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Iran's persecution of Bahais

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR “First the ‘blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear The Monitor's view Thursday, July 14, 1983

Increased persecution of members of the Bahai faith in Iran should concern all people of religious conscience. President Reagan in May issued an appeal to the Ayatollah Khomeini to stop the planned execution of a number of well-known Bahais. His appeal • proved unavailing. Since; then 17 Bahais have • been executed, and the severe repression of the .Bahai community, including mistreat- ment of Bahal children in the schools and even outright banning of school attendance by them, continues.

Ironically, the fundamentalist Shia Mus- lims of Ir .n do recognize other religions. Zoroastrianjsm, Judaism, and Chri tianity / have a special place in Islam and enjoy the protection of the law. The Bahais, however, are regarded as heretics and blasphemers be- cause they emerged out of Islam, claiming that their fóünder was the twelfth Shia Imarn whose return to earth is still awaited. The fact that the rites and rituals of the Bahal faith are secret and that the international movement is headqüarted in Haifa, Israel, adds to the sus- picion with which the Bahais are viewed.

Ironically, too, the Bahais — and there are some 300,000 in Iran— are good citizens. They tend to be well-educated and members Of the professional class, serving as businessinen, teachers, middle-level goverrunent officials, and army officers. Yet, as so often happens with successful minorities, their very afflu- • ence and professional achievements have • helped fuel prejudice and make them the scapegoats for the nation's ills.

If the theological and historical factors surrounding the Bahai issue were not compli- cated enough, another element now enters the picture. This is the rising influence in Iran of the Hodjatieh faction within the fundamental- ist Islamic movement. This anticommunist group favors free enterprise and a more secu- 1ar'governn ent. But it is extremely conserva- tive religiously, and opposes the Bahai faith.

The fundamentalist regime of Ayatollah Khornein4 thus finds itself between a rock and a hard place. If it comes out against persecu- tion of the Bahais — and this persecution seems to be largely ordered and implemented at the local level -- it risks being accused by the Hodjatich faction of diluting Islam and thus its religious legitimacy. If it does both- ing, it feeds Iran's disgrace in the eyes of the world.

Everyone who cherishes religious freedom will hope that the iñternationál community brings all possible moral pressure to bear on the situation.' The Islamic nations and Islamic leaders could be especially helpful to the Ba- hai community both by direct appeals to the government of Iran and by making clear what the ideals of Islam are. Surely' these, do not include intolerance and brutal repression of those who choose a different religious path. BP000544 Iran's persecution of Bahais 1 •

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