persecution

On genocide
Added: Sunday, 1 March 2009

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Dear Christiane,
You are currently investigating the reason why the world repeats its cycle of genocide again and again and again. As a member of a community that is on the brink of experiencing genocide right now, this minute, let me share with you one reason why I think these things are able to happen again and again and again. Our global media has failed to adequately pick up on dangerous societal trends before they fester into full-blown genocide.

Several months ago, 7 Baha'is were imprisoned in Iran. The Baha'i Faith is Iran's largest religious minority and it has been persecuted since its inception, but most viciously in the last 30 years by the current Iranian government. Baha'is have been denied the right to attend tertiary institutions, their properties have been confiscated, their graves desecrated, their pensions withheld, their children vilified in schools and thousands of Baha'is have disappeared or been killed.

When those specific 7 Baha'is were arrested last year, I was one of many who went around to the media in my own country, South Africa, asking them to report on this situation and draw attention to the plight of the 7 Baha'is. They had been arrested without warrants and without communication to the outside world. They disappeared for months and their lawyer, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, did not have access to their case files. She still does not have access to them and faces her own problems in Iran.

CNN and other news channels in the world have been reporting on these developments - on their websites, largely. Thank you. But I have yet to see an actual, big news story on the issue. In my own South Africa, news stations, newspapers and other media have said to me that it's not worth their time to report on these events, unless something newsworthy happens – in other words, unless they are executed. Then and only then, might they begin to report on what is happening.

Now today, those 7 women and men stand to be tried in Iran before the revolutionary court. Their charges are espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic republic. These charges are completely manufactured and such charges have been used in the past to kill Baha'is. So what will probably happen is that Iran will, in the absence of a proper, internationally monitored trial and in the absence of their lawyer Shirin Ebadi, withhold a proper trial from these Bahai's. They will probably say to the world that these Baha'is have admitted to their charges and they will go so far as to execute them. And they will do that quietly, when the world media is not looking. Because we don't find things newsworthy until they become big enough – and bad enough.

And even if Iran doesn't execute them (God knows what they doing to them right now) – the quiet and systematic strangulation of the Baha'i community in Iran can already be called a genocide. Because when your life becomes unlivable, there is nothing left for you but to die a slow, social death.

My call to you is to publicize this story – more than ever. The world needs to know about what is happening to the Baha'is in Iran. The world's spotlight needs to be on this case so that we can prevent yet another genocide.

We as media people, filmmakers, journalists need to talk about dangerous trends all over the world – so that we don't turn around later say why didn't the world do anything about it? Here is a chance to do something right now.

Help prevent a Baha'i genocide in Iran.

Read the Baha'i International Community's letter to the Prosecutor General of Iran.

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12 May 2008

You Can't Stop My Love

They lived in the poorest neighborhood of their city. It was the kind of place you'd avoid if you could. But these children had no choice. They were born into misery and would probably die there. Then, one day, things changed. A group of people seemed to care. They came out of nowhere and they showed up every weekend. Unfailingly, their cars would appear on the horizon by 8:30 am. They'd park on the dirt road, next to the cadavers and burned tires. They'd come and spend a few hours with the children. They'd play games with them, exercise them, sing songs, read stories and help with school work, arts and crafts. Nobody really knew why they did what they did. But it didn't matter, because life was never the same again. It was colorful, happy and hopeful. For those few hours, every weekend, the children felt loved and not forgotten. They dared to articulate dreams and they began to take care of themselves and their desolate environment. Things were good. But then again, maybe things were too good. Because one fateful day, those people didn't show up again. Had they stopped caring? Had they found other children? No. They had been arrested. They had been imprisoned for coming to see these very children every week. For this, the court had said, constituted "an offense relating to state security"...



