The Persecution of Baha’is in Iran

Black census
Counting minorities is an omen of bad prospects and evil designs ahead

May 2, 2006
Iqbal Latif

Asma Jilani Jahangir, born 1952, Lahore , is a Pakistani lawyer and human rights activist UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. The name of Asma Jehangir, human rights activist, commands respect, admiration and affection in the Indian sub-continent comprising India , Pakistan and Bangladesh . According to her, the new wave of Bahai persecution in Iran is a gross infringement of UN Declaration of Human rights. The Special Rapporteur made public a confidential and official letter sent on 29 October 2005 by the chairman of the command headquarters of Iran 's armed forces to several Iranian government agencies stating that Iran 's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has instructed the command headquarters to identify and monitor, in a highly confidential manner, members of the Bahai faith in Iran .

She has expressed the fear that information gained through such monitoring would be used as a basis for the "increased persecution of and discrimination against members of the Bahai faith, in violation of international standards." She is a very frail lady ready to take on the power of the entire cabal of the Iranian theocracy. If she can throw the gauntlet to Khamenei, I ask why Shirin Ebadi can't speak up for the rights of the persecuted Bahai community. Why the Iranian intellectuals turn their face the other way? Is Pakistan not far more difficult a place to survive if one invites the wrath of the mullahs? Why can't Iranica intellectuals speak up against this planned downsizing of a very vibrant Iranian Bahai community? They could join the civilised world by condemning this actuarial scientific method of marginalisation. Many intellectuals worldwide have done so exactly.

As Iranian intellectuals enjoy the 'Rip van winkle' slumber today, Professor Kevin Boyle, Professor of Law, University of Essex, Professor Guy S Goodwin, Gill Senior Research Fellow All Souls College, University Of Oxford, Professor Francoise Hampson OBE, Professor of Law, University of Essex, Professor Matthew Kramer, Professor of Legal and Political Philosophy, University of Cambridge, Professor Javaid Rehman, Professor of International Law Brunel University, Professor Malcolm Shaw QC, Sir Robert Jennings, Professor of International Law, University of Leicester, Professor Patrick Thornberry CMG, Professor of International Law Keele University, have all joined hands and issued a direct appeal to the conscience of the world; they have said that

"concern with Iran 's nuclear status is overshadowing its human rights situation. As persons committed to the dignity of all human beings and the protection and guaranteeing of human rights, we are greatly concerned at the news announced on 20 March by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ms Asma Jehangir.

"We share the deep concern of the Special Rapporteur about this development which represents an ominous new stage in the ongoing persecution of members of the Bahai faith in Iran . The UN has issued more than 56 pronouncements condemning Iran 's execution and imprisonment of Bahais, solely because of their membership of the Bahai community, and criticising the overtly discriminatory treatment by Iran 's government of this religious community since 1980.

Such comments have never before included a warning to the international community that the government of Iran is now seeking to identify and monitor every single member of the Bahai faith. History tells us that this type of measure is often the precursor to increasing persecution of such a group. Given the existing level of discrimination and persecution experienced by the Bahais in Iran , we can only have considerable fear about what the new measure will mean in practice."

Asma Jehangir is a friend. I met her first time nearly eight years ago at the house of the ex-President of Pakistan , Ayub's, son in London . Little did I realise that this lady has a will of iron. She has fought numerous cases against the Pakistan government to uphold the rights of minorities like Christians and Hindus. She once saved a Christian boy of 12, sentenced to death for blasphemy from being hanged; she has saved women charged with adultery from being stoned to death; she leads agitations against public flogging, executions and chopping off of limbs ordained by hooded ordinances promulgated during the regime of President Zia-ul Haq. Mullah elements hate her guts. Murderous attempts to kill her and her family were made. She has had to send her children abroad for safety. She has been beaten up and jailed. Nevertheless for the vast majority of Pakistanis, Asma Jehangir has become the voice of sanity in an atmosphere fouled by religious bigotry.

The world cannot keep quiet as this new pre-genocidal cleansing attempt to clear the remnants of a vibrant philosophical thought is methodically carried out. The belief and doctrine of the Bahai faith has undoubtedly been the harbinger of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed on December 10, 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Declaration is a living document that enshrines freedom, respect, dignity, peace, equality, justice, pluralism and tolerance; these are the very values that underpin ethics of the Bahai philosophy.

The declaration recognises the inherent dignity and equality and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, censure and denounce the disregard and contempt for human rights that have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind. The declaration demands an advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief. Freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people. And calls for the human rights should be protected by the rule of law.

