Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Bahai Issue
Roozonline- ‎
Ahmad Zeidabadi ‎ - 2008.05.26

The arrest of several leaders of the Bahai community in Iran was widely condemned ‎outside Iran. Inside Iran, however, this issue has not met appropriate reaction between ‎human rights activists and organizations. The reasons for this inappropriate response are ‎complicated. ‎
The first issue is the sensitivity of top Shia clerics to any kind of compassion or defense ‎of Bahais. Some clerics accuse Bahais of “ertedad” (heresy) and call for their complete ‎suppression. This is not limited to clerics supporting the regime. Therefore, whoever ‎defends the Bahai community’s rights in Iran, will face the reaction of not just the ‎government, but also clerics and charges of heresy, which is not something that one ‎would be after. ‎
The second issue is that since the inception of the Bahai faith, many stories have been ‎spread about their belief system and relations to foreigners. These stories grew in size ‎and content by the day. In any case, many people view the Bahai followers as a secretive ‎community which has hidden powers and special ties to foreign countries, especially ‎Israel, and thus fear getting close to them. ‎
Under these conditions, it appears that that the Bahai community in Iran has become a ‎serious issue for the government and even other parts of the Iranian society itself. ‎Therefore, there are many reports that call for the suspension of Bahai rights while there ‎also reports that accuse the group of striving to spread and advertise its faith. ‎
I believe that the time has come for top Shia clerics and the Islamic Republic government ‎to clarify their views on the Bahai community so that this does not turn into yet another ‎unresolved problem for the Iranian society. ‎
As far as I know, even the most traditional definition of “ertedad” (heresy) applies to a ‎Muslim or Muslim-born who has changed his or her religion. Such a definition cannot ‎apply to Bahai’s today, because they and their families were not Muslims to begin with, ‎let alone changing their religion. About 150 years have passed since the inception of ‎Bahai faith and if, a long time ago, people accused Bahai’s of leaving Islam and leaving ‎the faith, that is not valid today. ‎
In addition, even though “ertedad” is defined in religious texts, it is not mentioned in the ‎constitution of the Islamic Republic. In any case, the Islamic Republic, with all its ‎insistence on strict adherence to the Sharia (“Islamic law”), has voluntarily or by force ‎shied away from handing down punishment for “mortadan” (people who commit heresy), ‎for example, for Communists who changed religion. Even if it has punished a non-‎Muslim for his beliefs, it has insisted that the punishment has been for non-belief related ‎matters, for instance national security crimes. ‎
In recent years only one person was charged with “ertedad” (Dr. Hashem Aghajari) who ‎was later acquitted of the charge under pressure from Iranian civil society. When the ‎administration’s spokesperson accuses the arrested Bahai’s of security crimes, not ‎ertedad, there is an obvious reason that even Ahmadinejad’s administration knows that ‎‎“being a Bahai” cannot be a crime and punishable. If this point is clearly articulated by ‎government organizations and Shia grand ayatollahs, a part of the problem will ‎undoubtedly be solved. ‎
The second issue that must be clarified by the Islamic Republic is whether the Islamic ‎Republic recognizes the rights of Bahai’s, or whether the state officially endorses ‎discrimination against some of its citizens on the basis of their beliefs. Undoubtedly, a ‎clear answer to this question will clarify a host of other issues as well. ‎
What I want to emphasize here is that Bahai’s, have rights equal to all other Iranians by ‎virtue of having been born in this land, its national framework and live in it and therefore ‎any discrimination against them on the basis of their beliefs undermines the fundamental ‎principles of nation-statehood in modern times. ‎
Even if Bahai leaders are arrested for reasons other than their beliefs, they must be given ‎access to lawyers and enjoy a free and fair trial, like any other Iranian citizen. ‎
I have to note that I personally regard sectarian propaganda against the Bahai’s to be ‎against national and public interest of Iran and object the Iranian government for exerting ‎pressure on the Bahai’s to suppress them. In the end, however, I suggest to the Bahai’s to ‎reconsider their decision to promote their religion inside Iran, because of the hefty ‎consequences that they may have to pay.

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