The silence of Iranian polity towards Bahai persecution
August 5, 2002
Bahais are an enigma in Iran! The Iranian regime, which doesn't really give a
damn about their basic civil rights, flagrantly denies their existence by collectively
dismissing the 500,000 strong communities as a nameless forgotten page of Iranian
In a blatant display of medieval cleansing the theocratic regime in Iran tries to
deny the Bahais hope and deprive them of their will to survive by closing their "Open
University" so that they may remain the permanent underclass nailed to the bottom
most wrung of Iranian society. The clergy aspires to cast these heretics as the untouchables
of Iran in the span of next few decades whilst the Iranians abroad, who are the last
surviving bastion of secular Iranica, sadly remain unconcerned.
Perhaps it is an unprecedented effort in the annals of modern human history that
a government driven by intense theocratic philosophy is so determined to 'ideologically
cleanse' an entire segment of the society in name of Islamic Puritanism. Indeed the
theocracy has realised that rather then make martyrs of individual Bahais and attract
world-wide attention they could inflict a devastating blow to this small minority
by denying their children the chance of an even modest education.
Intellectual cleansing of their ethnic brothers by the clergy dominated regime is
incredible and a very disturbing aspect of contemporary Iranian culture. The silence
of Iranian polity, like the 'silence of the lamb' when devoured, is even more disconcerting,
perhaps in their defence the struggle from dogmatic authoritarianism has so occupied
the reformist struggle that the rights of a marginalized minority are relegated to
The real truth is though that no one give a damn what
happens to Bahais. "Haqeshooneh", is the common dismissive statement when
the plight of the Bahais are brought up however the dual rights to exist and believe
is the basic human freedom accorded to man from the day we are born, denying this
is worst than death.
It was Voltaire who said, "I may not agree with what you say but I'll defend
your right to say it". Let us decide that we may not agree to what they say
but we defend their right to say it openly. It is definite departure from "Haqeshooneh"
but a very encouraging one, great civilisations do not follow archaic laws rather
they lead in the quest for truth and justice.
Cyrus 2,560 years ago issued a decree on his aims and policies, later hailed as his
charter of the rights of nations. Cyrus's claim to fame was that he symbolized Multiculturalism,
a word coined to express the coexistence and peaceful cohabitation of peoples from
different background and culture in one land.
The Cyrus Doctrine is the foundation of present advanced societies. It is heart-rending
to see that the modern age Iran under totalitarian theocracy in full abandonment
of its affluent and evergreen customs is today at the hub of comprehensive tyranny,
oppression and injustice! Nations move forward Iran under theocracy has inched backward.
The cost of this moral decay of a great society is the damage that cannot be ever
Nations especially one as culturally and ethnically rich as Iran, which happens to
boast itself as the rightful heir to the title of the 'bastion and cradle of civilisations',
are the traditional keepers and trustees of the conscience of mankind. Iran, in its
existence as a continuous five thousand year old civilisation, bred the finest literary
classics, the most elegant poetic prose and has bequeathed an enduring artistic and
cultural legacy that is revered throughout the Islamic world.
A civilisation, which taught the world the subtlest of the nuances in language, has
been robbed of its millennia old traditions within a span of three decades by 'theocracy'.
A theocracy that has tarnished Persian society with 'medieval ignorance'
and in its litany of accomplishments managed to produce a series of crimes against
If the Iranian theocracy was practising racial discrimination, it would at least
be an understandable phenomenon, since the hatred of the "Other" has defined
and continues to mar human societies. However to discriminate against citizenry on
basis of archaic imported ideology is the most appalling feat of the Iranian theocracy.
The interjections of medieval ideology have created shades and strains that have
temporarily robbed Iran of its vast cultural and literary exquisiteness. Tragic it
may sound but I'm sure the ideological authoritarian extremism will only be a footnote
in the future history of Iran. However the repression of the Bahai minority, which
is being robbed of the education of its youth, has condemned it to a future of perpetual
It is this eventuality that we all should assume responsibility for and to avert
this Iranians must accept that Bahais are an integral and loyal community within
Iran, extending the same inclusiveness reserved for Shi'ites and other minorities.
Bahai children should not be allowed to become pariahs and suffer the same fate as
their parents, which will occur if the current status quo prevails.
If the deliberate decadence and deflowering of a refined
Iranian society under the authoritarian medieval clergy is the grossest of the sins,
the plight of the Bahais in Iran is another transgression of equal culpability and
intensity. It is unique that not only the voice of majority in Iran but also the
rights of minority have been so vehemently subdued with unfailing force. The Iranian
theocratic revolution, repulsive as it is in its content and approach, has accorded
irreparable damage to the image of Iran and the Iranian people.
The complicity or rather the lamb-like silence of the Iranian people over the persecution
of the Bahais is often rooted in the claim they are an "irredentist" minority
whose loyalty lies in a "universal" community rather than a national one.
Bahais claim that their supreme mission is none other but the achievement
of organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations was and remains, in my
opinion, one of the most groundbreaking ideas of the 19th century. For such an inspiration
to arise in the backward and medieval society of Qajar Persia is astonishing.
Bahai ideals, in no way, alienate Iranians and there is no reason for such censure
on the part of the latter. One can remain detached from the rituals of the Bahai
faith but undoubtedly it is very thought provoking and roadmap of future global constitution.
Still than being celebrated for their contribution and evolution of Iranian thought
or even engaged in debates about the validity of their beliefs, Bahais are considered
to have suspect allegiances, foreign imperialists and "Zionist agents".
