What is the Iranian government so afraid of?
by Ted Slavinpublished in St. Catharines Standard
St. Catharines, Ontario: 2011-06-11
There are rights that we've come to expect in a world society since the birth of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. We expect that we can be safe in our homes and have access to clean water and food. We expect that we should have access to employment opportunities for supporting our families. We expect to have access to education that will result in the betterment in our abilities to serve society.
The right to education is particularly pivotal. History has shown that if there is a particular population, an authority wants to oppress (or simply wipe out altogether), one of the first restrictions to impose upon that group is their access to education. Compared to food and shelter, access to education may appear to be a secondary concern but it is critical. The right to education is an 'enabling' right. With education, we have access to skills, expanding our capacities, and an increased potential to secure other rights. We are able to understand information regarding rights we have, government obligations to uphold them, and how to communicate and organize for their protection.
In short, if there is a group that an authority wants to suffocate, the denial of access to education, though slow at first, is a sure way to do it. For an example of this process at work, we need only look to the treatment of the Bahá'í youth by the Iranian authorities.
Starting with the Islamic revolution in 1979, children and youth of Iran were expelled from schools as soon as they were identified as members of the Bahá'í Faith. In time, and with pressure from the international community, the government of Iran softened its stance and allowed elementary and secondary school students to return to classes, but post-secondary students remained excluded.
While the Iranian authorities had denied there was an agenda that included the denial of higher education for Bahá'í youth, a confidential document surfaced that gave instructions to Iran's universities to expel students if they were discovered to be Bahá'ís.
It was signed by Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
A simple mechanism was put in place to help weed out Bahá'í youth. Any student taking a national university entrance exam was required to declare one of the four officially recognized religions in Iran -- Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or Zoroastrianism. Those who wrote 'Bahá'í', which is the second most common religious belief in Iran, were refused admission to university.
In the late 1980s, out of necessity for the well-being and progress of their youth, the Bahá'ís of Iran created the Bahá'í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). Bahá'í lecturers and professors who had been dismissed from academic posts volunteered their time and experience to teach Bahá'í youth at home and via correspondence courses. Since its inception, the Iranian government has made repeated attempts to shut down the BIHE, including arrests of professors, raiding more than 500 homes while confiscating equipment and records.
Last month, Iranian authorities raided 30 homes offering BIHE courses and made 16 arrests. One of the 16 has since been released but the government of Iran's motives are as clear as they were 30 years ago -make it impossible for the Bahá'í community to educate its youth. It's a shameful situation for a country of such wealth in terms of culture and history.
The denial of access to higher education based on religious belief also begs the question what is the Iranian government so afraid of? In what way does denying access to higher education mitigate whatever threat the Bahá'í youth pose? Bahá'ís have only ever desired to serve the people of their homeland that they love dearly. If this is the threat that the Iranian authorities are trying to counteract, they should reconsider their logic, perhaps returning to school themselves, and explain how denying higher education to their own citizens equals the advancement of their country.