Conflict and strife are hardly rarities in this writhing world of ours. Within every border and beneath every roof an afflicted humanity cowers. How do we begin to categorize the burden we all directly or indirectly share?
The gauge that distinguishes these crises from each other, it seems, could derive from the victims’ response to oppression. It’s easy to love thy brother. Is it possible to love thine enemy?
Hatred, enmity, resentment, revolution. Such are the desperate responses we’re used to. Such is all the oppressed has to work with. How often does a community, denied the right to have a right, fight back with service?
One need seek no further than the beleaguered Baha’is of Iran.
Bearing the weight of life without the right to legal status, education, marriage, entrepreneurial endeavor, and, sometimes, life, the members of Iran’s largest religious minority have patiently and tranquilly awaited the attention of fellow Iranian and world citizens since the Faith’s inception a century-and-a-half ago.
As constant as the persecution has been the response. Since 1844, generation after generation of Baha’is in that country have striven to “eagerly seek to live in perfect peace with the warlike and quarrelsome,” to show “composure, serenity and kindness” to their oppressors, and to “demonstrate their heroism in the arena of service.” They remain patriots in a country that orchestrates their demise.
The attorney general of Iran in 1981, Siyyid Moussavi-Tabrizi, reminded his country, “The Qur’án recognizes only the People of the Book as religious communities. Others are pagans. Pagans must be eliminated.”
In 2007 the governing institution of the Bahá’í world instructed my generation of would-have-been University students to mourn their futures not with violence, not with civil disobedience, not with apathy. The message said something different:
“With an illumined conscience, with a world-embracing vision, with no partisan political agenda, and with due regard for law and order, strive for the regeneration of your country.”
I write with my thoughts centered on the governing institution of the Iranian Baha’is. Imprisoned without charge since March 2008, the seven members await their trial. Withheld from legal council, charged with “spying for Israel, insulting the sacred, and propaganda against the system,” they all face capital punishment. Who will defend them?
Those seven call for the world’s judgment. International pressure is the only earthly hope they entertain. Today, the opportunity to respond to their silent resilience stands more glaring than ever. “This Day a door is open wider than both heaven and earth,” the founder of the Bahá’í Faith once wrote, “This is the Day in which to speak.” We enjoy instant communication with each other. Why not with our congressmen and senators, professors and deans?
Urgency adopts a new meaning under the shadow of a hundred-fifty-year-old abuse. The Iranian Bahá’í community will continue to suffer with renunciation, constancy, and sacrifice for as long as it has to. But how many more have to prove their patience and longsuffering? How many more must lose their lives? How much longer must their service go unrecognized?
“The earth is but one country,” Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “and mankind its citizens.” It’s time that we embrace that community the way it embraces us.
This documentary was made with the intention of personalizing the suffering that has plagued the Baha’i community for so long.
Special thanks to Farsheed (dad) and Faran Ferdowsi (uncle) for participating in the interviews, to Donesh Ferdowsi for his killer script, and the talented Shohreh Sh for the background music.