Her Cry for Help
ROD WISE (Lake Times Illawarra)
You wouldn’t think that a country of 70 million would be bothered by a tiny minority of 300,000 – at 0.4 per cent of the population, it’s hardly a threat to state security.
But that is the destiny of the Baha’i faith, six of whose national coordinating group were summarily arrested by Iranian secret police on May 14 and have not been seen since.
In this latest wave of oppression, the Iranian Baha’i have been expelled from schools, seen their property confiscated, their cemeteries desecrated, their leaders imprisoned and sometimes killed – unless they convert to Islam or leave the country that has been the homeland of their forebears for centuries.
For Mrs. Parvin Vejdani of Flinders, one of about 180 Iranian Baha’i living in the Illawarra, persecution, which intensified after the fundamentalist mullahs gained control of Iran in 1979, has always been close to home.
Her father, who still lives in Iran, has been imprisoned twice since 1979, once for 10 years, while her brother has been in and out of custody for trying to bury deceased Baha’i relatives, a heinous offence to rigid Islamists.
Therefore, to interview Mrs. Vejdani about the plight of the Iranian Baha’i must surely risk bringing the roof down on her relatives still there?
“I have spoken to my father and he agrees that the persecution must be made public,” she said. “So he is prepared to take the consequences of me speaking up. He feels that nothing could be any worse for him. You see, the Baha’i are very firm in their beliefs; not even torture or death will shake them.”
It is bewildering for an Australian to appreciate that those beliefs – essentially, a vision of world unity, an ideal of tolerance between all religions, and the encouragement of education and enlightenment – could excite such a furious response from the Iranian authorities.
But when Mrs. Vejdani compared the position of the Baha’i in Iran with that of the surviving groups there of Jews and Christians, whose cousins abroad have been bigger pains in the neck to Tehran than the peaceable Baha’i, much was revealed.
“They are considered to be People of the Book,” she explained. “That is, Islam accepts Abraham, Moses and Jesus as prophets pointing towards the ultimate manifestation of God’s messenger in the form of Muhammad in the 7th century.
“Baha’i’s crime is that our prophet, Baha’u’llah, brought the most recent message from God in the mid-19th century. To fundamentalist Islam, Baha’i is not so much a heresy as a blasphemy to be exterminated.
“We have always been persecuted,” she continued, “but the intensity varies from period to period. And because our beliefs are so universal, we have always been suspected of being agents of foreign powers. First the Russians, then the British, then the Americans, and now the Israelis.”
To most reasonable people, such as those bodies that have spoken out, for a quiet, peaceful minority to be persecuted over such theological hairsplitting, seems outrageous.
To the Member for Throsby, Jennie George MP, who first raised the issue in Federal Parliament in May 2006, the ugly new developments mean she will make further representations to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith MP.
“I will be in Canberra soon,” she said, “and will ask the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to get the names of the people now under arrest.”
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