Education Under Fire: Worsening Persecution, Resilience, New Electronic Tools for 2013 Campaign

The following report was prepared by the Education Under Fire team for publication in the January issue of the Wilmette Institute’s eNewsletter.

Bahá’ís Resilience in Face of Worsening Persecution in Iran

Persecution against the Bahá’ís in Iran is worsening, particularly in Semnan, a city 150 miles east of Tehran.  Despite the abuses heaped upon them, Bahá’ís continue to demonstrate a spirit of constructive resilience.

Dr. Abdu’l-Missagh Ghadirian, a faculty member at McGill University in Montreal who has served as an instructor for the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), noted in a recent interview that the Iranian government is now targeting the most vulnerable among the Bahá’ís. This includes mothers and children. The authorities in Semnan have recently imprisoned two young Bahá’í mothers together with their infants, who are still nursing. These new detentions are in addition to the previously imprisoned administrators of the BIHE and over one hundred other Bahá’í detainees. “They want to subdue the Bahá’ís and crush their determination and confidence,” Dr. Ghadirian says. “But it doesn’t work.”

Dr. Ghadirian also told a story about one of his BIHE students, whose home was raided and her father, arrested and detained. The student told him that, despite her fear for her father, and despite the fact that all her books and materials had been confiscated, she was determined to continue with her course because she wanted to complete her education. Dr. Ghadirian said that his student, like so many of those involved with BIHE, is “a model of resilience.”

Status of the Education Under Fire Campaign in the United States and Canada

The Education Under Fire Campaign continues its grassroots march with showings and conversations about the film Education Under Fire. Over 600 gatherings had been held as of mid-December 2012 to show and to engage in meaningful conversations about the purpose of learning, the state of the world, and learning from the example of the BIHE. Screenings, often more than one at a single site, are known to have been held at:

                        254 university/college campuses
                        73 homes
                        16 Bahá’í centers
                        15 libraries
                        10 churches
                        8 high schools
                        8 community centers

New (2013) Phase of the EUF Campaign/New Electronic Tools

As we step into 2013, the EUF Campaign will enter a new phase. To help you continue to spread the message about the plight of Bahá’ís in Iran who wish to pursue their education, new electronic tools are being readied for release in mid to late January. These will be available for free on the Education Under Fire website. The new tools will include the following:

1. New Campaign eBook: Persecution, Resilience and Hope.  An electronic publication with essays, articles, and photographs telling the story of BIHE will be released this month on the Education Under Fire website <http://www.educationunderfire.com >.

The free eBook will include original submissions from Rainn Wilson, actor and activist; Firuz Kazemzadeh, former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations; BIHE graduates; and other supporters of the campaign on a variety of subjects such as the importance of education as a human right and the example set by the Bahá’ís in Iran in the face of numerous injustices.

The new eBook is designed to serve as a valuable companion piece to the Education Under Fire film, providing more information to raise awareness of the situation facing the Bahá’ís of Iran.

2. Online Release of the Film. The Education Under Fire film, formerly only available as a DVD, will soon be available for online streaming. Anyone with an Internet connection will be able to view Education Under Fire free of charge and share it widely. The film will be accessible from the campaign website.

How Can You Support the EUF Campaign?

We are asking everyone to share the EUF film with others and to engage in conversations. We encourage you to follow the three-step process used in the Fall 2012 Campaign and still available on the EUF website. You can continue to share your stories through an online form found on the campaign website: <http://survey.educationunderfire.com>.

Until the release of the two electronic materials, the Free DVD Program will continue. We hope that hundreds more join and provide us with rich and insightful accounts of their efforts.  To spur more sharing and action, here are a few more stories to inspire all to take the story of the BIHE into many diverse settings.

Field Reports about EUF Showings/Conversations

Sioux City, Iowa.  This was an event held jointly between members of a local church and the Bahá’í community. The pastor, a friend of mine, agreed to watch the documentary and afterwards was eager to set up a screening/discussion with the Bahá’ís and his congregation. He said he enjoyed the aspect of the film that dealt with human rights and was even more excited to use film as a way to start conversations about the spiritual transformation of society. In fact, he saw the film as a vehicle to talk about spiritual transformation with his congregation.  Of the twenty-nine participants today, most were from his church or were acquaintances of ours.

Santa Fe, New Mexico. We had the most wonderful experience today at a screening for the whole high school (about 200 students) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This school organized the screening through one of their students. These students were amazing. The entire school, students, teachers, and staff, watched Education Under Fire as a kick-off to a day dedicated to talking about school culture and interdisciplinary activities. After watching the film, we had half an hour of questions and answers with two EUF organizers (one of us is a BIHE graduate). The students then broke into small discussion groups to talk about how this issue impacts them on a global and local level, including their school. They then reconvened in a plenary session to share thoughts that came out of those discussions. Both organizers participated in these discussions and were able to witness how much the documentary touched and affected the students and their reflections on the educational advantages and privileges that they often take for granted. It was very helpful to have a former BIHE student to share first-hand experiences.

New Wilmington, PA. We had a wonderful viewing. About twenty-five people attended, about eight adults and the rest students. The viewing was sponsored by the Department of Religion, History, Philosophy, and Classics and the International Cultures Club. The Chair of the Department of Religion, History, Philosophy, and Classics gave a wonderful introduction of the Bahá’í Faith approximately fifteen minutes long and showed pictures of the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, the Shrine of the Báb, The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, and the Seat of the Universal House of Justice. The film was viewed. Questions were asked. What is it that the Iranian government doesn’t like about the Bahá’ís? What can be done to help the Bahá’ís in Iran further? Why is the government focused on the Bahá’ís and not on other religious minorities? How do you explain the differences in religions? Do you have places of worship, churches? Do Bahá’ís meet regularly? Why is the ring symbol sideways on the shrine of the Báb? Do the Bahá’ís have holy texts?

One of the professors at the university is going to try to have the film part of the freshman orientation in the coming fall semester! Two articles were published in local papers, New Castle News and Sharon Herald, announcing the viewing.

Education Under Fire in 2013

As the Education Under Fire Campaign moves into 2013, we will continue to shed light on the oppressive policies of the Iranian government and the creative response of the Bahá’ís. Please share the EUF documentary on your social media outlets and by e-mail with your friends and colleagues, and encourage them to read the newly published eBook at our website: <http://www.educationunderfire.com>. 

Let’s continue to stand in solidarity with the faculty, students, and administrators of the Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education, as they demonstrate, in Dr. Ghadirian words, a “model of resilience” from which we can all take inspiration.