[Newspaper:] The Baltimore Sun   

[Date:] 8 May 1984


Holy war

By Morton Kondracke


Washington. – Americans are marching against intervention in Central America, plastering up posters condemning actions in Grenada, showing solidarity with trade unionism in Poland and nuclear freeze groups throughout the world. But who cares about the Bahais of Iran?  Hardly anyone.

Hardly anyone, in fact, even knows that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is waging a systematic and brutal holy war against his country's Bahais – imprisoning, torturing and executing leaders and worshippers – solely for their religious convictions.

Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, last week characterized the regime's actions as "sickeningly reminiscent of Nazi Germany" before the Holocaust. A resolution condemning Iran has gathered 140 signatures in the House and 60 in the Senate. More than 170 Bahais have been executed since the ayatollah came to power – three last month, 20 in the last year – and today 703 languish in jail awaiting trial or serving sentences. The dead were Bahai leaders, university professors, businessmen, young women, and the elderly.

But most of the world doesn't even know what a Bahai is, much less the story of their persecution.

Bahaism was founded in Iran in the 1840s, when a prophet named Baha'u'llah, preaching world unity, pacifism and tolerance, split off from the Shi'ite Muslims. His followers now number about 2 million worldwide, including 300,000 in Iran, 700,000 in India and 100,000 in the United States. The world center for Bahais is in Haifa, Israel, something the Shi'ites like to emphasize when they accuse members of "crimes against God," "corruption on earth" and "Zionism."

Americans who thought that anything would be better than the iron- fisted rule of the shah should know that his regime at least allowed the religion to exist. But in August, 1983, Khomeini's Revolutionary Prosecutors General announced that "all the collective and administrative activities of Bahaism in Iran are banned…" And that was really just an official announcement of what had already been the case for several years.

Here's how the presiding judge of the Revolutionary Court explained death sentences returned against 22 Bahais a year ago: "It is absolutely certain that in the Islamic Republic of Iran there is no place for Bahais or Bahaism… Before it is too late, the Bahais should recant Bahaism, which is condemned by reason and logic." Here's their "logic" – In Islam, Mohammed (A.D. 700) is the last true prophet. Any faith established since Mohammed (like Bahaism) is deemed false. In fanatically religious Iran, false prophesy means death. Take it from there.

Two examples further illustrate how the ayatollah operates his machine of persecution. On April 6 of last year, an Iranian newspaper published the report of a purge in the country's oil ministry. Charges included collaborating with SAVAK, the shah's secret police; immorality; membership in organizations which denied the existence of God; bribery; etc. More than half the total dismissed were charged with belonging to "the misguided group of Bahaism…a heretical group outside Islam."

It's one easy step for the ayatollah from meanness to murder. At a congressional hearing last week in Washington, a Texas restaurant operator who left Iran six years ago described getting the news in June, 1983, that his father, mother and sister had been hanged.

Said Eshraghi testified that his father, an oil company employee, was charged with spying for Israel – the senior Eshraghi had once made a pilgrimage to the world Bahai center there. His mother was charged with complicity. The sister was charged with teaching Bahai Sunday school. Each was offered clemency if they would renounce their faith; they refused and, after a few months in prison, were hanged.

Bahais in the hearing room cried openly during the testimony. Later, many expressed concern that their families back in Iran face similar ends. "At any moment someone might come from the Revolutionary Guard to take my parents away," Elahe Nourani, 29, told me. She left Iran with her husband before the revolution, but her parents, whose passports have been confiscated, can't leave.

Of course Bahais aren't the only group persecuted in Iran – Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and others have been harassed, jailed and, in some cases, executed (though not explicitly for their religious convictions). Amnesty International estimates that more than 5,500 Iranians have been killed since Khomeini triumphantly returned on February 1, 1979. Still, the State Department calls the human rights problem of Bahais in Iran "one of the worst in the world."

What can be done? The Bahais publicly announced they were obeying the prosecutor general's decree and are no longer assembling. But that didn't stop the arrests or executions; nor did the strong protests by President Reagan last summer before 17 Bahais were publicly hanged.

The Unites States must pressure its friends who have close diplomatic or economic ties to Iran – notably Japan and India – to call on the ayatollah to end the atrocities. And U.S. corporations again trading with Iran (they sold more than $190 million in goods last year) should attach a note with their sales saying the same thing.

Finally, it wouldn't hurt if the same American activists promoting liberation elsewhere put up a few posters or marched a few miles on behalf of the Bahais.











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