August Forel Defends the Persecuted Persian Bahá'ís: 1925-1927Bahá'í World, Vol. 18 (1979-1983), pages 970-974
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PERSIAN BAHÁ'ÍS: 1925-19271
JOHN PAUL VADER
AUGUST FOREL was one of the greatest scientific minds of the latter half of the last century and the beginning of the present century. He gained world renown during his lifetime for his studies in the fields of entomology, brain anatomy, psychiatry and mental hygiene. He was active in many social reform movements such as temperance, women's rights and world-peace movements. He has been described as `one of the last representatives of a generation of encyclopedists, of open and curious minds, who took interest in almost all human activities', as `a glory not only to his Swiss fatherland, but to the whole human race', and as `the strongest and purest voice of the world's conscience'.2
In 1920 August Forel encountered the Bahá'í Faith and immediately recognized the striking similarity between his own principles and those proclaimed by Bahá`u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá'í Faith.3 He wrote directly to `Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá`u'lláh's eldest son and appointed successor, expressing his admiration for the Bahá'í principles and asking whether he could be considered a Bahá'í with his agnostic and Darwinian tendencies. The answer he received constitutes one of the most comprehensive statements of the Bahá'í conception of the nature of God, of man and of the universe.4
Forel became a member of the Bahá'í Faith in 1921 and in August of that year he added the following paragraph to his will and testament (which he had written in 1912):
`I wrote the preceding lines in 1912. What must I add today, in August 1921, after such horrible wars have reduced humanity to fire and blood, and at the same time, unmasking as never before, the terrifying ferociousness of our hateful instincts? Nothing, except that we must remain all the more steadfast, all the more unshakable in our struggle for the common good. Our children must not become discouraged; on the contrary, they must take advantage of the present world chaos in order to further the painful organization, higher and supranational, of mankind, with the help of a universal federation of peoples.For the next ten years, until his death in 1931, he undertook activities supporting the Bahá'í teachings that are truly impressive. Nothing thwarted his resolve to fulfil his `most ardent wish'. Among his many activities in favour of these teachings was his defence of the Persian Bahá'ís during the wave of persecutions against them in the 1920s. This is particularly interesting when one considers that this community is, at present, once again the target of barbaric cruelties, pogroms, persecutions and martyrdoms. Ever since its inception in the middle of the last century, the Bahá'í Faith has been subjected in Persia to waves of open and ruthless persecution. These outbreaks are often associated with periods of
1 This article was adapted by the author from a chapter of his book For the Good of Mankind: August Forel and the Bahá'í Faith (Oxford: George Ronald, Publisher, 1984) and is here printed with the publisher's permission.
2 Oscar Forel, Auguste Forel (Lausanne: Imprimerie Populaire 1928), p. 3; Julius Donath, `August Forel', Zeit-schrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie, 136 (1931), 642-644; Arthur Kronfeld, `August Forel, der Mann und sein Werk', Psychotherapeutische Praxis, 1 (1934), 227-228.
3 The Bahá'í Faith is a monotheistic religion, founded in the 19th century by Bahá`u'lláh (The Glory of God) and based on the principles of the oneness of God, the oneness of religion and the oneness of mankind. (Cf., e.g., Bahá`u'lláh and the New Era (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980).
4 `Abdu'l-Bahá, `Tablet to Dr. Auguste Henri Forel', The Bahá'í World, Volume XV, 1968-1973 (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1976), pp. 37-43.
