A Campaign of Persecution Against a Faith of Tolerance

Un interessante articolo apparso sul The Wall Street Journal in data 1 agosto 2008 riguardante i recenti avvenimenti correlati ai baha’i nel mondo.

A Campaign of Persecution Against a Faith of Tolerance

By BENJAMIN BALINT

August 1, 2008

Haifa, Israel

Earlier this summer, Unesco added the Bahai holy places here to its list of World Heritage sites. Bahai officials greeted the announcement with enthusiasm. “[It] highlights the importance of the holy places of a religion that in 150 years has gone from a small group found only in the Middle East to a worldwide community with followers in virtually every country,” said Albert Lincoln, secretary-general of the Haifa-based Bahai International Community. The Bahais, dedicated to the idea that all great religions teach the same fundamental truths about an unknowable God, now number more than five million. Mr. Lincoln added that the group is “particularly grateful to the government of Israel for putting forward this nomination.”

The Shrine of the Bab on the northern slope of Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, is one of the Baha’i sites named to the World Heritage list. A famous landmark in Haifa, it attracts a half million visitors a year.

The Shrine of the Bab on the northern slope of Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, is one of the Baha’i sites named to the World Heritage list. A famous landmark in Haifa, it attracts a half million visitors a year.

Impressive Bahai houses of worship stand in dozens of cities, from New Delhi, India, to the American headquarters in Wilmette, Ill. But each faces the steep slope of Mount Carmel on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, a 100-acre site that contains the Bahai archives and the Universal House of Justice, a neoclassical building that houses the faith’s elected nine-member international governing body and a staff of more than 600. At the literal and spiritual center of the site stands the shrine of Mirza Ali Muhammad, known as the Bab (“Gate”), the forerunner who in 1844 heralded this youngest monotheistic faith, and who is buried here in a golden-domed mausoleum.

Though the Bab was executed for insurrection and heresy in 1850 in Tabriz, Iran, his followers brought his remains to the Holy Land in the 1880s, and buried them here in 1909, at the instruction of the faith’s founder, Mirza Hussein Ali. The Bahá’u’lláh (“Glory of God”), as the founder is known, himself arrived in the area in 1868 as a prisoner of the Ottomans after he had been banished from Persia, charged with revolutionary activities and of conspiring to assassinate the shah.

These days, the complex attracts over half a million visitors a year, including Bahai pilgrims who come for nine-day visits, and tourists who come to stroll the immaculate curving terraced gardens that set off the shrine — nine above it, and nine below. The terraces, designed by Fariburz Sahba, and completed in 2001, correspond to the 18 original Bahai disciples. They require some 80 gardeners and an annual cost of about $4 million to maintain.

Yet not all goes placidly for Bahaism. For all the benevolence its members enjoy from their Israeli hosts (following an instruction of Bahá’u’lláh issued shortly after his arrival here, the religion neither seeks nor accepts converts in Israel), they suffer miserable persecution in Islamic countries. Nowhere more so than in Iran, the cradle of the faith.

In May, six leaders of the Bahai community were arrested in Tehran; they remain incommunicado. The arrests are but the latest ripple in an undercurrent of decades-old hatred directed at a faith regarded as a Muslim heresy. During the Pahlavi regime (1927-79), the Bahais’ schools were forced to close, and their literature was banned. The shah’s army disfigured the Bahai National Center in Tehran in 1955.

The seven Baha’is who have been arrested are, seated from left, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid Rezaie, and, standing, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet. All are from Tehran. Six were arrested on 14 May 2008 in early-morning raids at their homes, and the seventh was detained in March.

The seven Baha’is who have been arrested are, seated from left, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid Rezaie, and, standing, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet. All are from Tehran. Six were arrested on 14 May 2008 in early-morning raids at their homes, and the seventh was detained in March.

After the ayatollahs’ revolution of 1979, things got even worse for Bahais. Revolutionary Guardsmen destroyed the Bab’s house in Shiraz and erected a mosque over the rubble. Later, they razed the mansion that had belonged to the Bahá’u’lláh’s father. Iranian officials bulldozed Bahai cemeteries in Najafabad and Yazd, and desecrated the grave in Babol of Quddus, an early disciple of the Bab.

Those incidents began a systematic, government-sponsored purge. Bahais were banned from universities, subject to intimidation and arbitrary arrest, and denied the freedom to worship. All Bahai civil servants were dismissed. In 1991, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council, Seyyed Mohammad Golpaygani, issued a directive, personally approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declaring that “employment shall be refused to persons identifying themselves as Bahais.” Some of the faithful were denounced as Zionist agents and tortured. In all, the Bahais say, more than 200 of their own have been executed in Iran since the revolution, including 10 Bahai women hanged for teaching religious classes to children.

It is difficult to imagine a purer strain of religious intolerance than the fanaticism that pervades Iran’s leadership class. It is just as difficult to conjure a purer essence of tolerance than that which distinguishes the Bahais, who recognize Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad as divine messengers; who preach pluralism, equality between the sexes, universal education and the harmonization of secular and religious knowledge; and who stress the oneness of humanity, to the point of explicitly encouraging interracial marriage.

Intolerance hates tolerance most of all. At the very moment Unesco has chosen to recognize what it calls the “outstanding universal value” of the Carmel shrines and what they stand for, the mullahs are moved to persecute these believers who emerged from the very heart of Islam — and who represent a future that fanatical Islam has so disastrously chosen to reject.

Mr. Balint, a writer living in Jerusalem, is an editorialist for the Jerusalem Post.

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