We are overwhelmed by an avalanche of news about unprecedented protests in Iran. The detentions, the killings, the lies. Meanwhile leaders of the Bahai community in Iran are quietly put on trial for… what? Vague charges of attempting to undermine the Islamic Republic.
These accusations are not new. The religious establishment has always labeled Bahais as agents of foreign powers on a mission to destroy Islam. In fact various clerics and radical groups have used attacks on Bahais as a means to generate hysteria and portray themselves as defenders of Islam. [Watch most recent example]
After 1979, the Islamic Republic has used the same tactics to generate fear and blame others for its failures. And conditions today could not be worse. The most radical, ruthless and irrational elements have seized power and implementing the same tactics they have learned and practiced all their lives, with finger-pointing against Bahais being their favorite.
I doubt that any of the accused would get the death sentence. The regime would not want to make martyrs out of leading Bahais. What they would probably do is give them long prison sentences as a warning to followers.
The problem with the regime’s thinking is that whether they kill or jail Bahais, nothing is going to change. Bahais will continue with their normal lives. They will continue to keep their faith. And they will continue to be discriminated and abused simply for what they believe in.
Yes, this ridiculous show trial will please the dwindling, dogmatic supporters of the regime. But the general population is so disillusioned and distrustful of the regime that it won’t pay much attention to the proceedings.
If anything, this trial will generate more disgust towards the regime, more condemnation by human rights groups as well as the international community and, ironically, more reason for non-Bahais to explore a faith that preaches everything the Islamic Republic is not.
It is no secret that a significant number of Iranians, even those who are educated, live in the West and hate the Islamic Republic, do not have much sympathy for Bahais. Many of us are reluctant to defend them as vigorously as we would protesters, women, journalists, or political activists.
There seems to be an underlying distrust of Bahais, an unfortunate result of age-old propaganda by the least tolerant segments of the Shia establishment. We often point to aspects of Bahai beliefs or history which we find unappealing. But we forget that they have a right to believe in anything they want. Just like the followers of any other religion who believe in ideas that could be argued away by rational human beings.
To those Iranians I say try to put yourself in Bahai shoes. Imagine being a Bahai in Iran for a day, with no guaranteed right to send your child to school, attend university, register your marriage, own a house or business in your own name, work for the government, or have a temple. And on top of that, live under constant threat simply for believing in a different religion.
There have been hopeful signs that our attitudes are changing. It is no longer unusual for non-Bahais, including writers, journalists, academics and politicians to speak out on behalf of Bahais. In an unprecedented act for a senior Shia figure, even Ayatollah Montazeri defended Bahais as Iranian citizens in no uncertain terms towards the end of his life.
So I do see an unmistakable trend towards the general acceptance of Bahais, not for their beliefs, but for who they are: people! People who have the right to believe and practice their faith freely.
Religious tolerance starts with us. Let’s be fair and accepting of all. An attack on the rights and well-being of any individual is an attack on all of us. If believing in something different is a seditious act and shows that I am a mercenary for foreign powers, then I am a Bahai too.