5 `Oraison funèbre', Fonds Forel, Document no. IS-1925, I-12, Département des Manuscrits, Bibliothèque Can-tonale et Universitaire, Lausanne.
political upheaval, as at present, when the Bahá'ís in particular are singled out as scapegoats. In the 1920s Persia had recently deposed the Qájár dynasty and chosen, with the support and sanction of the Shí`ih ecclesiastical hierarchy, Reza Pahlavi, father of the late Sháh, as hereditary sovereign. Such an initial period of instability and uncertainty afforded the traditional enemies of the Bahá'í Faith their longed-for opportunity to give open vent to their evil schemes.1
The first stirrings of the persecutions occurred almost simultaneously in several provinces in the first months of 1925. Forel learned of these persecutions through Shoghi Effendi, great-grandson of Bahá`u'lláh and head (Guardian) of the Bahá'í Faith from 1921 until his death in 1957. He undertook immediate action to call the atrocities to the attention of the European public. In the following undated letter, sent to the French Foreign Minister and received on 10 April 1925, Forel wrote:
The universal religion of the Bahá'ís, whose twelve principles are enclosed, was founded in 1851 by Bahá`u'lláh. It is spreading more and more throughout the world. In spite of the persecutions to which the Bahá'ís have been subjected by Muslims, the Bahá'í Faith has gained about 500,000 followers in Persia. But `Abdu'l-Bahá was forced to take refuge in Haifa in Palestine; he died there in 1922.2 `Abdu'l-Bahá's successor, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, is presently head of the movement in Haifa. Two years ago, during an international congress, a Persian Muslim affirmed to me personally the high esteem which the Bahá'ís have gradually won in Persia.We do not know what the reaction was to this appeal. The minister in question was none other than Edouard Herriot, Premier of France at the time.
A few days later Forel addressed an almost identical plea to the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna. This was published on 26 April 1925 under the title `A Persecuted Religion: Islamic cruelties against the Bahá'ís', and contains Forel's explanation of the Bahá'í teachings:
The Bahá'í Religion, which was born in Persia, now has followers the world over. It is a religion with neither dogmas nor priests. Its twelve principles were proclaimed by Bahá`u'lláh in the year 1851. Among other things one finds: All mankind is to be considered as one; all prejudices1 For a detailed treatment of the present-day persecutions, see The Bahá'ís in Írán: A report on the Persecutions of a Religious Minority (New York: Bahá'í International Community, 866 U.N. Plaza, 1982).
For a treatment on the persecutions in the 1920s, see Douglas Martin, `The Bahá'ís of Írán Under the Pahlavi Regime, 1921-1979', Middle East Focus (March 1982), 7-17.
2 `Abdu'l-Bahá did not flee to Palestine. Rather, as an exile, He shared the successive banishments of His Father, Bahá`u'lláh. Palestine was for Them the final destination of a series of exiles decreed by the Sháh of Persia and the Ottoman sultan. `Abdu'l-Bahá died in 1921, not 1922.
3 August Forel to French Foreign Minister, 10 April 1925 (date arrived), Archives diplomatiques du Ministère des Affaires étangères, Paris, Document no. NS E, Asie, Perse, 1918-1929, vol. 22--Questions religieuses, note E--368-1.
against other peoples, other nations, other races must be abolished. All religions must unite in a superior unity which represents the Godhead. A firm federation of all peoples with an international tribunal must establish and maintain a universal and lasting peace. In addition to the different national languages an international language must be introduced and taught everywhere. Every human being has the same right to the spiritual and physical necessities that his existence requires. All have the duty to seek out the truth for themselves; between true religion and true science there can be no contradictions. Both sexes should receive the best possible education corresponding to the development of their individual talents. Men and women have the same rights everywhere; all forms of slavery and subservience are strongly forbidden. All human beings have the duty to work; for invalids and people without a means of livelihood, the state must provide the latter through the enacting of laws.1On 11 May Dr. J. E. Esslemont2 wrote Forel on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, thanking him for the helpful article and inquiring if arrangements could be made to have it published in other newspapers. Forel replied, according to notes on the letter, and authorized translation and reproduction of the article. According to Forel himself, an `impartial Turkish translation of this article was published in a "progressive" Istanbul newspaper'. On 20 May Shoghi Effendi cabled Forel: DELIGHTED YOUR SRTICLE VIENNESE JOURNAL IT ACHIEVED NOTABLE RESULT.3
During the following year persecution of the Bahá'ís in Persia intensified, and Forel wrote the following article, which appeared in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (23 May) and Droit du Peuple (15 May), in slightly different versions:
The same appeal was also sent to the League of Nations, addressed to Sir Eric
1August Forel, `Eine verfolgte Religion: Islamitische Grausamkeiten gegen die Bahá'ís', Neue Freie Presse, Vienna (26 April 1925).
