Thursday, February 19, 2009

Trial and Tribulation: "Then They Came For the Baha'is"

A local Baha'i undergraduate in the Boston area has an excellent co-authored post about the persecution of the Iranian Baha'is on Eboo Patel's blog, The Faith Divide which is featured on the Newsweek online section called "On Faith". I'm including this post in full below:

Then They Came for the Bahá'ís

Today's guest bloggers are Remz Pokorny and Jeremy Lambshead. Remz Pokorny is a senior at Brandeis University and an Interfaith Youth Core Fellow. He is also the undergraduate head of the Brandeis Bahá'í Association. Jeremy Lambshead majored in religious studies at Carleton College and has been an active participant with the Interfaith Youth Core since 2005. He lives in Chicago as a writer, musician and member of the Bahá'í Faith.

The year is 1982. A group of armed assailants break into the home of Mr. Askar Muhammadi in the Iranian village of Rahimkhani. After proceeding to shoot Mr. Muhammadi in the back, the assailants are confronted by his brother, who asks in horror why they would do such a thing. The murderers simply reply: "He was a Bahá'í, and to kill a Bahá'í is a good deed for devout Muslims."

The early 1980s were a grim time for Iran's 350,000 member Bahá'í community, the country's largest religious minority.

Shortly following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the nine member body called the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Iran was abducted and its members executed. Shortly after the National Assembly formed itself again, its members were again abducted and this time disappeared. Since then, the Iranian government has maintained a policy of systematic persecution of its Bahá'í community, the specifics of which can be found in a government document that addresses the so-called "Bahá'í question" being discussed at the highest levels of the regime. In April 2006, the Anti-Defamation League said the orders issued by the Iranian regime against the Bahá'í community were "reminiscent of the steps taken against Jews in Europe and a dangerous step toward the institution of Nuremberg-type laws."

The international community vowed "never again" following the Holocaust, and yet, there is a striking comparison between the social conditions in Germany that led up to the catastrophe of the Holocaust, and the similar social conditions that are present to an eerie degree today in Iran - with respect to its Bahá'í community in particular and religious freedom in general (other groups of non-Shiite Muslims such as Christians and Sufis are also persecuted).

This past week another harrowing and painful blow was dealt to the Bahá'í community and the cause of religious freedom. Since the abduction of National Spiritual Assembly members in the early 1980s, this national Bahá'í institution is no longer allowed to form in Iran, and a national coordinating group has since governed the affairs of the Iranian Bahá'í community in its stead. The seven members of this national coordinating group were unjustly imprisoned last year and learned last week they will go on trial on baseless charges of "espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic republic." All indications are that this will be a show trial, with no care given to due process. The defendants are being denied access to their attorney, Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, an internationally recognized human rights activist.

The Iranian government would have the world believe that these men and women are guilty of crimes against the state, nay crimes against Islam itself, crimes serious enough to warrant the death penalty, which is what Amnesty International warns these defendants may face if convicted. However, it must be made unequivocally clear that the reason these individuals are being put on trial is for their status as leaders of the Bahá'í community and that reason alone. Bahá'í teachings forbid involvement in partisan political affairs or subversive activities and call on citizens to be obedient to government and civil law. The Bahá'í scriptures also uphold the sanctity and divine station of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon Him) and the Holy Qur'an. The charge of espionage for Israel is also unsupported. The international center of the Bahá'í Faith was in that land decades before the creation of the state of Israel, when Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, was exiled in 1868 by Ottoman authorities to the prison city of Acre, in what was then Palestine. There is simply no basis to any of the charges being trumped up by the Iranian regime against these seven individuals. They must be dropped and the defendants released without further delay.

While some in the interfaith community may think of religious extremists as a small yet well-organized groups of social saboteurs, this is a case of institutionalized religious extremism at its worst. We are not talking about a rogue terrorist group or a fiery congregation; we are talking about an entire government regime that is attempting to legitimize what is nothing more than religious bigotry against non-Shiite Muslim citizens.

An attack on the Bahá'ís is an attack on all of us who champion the cause of religious pluralism and freedom. The faith line has been clearly drawn in Iran, as it has been drawn the world over, between religious pluralists and bigots, between citizens who wish to live in peace with each other and a radical theocracy bent upon carrying out a campaign to suffocate its largest religious minority.

Which side of the line will you choose to be on?

If you would like to voice your concern over the situation of the seven Bahá'í leaders in Iran, please contact your federal Congressional Representative and ask him or her to cosponsor H. Res. 175 on the Iranian Bahá'í situation. You can contact your Senators, too.

You may find these sites useful:

U.S. House of Representatives and type in your Zip Code +4

U.S. Senate and select your State

Other relevant sources on this issue:

House of Representatives Resolution 175

Commission on International Religious Freedom

U.S. Department of State

For all U.S. Government and NGO statements on this case, along with all media and blog coverage on this issue, please visit this site.

The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.