Bahais in Iran

How Does It Feel to Be A Question?

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I wrote recently that young Baha'is in Iran are denied the experience of graduating from college taken for granted by young Americans this time of year. For a Baha'i in the United States, the denial was not a diploma, but a phone call.

An article recently published in the Washington Post told the story of a graduate from George Mason University. The graduate named Mahtab Mortezaei Farid did not receive a promised call from her father on her graduation day. At first she thought he had forgotten. She later learned he had been arrested and denied the opportunity to call. Her father, Kamran Mortezaei Farid was rounded up with several other Baha'is for their involvement with the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education. The Baha'i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE) was founded as a creative and wholly non-violent response to the Iranian regime's policy of excluding Baha'is from higher education. This grim news transformed what should have been a celebration of achievement into a vigil for justice.

{josquote}It reminded me of W.E.B Du Bois' poignant discussion of a similar dynamic in his literary classic, The Souls of Black Folk:{/josquote}

You may wonder why the Islamic Republic would spend its time arresting citizens for trying to educate young people. The reason is that if you are a Baha'i in Iran you are not a person; you are a "question." At least this is the language used in a document of the Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council of Iran. According to this document "The government’s dealings with them [Baha'is] must be in such a way that their progress and development are blocked". Towards this end several recommendations are made including the following:

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Intellectual Othering & the Baha’i Question in Iran

The University of Toronto, in conjunction with the Foundation for Iranian Studies and the Toronto Initiative for Iranian Studies, is sponsoring a conference about the Baha’is in Iran.

The conference will take place July 1-3rd 2011 and offer an array of speakers, many of which should be familiar already to the readers of this blog: Abbas Amanat, Moojan Momen, Payam Akhavan, Muhammad Afnan, etc.

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Faith and Persecution

Nasser Sedghi (pictured) left his homeland of Iran in 1978 and has not been able to return since. Nasser and his wife, Farzan, came to Australia as refugees in 1984 after meeting and marrying while at university in India. By the time they completed their degrees it was too dangerous to go back home.

Nasser and his family are followers of the Baha'i faith, which Nasser says can mean persecution in relation to employment, education and many other daily freedoms.

Nasser's brother, Farhad decided to stay behind in Iran to give other Baha'i's access to higher education by teaching at a university specifically for Baha'i followers. Farhad was recently arrested and is currently being kept in a jail in Tehran. Nasser says he believes his brother was arrested because of his involvement with academia and Baha'i.

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Thoughts on the Latest Raids Against BIHE

By now you’ve no doubt learned about the recent raids on the Baha’i Institute Higher Education by Iranian government authorities. This resulted in the confiscation of teaching materials as well as the arrest of several Baha’is serving as faculty. Sen wrote about this almost immediately after it occurred: Many searches and 14 arrests of BIHE faculty.

In case you’re not familiar with the BIHE, it was setup as a result of the systematic persecution of Baha’is in Iran. Part of the organized persecution of the Baha’i community is the Iranian government’s explicit policy to exclude Baha’is from the education system. As the BIHE’s website explains:

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Iran Vows to Unplug Internet

Iran is taking steps toward an aggressive new form of censorship: a so-called national Internet that could, in effect, disconnect Iranian cyberspace from the rest of the world.

The leadership in Iran sees the project as a way to end the fight for control of the Internet, according to observers of Iranian policy inside and outside the country. Iran, already among the most sophisticated nations in online censoring, also promotes its national Internet as a cost-saving measure for consumers and as a way to uphold Islamic moral codes.

In February, as pro-democracy protests spread rapidly across the Middle East and North Africa, Reza Bagheri Asl, director of the telecommunication ministry's research institute, told an Iranian news agency that soon 60% of the nation's homes and businesses would be on the new, internal network. Within two years it would extend to the entire country, he said.

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