A View From the Cheap Seats

September 3, 2009

Iran vs. Baha’i

Filed under: Politics,Religion — trzupek @ 12:02 pm


By Rich Trzupek

The Baha’i faith is one of the world’s most gentle creeds, preaching tolerance, equality and peace. It is the definition of irony; therefore, that such an embracing faith was founded in the city that today is the symbol of religious thuggery: Tehran, Iran.

The images and stories that manage to escape the cordon of censorship that surrounds Iran are truly shocking. The fact that the radical mullahs who rule the theocracy admit to some deaths in the fighting and protests suggest that the numbers killed and wounded are far greater.

The people of Iran are fighting for that which people always fight for: freedom. But, there is no freedom in modern day Iran. There is the freedom to do exactly what God says to do, as interpreted by the religious leaders who claim to have a direct connection to the Big Guy, but that’s about it.

Not that we Americans will be critical. Heavens no. This is 2009 and America has been reborn. Live and let live. Or, more properly, live and let die. We spend a lot of time these days apologizing, but it would be most ungracious to criticize. Those arrogant days are over.

The Baha’i in Iran have endured the intolerance of Iran’s leadership for decades, ever since Khomeini took over in 1979. Over 350,000 of them live in fear, unable to practice their faith openly; unable to establish schools of instruction, forced to live in the shadows.

Many were killed in the early days of the Iranian theocracy, until international pressure seemed to stem the tide. Or perhaps the mullah’s appetite for blood had been slaked.

Why persecute the Baha’i? At the most basic level, the Baha’i are not Muslim and the government of Iran doesn’t take kindly to infidels. It is remarkable how ultra-insecure radical Muslims can be. Before I went to Saudi Arabia for the first time, I was warned not to: use the expression “Jesus!”, refer to the Bible, or (and I liked this one the best) cross my fingers, for all of these things were an insult to the official faith.

There is more about the Baha’i faith, than simply being another faith, which threatens the mullahs in Iran. For one thing, the Baha’i believe in the equality of men and women. This plainly won’t do in Iran. Women are to be stuffed into black bags when they go out of the house, an act that is only accomplished when their lord and master – that is, their husband – gives them permission to do so.

The Baha’i believe that there is only one God and that all religions, whether they know it or not, pray to that same God. This obviously includes Muslims, which you think would be a good thing for the mullahs, but it’s not. For while the mullahs believe that there is one God too, that God is exactly the God that they have defined. No alternate theories are welcome.

The Baha’i preach tolerance, acceptance and understanding of all points of view. I remember, fondly, a plane ride conversation with a woman of the Baha’i faith who explained her religion to me in loving terms. She plainly did not agree with my defense of Catholicism and did not approve of the glass of Cabernet that I had to accompany my meal, but nor did she move to admonish me. Being a good person, which I may or may not be, was plainly the thing that mattered to her.

Contrast that to the mullahs in Iran, who are the very definition of intolerance. They cannot abide even a whiff of a dissenting opinion. It’s God’s way or the highway. And who decides what God’s way is? Why they do, of course.

It is also ironic that we, as a nation, have made concepts like tolerance, equality and unity so important to our national identity today. America the warrior, battling for liberty, has been replaced by America the counselor, wondering why we can’t just all get along.

And that’s fine. That’s the path that we have chosen. But it leads us to this conundrum. In the name of tolerance, we will not deign to interfere – even to criticize – the path that other nations choose to follow. Not our business. We can’t understand, much less hope to advise, foreigners with strange customs and traditions.

But, by doing so, which is to say by doing nothing, we implicitly lend aid and comfort to regimes that stand for intolerance, against the very people who hold dear the values we claim to support.

Did I mention something about irony?


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