Sunday April 8 2012

Where education is under fire

A table set for the Nawruz celebrations Photo by Nafha Maani Ebrahimi.

A table set for the Nawruz celebrations Photo by Nafha Maani Ebrahimi. 

By Nafha Maani Ebrahimi

“We call on the international academic community to come to the aid of those whose lives are being subjected to these oppressive laws,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Last Sunday I wrote an article about the Iranian New Year (Nawruz), taking you with me on a journey through a very significant cultural feast in Iran, a feast that is uniting all the people of Iran regardless of their religion or ethnic background.

Unfortunately, not everyone seems to be enjoying this feast with their loved ones; here is the story of Wafa, a seven-year-old boy, who had to spend a sad Nawruz while millions of other Iranians were celebrating with family and friends.

A couple of months ago in the city of Shiraz, Wafa’s family woke up one morning to what seemed to be an armed robbery. A group of armed men broke in their home, confiscated some of their belongings including books and photos. Wafa’s mother tried to rush and call the police. For that act, she was arrested and taken away to prison. This sounds like an odd story untill you hear that this family are followers of the Baha’i Faith, and these days there is no excuse for attacking and prosecuting the Baha’is in Iran.

All the way from 1979 when the houses of the Baha’is were burnt by mobs of people, to 1983 when Mona Mahmudnizhad a 16-year-old girl was executed along with nine other women because they were Baha’is and refused to recant their Faith in exchange for their lives; the abuse is on-going in Iran.

In the same city of Shiraz, young Wafa spent New Year’s Eve hoping that with some kind of miracle, his mother would come home and join them. When this did not happen, the family took the traditional Nawruz table layout and spread it on their car near the prison wall and celebrated the New Year.

After years of prosecutions, confiscation of land and belongings and throwing the Baha’is out of their jobs and universities, in 1987, the Baha’is of Iran came up with a system of education at home called: Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). Some Baha’i educators who themselves were denied their jobs and other courageous Moslem academics, got involved in preparing and conducting courses for these youth who were denied the right to higher education because they belonged to a faith that the government of Iran did not approve of.

In May 2011, Iranian government officials raided the Homes of these Baha’i educators, confiscated their books and computers and took the professors to jail. They are now incarcerated. Their charge? Educating Baha’i youth.

In an open letter of support, the Laurent Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote: “We believe it is important to recognise that these actions are neither the result of or dictated by the Islamic faith. One need only look at the Dark Ages of Europe or the Spanish Inquisition to see that Iranian Ayatollahs are certainly not the first to use religion as the cloak to attempt to forcibly suppress ideas and knowledge that they fear could threaten their power.

The rich philosophical and artistic Iranian traditions, the contributions of Iranian scholars worldwide, and the actions of the Muslim community members who have aided and supported the BIHE, are testament to the fact that the actions of their leaders are no reflections of the Muslim faith or the many good-willed Muslims in Iranian communities.” There is now a serious campaign going around the world to inform the general public about the human rights abuse in Iran.

One such campaign is “Education under fire”. On their website, the group explains that there should be no tolerance to such abuse of the basic human right of education in the 21st Century.

While little Wafa is waiting for the release of his mother from this unjustified imprisonment, his future education and rights remain hostage too, until the world decides to take action putting an end to this injustice.