Iran’s treatment of the Bahá’i is a crime against humanity.
“Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench,” warns the website of the Bahá’í International Community, sharing a quote from Baha’i religious writings.
The Bahá’í International Community is probably one of the world’s foremost living authorities on the subject. The world-devouring fire of religious intolerance and persecution, bigotry, and fanaticism has been trying to consign the entire community to destruction for generations.
The Muslim faith is hardly monolithic. Sunni and Shiite are the two most familiar branches to the world at large because they represent such a vast majority of practicing Muslims today.
There are other groups who can be said to practice Islam, however. Comparing any two religions is never an apples to apples comparison, but the prominency of the Shite and Sunni groups, comparative to the prominence of other groups like the Bahá’i and the Bektashi, could be likened, in a very loose sense, to the prominence of Catholics and Protestants in the Christian faith. Most Americans are familiar with the concept of Catholics and Protestants, and the reasons for the schism, if not the specifics of same.
Less widely known and understood are the much smaller faith communities like Pentecostal, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Methodists.
Most students of history understand the reason for these different subgroups. Disagreements about scripture, leadership, language, spiritual discipline, key tenets, and other aspects of faith have led to a fracture between these groups.
Something similar can be said about the different belief-systems at work under the wider auspices of Islam.
The most well-known schism in the Muslim faith is perhaps, between the Sunni and the Shite. It traces specifically back to who was to take over as faith leader after the Prophet Mohammed. The Shiites backed one successor; the Sunni backed another.
Like many religious groups with internal differences on matters of faith, Sunni and Shiite believers have been clashing with one another, and other internecine dissenters ever since.
Members of the Christian faith are deeply sympathetic. Only very recently, historically speaking, did Christianity’s major branches stop persecuting one another over various questions of theology and ideological hair-splitting.
Like Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, the Amish; Quakers, Shakers, and Baptists, resisted joining either the Catholics or the Protestants, some Muslim groups have stubbornly resisted joining the Sunni or Shiite.
Unlike Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, the Amish, Quakers and Baptists, however, members of the Bektashi, Baha'i, and Uyghur faith have endured intense religious persecution in the past and they continue to do so today.
This is true in places from Albania to China; but it is especially true in Iran.
“Iran is home to an estimated 300,000 members of the Bahá’í faith, a global religion that originated in Iran in the early nineteenth century,” wrote Camilla R. Brown for the Brooklyn Journal of International Law in, “The Violent Persecution of the Iranian Bahá’í: A Call to Take a Human Capabilities Approach to Defining Genocide.”
“Since the faith’s inception, thousands of Bahá’ís have been killed, imprisoned, and tortured,” Brown wrote in 2017. “Today, they are unable to attend colleges and universities, hold business licenses, bury their dead, or gather for worship.”
In 2022, things are worse than ever for Iran’s Bahá’ís.
Since January, attacks on members of the faith have been intensifying.
“Baha’i Persecution Intensifies with Demolition of Homes and Land Grabs,” warned IranWire on August 2, 2022.
“Iran steps up persecution of its Baha’i minority,” agreed the Jerusalem Post on August 5, adding: “Tehran is seen as scapegoating the group to distract attention from the deteriorating situation in the country.”
It’s a safe assumption. Demonizing the state of Israel, Jewish people and religious minorities to distract from the failures of its leadership is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Tehran’s government, besides sponsorship of regional terror campaigns and brutal repression of the Iranian people.
“Baha’i say Iran stepping up persecution of minority faith members,” The Times of Israel warned on August 10. “A day after several Baha’is were arrested on charges of spying for Israel, representative says Tehran carrying out fresh house demolitions, raids and arrests.”
Satellite images and video taken at the scene revealed the demolition of Bahá’í homes.
“In what the Bahá’í International Community (BIC) has described as a ‘cruel’ escalation and just two days after previous attacks on Bahá’ís across Iran, up to 200 Iranian government agents have sealed off the village of Roushankouh, Mazandaran province,” warned IranWire. “A large number of Bahá’ís live there and heavy machinery is now being used to demolish their homes.”
“Iran Targets Its Baha’i Community With Arrests and Home Demolitions,” wrote Farnaz Fassihi for the New York Times on August 5, 2022. “Representatives of the religious minority said that the crackdown was the latest chapter in a long history of persecution. The authorities accused those detained of being spies with links to Israel.”
The charge of ties to Israel is a familiar one. The Bahá’í faith has its headquarters in Israel, after all, a fact often exploited by the Iranian government. In fact, Israel is well-known as a haven for religious minorities, who are free to practice their faith without fear of persecution or arrest.
Not all Middle Eastern countries have such attitudes towards members of Muslim sects like the Bahá’í and Bektashi. Iran’s government is Shiite Muslim and consider Bahá’ísm apostasy- at the very least.
“Iran has begun a sweeping crackdown on its Baha’i community, a long-persecuted religious minority, arresting dozens of people and destroying property belonging to members of the group, according to accounts this week from the government, residents and rights groups,” wrote Fassihi for the NYT.
“Given the Iranian government policy documents about persecuting Bahá’ís, the international community must act immediately before it is too late,” Diane Ala’i told the United Nations in Geneva recently, representing the Bahá’í International Community (BIC).
Religious persecution has a particular cruelty. Attempting to strip someone of something so intensely important, and personal, as their faith convictions, traditions and communities, their heritage and familiar ties, is an attempt to erase them out of existence, even in the privacy of their own heart.
Those who would attempt to destroy an entire religious group, as humanity has learned many times throughout history to our terrible cost, are capable of anything from forced abortion to genocide.
The sooner world leaders act to prevent more destruction, torture, imprisonment and loss of life, the better.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)