Interviewing A Persian Bahai in Exile in London


deena guzder

When I mention to friends and colleagues that I'm going to the Islamic Republic of Iran, they look shell shocked and incredulous. Their first question is predictable: are you scared? I give them my stock answer: it's safe, the people are friendly and the U.S. media is hysterical. I say to myself, I'm much more scared by the prospect of spending the rest of my summer sitting in a newsroom editing reams of video than I am about exploring a deeply misunderstood country and gaining insight into its diverse faiths.

I began my summer in New York, Chicago and California, exploring how Persian identities are changed by America, navigating the seemingly indelible divide between an adopted home and a native land, two countries that are often see as opposite extremes of a religiosity continuum. I learned how Persian immigrants' views on religion become more or less malleable and witnessed how these changes are manifest in their everyday lives. Iran offers the opposite; rather than witnessing renegotiated identities, I would have an opportunity to understand how members of minority religions preserve their faiths under an Islamic theocracy.

{josquote}The other students would applaud when I stood up for Bahais because I seemed to be some sort of anarchist.{/josquote}

I begin my foreign reporting in England rather than Iran because, although Iran's constitution officially recognizes Muslims, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, the Bahai faith is not regarded as a religion and is "referred to as a heretical sect." Since I cannot speak to Bahais in Iran without jeopardizing their safety, I'm spending 48 hours in Lancaster, England reporting on the experience of Erfan Sabeti, a Persian Bahai studying for a doctorate in religious studies at Lancaster University.

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