I am reminded of their plight by a story told to me by my youngest daughter, Chenelle. She has a close friend, Amir. He is both Iranian and Muslim by birth, but raised from a young age here in California and has become a US citizen. Amir grew up knowing NOTHING about the Baha'i Faith, or about how Baha'is are treated in the country of his birth. Chenelle asked him about whether he had heard of the Baha'is, and he said no. But he asked his mother about it.
Amir's mother is a gentle and loving woman who does not speak English, but embraced my daughter and Amir's other American friends with hugs and generous hospitality into her home. Her only reply to her son about those who follow the teachings of Baha'u'lla'h in her homeland was, "Baha'is? Bah!" Then she pantomimed spitting on the ground repeatedly. Amir was stunned by his mother's actions. He had NEVER in his entire life witnessed his mother behaving like that.
This is but one example of the unwarranted prejudice and hatred that exists for Baha'is in Iran, and has reached the shores of America.
Yet, Baha'i in Iran do not hate. They do not re-cant their Faith in God, in humanity. They accept these numerous offenses and punishments with humility and faith that God has spoken in This Day, and His Word is Justice. I'm sure that there are some days when the Baha'is do not feel peace, joy and acceptance. They must have days where they question what is happening to them, especially when there is little or no food in the home (which happens when people are denied employment), or they cannot meet their financial obligations. This cannot be easy for them. Yet, through it all, they remain united and resolute in faith and purpose.
There were TWO teaching projects going on in my area this past weekend. I did not participate. Why? Because I allowed self-centered, imagined angst and lack of trust in God to overcome me. Today, I WILL NOT DO THAT! I can pray, work my recovery program, and reach out to others in need. I'm not alone. I am a servant of God, as we all are, even when we don't feel or think that we are. I came out of a dark place of my own making to see that there is much good to do in this world. I need only to speak up in prayer and action. My Baha'i brothers and sisters, caught in places where speech and action are forbidden, depend on my voice, combined with the voices of others, to bring their plight into the forefront of the world's awareness.
I am re-printing this historic letter, published and signed by 267 prominent Iranians from all over the world, who risk their personal security and/or the safety of friends and family members still in Iran by signing their names to the document. Please read the following letter, and if you wish to see the names of the 267 brave souls who signed their names, go to this URL: we are ashamed .
Ya Baha'ul Abha'!
We are Ashamed!
February 4, 2009
Editor’s Note: The following is an open letter from a group of academics, writers, artists, journalists and Iranian activists throughout the world to the Baha’i community. This letter has been signed by a large number of the most prominent Iranian intellectuals.
We are ashamed!
A century and a half of oppression and silence is enough!
In the name of goodness and beauty, and in the name of humanity and liberty!
As Iranian human beings, we are ashamed for what has been perpetrated upon the Baha’is in the last century and a half in Iran.
We firmly believe that every Iranian, “without distinction of any kind, such as, race, color, sex, language, religion, politics or other opinions,” and also without regard to ethnic background, “social origin, property, birth or other status,” is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, from the very inception of the Baha’i Faith, the followers of this religion in Iran have been deprived of many provisions of human rights solely on account of their religious convictions.
According to historical documents and evidence, from the commencement of the Babi Movement followed by the appearance of the Baha’i Faith, thousands of our countrymen have been slain by the sword of bigotry and superstition only for their religious beliefs. Just in the first decades of its establishment, some twenty thousand of those who stood identified with this faith community were savagely killed throughout various regions of Iran.
We are ashamed that during that period, no voice of protest against these barbaric murders was registered;
We are ashamed that until today the voice of protest against this heinous crime has been infrequent and muted;
We are ashamed that in addition to the intense suppression of Baha’is during its formative decades, the last century also witnessed periodic episodes of persecution of this group of our countrymen, in which their homes and businesses were set on fire, and their lives, property and families were subjected to brutal persecution – but all the while, the intellectual community of Iran remained silent;
We are ashamed that during the last thirty years, the killing of Baha’is solely on the basis of their religious beliefs has gained legal status and over two-hundred Baha’is have been slain on this account;
We are ashamed that a group of intellectuals have justified coercion against the Baha’i community of Iran;
We are ashamed of our silence that after many decades of service to Iran, Baha’i retired persons have been deprived of their right to a pension;
We are ashamed of our silence that on the account of their fidelity to their religion and truthfulness in stating this conviction, thousands of Baha’i youth have been barred from education in universities and other institutions of higher learning in Iran;
We are ashamed that because of their parents’ religious beliefs, Baha’i children are subjected to denigration in schools and in public.
We are ashamed of our silence over this painful reality that in our nation, Baha’is are systematically oppressed and maligned, a number of them are incarcerated because of their religious convictions, their homes and places of business are attacked and destroyed, and periodically their burial places are desecrated;
We are ashamed of our silence when confronted with the long, dark and atrocious record that our laws and legal system have marginalized and deprived Baha’is of their rights, and the injustice and harassment of both official and unofficial organs of the government towards this group of our countrymen;
We are ashamed for all these transgressions and injustices, and we are ashamed for our silence over these deeds.
We, the undersigned, asked you, the Baha’is, to forgive us for the wrongs committed against the Baha’i community of Iran.
We will no longer be silent when injustice is visited upon you.
We stand by you in achieving all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights.
Let us join hands in replacing hatred and ignorance with love and tolerance.