persepolis 2: safeguard the innocent

The amazing young men and women behind Mideast Youth and the Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights have created the following video based on Marjane Satrapi’s award-winning animated film Persepolis—with the persecution of Iran’s Baha’is as its theme. As an introduction to the video, entitled Persepolis 2: Safeguarding the Innocent, the creators state: “2,500 years ago, Cyrus the Great penned down what is regarded as the first declaration for human rights, affirming the right to freedom of worship. But centuries later, what is the situation of Iran’s largest religious minority?” Watch it on Youtube — a Farsi version is also available.

what can i do?

youth at the forefrontWhile making my way back home on a humid, muggy Friday, I passed by the local Baha’i Centre — well, not exactly passed by; upon realizing that it was packed with people, I stopped and walked in to say hello and to find out what was going on.

Many of you will have heard so far about the recent arrests of six Baha’i “leaders” (“delegates” or “coordinators” would be a more appropriate title, but isn’t quite as simple to explain) in Iran; in an act remarkably similar to the mass arrests and executions of Baha’i leaders in the 1980s, they were arrested on the 14th of May and — it was thought — taken to one of the most notorious prisons in Tehran. Apparently they are now being held in communicado, their whereabouts being unknown. The only official response from the Iranian government on the issue? They were arrested for “security issues” and not because of their religious beliefs — an allegation which the Baha’i International Community categorically rejects as being “untrue” and “utterly baseless”. This is only the most recent — and probably best publicized — among many recent violations of the rights of Baha’is. Amongst other things, Baha’i schoolchildren have endured harrassment in Iranian schools, a fact pointed out by the Baha’i International Community over a year ago.

And it’s to address this issue that that night, at the Ottawa Baha’i Centre, around thirty Baha’i junior youth and their parents gathered for animated and pointed discussion, as well as workshops to encourage the junior youth to respond to the injustice aimed at their Iranian counterparts. Suggestions were exchanged, ranging from creating and circulating official petitions to preparing presentations to be given at school to arranging devotional meetings where they and their friends could hear stories and pray for the well-being of Iran’s Baha’is. One suggestion struck home, however – that, more than just praying for their well-being, the junior youth present could make special effort to teach the Baha’i Faith in the name of those children in Iran who are shamed and harrassed for their Faith – those children who are denied that same privilege of sharing the life-giving Message of Bahá’u’lláh with their peers.

human rights

I missed out on posting something on the United Nations Human Rights Day (Dec. 10th), but figured I’d give at least a peep to show that a) I’m not dead and b) I care about human rights issues. I have at least one other human rights post in draft, but it’s not done yet 😛

I’ve been listening to some talks by Member of the Universal House of Justice Paul Lample lately, in which he speaks about the degeneration of language—and how, instead of representing or describing reality, language has come to be used to manipulate reality. He used the term “human rights” as an example. For example (to paraphrase), one nation (Nation A) may speak out in a global forum, decrying the violation of human rights in a certain other nation, and demanding redress or international condemnation. Said other nation (Nation B) could very well snap back and, instead of addressing the allegations leveled against it, decry the human rights abuses occurring in the accusing nation—since there are generally some form of human rights abuses occurring in every nation on earth at any given time—and demand that international condemnation be focused on the accuser rather than the accused. Remind you of anyone?

Human rights are not subjective; they’re very clearly and specifically laid out in such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The problem in the above case would seem to be that, since there are human rights violations occurring at some level in all parts of the world at any given time, Nation B may feel entitled to reframe Nation A’s allegations of Nation B’s human rights abuses as hypocritical and unjust. In debating terms, this is known as ad hominem tu quoque, or the “you too” fallacy—changing the subject of debate by accusing one’s opponent of hypocrisy, thereby ignoring the original question.

Human rights is a question of justice, and goodness knows there’s not much of that to go around nowadays—although I feel we can safely say that some places have a little more to go around than others. Let’s just say that a nation whose government goes around today bulldozing cemeteries and systematically targeting the members of particular sections of its population for arbitrary arrest, detainment, property seizure, unwarranted expulsion from employment and from educational institutions, denial of pensions, harrassment and execution, isn’t a place you would go to find shining examples of the respect of human rights. and it’s always informative—and sobering—to read up on what human rights groups worldwide have to say about such places. If only we could put ad hominems aside for a day or two and face reality…

un’s third committee expresses “very serious concern” at human rights in iran

After a “nail-bitingly tense” vote on a no-action motion (NAM) tabled by Iran—which failed by 1 vote—the UN’s Third Committee finally approved a resolution condemning the human rights situation in Iran. Thanks to Barney for the heads up and for some insightful commentary on the issue.

NEW YORK—A committee of the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution today expressing “deep concern” about “ongoing systematic violations of human rights” in Iran.

Put forward by Canada and co-sponsored by 41 other countries, the resolution took note of repression and persecution aimed by the Iranian government at groups ranging from women and women’s rights defenders to the news media and labor groups, as well as various ethnic and religious minorities, including Iranian Baha’is.

The resolution passed the General Assembly’s Third Committee by a vote of 72 to 50 with 55 abstentions on 20 November 2007. The vote essentially assures passage of the resolution in a final vote by the entire Assembly scheduled for December.

Its passage followed a call by Iran for “no action” on the motion, a vote that itself failed by 78 to 79, with 24 abstentions. That vote, also taken today, was seen as an important test of the General Assembly’s will to examine human rights issues in specific countries when warranted.

“We are pleased that the General Assembly did not shy away from its responsibility to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, as identified in the U.N. Charter,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

Read the whole story.

id cards: egypt tightens noose on baha’is

Baha’i blog Baha’i Faith in Egypt reminds us that time is swiftly running out for the Baha’is of Egypt: the new computerized Egyptian identification cards—which allow access to all forms of official government transactions, and which, coincidentally, are impossible for Baha’is to obtain—will soon be mandatory for all Egyptian citizens; inability to produce such an identification card entails a five-year prison sentence. That’s right—soon, every Baha’i in Egypt, whether their families have lived there for five, ten, fifty or a hundred years, will become non-citizens, illegal aliens in their own land. Never mind the property they own, or even the fact that they will still be expected to continue paying taxes to a state that will refuse to grant them the rights of citizenship!

So far, official rationales for this illogical policy have been based not on facts and arguments, but on prejudice, intolerance and slander. An article published in Al-Ahram Weekly, noted that the 16 December 2006 ruling of Egypt’s Supreme Court (blogged here) was “prejudiced by religious scholars and [institutions]”, and that the court “didn’t respond to a single legal argument by the defence”, instead basing its ruling “solely on a public rejection of the Baha’i faith”. The Egyptian government, backed by the Supreme Court ruling, has actively pursued a policy of religious discrimination akin to the campaign of “cultural cleansing” applied against the Baha’is of Iran. Without intervention, Egyptian Baha’is will soon be regarded as non-persons, ineligible for basic rights such as health care, education, financial security (including pensions and bank accounts), and recognition of marriages, births and deaths.

If you’re interested in contacting the Egyptian Embassy in Canada to express yourself about the cultural cleansing of Baha’is in Egypt, here’s some useful contact information:

Egyptian Embassy in Canada
454 Laurier Avenue East
Ottawa, Ontario KIN 6R3
Tel: (613) 234-4931 / (613) 234-4935
Embassy email: egyptemb@sympatico.ca
Ambassador’s email: egypt4931@rogers.com

Egyptian Consulate, Montreal
3754 Cote des Neiges
Montreal, Quebec H3H 7V6
Tel: (514) 937-7781 / (514) 937-7782

You can also find international embassy and consulate information online.