Persecutions Continue. They Never Stop.
By Pete Haug
In 1697, a 20-year-old man was hanged in Edinburgh for blasphemy. Authorities “wanted his death to serve as a warning. In 1983 a 15-year-old Iranian girl, Mona, was hanged in Shiraz together with nine other Baha’i women for “being a member of the Baha’i Faith.” Those hangings also were meant as warnings.
Such persecutions have been visited upon Iranian Baha’is for nearly two centuries. Last October, a court acquitted eleven Iranians who had demolished the homes of Baha’is. “No wrongdoing had occurred,” the court found, because “ownership of property by the 27 Baha’is” was not valid “due to their membership in the Baha’i Faith.”
This decision was significant, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Baha’i Public Affairs Office, because it represents a “departure from prior written opinions.” Judges in the past have admitted orally that “religious discrimination has been the reason for their decisions,” but in written opinions they’ve been careful to justify similar confiscations by alleged violations of zoning/permitting ordinances or similar technicalities.
This written admission of discrimination is “worrisome” because it “may signal a growing lack of concern with public opinion,” the spokesman said, “especially international public opinion. Such opinion has long been the primary mitigator of Iranian government persecution against Baha’is.”
On Feb. 13, more than 50 high-ranking Canadian legal professionals expressed concern over this ruling. In a letter to Iran’s chief justice they wrote, “We know the Baha’i Faith to stand for values of peace, justice and unity,” values that “have been under sustained attack by the Iranian authorities for decades…We stand with the Baha’is of Iran.”
Having known and worked with Iranian Baha’is over decades, I’ve been fascinated by stories of injustices suffered in their home country. Their lack of bitterness as they tell those stories is impressive. An Iranian-American doctor in Medical Lake described how she was able to complete medical school in Iran. She was at the top of her class, and her professors wanted her to finish because there was a shortage of doctors.
“This was against government policy,” she said, laughing, “but the professors prevailed.”
Religious persecutions are not new; they’re rampant, along with racism, sexism, and other systemic prejudices. For millennia, Jews have borne the brunt of holocaustic abuse, and it’s not over. Recently Spokane’s Temple Beth Shalom was vandalized with swastikas and a white power symbol.This happened in 2014 also, during High Holy Days.
In Iran, Baha’is — men, women, even children — have been tortured, mutilated, and killed since the 1850s. Although the Baha’i faith is recognized globally as an independent world religion, certain Muslim governments view it as blasphemous, its members deserving of death, just as the Christian government of Edinburgh perceived blasphemy in 1697.
Local Baha’is, your neighbors
Baha’i communities in Spokane, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties are relatively small, although they recently established a Baha’i section at Woodlawn Cemetery. Baha’is also work with youth and junior youth from the Karen refugee community, and a sizable group of Marshallese Baha’is live in Spokane.
You might know a Baha’i. We’re in all walks of life: firefighters, mechanics, medical professionals, teachers, custodians, agriculturists, service workers, realtors, engineers, artists, shop owners, salesclerks, truck drivers, factory workers, librarians — the list goes on.
Baha’is accept the Old and New Testaments, and the Quran. We believe Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and other major prophets were all from the same God, speaking for him at different times. The latest of these messengers is Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i faith.
Like a healthy ecosystem, Baha’is thrive on the diversity that supports our unity. Differing perspectives offer multiple insights that strengthen and build those communities. Iran doesn’t welcome this kind of thinking.
Can you imagine? Our Scriptures explicitly recognize women and men as equal — in occupations, pay, child-rearing, education, all walks of life. One exception: if necessary, girls have priority for education because, as mothers, they will be the first educators of their children.
Church and State
America’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, separates church and state. Recent events raise questions about that separation. Throughout our nation, pressure seems to be growing to inflict certain rigid militant belief systems on others, with little tolerance for dissent.
We believe in justice for minorities. Racial divisions are artificial. As science unraveled the human genome, it confirmed we are one humanity, a beautiful rainbow with infinite diversity in sizes, shapes, colors, talents, and potentials. This science accords with Baha’i beliefs.
You and I are free to resist the lies and hatred of extreme intolerance. We’re free even to befriend the liars and haters, if necessary, in hopes of creating a more peaceful, just society. We still worship – or not — as we please. We share these freedoms, at least for now. We dare not lose them.
Iranian Baha’is have never had them.
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