Saturday, June 04, 2011

Not Free to Learn

Article first published as Not Free to Learn on Blogcritics.

This time of year in America is the graduation season. Thousands of young people march to the sounds of Pomp and Circumstance and receive their diplomas. It is a time of celebrating achievement and looking forward to the future. It is a time of caps and gowns, proud parents and parties. For some it is the beginning of their first post-grad job, for others the beginning of graduate education. What these graduates, their families and the faculty who taught them may find difficult to imagine, is that this moment could be denied because of their religious beliefs.

For young Baha'is in Iran, this is exactly what they experience year after year. It is not enough that because you are a Baha'i you face arbitrary detention or imprisonment for trumped up charges. It is not enough that you may be fired from your job. It is not enough that may have your home or business fire-bombed. It is not enough that your final resting place may be desecrated and your very bones pulverized by bulldozers. No, in Iran you have to be denied an education as well.

It has long been the policy of the Islamic Republic to deny Baha'is access to higher education. In response to this state-sanctioned religious bullying, the Baha'i community of Iran took the future of its young people into its own hands. In a creative and wholly non-violent approach the community organized the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE). On May 21st, the BIHE became the latest target of the government's decades long pogrom against largest religious minority. 30 homes were raided and 16 people arrested, one of whom has since been released.

Denying Baha'is access to higher education is a clear violation of international law and covenants to which Iran is a signatory. For example under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, "everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes "the right of everyone to education," and that, "higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity."

In addition to being a violation of international law, this wrong-headed policy is a waste of human capacity and intellect that could benefit the nation. 'Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1892), Head of the Baha'i Faith from 1892-1921 addressed a treatise later titled The Secret of Divine Civilization to the political and religious leaders of his day in Iran. Among the many comments he made in this treatise, the following bears directly on the issue of education:

"The primary, the most urgent requirement is the promotion of education. It is inconceivable that any nation should achieve prosperity and success unless this paramount, this fundamental concern is carried forward. The principal reason for the decline and fall of peoples is ignorance."

If you think that young Baha'is in Iran deserve the freedom to learn I urge you to contact your representative(s) and Senators and encourage them to co-sponsor House Resolution 134 and Senate Resolution 80. These resolutions call on the government of Iran to stop its persecution of the Baha'is. I particularly call on educators who appreciate the power of higher education to lend their voices to this effort. No student should be denied the opportunity to experience this power and no educator should face arrest for providing that experience.