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Enough? The Baha’i Seven Are Still There**.

**(Lest We Forget)**

The campaign is over now.

There have been several concerted efforts to raise global awareness. One proclaimed the passing of 10,000 hours of unjust, of ridiculously tragic imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders in Iran. Many fine words were said in numerous dignified contexts, but the “Yaran” – it means “friends” in Farsi – remained in jail. The five-year mark of their astounding 20-year sentences brought another crescendo of polite indignation, but these five years of loss, not only to the persecuted Baha’i minority but to all of Iranian society, moved the Teheran government not a bit.

Will a new logo be needed for nine?

Will a new logo be needed for nine?

In May of 2015, the hashtag #SevenBahaisSevenYears achieved not quite the currency of, say, #BlackLivesMatter (to say nothing of tags for TV shows or celebrity break-ups), but it circled the globe with awareness and a renewed call for justice. Earlier this month, #EnoughIsEnough and #ReleaseBahai7Now had their moments of trendiness as the Yaran’s captivity reached its eight anniversary.

The campaign did its best. More people than before are aware of the human rights situation in Iran, one that puts the Baha’is at the centre of the issue – not that they are the only, or even the largest, group that is oppressed and unjustly incarcerated. In fact, the Baha’i community wishes only to serve the broader population, and is dogged, even when its brightest young people are excluded from university admission, in its pursuit of education for all. Their “crime” is one, plainly and simply, of belief in the teachings of the 19th-century Persian nobleman known as Baha’u’llah, considered a heretic by Shiah Islamic clerics. All the noise about “sedition” and “immorality” and “spying” is nothing but bigoted, ignorant and baseless slander; religious intolerance is the reality.

So here I am. I tweeted and liked. Did my bit, I guess. Maybe so.

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Re-Broadcast the Last: Vahid Tizfahm and His Living Letters

I could be writing, it’s true, about gun violence here and there. (Been there, wrote that, but there’s always more.) I ought to explore the tangled feelings of a frayed and stubborn father and his proud, combative son. (It wouldn’t be the first time.) There are Things to be Said about the two troupes of (mainly) 14-year-old boys that I’m spurring/goading/inspiring/herding toward basketball excellence, so impatiently. (How about now? Can you hear me NOW?! Why aren’t you trying harder?) And how about those Warriors, and the hardwood genius of Stephen Curry? And, like, all those other like sports thingies?

There’s Paris. I’ve barely written a word about the horrors of Paris then (and Beirut, and Bamako (Mali), and Kano (Nigeria), and San Bernardino (USA)…), and nothing of Paris now: governments and leaders defending their privilege (systematically) and twiddling and fiddling (often) while the climate burns, slowly and inexorably. (Heck, you think we have a refugee problem now? How about when Bangladesh or [insert your most precious coastal population centre here] is under water, or drought deepens in California or any other global or local food basket? Say, while I’m on the subject, didn’t Syria have a series of disastrous crop years just before the war?)

I’ll be getting to those. Probablymaybe. Soonerorlater.

But today, as I promised myself and The Usual Lurkers here at JH.com, I’m thinking about the last of the Iranian Seven, prisoners now on the most trumped-up of charges – weird how, suddenly, “trumped-up” accusations have a whole new layer of meaning – for over 90 months. I want you to know about and remember Vahid Tizfahm. You might not have heard of him, or his six brothers- and sisters-in-nobility, but I’ve written about each and I’ve been re-issuing the call. They’re still in jail. Their names are listed below.

There’s one, though, that I want you to read RIGHT NOW (sorry, no need to shout, I guess, not really, but wow) is this updated profile of Vahid Tizfahm, in which I include links to three remarkable — I dare say nearly incredible — letters written by (or partly by) Mr. Tizfahm.

