On Minorities and Education, Iran omits Baha'is


munibEditor’s Note:  The following is an invited editorial on the Iran’s controversial statement on “Minorities and the Right to Education”. We refer our readers to IPN’s annual report on violations of the right of Baha’is in Iran to education for background information on this topic.

by Munib Kiani

At the United Nations Forum of Minority Issues, the Islamic Republic of Iran has published a statement titled “Minorities and the Right to Education.”  Documents of this type are produced by many countries, and traditionally pass into history without controversy.  This particular document is rendered fascinating by the century-long opposition to Baha’i education in Iran and the government’s denial of any persecution of its largest religious minority.  A reading of it demonstrates as much by its phrasing as by its content.

It begins with a supportable argument:  “Education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to fully participate in all spheres of life in socoiety (sic).”

Ipso facto, the reverse must be true: withdrawal of education would depress the marginalized into poverty, and leave their potential unrealized.  Fortunately, the Republic documents its successes and continuing dedication to educate all, so it seems that all is well.  Unfortunately all isn’t well at all – there is ample proof (http://denial.bahai.org/) that education is restricted for the Baha’i community, as is illustrated in the many sad stories featured on the pages of Iran Press Watch, of youthful zeal and energy denied.

Even if you were to discount proof presented by the wronged minority as being biased, official internal documents detailing how the Baha’i question is to be answered, the treatment promulgated by the government include “Permit them a modest livelihood” and that “The government’s dealings with them must be in such a way that their progress and development are blocked” (From the leaked 1991/1993 memo) confirming what we already knew,  what is intended for the Baha’is includes no aspirations, no excellence — the mother of all glass ceilings.  One might wonder at the motivations behind this denial, for  which I defer to the pithy analysis of others.

Continuing, the document defines what it means by marginalized groups, identifying different ethnicities, language (groups), nationalities, nomads, culture, races and provincial sects and tribes.  Pause… re-read that list!

The Islamic Republic makes no mention at all of religion — the closest it gets is “sects”. This is an omission, which while including Christians and Jews, is specifically directed at Baha’is, inasmuch as they are the only group which is systematically denied higher education and who have repeatedly objected to this and drawn international attention to it.  These objections have resulted in many international bodies and groups of prominent individuals issuing reproving messages condemning Iran’s actions, and calling upon them to desist.  Iran, though superficially unworried in the face of this deprival, nevertheless responds by changing policies, an example (in our opinion) being the shift from assaulting the Baha’is directly to the covert denial of rights and opportunities previously enjoyed.  Re-addressing the document: if the Baha’i Faith is – erroneously – reduced to a mere sect, its members would merit education, however, since this is not the case, we posit that the authors of the document intentionally left religion out, because they were fully aware of the policy towards the Baha’is, and simply used the catch-all term “etc” to refer to all other groups in order to avoid the real issue.

The above point is strengthened when the proud assertion: “Under the existing laws, all students irrespective of their race, language, ethnicity and nationality are equally entitled to educational facilities in the country.”  True, but the Islamic Republic again omits religion — why?

Next, reference is made to the Iranian Constitution — that the country provides free education for all to a secondary level and “higher education to the extent that the country meets its own needs.”  It is interesting that a population of 300,000 Baha’is whose teachings give very high value to education and its pursuit, and who before the revolution were one of the most educated groups in the country, provide so few students at the university level, and that Baha’i students who performed excellently on a national level were denied their right to higher education.  These statements refer to the laws omitting reference to actuality, and then hypocritically mentioning that “decisions are based on the principles of equality and justice.”

What kind of equity is it when students who have achieved the highest level in national tests are then denied their right to higher education, when Baha’i citizens who desire nothing more than to contribute to their country and to support their families are prevented from earning a decent living, are then denied pensions at the end of their working life, and in the final desecration, whose graves are violated by an unfeeling regime?


8 Responses

  1. Mark Obenauer

    April 18, 2009 10:29 pm

    I am sure that the authorities are not intentionally trying to marginalize the Baha’i’s, but are trying to deal with the Baha’i’ question. Good people are doing what they feel is right and this is honorable.

