Stop Persecuting Baha'is in Iran.

Last night I went to a prayer gathering.

I didn't pray for more money, cute clothes or more writing/blogging jobs. I didn't pray for ten pounds to disappear from my frame, for my sons to get into the magnet school of my choice or for some really delicious Thai food to magically appear on my doorstep so I wouldn't have to cook dinner.

Instead, I went to pray for my Baha'i brothers and sisters in Iran, and especially for the individuals who make up the "Tehran 7".

Nine months ago, these five men and two women, were arrested and sent to the Tehran equivalent of Guantanamo, Evin Prison. Conditions there are so brutal that the five men are all imprisoned in one 10 meter squared cell with no bed.

Their alleged crimes? We're all supposed to believe that these seven men and women (you can read their bios here) are “spies for Israel,” have been busy “insulting religious sanctities” and spent their time spreading “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”

Of course it's all a big lie. Their only "crime" is that, like me, they are Baha'is. I guess "insulting religious sanctities" = not recanting your faith and agreeing to say you're Muslim. Maybe "propaganda against the Islamic Republic" = speaking your mind and believing in religions freedom and human rights. Oh, and by the way, there's no funnelling of Iranian state secrets to the Israelis going on either.

You see, in order to spy, you'd actually have to have access to a job where you could gather valuable, top secret information. How could that possibly happen when it's ILLEGAL for Baha'is in Iran to seek employment? How would they even get access to state secrets without a government job??? Duh!!! Seriously, whoever comes up with these lies on behalf of Iran should get fired for that one. A fifth grader could bust that ridiculousness apart!

So where does the whole Israeli spying thing come from? Well, Baha'i holy sites are located in Haifa, Israel.

Why are the Baha'i holy sites in Israel if the Baha'i Faith originated in Iran? We can place all the blame for that squarely on the shoulders of the 19th century Iranian clergy and government.

Let's travel back in time to the 19th century... Baha'u'llah, the prophet founder of the Baha'i Faith got exiled from Iran by the Shah. He'd been tortured and imprisoned for years and was finally exiled to what was at the time the furthest away part of the Ottoman Empire: Palestine.

What did Palestine turn into 80 years later? Wait for it... wait for it... Israel!

Nowadays, Iranian officials act like Baha'u'llah sat around and said, "Please torture me and my family and then send us to Palestine because one day it's going to become Israel!"

Yeah, that's the basis of the spying charges. Crazy right?

But, come to think of it, if "Guilty By Israeli Association" is the name of the game, then ALL Muslims who've made the pilgrimage to the second-oldest mosque in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, should be put in the slammer too. After all, it is in Jerusalem. Jerusalem IS in Israel. Maybe those devout Muslims were actually up to some spying while they were on their trip? Hmm???

Sadly enough, the persecution of Baha'is in Iran is nothing new. Images depicting the murder of Baha'is were published in Persian magazines 100 years ago. My eight year-old son burst into tears when he saw this picture last night. To him it's simple: Why are people so mean to each other?

Great question. My mind still has a hard time wrapping itself around any sorts of persecutions. I can't do logical thinking about something so incredibly psycho as slavery or the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide... How and why do people consciously choose to commit such brutalities simply because someone else is different?

Unfortunately, murders of Baha'is are still taking place in modern times. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, over 200 Baha'is have been executed in Iran. Countless more have been arrested, tortured, and have experienced brutal human rights violations.

Imagine coming home and finding out your house has been burned to the ground, all because you're a Baha'i. That could happen if you live in Iran.

The next time you want to go to lay flowers on a Baha'i friend's grave, you might find out that it's been destroyed because Baha'i cemeteries in Iran regularly get desecrated.

And your child's dream of going to Harvard like Barack Obama? They better forget about it because since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Baha'is in Iran are not allowed to pursue a higher education.

What might happen to the Tehran 7? We know they're supposed to go on trial soon, possibly within a week. It is, of course, a sham trial because they don't even get access to their lawyer, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Ms. Ebadi is not a Baha'i but she volunteered to represent the Tehran 7. She has not been able to speak with them and has not been given evidence of any of the charges.

