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A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran

4. The Iranian Revolution and the Bahá’í s

4.1. 1977: General Unrest and Mob Attacks

In the 1960s and 1970s the Shah's authority was challenged by a growing number of factions in Iranian society, including religious conservatives led by Ayatollah Khomeini. Despite being forced into exile in 1964, Khomeini continued to campaign for an end to the Shah’s absolute monarchy. Khomeini also railed against what was termed the “Westoxication” of Iranian society,100 accusing Iranians cooperating with Western business interests of conspiring to rob Iran of its resources and its culture, and denying the religious authorities their historical responsibility to guide government and society.101 By 1977, Khomeini’s message, recorded on audio cassettes, was being distributed across the country.102 While many of Khomeini’s speeches focused on the need to topple the monarchy, his message of anti-Bahá’í propaganda continued, as in this example from 1971:

“[T]here are centers of evil propaganda run by the churches, the Zionists, and the Bahá’ís in order to lead our people astray and make them abandon the ordinances and teachings of Islam.”103

As Khomeini's lectures gathered more popularity, the Shah’s regime increasingly lost legitimacy and one consistent criticism was that his pro-western policies were detrimental to Iran. The crisis of “Westoxication” began to dominate the national debate.104 Khomeini’s supporters actively began to agitate against any individual or group seen as promoting Western values, including the Bahá’ís, who had long been viewed as agents of Western powers.105

The pressure against the Bahá’ís built up as the anti-Shah movement gained momentum. Revolutionary propaganda alleged that some of the Shah’s close advisors were Bahá’ís.106 A common slur was that these pro-western Bahá’ís were the real power behind the throne.107 The prominence of wealthy Bahá’í industrialists like Habib Sabet and Qulamhussein Jalili was further grist for the rumor mill.108 In a pattern all too familiar to minority communities around the world, the Bahá’ís found their business successes turned against them, as they were portrayed as a “favored elite” benefiting from unspecified advantages, while the local economy struggled.109 A new caricature of the Bahá’ís as an economic threat to Iranian society joined more “traditional” cultural and religious grievances.110 Fueled by incendiary sermons, popular hatred for the Bahá’ís among parts of the Iranian populace intensified.111

[100]“Westoxication” (Gharbzadegi) is a notion popularized in the 1960s by Jalal Al-e-Ahmad. He used the phrase to refer to what was perceived as an illness that affected Iranian culture as it diminished and gave way to an identity born out of Western values and dependencies. See JALAL AL-E AHMAD, GHARBZADEGI (1962).
[102]THE IRANIANS, supra note 101, at 276-77.
[103]ISLAM AND REVOLUTION I, supra note 94, at 128.
[104]THE IRANIANS, supra note 101, at 253.
[105]See, e.g., Ilamiyyih Jam'i az Ruhaniyyun-i Hawziyyih Ilmiyyih Khorasan Darbariyyih Khiyanathayi Firqiyyih Zalliyyih Baha'iyat [Announcement of a Group of Clergy from the Theology School of Khorazan Regarding the Treachery of the Bahá’ís], March 2, 1979, on file with IHRDC (stating that Bahá’ís, contrary to their claims, were backed by foreign political powers, including the Russians and British, asserting that Bahá'ís gave the UK assistance in exchange for tax exemptions in Israel, and naming Amir Abbas Hoveida, Parviz Thabiti, Ayadi, Taslimi, Shapur Rasikh, Habib Sabit, Hujabr Yazdani as Bahá’ís who betrayed Iran through various posts at the time of the Shah.) It states that “[the Bahá’ís’] new mask is the image of ‘meekness’. This [group] who have always been the best collaborators and friends of International Zionism and the usurper, Israel, are now screaming cries of meekness and have written letters to every place they could, insisting on attracting the support and intervention of the foreign governments so that once again, the foreigners come to their aid. The fighting Muslim nation of Iran… [with the aid of] Ayatollah Khomeini… will no longer allow the crimes and treachery [of the Bahá’ís] to continue.”
[107]See, e.g., ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN, IRAN BETWEEN TWO REVOLUTIONS 432 (1982)(noting that a few senior officials came from Bahá’í backgrounds, which “provided fuel for rumors often heard in the bazaars that the whole upper class represented an international conspiracy hatched by Zionists, Bahá’ís centered in Haifa, and British imperialists”, among others.)
[108]See, e.g., Mu'jizat-i Pepsi Cola ya Sughat-i AkkaRa Az Zaban-i Habib Sabit-i Bahá’í Bishnavid [The Miracles of Pepsi Cola or Souvenir of Akka, According to Habib Sabet, the Bahá'í], ZILZILIH, 17/7/1334 (October 10, 1955) (alleging that because Pepsi was prepared by Bahá’ís it contained harmful substances); Tanha Barkinariyyih Gholamhussein Jalili Kafi Nist, Ayadi Ou ra az Rah Ahan Birun Kunid [Jalili’s Replacement is Not Enough; Kick Out His Hands [i.e. people he put in place] From the Railroad office], SITARIH-YIH ISLAM, no. 173, 27/3/1334 (June 18, 1955) (on file with IHRDC).
[110]There was a widespread perception that the Bahá’í faith was not a genuine religion, but an anti-clerical movement founded by the British and supported by the Israelis. See LIFTING THE VEIL, supra note 4, at 223; see also MARTIN, THE PERSECUTION OF THE BAHÁ’ÍS IN IRAN, supra note 1, at 40 (listing the accusations commonly put forth to justify targeting the Bahá’í community, including the allegations that: 1) that the Bahá’í community had been political supporters of the previous regime; 2) the Bahá’í faith is anti-Islamic; 3) the presence of the international headquarters of the Bahá’í faith in Haifa is evidence that the Bahá’í are agents of Zionism; 4) the leadership of the Iranian Bahá’í community is engaged in a conspiracy with the U.S. and British government; and 5) Bahá’ís profited financially from the Pahlavi regime.)
[111]For an example of anti-Bahá’í sermons, see, e.g., Ikhtar-i Shadid-i Ayatollah Saduqi bih Bahá'íyan Iran [Severe Warning of Ayatollah Saduqi to the Bahá’ís of Iran], ENGHELABE ESLAMI, June 21, 1980, on file with IHRDC (stating that “in [his] sermon during the Friday prayer yesterday, [Ayatollah Saduqi] spoke about the conspiracy of Bahá’ís in all cities of Iran and declared: the leaders of the Bahá’ís have been conspiring against the Islamic Republic in all the cities of Iran, and their conspiracy has been discovered. Documents have been obtained from them… 27 of these conspirators are from Yazd and so far 25 of them have been arrested. The rest will be arrested soon.”)


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Baha'i, Personal Liberty, Arbitrary Detention, Illegal Search and Seizure, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Conscience