2 J. E. Esslemont, M.D. (1874-1925). Medical director of Home Sanatorium, Bournemouth, England, from 1908 to 1923, author of Bahá`u'lláh and the New Era (see note 3), now translated into fifty-eight languages.
3 J. E. Esslemont to August Forel, 11 May 1925, Shoghi Effendi Letters, International Bahá'í Archives, Haifa; August Forel to Mustapha Kémal Pacha, 18 November 1927 (draft), Fonds Forel, Document no. IS-1925, V A.39, Lausanne; and Shoghi Effendi to Forel (telegram), 21 May 1925, Fonds Forel, Document no. IS-3765, IV-52, Lausanne.
4 August Forel, `Nouvelles Persécutions et Martyres des Bahá'ís', Droit du Peuple, Lausanne (15 May 1926).
Drummond, Secretary-General, along with the following handwritten message:
Forel's letter and a copy of the answer he received are on file in the archives of the League of Nations. The reply must have been a disappointment:
. . . I am obliged to inform you that, concerning petitions on behalf of minorities, the League of Nations is only competent if the concerned States have accepted an international agreement concerning the protection of minorities and if this agreement has been placed under the guarantee of the League of Nations. Such is not the case of Persia, and the League of Nations is thus not competent to undertake action concerning the facts submitted in your request.The following year, in a letter dated 27 April 1927, Shoghi Effendi again appealed, through his secretary, to Forel for his assistance and intervention on behalf of the persecuted Bahá'ís in Persia.
My dear Dr. Forel,Shoghi Effendi added in his own handwriting:
My dear and valued co-worker:Forel's notes on the letter indicate that the news was sent to the `Freindenker', to his printer and to Vienna. An account of the execution appeared in the Neues Wiener Abendblatt on 10 June 1927 under the title `Martyr of a new Religion: Murder of a Bahá'í'.3
Forel had earlier published in the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna still another article entitled `Persecution of the Bahá'í Religion: A Letter from Persia'. In it he quotes portions
1August Forel to Sir Eric Drummond, 12 May 1926, Archives of the League of Nations, Geneva, document no. 41/51398/51398 (also contains answer to Forel from G.C., Directeur de la Section des Minorities, pour le Secrétaire général).
2 Shoghi Effendi to August Forel, 27 April 1927, Shoghi Effendi Letters.
3 `Märtyrer einer neuen Religion: Ermordung eines Bahais,' Neues Wiener Abendblatt, Vienna (10 June 1927).
of a letter from a Bahá'í in Hamadán that describe the various forms of open and subtle persecution to which the Bahá'ís there were being subjected daily. The article ended with this paragraph:
Be happy, friends. You are the free servants of God. Fly free, sing happily, serve joyously, remember us always--and pray for us.Forel seems to have taken this request for prayer to heart. In the unclassified documents of the Forel papers at the University of Lausanne there exists a small scrap of paper on which he wrote, in French on one side and in German on the other:
Bahá'í Prayer for October 1927.Picture in upper right corner with the caption: August Forel; 1924. This photograph was chosen for reproduction on the present-day 1,000 franc Swiss banknote.
On the French copy of this prayer there is a note: `sent, 8 September 1927', but there is no indication to whom it was addressed.
It is a tragic coincidence that, in 1978, shortly before the recent recrudescence of of cruel persecutions against the Persian Bahá'í community, August Forel's portrait and symbols of his awe-inspiring lifework were printed on the new one-thousand-franc Swiss banknote. Though efforts to alleviate the sufferings of these innocent servants of humanity often seem (today as in Forel's day) fruitless and frustrating, we can, and certainly must, follow Forel's example and continue to do our utmost to awaken the world's conscience to this crying injustice.
2 August Forel, `Notes Diverses', Fonds Forel, Document no. IS-1925, IIG.46, Lausanne.