  2. Mark Obenauer

    April 18, 2009 11:01 pm

    Good people sometimes learn the lesson of what they have done in the future after they commit actions they supposedly think is right. These people are my neighbors, my friends and my relatives. I may not agree with this Iranian policy, but I can’t judge the people who doing what they think is right and are imprisoning Baha’i’s and trying to get the Baha’i’s in Iran to repent of what they perceive is a misguided theology.

  3. Neh

    April 19, 2009 12:48 am

    To say that “I am sure that the authorities are not intentionally trying to marginalize the Baha’is, but are trying to deal with the Baha’i question” is to be willfully blind. There is no difference in tactics from those of the Nazi’s definition of “dealing with the Jewish question” prior to WWII — they too, started off with deprivation of rights that escalated to brutality and incitement to murder. The difference today is that the outside world is more aware and caring.

  4. Mark Obenauer

    April 19, 2009 1:59 am

    The oppressors proabably don’t look at the matter as marginalization through their lens. They probably look at it as a rather impersonal matter as worldview or ideas. And the perpetrators aren’t personally evil or bad, but are following what they feel is correct doctrine. Is this not a possibility? And is it possible that what they are capable of is potentially within each and every one of us? I have relatives that supported Hitler. Were they bad people? I may be looked at as willfully blind by some, or as aware of human nature and what is possible within each of us : great evil and great kindness. I don’t agree with the Iranian idea of oppressing minorities, and I am trying to separate the people from the action, and the philosophy that is determining the oppression. Good people are everywhere, even within the highest chambers of Iranian power. And this is not my domain to judge something I can not judge, such as the human heart. Willfully blind, or giving the matter over to a Higher Power?

  5. Neh

    April 19, 2009 3:23 pm

    Clearly the capacity for good or evil rests within each of us — as does the capacity to choose one over the other. Culpability depends upon the choices made in light of the information at hand, so the same action carried out by two different individuals must be adjudged differently. Those indoctrinated with lies and false fears cannot be adjudged by the same measure as the regime that creates them. The regime itself — a regime that knows full well the falseness of it’s accusations — must be held to account and the question best considered is, what is it’s motivating reason?

  6. Hasse

    April 20, 2009 4:26 am

    Obenauer, I like the way you think, but I agree with Neh.
    To marginalize the authorities themselves, placing them in the position of the ‘evil’ enemy would be a grose generalization, and, looking at the nazi situation, it can be seen that all those who were involved were not necessarily evil – just doing what they perceived to be right, or agreeable. To judge anyone without full knowledge of their situation is completely unjust and wrong – So it would seem a little too forward or harsh for the Baha’i’s to assume that the reason for this statement was because the ‘evil’ Iranian authorities wanted to specifically target and oppress the Baha’i’s.
    However, this statement alone has little worth. It only supports and gives official proof and evidence for the Baha’i’s oppression and sufferings. Looking at the evidence given (http://denial.bahai.org/) and the history between the Baha’i’s and the Iranian authorities gives ample proof that the Baha’i’s ARE being specifically targetted. Clear indicators such as the fairly recent imprisonment of Baha’i leaders in Iran, along with the untold numbers of stories of suffering, martyrdom and persecution cannot be dismissed, and I would agree that anyone who did not take this into account whilst looking upon the “Minorities and the Right to Education” statement could be considered ‘willfully blind’.
    The evidence is overwhelmingly monstrous.
    To liken this situation to that of the Jews and Nazis only makes us realise the potential extent of what can happen, and also helps us understand what each of us as individual members of this world have to do to prevent the same thing from happening again.
    Each one of us has the responsibility to protect our own rights, but we all have an even greater responsibility to protect the basic rights of our neighbours and fellow world citizens.

  7. Mark Obenauer

    April 20, 2009 9:52 pm

    Neh and Hasse:

    Thank you for your explanations, and Neh, I must have been exasperating. Sorry, but this wasn’t my intention. Ha,ha, people who know me have something to laugh about.

    I agree with both you and Hasse, and if I had continued this much longer, I would have been a devils’ advocate. I would probably give great food for thought, but I really don’t enjoy exasperating people. So I am sorry.

    And administrators, this is off topic, but please leave this up long enough for Neh and Hasse to see this apology. Thank you!


  8. Hasse

    April 21, 2009 12:06 am

    Apology accepted Mark – I’m sorry if I seemed at all offended by your comments…I wasn’t. I enjoyed reading them very much as it is nice to have another opinion to consider, and to me it was simply food for thought:)



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