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Re-Distribution 7.5: Behrouz Prays for His Oppressors

I’ve gotten distracted, just like the world has. For a week last May, considerable global attention — at least, within the bubble of those with the willingness (or the freedom) to look up from their routine concerns — was paid to remembrance and advocacy for seven leaders of the Baha’i community of Iran. Wanting to join the movement, I had to get to know Behrouz Tavakkoli, so I wrote about him.

Behrouz is another man who is widely known and loved — and was taken from — among the Iranian Baha’is, one of the seven who were then entering an eighth year of unjust imprisonment in two Iranian jails.  He and his partners in “crime” were the focus for the international #7Bahais7Years campaign, and now that it’s seven-and-a-HALF years, here I go again. I hoped, back then, that my seven personal essays (this was the sixth) could be of some use in the worldwide protest, and maybe they moved somebody besides me, but the seven still grow old in prison. They are sacrificial lions, bravely enduring pariah status in a country that needs their kind more than it knows. So in case you missed, or would like to remember, my May series on the Quietly Magnificent Seven, prisoners of conscience in Iran for 7.5-years-and-counting, here was Issue No. 6…

They made a carpenter out of him. Behrouz Tavakkoli, in most ways, is probably okay with that.

They made a carpenter out of him. Behrouz Tavakkoli, in most ways, is probably okay with that.

I’ve been reading about Behrouz Tavakkoli. (I’ve known some “Persian versions” named Behrouz. They usually had to defer to the impervious pronunciation of Canadian-born friends and accept ‘Bruce’. Too bad, but Iranians have put up with worse. Declaration: I’ve never had a bad experience with a Behrouz.)

My favourite Bruce, singer/songwriter Cockburn, startled those familiar with his gorgeous acoustic guitar-picking and gentle, Christian-flavoured and granola-fed singing. It was the 1980s. As he became more aware of global poverty and the systematic injustice of so-called “first world” nations, songs like “They Call it Democracy” were wildly angry for a peace-loving Canuck. The most shocking one, of course, and likely the one that put him on an American blacklist for a time, was “(If I Had a) Rocket Launcher”. He wanted to “make somebody pay” for the terrible suffering he saw in Central and South American countries, which were ‘collateral damage’ during that ever-more–ridiculous global struggle (allegedly) between communism and democracy. (Remember the Cold War? Is it even over? Where and how is it being fought now? These are uncomfortable questions. Feel free to ignore them; most do.)

I have nothing so dramatic to say; nobody will pay. However, I read Mr. Tavakkoli’s story, and there’s no doubt: that’s anger rising up into my chest.

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Reminder 7.5: You Can’t Kill Jamaloddin Khanjani

This was the third of my quick and furious reactions to the ongoing imprisonment of seven innocent Baha’is in Iran. May of this year marked the end of their seventh year in captivity. As I wrote back then, “I’d never heard of Mr. Khanjani until recently, but today he’s my hero.” He and his six partners in the most benevolent, world-minded sort of “crime” you could imagine were the focus for the international #7Bahais7Years campaign, which was a noble thing but not yet bearing fruit. Now, it’s 7.5 years. Counting…

Here’s one heroic and underreported story of the Quietly Magnificent Seven, prisoners of conscience in Iran.

The Unbreakable Mr. K.

The Unbreakable Mr. K.

Mr. Khanjani is 81.

His given name means something like “God’s beauty”.

He was arrested on May 14, 2008, along with five of the Quietly Magnificent Seven. In 2011, his wife of over fifty years, mother of his four children, died. He was not permitted to attend her funeral.

He is held in Gohardasht Prison. (The place even sounds harsh to a Western ear. Tehran’s Evin Prison is more infamous, but Gohardasht is brutally harsh as well.) He lives.

While his story will echo for a long age among Baha’is – among all who pay attention to grace under pressure, to indomitability under the worst circumstances – surely his days are numbered, yet when I read a brief biography, the man does seem to be pretty much unbreakable.