The execution of these seven Bahai's is a very real possibility because the punishment for their alleged crimes is death.

So what can we do?

Last night it was so meaningful to see representatives from other religious communities come out to the Los Angeles Baha'i Center to pray with us and express their support for the Tehran 7. It was especially touching when the Islamic Center of Southern California's statement condemning the treatment of Baha'is in Iran was read.

And, not all Iranians around the world agree with what is happening to Baha'is in their homeland. Last week, a group of 42 Iranian professionals published an apology to the Baha'is for the atrocities being committed. It's called "We Are Ashamed". You know the authors of that apology no longer live in Iran or else they'd clearly be in jail by now for writing such an apology. The charges would be "consorting with spies for Israel", or something equally ridiculous.

Many NGOs and government agencies around the world, like the EU are condemning these human rights violations against the Baha'is.

Here in the United States, House Resolution 175, "Condemning the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights" will soon be up for a vote. You can ask your representative to co-sponsor this resolution.

Newspapers around the world are covering the situation of the Tehran 7 and individuals like actor and Baha'i, Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight Schrute on NBC's "The Office" are writing commentaries on CNN.

I asked myself what practical actions I could take on top of my prayers and on top of writing my representatives. I'm writing this here on my blog because the best way to combat a lie is to speak up and tell the truth. As a Baha'i, how can I not shine a light on what is happening to people halfway around the world simply because they share the same religious background as me?

How can I be silent when I know that Jews, Sufis, Christians and Zoroastrians in Iran are ALSO persecuted? This is not solely about what's happening to Baha'is. This is really about everybody in Iran who does not have the freedoms and human rights they deserve.

I fully believe that you wouldn't be taking the time to read this if you were one of those people who stands back and watches human rights atrocities taking place. Sadly enough, history has had too much of that already. We all know what kind of suffering lies down the road of indifference.

Please, if you can, write a letter, write about this on your own blog, call your government officials and talk about it with your friends.

If you can't do that, please pray. Surely, our prayers do make a difference.

Comments

Unknown said…
An absolutely wonderful post, Liz. Thank you for putting this out there. I'm not sure if Americans can totally wrap their brains around this because we have (of course) our own problems to contend with, right.

The economy is no joke. But the parallels between the issues we as nation face right now, and the ones our grandparents and great grandparents faced during the Great Depression are significant. If ever there were a time when we need to look back in history and remember what it can teach us, this would be it.

Right now, America's financial state is at critical mass level. By the 1930s, when "rumors of war" were looming out of Europe, Americans turned away from those "rumors" because of outrageous unemployment and poverty. We have enough trouble at home. Solve your own problems.

And that problem grew, and grew until it became behemoth monster known as Nazi Germany. We couldn't turn away anymore. The monster had an enormous appetite, and it was consuming the world.

Now, the Tehran Seven are being used by the Iranian theocracy to escalate a bit-chomping war machine aimed at Israel. This is beyond the bogus charges of apostasy, which is a "crime against Islam" that is punishable by death. If that isn't enough, the espionage charge brings with it a heightening of tensions between Israel and Iran, and the threat of war even closer. America, as an ally of Israel, would probably be drawn into the fray.

The "what ifs" are endless, but this is a surety--these seven courageous, steadfast men and women care nothing about politics and international intrigue. The charges are false, period. They care about serving God and mankind, as Baha'u'llah has instructed all of us to do. I've been told that many Iranian Baha'is understand their role in this global drama, and they humbly accept it. This brings tears to my eyes.

