The Bahá’ís of Iran have endured unrelenting persecution since the inception of their Faith in 1844. Today, the Iranian government—to whom the Bahá’ís continue to show sincere loyalty—is trying everything they can to block their progress, destroy their livelihood, and extinguish their very life.
Once again, Iran’s campaign of persecution towards its Baha’i minority finds its way into the halls of academe; one more year in a row, prospective Baha’i students have been barred from applying for higher education. No, there are no armed guards keeping them from the examination halls; just a row of boxes on paper. Here’s the story from the Baha’i World News Service:
NEW YORK, 31 July 2007 (BWNS) — Iranian Baha’is seeking to enter Iran’s technical and vocational institutes have been effectively barred from admission for the coming academic year, since the application to sit for the entrance examinations leaves them with no option but to deny their faith, which Baha’is refuse to be coerced into doing.
The Baha’i International Community learned recently that the 2007 form for the entrance examination for undergraduate courses under the technical and vocational education system indicates that only one box may be marked for religion.
The applicant is given three choices – Zoroastrian, Jewish, or Christian – and if none of the boxes is marked, the form explains, the applicant will be considered Muslim. This is unacceptable to Baha’is.
“Under this system, Baha’is cannot fill out the application without a de facto denial of their faith, which is against their religious principles,” said Bani Dugal, the Baha’i International Community’s principal representative to the United Nations.
“Accordingly, Iranian Baha’is will not be able to take this entrance examination, and so they are effectively blocked this year from obtaining technical and vocational education in Iran.
As noted on Barney Leith’s blog Barnabas Quotidianus—and passed along by countless email groups so far—the fledgling Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights has been featured on BBC Persian (Farsi; check out the English translation). This is well-deserved good news for this collection of brave souls who are selflessly striving to defend the interests of the members of a beleaguered and long-suffering religious community.
For the first time on the internet, a group of Muslim youth has established a site called “the Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights.” This site closely monitors the conditions of Baha’is in Egypt and Iran.
That a group of Muslims—made up social activists and liberal students from Arab countries—has exposed the plight of Baha’is is seen as a significant development by human rights advocates. […]
The founder of “the Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights” believes that most people in the Arab world know very little about the Baha’is: “When I talk to my friends about the Baha’i faith, they tell me that it is a satanic religion. I ask them to provide me with one of the principles of this religion, but they have no answer. Some think that the Baha’is are a sect of Shi’i Islam which is also a mistake. They don’t know anything about it, but they are nonetheless suspicious of its followers.”
In a remarkable and laudable display of interfaith solidarity, Muslim bloggers and interfaith activists have banded together to create The Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights, a website supporting the right of Baha’is across the world to freedom of religious practice, and expressing their concern at the treatment of Baha’is throughout the Middle East. Recent blog posts have examined the worrying situation of the Baha’is of Egypt and the Baha’is of Iran. You should definitely give the website a visit—and if you’re interested in the subject of interfaith blogging, you should also discover the Middle East Interfaith Blogger Network, which covers interfaith issues throughout the Middle East.
Egypt, a country with a long and glorious history dating back to the beginnings of civilization, has been in a very poor state of late, especially with respect to the treatment of its own citizens. Remember last December, when the Egyptian Supreme Court denied Egyptian Baha’is their fundamental citizenship rights by refusing to allow them official ID cards with the mandatory “Religion” field correctly filled out? Well, things just went downhill from there. Hard-hitting Baha’i blog Baha’i Faith in Egypt reports on an Egyptian newspaper interview with Dr. Basma Moussa, an Egyptian Baha’i, who, among other things, discussed the fact that Egyptian Baha’is must pay taxes like any other Egyptian citizen—but are nevertheless deprived of the civil rights granted to other tax-paying citizens. From the blog post:
There must be separation between citizenship and belief—they cannot be interconnected. Each Egyptian citizen must be entitled to ALL citizenship rights. Presently, all Egyptian Bahá’ís are deprived of their citizenship rights simply because of their belief. They are denied government-issued ID cards which are a necessity in order to continue to live in Egypt as a human being. Nothing in normal daily living can be accomplished without these ID cards. […]
In Egypt, it appears to be perfectly acceptable for the government to force the Bahá’ís to pay taxes like all other citizens, but seems to have no hesitation in depriving them of all their civil rights and all services due to them. The authorities cannot demand taxation from Bahá’ís with nothing in return. Is there any justice in this? This fact alone raises a very big question! One would expect that ID cards (and the national ID number) must be used in order to pay taxes!
