Martin Niemoller, esteemed Lutheran pastor and valiant critic of Nazi German oppression, was made popular through his post-World War II statement, “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.” Niemoller’s statement came after the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group. Although the modern persecution of Jews and Christians has seen a considerable decline, a new target has appeared — the Baha’is.
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s 35-year reign has hurt many religious and political groups in Iran. However, one community has tolerated an especially heavier burden than any other: the Baha’is, Iran’s largest religious minority, who have been persecuted for nearly two centuries, and are viewed as heretics by most Iranian leaders.
More recently, in June 2010, after having already been imprisoned for nearly two years in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, seven Baha’i leaders known as the “Yaran-i-Iran” or “Friends in Iran” were condemned to 20 years’ incarceration on grossly unsubstantiated charges, including “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” This persecution is patently ridiculous. And, in part, it is an insidious pattern of maltreatment attributed to hundreds of other Baha’i prisoners, who have simply followed their faith — one which claims that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in a single global society.
Beyond the absence of the right to congregate as a collective community, Baha’is are also denied such basic liberties as the right to education and employment, a privilege retracted to any who claim association with the faith. The Iranian regime’s authorities have sought to cease Baha’i efforts to establish their own educational initiatives, including the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, and as recently as last week, further sought to destroy a Baha’i cemetery in the city of Shiraz. Such actions on the part of the Iranian government are, without doubt, part of a scheme of coordinated efforts to eradicate the Baha’i community as a viable and productive group within Iranian society.
During his campaign and throughout his presidency, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has vowed to produce a “civil rights charter,” which prominent Iranian-American author and UCR professor Reza Aslan asserts is a unique opportunity to improve the rights of Iranian Baha’is and other minority groups. Aslan writes that the condition of the Baha’is in Iran “will be the most powerful test of how genuinely committed (President Rouhani) is to expanding human rights and social openness in Iran.”
Herein lies the opportunity for our Congress and nation to take the much-needed stance against the issue, and apply whatever pressures necessary to guarantee the rights of Iran’s Baha’is. Presently, Congress must rise against this injustice, and to ensure that these crimes against humanity are no longer repeated.
Currently, efforts are underway to increase the number of cosponsors of U.S. House Resolution 109, which condemns the “state-sponsored persecution” of Iran’s Baha’is, and also calls for the release of all prisoners of conscience in the nation who are held purely because of their religious beliefs. Yet despite this, at the time of writing, our district’s representative, Mark Takano, has chosen not to cosponsor the resolution.
Meanwhile, the Iranian Baha’is are denied their constitutional rights under nearly a dozen articles of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, not to mention basic human liberties promised in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights enacted by the United Nations — to which Iran is a signatory. This injustice must be protested, for if not, nothing separates our lack of voice from those who likewise remained idle in the past. If you wish to support the initiative, the most effective path is to telephone Takano’s Washington office on May 14, the anniversary of the imprisonment of the Yaran-i-Iran, and request his support in cosponsoring the resolution.
If after so many years without any actual dignified action, mere words suffice as action, then all of us, starting with myself, must close any claim to our humanity. If we cannot and do not go beyond only expressions of well wishes; and if in the 21st century we ultimately cannot effect real action, then no man, anywhere, can ever truly be guaranteed any right. If these people are left to accept their fates in this manner, we here must claim defeat. If these individuals who merely hope to claim the highest expressions of fellowship are abandoned due to our complacency, then we regrettably validate the notion that suggests that equal are the acts of commission and the acts of omission — and equal are we to the perpetrators of these heinous acts. Perchance we may seek action and results, rather than suffice only with these words, to once and for all end this ages-long tragic suffering of the persecuted Baha’i friends in Iran, and prisoners of conscience everywhere.
Let’s act now.