Five Years Too Many

It has now been five years since Iran’s brutal, authoritarian regime imprisoned the Yaran, the seven leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran.  My hope is that with all the focus on religious liberty in the US among Catholics and the Bishops, Catholics will come together with others in the global community who believe in human dignity and human rights to stand up and bear witness to the extraordinary evil and injustice being perpetrated by the Iranian regime and actively pressure the regime to allow members of the Baha’i faith to freely and safely practice their religion. 644405_523302861061200_886145735_n

Actor Rainn Wilson, a member of the Baha’i faith, was in Washington last week discussing the plight of the Yaran.  He discussed this with Jake Tapper of CNN (starting at 1:56):

My own feelings have not changed since 2009 when I wrote about the subject in my article “Paranoia, Utopianism, and Baha’i Persecution in Iran” for Asia Chronicle:

…Iran’s perpetual abuse of its Baha’i community illuminates many aspects of the current Iranian regime: its cruelty, its capriciousness, its ignorance, its hatred, its paranoia, its insecurity, its delusions of grandeur, and countless other deformities. Above all else, it reveals the true nature of the regime’s dangerous and depraved ideology…

… paranoia has led to decades of discrimination and repression for the 300,000 members of the Baha’i faith living in Iran. Members of the Baha’i community face systematic discrimination, from education to employment. They are not permitted to meet or practice their religion publicly. They have been subject to arbitrary arrests and acts of violence.

The leaders of the Baha’i movement, in particular, have wreaked havoc on the revolutionaries’ troubled psyches. Amnesty International reported that the members of the Yaran were likely to have been charged with “mofsed fil arz (being corrupt on earth), ‘espionage for Israel’, ‘insulting religious sanctities’ and ‘propaganda against the system.” The charges are beyond preposterous, yet revolutionism makes delusions and fantasies seem plausible and real.

The leaders’ fundamentalism also drives their paranoia. Fundamentalism, in both secular and religious forms, is inextricably linked to a sense of insecurity–the source of paranoia. Fundamentalists fear the open competition of ideas, as freedom and choice inevitably lead different people to a variety of beliefs. This undermines the certainty that fundamentalism offers and threatens a resurgence in the insecurity that first inspired individuals’ attraction to fundamentalism. Unlike authentic religion, which sows love, freedom, and communion, fundamentalism breeds fear, intimidation, hatred, and division.

In Iran, the fundamentalism of the regime is clearly demonstrated in its discriminatory laws against members of the Baha’i community. Under the fundamentalist mentality, members of the Baha’i faith are inherently enemies of Islam and the state. They are not members of another religion, but apostates. Their very existence must be an affront to Allah…

Iran’s fundamentalists have thus come to believe that they can create an ideal Islamic state. This utopianism allows them to crush those that stand in the way of their vision. High on the list of obstacles is the existence of the Baha’i community.

The Baha’i faith is particularly offensive to Iranian fundamentalists because it cannot be dismissed as archaic and incomplete like Judaism and Christianity, nor can it be rejected as foreign and primitive as other religions. The Baha’i faith was formed long after the life of the prophet Mohammed in the heart of the Islamic world in Iran. Its many progressive values present direct challenges to the literalist interpretations of Sharia that shape the fundamentalists’ utopian ideal.

Overall, paranoia and utopianism are the fruits of the Iranian leadership’s revolutionary mentality and fundamentalist beliefs. Together they drive the repression of Iran’s Baha’i population. Only through an overturning of the current order and removal of the revolutionary fundamentalists from power can members of the Baha’i faith finally obtain their most fundamental rights, including the right to freely practice their religion in public and private. Until then, repression will reign supreme in Iran.

While I still believe regime change is a prerequisite to the real protection of human rights in Iran, perhaps pressure from the international community can persuade the current regime to end this acutely egregious display of religious intolerance and persecution.  All those who are focused on protecting religious liberty have the responsibility to give it a shot.  It’s not enough to focus on the persecution of our coreligionists or compatriots.  We’re called to do more.  So please join me in calling for the release of the Yaran.