"Refuse to set up once again a sect similar to that of the Shi'ihs." --Baha'u'llah
(Cited in 2002 by "Giangiacomo" <email@example.com>)
From: Juan Cole <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Techniques for saving Iranian Baha'is: and for saving the Baha'i community
Date: Wednesday, August 04, 1999 4:47 PM
I'd like to raise the question of whether we don't see an implicit model
for social action in the way the Universal House of Justice and the
External Affairs Office of the National Spiritual Assembly of the U.S.
has dealt with the issue of the persecution of the Iranian Baha'is.
Let us consider the problem. Under Khomeinism, Iranian Baha'is have
been persecuted ruthlessly, though Khomeini's successors prefered
jailings, harassment and exclusion from universities and good jobs
rather than the more brutal and explicit technique of simple execution,
used extensively in the 1980s.
Baha'is are pledged to obey the government in power. So they had to
disband their institutions at the command of the Islamic Republic. What
could be done?
Well, first, secret contacts were made by leading members of the Baha'i
community with the more moderate ayatollahs, pleading for an end to the
pogrom. However, many of those moderates, like Shariatmadari,
themselves fell out of favor, and these pleadings were decisively
rebuffed by Khomeini.
In the second stage, the Baha'i institutions began providing information
on persecution to Amnesty International, the European Parliament, the
United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, and the US congress.
This information, provided as part of a concerted lobbying campaign
orchestrated by a hired Public Relations firm working for the US NSA,
resulted in widespread and frequent condemnations of the Iranian
government for its treatment of the Baha'is in the late 1980s. These
condemnations were among the reasons for which Rafsanjani, on becoming
President after Khomeini's death, backed off the executions. I think
only one Baha'i was executed in all the time he was President,
Of course, Baha'is continued to face discrimination in the 1990s, and
the Baha'i institutions have publicized these facts. Note that they do
so in direct defiance of the Iranian state, which has repeatedly
condemned Iranian Baha'is for sharing information with UN investigators,
and the execution of one in 1992 appears to have been largely for this
"crime." The Baha'is are actively if peacefully disobeying the
government in this regard.
So the model of social action I see being endorsed here by the Universal
House of Justice and the US NSA is something like this:
When a group of persons encounters significant long-term injustice at
the hands of duly constituted authorities, their first response should
be privately to contact those authorities, lay out the facts, and make a
formal complaint. If the complaint succeeds, then no need for further
But what if the complaint fails? The extreme-orthodox faction in the
Baha'i community would have us believe that there is no recourse if the
duly constituted authorities, governmental or religious, decline to
offer redress for injustice.
But that isn't what our dear brothers on the House of Justice did, in
the face of the recalcitrance of Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei, who
in 1991 worked out a scheme to prevent Iranian Baha'is from going to
university or ever having good jobs.
They *continued* to defy the Iranian government, holding press
conferences, assiduously lobbying the UN, the European Parliament, and
the US Congress, simply by politely making information available. When
newly-elected President Muhammad Khatam in 1997 spoke of guaranteeing
the rights of all Iranians, the US NSA wrote him a cheeky open letter
asking him if he would include the Baha'is. They knew very well such a
letter would be unwelcome and would put Khatami on the spot. They were
This model of social action has been relatively successful in curbing
the worst abuses, though our dear friends among the Iranian Baha'is
still suffer many outrageous disabilities.
But it seems to me that this model of social action has implications
within the Baha'i community, as well. If Baha'is feel deprived of
fundamental rights by the Baha'i institutions, I think their first duty
is to seek contact with those institutions, to explain themselves, and
to seek redress. But if the institutions insist on continuing to act in
a flagrantly unjust manner, then I think that should be publicized to
the outside world and within the community. This is the only way to
prevent the faith from ratcheting further and further toward being
similar to Scientology in its treatment of adherents, given the absence
of a Guardian.
It seems to me sheer and unmitigated hypocrisy to say that this model of
social action cannot be applied to the Baha'i community. If it is
applied *by* the Baha'i community to an *elected* and duly constituted
government in Iran, then it is being put forward as a legitimate form of
social action. And it is one of which I approve.
Juan Cole, https://www-personal.umich.edu/~jrcole/bahai.htm
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