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23 April 2008

You Can't Stop My Love

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They lived in the poorest neighborhood of their city. It was the kind of place you'd avoid if you could. But these children had no choice. They were born into misery and would probably die there. Then, one day, things changed. A group of people seemed to care. They came out of nowhere and they showed up every weekend. Unfailingly, their cars would appear on the horizon by 8:30 am. They'd park on the dirt road, next to the cadavers and burned tires. They'd come and spend a few hours with the children. They'd play games with them, exercise them, sing songs, read stories and help with school work, arts and crafts. Nobody really knew why they did what they did. But it didn't matter, because life was never the same again. It was colorful, happy and hopeful. For those few hours, every weekend, the children felt loved and not forgotten. They dared to articulate dreams and they began to take care of themselves and their desolate environment. Things were good. But then again, maybe things were too good. Because one fateful day, those people didn't show up again. Had they stopped caring? Had they found other children? No. They had been arrested. They had been imprisoned for coming to see these very children every week. For this, the court had said, constituted "an offense relating to state security"...



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A journey from black and white to technicolor
Added: Monday, 26 November 2007

watch original V-Blog in Persian

Yesterday I had coffee with a journalist. He asked me about the Persian language. I told him what a delicate, fine and refined language it was, expressing such nuances that I couldn't imagine communicating in any other tongue. I told him, for example, the meaning of "ghorbunet beram" – which translates into "may my life be a sacrifice to yours", a phrase that sounds much more natural in Persian and which we use as casually as "see you soon!" He was fascinated by my accounts of how compassionate and poetic our culture and heritage is. He then paused to ask me something that I was not prepared for. He asked, "with such compassion and love in their veins, why then, do Iranians treat Baha'is so badly?"

I looked at him and admitted that I had no sufficient answer for this. But his question reverberated in my head the whole day. Of course there were many answers: any nation and people is capable of great good and great bad. Pick any nation, including South Africa, and you see in it a microcosm of both man's capacity to destroy and his capacity to nurture. Another answer might lie in theology, another in politics. Yet another answer might lie in the incredible power of ignorance that is born of backbiting and lies and is spread by a few and accepted by many. But none of these were really sufficient in my heart. Because deep down I am touched by the warmth and selfless attitude of my Persian friends, regardless of their religious background, and it is hard for me to understand why such a great people can be so petty.

And often this pettiness is all that people see. I thought of myself growing up in Austria. I was always Austrian on the one hand, but darker, more ethnic on the other. And when people asked me what my background was, I couldn't say "Persian" and much less "Iranian" with the same kind of pride that my other friends would say "Spanish!" or "Japanese"! It was so much easier to be from those countries. On top of that I was a Baha'i, "a what?" a Baha'i. It was so much easier to say "Roman Catholic". After all, every second building in Austria was a breath-taking cathedral.

And yet I knew, in my heart, how amazing, unparalleled, great and cool Iran really was. I knew how grand its history was, how delicate its art and literature were, I knew how beautiful and divine its mosques were, how blessed its soil was. And the inability to relay that to my friends hurt me a lot growing up. All they ever saw of Iran was people with beards, dressed in black, looking very angry and protesting in the streets - chaos and dust all around them. This was not Iran.

I was born in 1979 and grew up in Europe in the 80s at a time when most people did not see any bright sides to Iran. But I am almost 30 now and in my relative and limited wisdom I believe that any pettiness or ugliness coming out of my home country comes as a result of not knowing its worth. Iran had not yet recognized the glory and grandeur, which is hers. She is resorting to fundamentalism and materialism out of a sheer lack of vision.

But my vision for Iran is bright. I was raised to learn about her past, but more importantly about her future! Iran's future will be glorious, colorful and I am happy to say that I have a Persian, Iranian heritage. In one my earlier blogs I mentioned that culture is an illusion in so far as it is not a static, absolute entity, but an ever-evolving process of relativity. In His book, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Abdu'l-Baha praises Iran's history and points to its glorious future, while illustrating the reasons nations rise and fall and highlighting how important the dynamic process of progress is for any people. I recommend this as an important read for anyone who has experienced ambiguity about their Iranian heritage and is keen to understand more about humanity and its evolution in general.

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