Friday, October 28, 2011

Education Under Fire: a Documentary

The following paragraphs describe a newly released documentary, screened tonight and tomorrow in New York City, regarding the suppression of educating Baha'is in Iran by its government (trailer linked here):
Education Under Fire is produced by Single Arrow Productions and co-sponsored by Amnesty International. The 30-minute documentary profiles the growth, struggle, and inspiring spirit of the Baha´i Institute for Higher Education. Baha´is in Iran have been subjected to systematic persecution, including arrests, torture, and execution simply for refusing to recant their beliefs. They are also prohibited from going to college (and blocked from many professions). 
In 1987, the semi-underground Baha´i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) was formed to give young Baha´is their only chance for a university-level education. Despite repeated raids and arrests, volunteer teachers and administrators created an independent, decentralized university system that has lifted the lives of thousands of Baha´i students across Iran. In May, 2011, an organized assault was launched by the Iranian government in an attempt to shut down the BIHE. Over 30 homes were raided and over a dozen BIHE professors and administrators were detained. Several are still in prison for doing nothing more than trying to teach. The film connects a diverse audience to a grave human rights issue, a powerful story of resilience against oppression, and the need to respect human rights everywhere. 
We filmed in nine cities with a dozen BIHE students or teachers (several whose parents were imprisoned or executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran), plus: Bani Dugal (Representative of the Baha´i International Community to the United Nations), Elise Auerbach (Iran Specialist for Amnesty International), Hadi Ghaemi (with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran), Hamid Dabashi (Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University), and Dr. Ramin Ahmadi (Co-founder of Iran Human Rights Documentation Center). The film features footage and photos spanning two decades of BIHE classes, rare video from inside Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, and photos and a film that bring alive a series of personal stories. 
In the documentary, BIHE graduate Shahrzad Missaghi expresses a shared resolve, "The government can crush our bodies, but they cannot crush the mind and soul." Mojdeh Rohani, a BIHE graduate whose father was executed in 1981, says, "We can use this experience to not only just think about ourselves and what is important to us, but to look at the bigger picture; to think of people of this world as they were our own family." That is the larger, universal message of this film. Education Under Fire will inform and move a diverse audience around the world.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Iran Demonizes an Entire Community: Is History Being Repeated?

The United Nations Office of the Baha'i International Community has just issued a report titled "Inciting Hatred: Iran's media campaign to demonize Bahá'ís" which Analyzes more than 400 press and media items issued in Iran by state-controlled or pro-government media over a 16-month period from late 2009 to early 2011, this report documents a wide-ranging campaign by the Islamic Republic of Iran to incite hatred and violence towards the 300,000 member Bahá'í minority. Using false accusations, inflammatory terminology, and repugnant imagery, this campaign is shocking in its volume and vehemence – and entirely in violation of international human rights law.

  • Inciting Hatred: Iran's media campaign to demonize Baha'is (PDF)
  • Inciting Hatred -- Appendix II (PDF)
  • Press Release (PDF)
  • Persian translation (PDF)
    تحریک به نفرت: اقدامات رسانه های جمعی ایران برای شیطانی جلوه دادن بهائیان

  • A story, published 21 October 2011, on the Baha'i World News Service states the following:

     — In a wide-ranging media campaign that has gone largely unnoticed outside of Iran, hatred and discrimination are being systematically stirred up against the country's 300,000-member Baha'i minority.
    In a report released today, the Baha'i International Community documents and analyzes more than 400 press and media items over a 16-month period, that typify an insidious state-sponsored effort to demonize and vilify Baha'is, using false accusations, inflammatory terminology, and repugnant imagery.
    "This anti-Baha'i propaganda is shocking in its volume and vehemence, its scope and sophistication," said Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.
    "It's all cynically calculated to stir up antagonism against a peaceful religious community whose members are striving to contribute to the well-being of their society," she said.
    Titled Inciting Hatred: Iran's media campaign to demonize Baha'is, the report's main conclusions are:
    • anti-Baha'i propaganda originates with – and is sanctioned by – the country's highest levels of leadership, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who gave a highly discriminatory speech in the holy city of Qom a year ago;
    • the campaign spurns international human rights law and norms, including a precedent-setting resolution passed earlier this year at the United Nations Human Rights Council that specifically condemns and combats the negative stereotyping and incitement to hatred of religious minorities;
    • Baha'is are branded as "outsiders" in their own land and as enemies of Islam in a manner that is clearly calculated to provoke the religious sensibilities of Iranian Shiite Muslims;
    • the campaign aims to deflect attention away from calls for democracy in Iran by using Baha'is as an all-purpose "scapegoat" – and, in so doing, to smear those who oppose the government as well as human rights campaigners as Baha'is, "as if that were the most heinous crime."
    • the authorities disseminate ludicrous conspiracy theories including that foreign broadcasters, in particular the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of America (VOA), are controlled by or under the influence of Baha'is because they report stories about human rights violations in Iran;
    "The diverse content of these attacks demonstrates tremendous effort and commitment of resources by the Islamic Republic," says the report.
    "Many attacks are built on gross distortions of Baha'i history; some attempt a strategy of guilt by association through lumping Baha'is together with completely unrelated groups – such as 'Satanists' or the Shah's secret police; still others deploy a tactic of connecting Baha'is with 'opponents' of the regime, which allows the Government to discredit both the Baha'is and its opponents in a single transaction. The campaign makes extensive use of the World Wide Web, and often uses graphic images that portray Baha'is as fiendish ghouls or agents of Israel."
    Bani Dugal said the demonization of Iran's Baha'i community is a matter that deserves the attention of governments, international legal institutions, and fair-minded people everywhere.
    "The campaign not only clearly violates international human rights law," she said, "it also utterly contradicts Iran's long-standing claim at the UN and elsewhere that it is working to support measures to outlaw or condemn hate speech directed against religions or religious followers."
    "The parallels between the campaign of anti-Baha'i propaganda in Iran today and other state-sponsored, anti-religious campaigns of the past are undeniable. History shows us that such campaigns are among the foremost predictors of actual violence against religious minorities – or, in the worst case, precursors of genocide.
    "It is time for Iran to be told that such egregious violations of international law and norms cannot be tolerated," said Ms. Dugal.

    The report in its entirety can be accessed HERE....

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Journalism Students in Vietnam Study the "Open Letter to the People of Egypt"

    A newsworthy example of the global interest in Middle East affairs, comes out of Vietnam. This piece of news was just shared with me by a professor of journalism and English, currently working in one of Vietnam's leading educational institutions. He indicated, in his communication, that the English-Translation-Editing class at the National Academy of Journalism & Communication in Vietnam is currently studying a document that was authored by the Baha'is of Egypt back in April 2011, titled "An open letter to the people of Egypt" and presented to their fellow citizens shortly after Egypt's revolution of 25 January 2011, published at this link. One would hope and expect that such an example of interest in this momentous document would be as highly valued and carefully studied by the people of Egypt for whom it was intended. A number of photographs of the class were provided, with the consent of the students, to be posted along with this brief story.