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The systematic, government-sanctioned persecution of the Bahá'í minority in Iran can be considered a crime against humanity.
Author affiliation: Chair of the Department of Political Science, University of Alberta; Fellow, Royal Society of Canada.

Mirrored from

Iran's Genocidal Mentality

by W. Andy Knight

published in The Mark News
Toronto: 2010-08-19
This week, the Iranian regime completed its ridiculous and unjust show trial of seven Bahá'í leaders. Each one was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

This shocking ruling was handed down to two women – Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet – and five men – Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm – all upstanding Iranian citizens whose only crime is that they belong to the Bahá'í community.

These individuals played a leadership role in helping Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, the 300,000 members of the Bahá'í community, in their non-violent struggle to survive in a country whose government is increasingly hostile to Bahá'ís.

This outrageous act on the part of the Ahmadinejad government is part of a strategy to suppress and stifle religious freedom in Iran, and to slowly cleanse the country of Bahá'í influence. The Iranian government has used its controlled media to spread falsehoods about the Bahá'ís, accusing them of undermining Islam.

The Bahá'í faith, which is an independent world religion, grew out of a Shi'a Muslim environment in Iran a century and a half ago when a Persian nobleman from Tehran called Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892) preached a message of world peace, unity of religions, unity of humanity, equality between men and women, and the eventual unification of global society.

Bahá'u'lláh famously wrote that "the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens." He believed in and advocated a global governance system that would eventually eliminate the kind of nationalistic rivalries that lead inevitably to wars, mass killings, and the destruction of the environment.

Perhaps that message of peace, unity, and gender equality does undermine the Ayatollah Khamenei's version of Islam. But the Bahá'ís who were sentenced this week did nothing to justify the charges of “insulting religious sanctities” or “spying” for Israel and the United States.

When one adds up the instances of persecution of the Bahá'í faith in Iran – the vandalization of Bahá'í cemeteries, the refusal to allow Bahá'í youth to enter universities, the banning of Bahá'í literature, the refusal to recognize Bahá'í marriages, the demotion or firing of Bahá'ís working in public institutions, the execution of innocent Bahá'ís, the demolition of Bahá'í homes, its national centre, shrines, and sacred sites, and the outright violent attacks on individual Bahá'ís and their supporters – one is left to wonder whether this does not amount to cultural cleansing.

The current Iranian regime is exhibiting qualities of a genocidal mentality, to use a term made famous by Robert Jay Lifton and the late Eric Markuson in their book of that title. Bahá'ís in Iran are arrested and held without charge. Some have disappeared, never to be seen again. Formal Bahá'í administration has been outlawed and documents, books, and computers belonging to members of the Bahá'í community have been confiscated and in some cases destroyed.

These are not one-off incidents. In fact, they speak to a systematic attempt to sow fear within the Bahá'í community and to suffocate its intellectual, religious, economic, and social activity.

Evidence of this systematic and officially sanctioned government persecution came to light in 1993 when a secret government document titled "The Bahá'í Question" was leaked. This document was drafted by Iran's Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council and signed by Khamenei himself. It indicated that the government would do anything in its power to “block” the “progress and development” of the Bahá'í community in that country.

International protests against this slow cultural genocide are widespread. The United Nations has condemned Iran for its treatment of Bahá'ís, as has Amnesty International, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the International Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights groups across the globe. The five million Bahá'ís living outside Iran have also condemned the repugnant action of the Iranian government. The Canadian government is joined by the governments of the U.S., Australia, France, and Germany in expressing outrage at the treatment the Iranian Bahá'í leadership has received. They are calling for the release of these Bahá'ís on bail and for Iran to demonstrate that the trial was fair and done in accordance with international standards.

If the Iranian government refuses to heed these calls, then the international community should treat Iran as the pariah state it has become and ostracize it from the community of civil nations. The actions of the Ahmadinejad regime against the Bahá'í community can be considered a crime against humanity.

When such crimes are committed by a national government, the international community has a responsibility to step in and protect the people living within that country who are at risk. And the leaders of that government should face trial at the International Criminal Court.

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