If anyone would like to know more about how the Baha'is held in Tehran are being held hostage in the Iran/Israel conflict, please check out this CNN article:
http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=56725071436&h=RT4EF&u=tsd4y

Thanks again for this post, Liz.
Unknown said…
I posted the wrong URL. So sorry! Here's the correct link for the CNN article:

Religious leaders face spying charges
Anonymous said…
It's frightening how totalitarian some Muslims can be in order to increase the dominance of their religion. Followers of other religions are ruthlessly suppressed, along with freedom of speech and any criticism of Islam. I hope the Tehran 7 get some sort of justice, but I fear the worst. Any free thinker in Iran is at risk and the only sensible course is probably to leave the country fast.
Liz Dwyer said…
Angela,
Yeah, there are a whole lot of parallels between now and 70 years ago, but I hope that what is different is that people have SO much more access to information, so much more understanding that we have to stand together united as one people on this planet. Even the internet makes such a difference in being able to understand and related to folks in a completely different place. That is what I hope because we do not need WWIII to start over this, even if that's what some in Iran may want.

And, thanks for sharing that CNN link. I think I may have included it but if not, it's a good one to have.

Nick,
I think that sort of extremism frightens the majority of Muslims who just want to live their lives and do right by their families, just like folks from every background. I wish they could just leave but Baha'is and other folks who express any sort of diversity of thought most often can't legally leave the country.
Anonymous said…
well written and insightful. Thank you.
Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for adding your own thoughts on this matter, I like how you put it in a matter of fact way, it really hits home.
Ian Lidster said…
It's good of you to raise this issue again, Liz. I am astonished how this issue goes unaddressed by our governments, much as they ignored the plight of the Jews in Europe prior to WW II. I have a local Baha'i friend who spent 11 months in an Irani prison in which many others were executed. He was able to escape thanks to the workings of a group of German Baha'is. He once owned the largest optical centre in Tehran until he was arrested during the hideous days of the Ayatollah. Moshe still works as an optician here and remains grateful to be alive. But, as you suggest, the genocide goes on and we choose to ignore it.
Thanks, Liz. You have a wonderful heart.
Anonymous said…
This is so sad. I don't understand the persecution or inhumane treatment of other humans, period. I am particularly disturbed by the pesecution of peaceful relgions (Quakers have taken some hits, too.) It's appalling. I don't pray exactly, but I will surely hold these people in my heart.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for this tangible courageous act of speaking out and telling your truth, Liz. I am just stunned by the escalation in persecution, and like you, praying for direction on what to do besides pray that is. You set a wonderful example, dear.
Shiona said…
This senseless persecution is unbeliveable. It is truly sad to continue to see it going on in this day and age. I too fear the ending will not be happy for the Tehran 7. I will hope that things end well as I don't really pray either.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention Liz.
Liz Dwyer said…
Pooneh,
I have been meaning to write about this for days so I'm glad the words finally came together.

Shin,
Thanks for coming to visit my blog. The sad thing is that the Iranian leadership does not look at things in a factual way. They've got an alternate reality.

Ian,
The experience of your friend is one that I have heard echoed by so many Iranian Baha'is who managed to escape. I really believe that every nation in the world needs to rise up and ostracize ANY nation that commits genocidal acts.

Citizen,
Thanks for keeping these folks close to your heart. That support surely does ripple into the universe.

Anonymous,
I am absolutely stunned, too. I just believe so firmly that we all have to take a stand and tell the truth about this and if someone reads this and adds their voice to the call to cease these atrocities, that makes all the difference.

Shiona,
Thanks for the hoping. Thanks so very much for that. If folks pray, hope, have a moment of silence, write a letter...whatever it is, I hope it can make a difference.
There are times when I'd like to bury my head under the covers and never leave. Other times I think I'll go postal on a bunch of people. We have people outraged over a cartoon, We have people saying a woman deserves to be beaten. We have this. And we can stand in solidarity.
Lisa Johnson said…
Very powerful post. The more people who speak against this persecution the better. I'm going to pray and tweet this.
commoncents said…
Great post! Would you like a Link Exchange with our new blog COMMON CENTS where we blog about the issues of the day??

http://www.commoncts.blogspot.com
Liz Dwyer said…
Faith,
Standing together in solidarity is really the only thing that's ever worked in history. People united in a common cause can always achieve more than just one individual. Always.

Anali,
Thanks for the prayers and the tweet. Every bit can make a difference!

Commoncents,
Thank you and thanks for visiting. Sure, I'd be happy to link to your blog! :)

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