Recently I saw an article that broke my heart a little. It was a tiny little thing with very limited information. ABC News reported additional violations on the freedoms of Baha’is in Iran. It wasn't so much the information in the article that hurt, it was the memory of how long this has been going on, the knowledge of how bad it really is, and anger at how little recognition this gets.
I was raised Baha’i, and though I choose to walk a different path, this issue remains near and dear to my heart. The Baha’i Faith is a standalone world religion, complete with its own sacred texts and manifestation of God to found it, that comes out of what used to be Ancient Persia and is now Iran and Iraq. Founded in 1844, the primary belief systems for the faith are the three onenesses. #1: There is only one God and we all worship him by different names and in different ways. #2: All religions are good and come from God, they just teach us different social teachings to cope with the challenges of the time they were founded and remind us of the overlying truths. #3: Man is absolute one family. We are all interrelated and symbiotic of each other regardless of race, nation, age, or gender.
This is all very straight forward. It is a peaceful faith that abhors violence of all kinds. I told one of my friends the other night that Baha’is are non-violent on a Ghandi scale. In fact, Ghandi is a figure that is much respected among Baha’is though he followed another faith himself. The leaders in Iran disagree. They see Baha’is as a wayward and dangerous sect of Islam, much the same way early Catholics saw Protestants as dangerous. What has ensued has been a one sided war from the Iranian government.
Let me be 100% clear here. This has nothing to do with the Muslim Faith. I know many Muslims who are friends of The Baha’i Faith. This is specifically the Iranian government. Please do not turn this into a tirade against Muslims. It is not.
In Iran Baha’is are:
*Denied higher education.
*Denied business ownership
*Not allowed to practice their faith in public OR private
*Labeled as deviant and misleading
*Subject to raids on home and property
*Often unable to leave the country
*Often unable to see family from other countries because they are denied entrance into the country
*Frequently arrested for practicing their faith
*Sometimes submitted to torture and death when arrested for practicing their faith
This is one concentration camp short of the holocaust. The Ayatollah’s recent move to tell ALL Iranians to avoid any dealings with Baha’is effectively shuns an entire population. I see history repeating itself and sometimes I worry if Iranian Baha’is will be forced to wear nine pointed stars on their clothing next.
What has me the most angry here is that this is not news. This has been going on since the faith was founded in 1844, and HAS NOT STOPPED. Many faiths have terrible beginnings in bloodshed as the predominant faith grapples for a strong hold from this new idea. Eventually the tides and times turn and things settle and we begin to LIVE with this new idea rather than fighting against it. That has not happened yet for the Baha’is in Iran.
I grew up with this. I am not of Middle Eastern descent. My parents were born and raised in America and so were their parents. My parents found The Faith in their adulthood and converted. And even so, I remember Persian refugees my entire childhood. I remember Sussan (pronounced Su San with soft S’s), a refugee who lived with us for a time. My older sisters had stories of going to the airport with family and friends to pick up refugees and listening to them comment on the girls wearing shorts. This is not some exception. We lived in rural Wisconsin, had a community of barley nine adults in the county. The Iranian issue was, and still is, so large that it hit every community in the world. Most Baha’is of my generation and the generation before have similar memories.
I used to do school reports on a girl named Mona Mahmudnizhad (yes I know Wikipedia is dubious but I’ve personally checked it and the limited info it supplies is correct). This young lady was 16 when she was arrested. She was teaching children who were not allowed to attend regular school because they were from Baha’i families. Because she was Baha’i as well she was arrested for “misleading children”. They raided her home and that of eight other women. They were arrested, tortured and hung. The story of Mona always stuck with me because of her strength. She was asked three times under torture to recant her belief in the Baha’i Faith. She refused. There are reports of her having dreams in which a long passed leader of the faith, Abdul’baha, the eldest son of Baha’u’llah the prophet founder of the faith, came to her and asked what she wanted. According to others who were able to speak to her before her death, she reportedly asked for perseverance, not freedom or life. When asked what she wanted before her death she said only that she wanted the children to be dancing so they wouldn’t be sad at the moment of her death. There are unconfirmed reports of her kissing the rope that would hang her and placing it around her own neck. She was my childhood hero and still is today.
Mona is also a prime example of the abuses indicative in Iran in present day! Maybe a little less than ten years ago I sat with a room full of Baha’is at our regular worship meeting and listened to a friend, who was a refugee himself, talk about his brother’s death in Iran.
Nothing has stopped. In fact it’s getting worse, and there continues to be very little media attention. The other night I was talking to a friend. He knows me almost as well as my own husband, and while I post information whenever I find it, this was still news to him. He had heard of The Faith. He knew I was once a Baha’i, but he had no clue as to how bad things really are. I realized I have been remiss in doing my part to get the word out. Maybe I am just so used to things being this way it doesn’t occur to me others don’t know. I showed him the most recent link from ABC News and he says it sounded like it was time for everyone to get out. I almost laughed, but instead smiled sadly and proceeded to explain, this is nothing new. The time to get out safely never existed. Iran has never been safe, and these abuses have continued since the founding of the faith.
I’m not much of a media butterfly. I’m more of a shrinking violet and continually fight my own shyness in all things media. However, this time…this time I am asking, pleading, almost begging for this information to be shared. No group of people, regardless of your personal views of their beliefs, should suffer in silence. No group of people should be persecuted or treated as less than human. This has nothing to do with faith or belief systems. It has everything to do with humanity.
Susan is a plural writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends.