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- Category: World News
Members of the Baha’i Faith, Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, are no strangers to the wrath of the State. An independent world religion that emerged in Iran in the mid-1800s, followers have been hounded by virtually every successive regime. But no government until the coming to power of the present regime, has been so bold as to document a strategy for persecution and cultural cleansing, guiding its various arms and agencies with statements such as “the government’s dealings with them must be in such a way that their progress and development are blocked.
That same document clearly articulates one of the policies that has been in place in an attempt to marginalize the Baha’i community since the early days following the 1979 Islamic Revolution: “They must be expelled from universities, either in the admission process or during the course of their studies, once it becomes known that they are Bahá’ís”. Hence, Baha’is have been denied access to higher education for nearly thirty years. In what the New York Times later described as “an elaborate act of communal self-preservation, “the Bahá'í community of Iran responded creatively by establishing its decentralized, university system. Classes were taught in living rooms, kitchens and basements in homes across the country. Referred to now as the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) the system provides the only option for young Baha’is to receive education beyond the high school level.
Aware of its existence since soon after its coming into being, the government has had a checkered relationship with the BIHE, vacillating between, closing its eyes to its practices and attacking it periodically. The latest of these attacks took place one year ago when on May 22, 2011, in an organized initiative, some 39 homes were raided, nineteen of its teachers and administrators arrested and books, computers and materials confiscated. In the weeks that followed some eighty individuals associated with the BIHE were detained and harsh 4 and 5 year prison terms were handed down to nine considered to be among its leadership.
This unprovoked assault on such a fundamental human right as education has, as a consequence, given rise to a surge of condemnation on the part of academics and leaders of thought around the world. In the United States, fair-minded and sympathetic individuals in unprecedented numbers have joined forces with Bahá'ís to voice a strenuous protest. One such initiative, the Education Under Fire campaign and the powerful documentary around which it centers— has gained the support of university faculty and administrators and a host of organizations, such as Amnesty International, focused on the worldwide protection and advancement of human rights. In just six months, some 170 screenings of Education Under Fire have taken place on campuses across the continent, engaging thousands of teachers and students.
The campaign is poised to multiply its exposure to the issue ten-fold in the coming year with a host of new tools now in development. Marking the one-year anniversary of the attack on the BIHE the Education Under Fire team has released two new internet videos. The first video features a compelling appeal by Rainn Wilson. The second, a narration by acclaimed screen actress and spokesperson for Amnesty International, Nazanin Boniadi. Both of these videos can be accessed at www.educationunderfire.com/take-action where you can also join the campaign and raise your voice in defense of educational freedom in Iran.By David Hoffman, Aslan Media Guest Contributor
David Hoffman is the Founder and Executive Producer of the Education Under Fire campaign and documentary
*Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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