Vol. 135, No. 53
Wednesday, November 18, 1998
Education for Baha'is promoted
When Arghavan Rahimpour, a junior majoring in sociology, was a toddler, a bomb was thrown through her house window in Ilam, Iran. Luckily it wasn't detonated. She said a Muslim friend told them she and her family had to leave if they didn't want to be killed. Her parents packed food and medicine into a car and left to Tehran.
Rahimpour, who is now the president of the Baha'i club, came to the United States in 1983 when she and her family escaped Iran.
"My dad used to go grocery shopping and he wouldn't know if he would be picked up by the revolutionary guards and never come home and never see us again," she said.
Rahimpour's experience is not uncommon of the Baha'is, a religious group that is constantly threatened by government officials in Iran. The Baha'i club at USC, which was created in 1976, is currently taking action to promote awareness about the stronger measures Iran has recently denied Baha'i students an education, including closing a university run by Baha'is.
In Iran, Baha'i students have not been allowed to enter universities. As a result, in 1987, the Baha'is formed their own open university for the purpose of educating students who weren't allowed an education. Students would go to different homes for different subjects. Basements were converted to biology and language laboratories.
In September, Iranian security officials confiscated the equipment and the materials used and arrested several people, including 30 professors. More than 1,000 students attended the university.
This week, the Baha'i club will be talking to administrators on campus and trying to promote awareness. Several members of the club will meet with them and show them recent news articles about the closing of the university in Iran.
"Baha'i students in college campuses across the country have been talking to faculty to help spread awareness," Rahimpour said. "We hope that there will be enough public pressure to keep Iran from doing it again."
The Baha'i faith emerged in 1844 in Iran, which came after the creation of Islam. The Islamic Revolution was run by Muslim clerics who viewed Baha'is as heretics, said Randy Dobbs, center administrator for the Los Angeles Baha'i Center.
"(The Muslims) are trying to force (the Baha'is) to renounce their faith," Dobbs said. "Since there are no clergy in Baha'i faith, they see it as a direct threat to their class."
There are 6 million Baha'is worldwide and about 300,000 in Iran. Baha'is are the largest religious minority in Iran. The other groups are Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, who, unlike the Baha'is, have greater protections. These religions all came before Islam, said Laurie Brand, a USC professor of international relations. The government would persuade the Baha'is to become Muslim by promising them benefits.
"There was always the chance to recant the Baha'i faith and declare you were Muslim and they guaranteed you all your rights back," Rahimpour said. "Of course Baha'is were not going to do that - that was their religion. "Ultimately what made my parents decide they needed to leave was the fact that the Baha'i faith says that getting an education is mandatory," Rahimpour said. "Education is highly valued because it allows you to be a better citizen, it allows you to give back to the world, it allows you to be less ignorant and hopefully allows you to be less prejudiced.
"These cycles of hate, prejudice and violence won't continue to the next generation," Rahimpour said. "If we are aware of the violations of human rights that are occurring that is the first step."
Barbara Duffey, a freshman majoring in creative writing, is a member of the Baha'i club who has never lived in Iran, but expressed her anger and encourages students to write letters to the U.S. Embassy.
"I think that it is ironic for government to deny higher education which is a universal human right," Duffey said.
The Baha'i club is hoping to help the Baha'is in Iran attain the same opportunities that students in the United States enjoy.
"Here I'm getting an education and living my life day to day," Rahimpour said. "Across the world, people aren't given a chance to (get) an education. Here we have an opportunity and we can't ignore those people who don't share those same rights."
©Copyright 1998, The Daily Trojan