The past and the present met at the gothic Victory College of the University of Toronto and its modern neighbouring theatre where a historically unique conference was hosted a few weeks.
I attended “Intellectual Othering and the Bahai Question in Iran” (1-3 July) in Toronto, a venue to explore how the Iranian regime has sought to exclude the Bahais from social, political, cultural, and intellectual life by portraying them as outsiders in their own land – a macabre process known as "othering."
"This conference is not a Bahai studies conference," said its main organizer Mohamad Tavakoli. "It is an effort to understand the use of repression in the history of modern Iran and how the 'othering' of Bahais has become a mechanism of mass mobilization for the legitimization of the state and for the creation of political-religious ideology."
The broad topics explored by the 27 presenters were: Historical Frames, Revelation, Elimination and "the Promised Land", Gender Modernity, World Politics and Transnational Identities, Contestations, Harassment, Intolerance, Human Rights: Particular and Universal, and Citizenship and Rights.
Scholars from around the world shared their research on Othering, a phenomenon shown to be not exclusive to Iranian society but also present in different parts of the world. Dr. Abbas Amanat explored examples from other countries while also speaking about this destructive behaviour and its ramifications.
Some presenters demonstrated how the continual accusations against Bahais, in order to discredit them, were unfounded. For example, Dr. Moojan Momen presented on the consistent attempt in Iran to show that Bahais have been involved in partisan politics throughout history.
Some speakers described how Iranian society has neither been able to take advantage of the contributions made by Bahais nor has it acknowledged the historical implications of their actions by othering Bahais. Drawing upon a chapter from her new book Words, Not Swords: Iranian Women Writers and the Freedom of Movement, Dr. Farzaneh Milani shared that history books in Iran do not discuss Tahirih as one of the first initiators of the women's rights movement in Iran. Similarly Behrouz Jabbari provided evidence for the unfortunate omission of poetry by Iranian Bahais from anthologies.
Dr. Soli Shahvar focused his presentation on the schools that Bahais had established in Iran. They started in the 1880s and continued until the government closed them down in 1934. Theses schools started in small villages and were later established in urban centres. They were open to all. And by 1920 they had about 10 percent of the entire primary and secondary student populations studying in the country.
Mr. Erfan Sabeti explored the current attempt by the government of Iran to incite hatred through media and its new anti-Bahai tract, citing attempts by the regime to brand the Bahai Faith as a cult -- a rhetoric curiously adopted in more recent months by Iran's judiciary system when interacting with foreign media.
Healing, National Reconciliation, and Justice were among some of the main themes of Dr. Ramin Jahanbegloo's talk. He also discussed structures that should be instituted to ensure that the cause of justice is served. He also noted the need for genuine change on the part of individuals. He explained how in Iran violence has not just been enacted by the government towards the people, but also from the average citizen to other citizens -- some of which is as the result of the government’s attempt to incite hatred in the hearts of it’s citizens.
A number of speakers, among them Mrs. Mehrangiz Kar and Mr. Abdol-Karim Lahidji, explored the law in Iran and its misuses to allow “othering” to take place. They pointed out areas that need change.
Dr. Arash Naraghi explored the possibility of a system of governance that allowed for pluralism. He examined two models of governance in the Islamic world from the past that could be used to allow mutual respect and tolerance to colour transactions between the State and its people.
I plan on going back to watch these again later because there was a lot to gain and there sure were nuances that I missed.
There are no others.
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