Counting minorities is an omen of bad prospects and evil designs ahead. According to the wicked plan, each and every Bahai member in Iran was being identified and monitored. Such an action is an impermissible and deplorable interference with the rights of members of religious minorities in Iran . Bahai faith for far too long has been an expunged page from the Iranian official contemporary records; to erase them further and tap their fringe subsistence is a clear-cut program of state-sponsored extinction of an entire community. This new actuarial request and secret state censuses of minorities have a very dangerous precedent. It advances the idea of collusion of silence with the involvement of science.

This testimony of a "black census" of Bahais can be compared to 'The Nazi Census: Identification and Control in the Third Reich,' a book written by Gtz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth and published in 1984 is amongst the first to commence the discussion about link between Nazi and post-Second World War state practices. "It was neither through the ideology of blood and soil nor through the principle of guns and butter, upheld until the end of 1944, that the National Socialists secured their might or carried out their destructive activities. It was the use of raw numbers, punch cards, statistical expertise and identification cards that made all that possible (p.1)."

Aly and Heim talk about the dominance of an actuarial sensibility in the Reich's scientific and state communities that measured the "value of a human being" in the purely economic terms of cost versus productivity (pp. 94-98). According to their arguments, populations were selected for marginalization and eventual murder based primarily on this criterion. The authors point out that policies of registration and identification, which did not exist before the Nazis, continue to "profoundly affect" the daily relationship between individual and state in post-war Germany (p. 146). The Bahais in Iran are facing similar prospects today; they have been targeted for marginalisation for nearly 140 years. Now this courageous community is being threatened with a renewed scientific form of annihilation, something that Nazis perfected. Will the world's conscience remain hushed?

A nation is known by the state of its minorities. The way the weakest are maintained exemplifies the moral standing of nation; a great nation takes care of its weak and its nonconformist. On that count, the efforts to eliminate the Bahai faith in Iran is the regime's clear-cut effort to pay no heed to the Article 1, 2 and 3 of the UN Declaration of Human rights. UN Human rights charter Article 1 categorically states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 2 of the charter cements the right of faith; it states vigorously that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Article 3 guarantees that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

The fortitude and the substance of the preamble of the three sacred articles is flagrantly desecrated by Supreme leader Khamenei's secret edict, reported by Asma Jehangir, UN special Rapporteur, that Bahais in Iran be subject to specific 'census' of 'familiar discrimination,' which is the preamble of a new program of ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing is designated a crime against humanity in international treaties, such as that which created the International Criminal Court (ICC). The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was set up in a similar spirit, and prosecutes these crimes under more generic names. The United Nations' General Assembly condemns "ethnic cleansing" and racial hatred in a 1992 resolution.

A similar term with the same intent was used by the Nazi administration in Germany under Adolf Hitler. When an area under Nazi control had its entire Jewish population removed, whether by driving the population out, by deportation to Concentration Camps, and/or murder, the area was declared judenrein, (lit. "Jew Clean"): "cleansed of Jews". (cf. racial hygiene). The clergy-dominated Iran today wants to achieve similar goals through ideological persecutions and economic marginalisation. The term, "ethnic cleansing," refers to various policies of forcibly removing people of one ethnic group. At one end of the spectrum, it is virtually indistinguishable from forced emigration and population exchange, while at the other, it merges with deportation and genocide. How can Muslims at large accept such draconian measures when, throughout the history, Muslims like any other race have suffered from cleansing? Spain 's large Muslim minority, called Moriscos, inherited from that country's former Islamic kingdoms, was expelled in 1502 and 1609-1614.

Recently the comparisons of these cleansing efforts in Iran can be made to attacks by the Janjaweed Arabic-speaking African Muslim militias of Sudan on the non-Arab African Muslim population of Darfur, a region of western Sudan . The 1994 massacres of Tutsis by Hutus, known as the Rwandan Genocide; the forced displacement of some 800,000 Azeri's and 300,000 Armenians during the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the Armenian invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas from 1988 to 1994. Irrespective of their beliefs, it is the minorities that are annihilated by the forceful majorities; it is this diversity of ideology and culture that we all human beings are bound by; a human covenant to stand up for and protest. In Iran Muslims are persecuting; in Sudan , they are being persecuted. We condemn both at the top of our voices. That is what is demanded from us by the social contract we follow.

