UPDATE: After this post, I wrote short personal essays on each of the Quietly Magnificent Seven — Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm. Click on a name to get a quick impression of each.
Now this is really starting to burn my cookies. Must be time to write. (You write beautifully when you’re angry, cooed Howdy’s imaginary mistress of exposition. Liar. And thanks, he replied.)
Listen: I’ve known about the seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders in Iran for a while. I hang around the Baha’i community quite a bit. I am irritated occasionally by their relentless kindness and optimism and my repeated failures of same, it’s true. They’re everywhere you look, but there are never enough of them. But where else would I go for reasonable views on the spiritual life, for a worldview both epically hopeful and practical, for a community that embodies (better than anything I’ve seen) all the grassroots democracy and unity-in-diversity that I can shake an old hockey stick at? Long story short: nowhere. I keep lurking behind the frontlines of Baha’i community-building because it stirs my mind, shakes my lethargy, calms my despair and lifts my spirit. Not bad!
So: the Baha’is in Iran are under assault in their own home, right where this global system of knowledge and practice began. (Call it a religion, if the word doesn’t poison you) Where their Faith originated, they have been vilified, harassed and murdered for a century and a half. The old story. It continues. Scapegoating. Jail. Executions. The whole nine.
Or, in the particular case that’s overturned my emotional outhouse and toilet-papered my trees today — SEVEN. Seven Baha’is. Seven years in two different Tehran jails, and who can say which is more infamous? I recall a public campaign called “Five Years Too Many”. Hell, there was one, also, not long after the first of their sentenced 20 years had passed, based on the sour arithmetic that these seven people had by then each spent 10,000 hours in an imprisonment whose infantile, stone-headed “reasons” would be laughable, ridiculous, if the results weren’t so dire and inhumane. In this first year, they hadn’t even been informed of the charges against them, never mind having any access to lawyers. I guess I had put those thoughts and rages safely into some mental compartment that allowed me to live with a measure of contentment. We all do it.
But then Danny and Pej got after me. They know where I live, these guys. They told me about the most recent effort to bring renewed global attention to the distress of a people who refuse to hate or oppose, because how can we get unity and peace from that? Danny and Pej got to the point: “Listen, you’re a writer, aren’t you? This campaign is on. You should write about it. Do you Tweet?…Hmmm, not exactly a huge following there, Howdy. Still, it’s been seven years for these seven leaders. Don’t you blog? Don’t you want to do something useful with it?” [This transcript may have been edited for length and for gentleness. D&P were kinder and more patient.] They sent me stuff. I’ve been reading it. My soup is boiling. (And not literally!)
These are the seven. (A dangerous-looking bunch they are, too!) They’re not the only Baha’is in jail in Iran because of religious bigotry. There is a group imprisoned more recently because: a) Baha’is aren’t permitted to go to university; b) a bunch of fired Baha’i professors organized an informal network of tutorial instruction; c) hundreds of these ‘home-schooled’ students actually got accepted for post-graduate degrees abroad in dozens of universities; d) many of ‘em came back to Iran to pay forward the hard-won education they’d been offered; such stubborn belief in education and community betterment is construed as “managing a group that aims at disturbing national security” or “spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran”. As if that clumsy government’s actions aren’t self-accusatory, and disturbing to the peace and progress of Iran! As if education is a crime! But the campaign that starts today focuses on the seven leaders, six of whom were jailed on this day in 2008.
In the years after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, hundreds of Baha’is were executed. Thanks to public and intergovernmental awareness, a light has been shone into dark Iranian corners. (Cockroaches scatter.) There is even a special United Nations Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, as there is for other global crises, but we’d be wrong to assume the worst is over. Other forms of persecution and harassment are building momentum, so even the smallest of efforts are worthwhile.
You can read a short account of the seven here. Today, as the first day of my wee portal’s campaign to help myself and others to remember the Quietly Magnificent Seven, I’ll be writing about a woman called Mahvash Sabet. She was actually the first of the seven to be imprisoned, and was the inspiration for a fine open letter, to her and the civilized world, by the Canadian writer Alberto Manguel. You can join a Facebook event for the seven. If you’re active in other social media, the hashtag #7Bahais7Years is flying and multiplying all around the ‘Net. So there you go!
I believe in righteous anger. I used to believe that a man “shouldn’t get mad, he should get even”, but there’s really no such thing, even if I had fantastical powers to do so. I may not be even, but I did a little something¹. And you?
¹ So did Dorothy Parker, but it didn’t feel like enough to her, either. Reality seems so limited sometimes, doesn’t it? From what I know, Mahvash Sabet is much less discouraged, though she has far more external evidence for it.