A strategic, Iranian campaign against the Bahá’ís may have been rebutted as purely speculative and conspiratorial until UN Special Representative Reynaldo Galindo Pohl unearthed a confidential memo in 1993. The document, issued in 1991 by the Iranian Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council (ISRCC), clearly states that “The government’s dealings with them must be in such a way that their progress and development are blocked.” In this regard a number of recommendations are made including denial of education and “…to confront and destroy their cultural roots outside the country.” According to this same memorandum, their legal rights would include “a modest livelihood” as long as it does not encourage their beliefs, and denial of employment particularly in “positions of influence” if they “identify themselves as Bahá’ís.”
What motivates an executive government branch to pass legislation that equates to cultural genocide? To answer this question you need not look further than the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The articles in Chapter 3 of the constitution describe a number of rights and freedoms that are not so unlike those we enjoy in Canada and the United States; however, articles 5 and 12 of Chapter 1 explain the official religious ideology that the remainder of the constitution rests upon. The official religion of Iran is “Islam and the Twelver Ja’fari School” (Article 12). The Twelvers is the largest branch of Shi’a Islam (the official religion of Iran). The mainstay of this religion is briefly described in Chapter 1, Article 5 where it talks about the Occultation of the Wali al-Asr (the Mahdi or twelfth Imam). It is believed that the twelfth Imam is currently in hiding and will make himself known to humanity when Islam is at the depth of it’s suffering and devastation – his return would signal the restoration of true Islam. The current government of Iran constitutionally believes that it is responsible for delivering a strong, lawful nation into the hands of the Mahdi when he appears.
Where do the Bahá’ís fit in this equation? Well, they don’t. The cornerstone of Shi’a Islam is that Muhammad was the last prophet of a chain of prophets starting from Adam and including Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, and Christ. Bahá’u’llàh, the prophet founder of the Bahá’í Faith, claims to be the next in this line of Divine Educators, which also included Buddha and Krishna, sent by God to revive the spiritual needs of humanity. According to Chapter 1, Article 13 this belief is contrary to the constitution. As a result of this stipulation, all of the rights and freedoms laid out in Chapter 3 are nullified because Bahá’í belief is deemed unconstitutional and therefore contrary to the principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Recently, the Bahá’í community in Iran has suffered increasing arrests and attacks on their cultural heritage, including the destruction of Bahá’í cemeteries and historic buildings. Although Bahá’í law strictly forbids participation in partisan political affairs, the Iranian government accuses them of “conspiracy” on behalf of the “Zionist” Israeli government. This accusation is based on the premise that the Bahá’í international headquarters is found in Haifa, Israel. Ironically, it was the Persian government of the late 1800s that banished Bahá’u’llàh and His family to, what was at that time, Palestine. The actual state of Israel was not established until 1948. In 1947, the appointed head of the Bahá’í community, Shoghi Effendi, made the position of the Bahá’ís regarding their relationship to Palestine, clear to the United Nations:
The Bahá’í Faith is entirely nonpolitical and we neither take sides in the present tragic dispute going on over the future of the Holy Land and its people nor have we any statement to make or advice to give as to what the nature of the political future of this country should be. Our aim is the establishment of universal peace in this world and our desire to see justice prevail in every domain of human society, including the domain of politics. As many of the adherents of our Faith are of both Jewish and Moslem extraction, we have no prejudice towards either of these groups and are most anxious to reconcile them for their mutual good and for the good of the country.
Despite this clear position Bahá’ís are still accused of disturbing the peace and interfering with national unity. Regardless of their ongoing persecution the Bahá’ís continue to encourage principles of religious harmony, gender equality, the elimination of all forms of prejudice, and universal education. Recently, international outcry in support of the Bahá’ís came from a number of groups and organizations including scientists, writers, professors, the United Nations, a number of major non-governmental organizations, various governments, the European Union, and artists.
We must bear in mind that the implications of these persecutions are not only relevant to the Bahá’ís; rather, as stated by the office of the Bahá’í International Community at the United Nations, “what is at stake is the very cause of the freedom of conscience for all the peoples of [the Iranian] nation.”