollah Montazeri changed his mind as a result of own dignified approach to the question and his sense of justice. And throughout history some of the most violent powers have been transformed by wisdom and reason.”
“The iron nail will eventually go inside the stone,” he adds, using a metaphor for accomplishing something that may seem impossible, “as long as we do not remain silent against violence.”