From Canaries in a Coal Mine to Elephants in the Room


Some years down the road, when Islam makes peace with Modernity and the recent history of the Middle East in general, and Iran in particular, is written, a few folks will have to reckon with what they have wrought.

Soon after the Ayatollahs, the self-proclaimed “verses of God”, began to take over Iran in 1978, they turned their attention to an increased persecution of the Baha’is, the largest non-Islamic religious minority in the country; confiscated their properties, expelled them from government jobs, threw them out of universities, declared their marriages null and void, bulldozed their cemeteries, arrested their elected leadership, executed more than 200 by firing squad and, as standard practice, made their families pay for the price of the bullets.

For those familiar with the life of Ayatollah Rouhullah Khomeini, the once convicted traitor sentenced to death by the former Shah, and the circumstances around his eventual exile rather than execution, the treatment of Baha’is at the hands of his new “Islamic Republic” might seem ironic. Khomeini’s attorney, who conceived the idea of elevating him to a Grand Ayatollah – based on the testimonies of sitting Grand Ayatollahs like Shariatmadari rather than rising through the ranks by virtue of demonstrated ability – and therefore excusing him from the death penalty in the early 1960’s, was a Baha’i.

Thirty seven years later, the president of Iran, adorned with a turban that signifies a religious standing, stands in front of a world body and speaks but is not asked of his government’s current persecution of the Baha’is.

What has happened to this community of faith is not the Holocaust – the numbers and the brutality cannot be compared. This thanks in part to the raised voices of Baha’is outside of Iran since 1979, the sporadic declarations of some Western nations, and more recently the calls of their own countrymen who have finally seen that Baha’is are not the monsters that the mullas painted in their wild imaginations.

What has been a glaring omission is the lack of coverage of this story by any Western media of consequence, and of greater importance, the lack of appreciation by so-called democracies – those that claim human rights as their motto – to the greater consequences of when the life and lives of the most vulnerable in a society are methodically dismantled.

There was a time when some quipped that the only moderates in the Islamic Republic of Iran were the ones whose guns were out of bullets. Then came the Taliban whom the Islamic Republic called extremists. Then came Al Qaeda and today ISIS.

Now it appears to balance the rising power of a hyper-radical group, the West has begun to appease the masters of dissimulation. And all the while respected journalists, who are practically majnun-crazy about the region – Christiane Amanpour, Charlie Rose, Robin Wright, Thomas Freidman and a handful others – are silent witnesses to a persecution, the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran.

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