Bahai systematic plunder is ethnic cleansing that can be understood as the expulsion of an "undesirable" population from a given territory as a result of religious or ethnic discrimination, political, strategic or ideological considerations, or a combination of these. The term "cleansing" ("cleansing of borders") was used in Soviet documents of early 1930s in reference to the resettlement of Poles from the 22-km border zone in Byelorussian SSR and Ukrainian SSR. The process was repeated on a larger and wider scale in 1939-1941. Humankind has seen this plunder all through the ages; we need to be very clear in condemning it irrespective of our color creed and thought. Once, when we are perpetrators, we need to stand up against our own communities, or once, when we are oppressed, we should not let the efforts of annihilation go by; we should stand up and censure shackles that try to limit our freedoms.

Our globe is rich with diversity of culture and ideas. Let's not rob our future generations of this rich diversity; let's not impose a tyranny of forceful conversions. The genre of discrimination sees no bounds and has no distinctive color attached to it. Today, they are Bahais in Iran that are facing an edict of ideological and physical extermination from Khamenei.

In yesteryears, it was the destructions and cleansing of Turkish, Muslim, and Jewish populations from Balkans following the independence of Balkan countries (e.g., Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria) from the Ottoman Empire; from early 1800s to early 1900, the cleansing of Muslim populations in Northern Caucasus by imperial Russia throughout the 19th century, particularly, expulsion of Circassians to Anatolia in 1864; the widespread ethnic cleansing accompanying the Yugoslav wars from 1991 to 1999, of which the most significant examples occurred in eastern Croatia and Krajina (1991-1995), in most of Bosnia (1992-1995); the expulsion of 800,000 Poles from Warsaw, partially to concentration camps, after the defeat of Warsaw Uprising 1944.

The city of Warsaw , population of one million, was ordered to be completely demolished on the personal order of Hitler. Approximately 80% of the city was demolished; the expulsions of Jews from Austria after the Anschluss, and deportations of Poles and Jews from Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany.  Nazi Germany wiped out entire populations of Jews and Roma people and Sinti ("Gypsies") during World War II. Generalplan Ost, in which the Nazis planned to kill or expel most or all ethnic Slavs from large regions of Eastern Europe and replace them with German settlers.

It is not who the perpetrator is that matters, it can be our own leaderships, but it is our collective conscience to identify the perpetrator and go beyond our own strain of human grain and condemn it vehemently. Let's be counted. The genocides and denial of freedoms need the help of every human being's conscience; it needs no unanimity of colour, creed or thought; human beings should stand for each other and protect each other's right of expression. It is the complicity of silence that is criminal. A breathing Diaspora should not accept it.

Is Iran not a signatory of this UN declaration that sanctifies the right of every human being for a free belief? Iran as a signatory of the Non proliferation treaty wants to send that treaty to the dustbin by not adhering to its limitation imposed on it as a signatory. On the other hand, it similarly wants to send the UN declaration of human rights to the dustbin of history by failing to maintain minimum safeguards as far as recognition and freedom of its minorities are concerned. A clergy-led cabal is putting the entire nation at a collision course with the conscience of the world.

Nations that are led on such a path of self-destruction in this day and age of drone-guided weapons bring havoc and heap misery upon the weakest.  Iranians in no way deserve it. The intentional violation of international contracts - from NPT to Human rights - is a blinkered version of clergy that feels they can find their way out by highhandedness and long-windedness. Today the question is: until when will the conscience of Iranian diaspora remain in slumber with a huge dose of self-induced detachment from the grim prospects of Iranian minorities? Iran should take pride instead of persecuting the authors of declarations like these that emanated from Iran in 1869: "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens."

The belief that "the national state has reached the limits of its development as an independent, self-directed social body, a world science, a world economy and a world consciousness, riding the wave of a new and universal movement of spiritual evolution, lays the foundations of a world order. Conceived of as an end in itself, the national state has come to be a denial of the oneness of mankind, the source of general disruption opposed to the true interests of its people. From the depths of man's divine endowment stirs a response to the affirmation of oneness which gives this age its central impetus and direction. Society is undergoing transformation, to influence a new order based on the wholeness of human relationships needs admiration if nothing. It beggars belief why Iran should exclude and bar the rich heritage of modern 'Iranian universalistic philosophy' penned by the great Bahai authors of the 19th century?

I thank Asma Jehangir, a fragile lady who had the courage to put this on the map of the world human right activists. It is a clarion call for every Iranian to stand up and be counted, condemn this ethic downsizing and cleansing in the cradle of civilisation. Let us put Iran back on the map as the great civilization of mankind we call it; we can take one small step that will be a huge step for mankind to denounce the bigotry and make ourselves count; to show that when it comes to inequity, we will go beyond beliefs and condemn human rights violations. The greater necklace that ties us all together is the necklace of humanity; let's rise above pettiness, division of ideology, and join hands with the academic icons of the world.


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