This atrocious (not to mention ridiculous) treatment of Egypt’s own law-abiding citizens is all the more poignant in light of the news that appeared today about Egypt’s election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. From the Toronto Star:
Despite abuse, Egypt joins rights council: History of torture in African nation makes a mockery of UN, critics say
Olivia Ward, Foreign Affairs Writer
In Egypt, Canadian bank teller Mohamed el-Attar is facing 15 years in jail on spy charges he says he confessed to under torture. Human rights groups say prisoner abuse is routine in the North African country.
In New York yesterday, Egypt won an uncontested seat on the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council, which is meant to defend the rights of the vulnerable worldwide.
What part of this equation doesn’t compute?
“Things like this leave one worried that all the fine things said last year when the council was created aren’t being played out in practice,” says Alex Neve, who heads Amnesty International’s Canadian office.
More than a dozen human rights groups asked the 192-country General Assembly not to vote for Egypt in yesterday’s election to fill 14 seats on the Geneva-based council, charging that the country’s record “is full of serious human rights violations that have been practised widely for long years.”
They named torture, arbitrary detention, election rigging and the use of military courts for trying civilians as reasons not to back Cairo’s bid.
Critics cite Egypt’s win—along with Qatar and Angola, with similarly dubious human rights records—as a sign that the council, created last year to replace the politically charged UN Human Rights Commission which had become known as “the abuser’s club,” is already irrelevant.
When will enough be enough? That’s what this latest news regarding the Baha’is of Iran makes me wonder. Iran seems quite intent on destroying its Baha’i community, while offering to the international community cowardly denials of wrongdoing; will it take a Holocaust for the world to sit up and take notice? The latest reports of persecution against the Baha’is of Iran, brought to light by the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations included reports of the widespread harassment and abuse of Baha’i schoolchildren by their teachers and school administrators (thanks to Barney Leith for the link). Many cases of harassment reported so far have been targeted at girls. Harassment has ranged from insult and ridicule, to pressure to convert to Islam, to beatings and physical abuse.
As someone who serves (however humbly) as a Baha’i children’s class teacher, it seems to me to be particularly shameful and reprehensible that the very people who are tasked with the responsibility to nurture, educate and provide for the material and spiritual development of a new generation of children, choose instead to subvert their trust, exploit their weakness, and effectively stunt the growth of those who depend on them to help them “grow and develop, and appear in the utmost beauty”.
Baha’i students in primary and secondary schools throughout Iran are increasingly being harassed, vilified, and held up to abuse, according to recent reports from inside the country.
During a 30-day period from mid-January to mid-February, some 150 incidents of insults, mistreatment, and even physical violence by school authorities against Baha’i students were reported as occurring in at least 10 Iranian cities.
“These new reports that the most vulnerable members of the Iranian Baha’i community — children and junior youth — are being harassed, degraded, and, in at least one case, blindfolded and beaten, is an extremely disturbing development,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.
“The increasing number of such incidents suggests a serious and shameful escalation in the ongoing persecution of Iranian Baha’is,” said Ms. Dugal. “The fact that school-aged children are being targeted by those who should rightfully hold their trust — teachers and school administrators — only makes this latest trend even more ominous.”
Until very recently, entrance exams for Iranian universities contained a mandatory “Religion” field. Baha’is who attempted to submit their exams were automatically rejected. After 25 years of being barred from any sort of access to university education, a change in government policy—dropping the infamous “Religion” field—allowed hundreds of hopeful Baha’is to take university entrance examinations this year. A sudden sharp rise in expulsions of Baha’i students followed, however—giving rise to the suspicion that the “change” in government policy was simply a ploy to appease fierce international protest. Today, this suspicion is looking more and more justified. Iranian Baha’is who seek higher education are being sent through a revolving door—and are being forced out the way they came in.
Official character of Baha’i expulsions in Iranian university revealed
NEW YORK, 7 March 2007 (BWNS) — The Baha’i International Community has obtained a document that appears to confirm double-dealing by Iran in its policy towards Baha’i students seeking higher education.
The document, a 2 November 2006 letter from the headquarters of Payame Noor University to its regional branches, states that it is government policy that Baha’i students “cannot enroll” in Iranian universities and that if they are already enrolled, “they should be expelled.”
“This document provides proof of Iran’s duplicitous behavior regarding Iranian Baha’i students,” said Bani Dugal, the Baha’i International Community’s principal representative to the United Nations.
“In its public face, Iran claims that it has finally opened the doors to Baha’i students, after some 25 years of keeping them out of public and private universities in Iran,” said Ms. Dugal.
“But, as evidenced by this confidential memorandum from the Payame Noor central office, the real policy is apparently to simply expel Baha’is as soon as they can be identified.”