The Iranian Bahais can hardly be considered a fifth column! As opposed to Iranian
Muslims, who fancifully claim their original roots to be in ancient Persia rather
than the Arabian deserts, the Bahais are the distinctive breed in that many are the
descendants of the last batch of Zoroastrians to convert to a new faith.
It is a rich statement that 'Iranians do not consider Bahais as Iranians' since it
was some of the ancestors of the Bahais, the Zoroastrians of Kerman and Yazd, who
maintained their unadulterated pre-Islamic Iranian religion until 19th century, when
they converted to Bahaism. The centuries following the invading armies of Caliph
Umar converted most of Iran but some maintained their pre-Islamic culture and tradition
with zeal, however to accuse the Iranians, who converted from Zoroastrianism to Bahaism
only in 19th century, of 'adulteration of stock' is vicious and wicked.
Shi'ite Islam in itself was a continuation of the Iranian stratagem to express national
resistance through intellectual and spiritual dissent. When the Iranian nation was
brutally annexed after battle of Qadisiyya in 636 AD, Iranians adhered to the Shi'ite
Islam as being the true followers of House of Hashim instead of the House of Banu
Ummiyah, which was more representative of the Arab dark ages.
The Shi'ite leaning of Iran may be perceived to be religiously motivated but instead
it was a bold political move to exhibit its open revulsion of the Umayyad dynasty,
support of Banu Hashim was rejection of infected Arabism of Umayyads. Even under
occupation Iranians revolted and accepted Banu Hashim as their saviours. The support
of the underdog instead of powerful is the sign of virtuous nation Iranian amply
displayed that unquestionably. Intellectual dissension has been a omnipresent feature
of Iran since the birth of its native philosophy.
Allama Iqbal Lahori, whose works on Islamic civilisation and philosophy
were pioneering, noted in his book "The Development of Metaphysics in Persia"
of how Iran gave birth to eschatological thought, its evolution into Zoroastrianism
and the tremendous influence of the distinct strain of Iranian-Zoroastrian thought
in the formation of Shi'ite Islam. He refers to the Bahai faith and in his own words,
"But all the various lines of Persian thought once more find a synthesis in
that great religious movement of modern Persia - Babism Bahaism - which began as
a Shia sect with Mirza Ali Muhammad Bab of Shiraz and became less and less in Islamic
character with the progress of orthodox persecutions..."
Bahai revelation may have needed the rich intellectual and spiritual tradition of
Iran; indeed in more primeval regions the religion would have withered. The principles
of the faith are an echo of the charter of the rights of nations and peoples, laid
down by Cyrus the Great 2,500 years, which instituted tolerance and acceptance of
diverse cultures & beliefs as a permanent feature of the Persian Empire.
The hushed stance of the descendents of the Cyrus the great is disgusting as well
as disconcerting. Iranians or the Persians trace their roots to Cyrus (580-529 BC)
who was the first Achaemenian Emperor. Cyrus was upright, a great leader of men,
generous and benevolent. The Hellenes, whom he conquered, regarded him as 'Law-giver'
and the Jews as 'the annointed of the Lord'.
Prof. Richard Frye of Harvard said (in The Heritage of Persia, p10-151):
"In the victories of the Persians... what was different was the new
policy of reconciliation and together with this was the prime aim of Cyrus to establish
a pax Achaemenica ... If one were to assess the achievements of the Achaemenid Persians,
surely the concept of One World, ... the fusion of peoples and cultures in one 'Oecumen'
was one of their important legacies"
He founded Persia by uniting the two original Iranian Tribes- the Medes and the Persians.
Although he was known to be a great conqueror, who at one point controlled one of
the greatest Empires ever seen, he is best remembered for his unprecedented tolerance
and magnanimous attitude towards those he defeated.
Sadly nearly 2,529 years after Cyrus Iran finds itself in the clutches of intolerance
and dogmatic rigidity, Iran and Iranians categorically do not deserve this. Acceptance
of Bahais within the society will be a fulfilment of the dreams of Cyrus. Reconciliation
and tolerance should be the basis of the modern Iranian nation even if it remains
fixed to its religious moorings.
Contrary to charges that they are the 'bastard children' of British colonialism,
aiming to destroy Shi'ite Islam, the fact of the matter is that the Bahais were the
last bastions of Iranian culture who moved on to embrace global culture, their ascension
from a medieval society to the most modern of thoughts is incredible and amazing
if anything else. It was like evolving from the Palaeolithic Age to the Cyber age,
the Bahais of Iran advocated ideas that were revolutionary, even from western standards,
such as a federalised earth and the equality of gender. The Bahai faith is the pinnacle
of Iranian institutions and will be the foremost legacy of Iran to the globe.
The ideal of an egalitarian society where the prejudice of colour, race and belief
will be shunned and a new call of oneness of mankind becomes the cardinal goal of
mankind looks premature even now. In medieval Iran of the 19th century how could
a man, descending partly from aristocracy and partly from Babism, have coined the
new world order of collective progress is beyond the scope of many great modern thinkers.
The vision of future held by members of the Bahai community,
however little it may be understood as yet by the majority of the planet's inhabitants,
refutes the idea of encroaching darkness; the Bahai vision is, in contrast, one of
great promise. The Bahai vision amongst the contemporary revolutionary thoughts is
viewed...as marking the last and highest stage in the stupendous evolution of man's
collective life on this planet.
The emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding
of a world civilization and culture...should, by their very nature, be regarded,
as far as this planetary life is concerned, as the furthermost limits and the cutting
edge in the organization of human society, this is the vertical limit and Iranians
can be proud of the fact that such a global visionary as Bahaullah was born in Tehran.
He will be considered as one of the greatest visionary of the 19th century and Iranians
should definitely take pride in that.