We want to highlight an international campaign “Education is not a crime” led by the Baha’i community in the United States. Baha’i are systematically denied higher education and are often discriminated against in primary education in Iran. This right, so fundamental and understood in much of the world, is denied to the Baha’i community in Iran in an effort to economically strangle them.
We want to use this forum every once awhile to highlight certain minority communities and our experience being in touch with them. One the most exciting parts of this documentary is when you get insight into a whole world so different from your own – their unique experiences, values, and outlook. So we want to share this fascinating aspect of the project with you.
Our first community is the Baha’i. Due to their belief of equality of the sexes, the existence of a prophet after Muhammad and their disbelief in clergy, the Baha’i have been heavily persecuted and marginalized by the Iranian Ayatollah regime. Baha’i have been assassinated, arrested, their businesses confiscated, their ability to get a job is severely limited and for the last 30 years Baha’i have been denied access to higher education. All this is an effort to economically strangle the Baha’i community, if not physically destroy them.
I spoke with a Baha’i who currently lives in Australia. He told me the story of what it was like just following the Islamic revolution in 1979:
“After the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran the Baha’i community became the target of the Islamic government and was systematically persecuted by the clerical regime. Our belongings along with the homes and businesses of many other Baha’is were looted and burnt. We had nowhere to stay, and for a period of months we would spend one night at one friend’s house, another few nights at someone else’s house, and we would constantly move from place to place until we were given a room at the Shiraz Baha’i centre where we stayed for one year. The centre was then confiscated by the government, and we and many other Baha’i refugees had to leave.
“During those terrible times, a number of Baha’is, many of whom were our friends and people we knew, were imprisoned, tortured and killed by the regime.
“In 1984, I was expelled from school, along many other Baha’i children and youth who were expelled from educational institutions, from daycare to universities. I was in the tenth grade at that time. My younger sister was in kindergarten, and even she was expelled. We had some friends who had just finished their degrees in medicine or engineering and they never received their diplomas.
“My parents’ business permits were cancelled and their businesses were eventually confiscated. My mom was a hair specialist who was trained by L’Oreal. My dad was one of the first people to work for the Iranian TV, which was brought to Iran in 1954 by a Baha’i entrepreneur, Mr. Habib Sabet. My dad later moved into private business for himself.
“After being expelled from school, many Baha’i children, myself included, traveled to other cities, got tutors and sat for exams but they failed all of us and we knew that there was a systematic campaign by the government to ensure we did not receive an education. In fact when I was told by the school principal that my brother and I were being expelled from school, I asked him on what grounds and he said that there was a directive from the education department that all Baha’i students should be expelled from schools. This discrimination campaign continues today – after almost 30 years – depriving another generation of Baha’i youth of their right to education. “
Next week, we’ll tell the stories of several students who studied in the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education, an underground educational system created by the Baha’i in Iran in order to achieve higher education despite it being illegal.