Listen: after the 1979 Revolution, Iran’s Baha’is were still under the leadership of their annually elected National Spiritual Assembly, nine women and men who never asked to be leaders, never campaigned, but were chosen from among the mass of Iran’s largest religious minority to care for and administer the community. It wasn’t long before their death sentences were handed down, the crime being heresy (or espionage, or immorality, or sedition, or any number of euphemisms for cut the head off the snake and the body will follow). All nine were executed.

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Re-Iteration 7.5: “Criminality”, Iran Style

Six months ago, I started writing personal reactions to the lives and imprisonment of seven leaders of the Baha’i community of Iran. Their institutions had already been dissolved (subsequent to their elected members being routinely executed in the aftermath of the “Islamic” revolution), their young people barred from university, and their lives and businesses disrupted or destroyed. The month of May marked the seventh year in captivity for these seven citizens, on charges ranging from the incredible to the ludicrous.

Now it’s 7 years and a half. (The Islamic Republic of Iran appears to have been unmoved by my blogging last spring, but they haven’t heard the last from me yet.) Yesterday, I began re-posting my earlier profiles, beginning with a little-known Iranian woman named Mahvash Sabet. The international media campaign, tagged #7Bahais7Years, brought considerable attention but no release of the innocent. So here I am, six months later, because they are still in prison.

The second profile was on another remarkable woman, Fariba Kamalabadi. My sarcasm got the best of me; I titled it “Biography of a Criminal”. I plead outrage. Please click here to read about the inspiring courage and conviction of Ms. Kamalabadi.

Vahid: Peerless Insight From Inside

Vahid is Vahid Tizfahm, yet another widely known and cherished community servant taken from among the Iranian Baha’is. He and his partners in “crime” are the focus for the international #7Bahais7Years campaign, and here we go again. Danny and Pej asked their buddy, me, to contribute to the social media protests, and I’m hoping these personal essays are of some use in the necessary worldwide conversation. Vahid Tizfahm and his six colleagues are sacrificial lions, bravely enduring pariah status in a country that needs their kind more than it knows. Here is the last instalment of my series on the Quietly Magnificent Seven, prisoners of conscience in Iran for seven years, and counting…

Ever had an optometrist for a hero? I have, now. Vahid Tizfahm is a lion.

Ever had an optometrist for a hero? I have, now. Vahid Tizfahm is a lion.

At 42, Mr. Tizfahm is the same age as his father was when he was executed for being a Baha’i. Three bullets, no lawyer, no charge that we would recognize as remotely judicial. Vahid, the son who is now the similarly arrested father, is quite the youngest of the Yaran, the “friends”, the group of seven Baha’is that worked to guide and encourage the members of their persecuted community. As has become the disgusting norm in Iranian society, it goes without saying — so I’ll SAY it, again — that he did not go to university; as a member of “this detestable sect”, he wasn’t allowed to. He was able to train as an optometrist, and alongside this business he was a youth leader, taught children’s classes and was appointed to generally inspire, encourage, and promote learning among Baha’is. He studied under and supported the BIHE, the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, an underground university that trains excluded Baha’i students in living rooms and by email. He did these things, of course, until he and the other Yaran were arrested, for “crimes” such as these, a little more than seven years ago.

***

Vahid is the Persian form of an Arabic word that means “unique”, “peerless”. Vahid. One of the greatest figures of the violently visionary and just plain violent early years of the Baha’i movement, in 19th-century Persia, was given this lofty title. And now we have another singular man, quietly, hardily, heartily bearing societal rejection and punishment in the name of principle, in the pursuit of justice.

The Tizfahm family. Not sure whether this is a prison visit, or just prior to his arrest.

The Tizfahm family. Not sure whether this is a prison visit, or just prior to his arrest.

Vahid Tizfahm’s son was in grade 3 when they came for him, about the same age his daddy had been when his own father was taken. The family had just moved to Tehran, and my thinly educated guess is that they had done so in order for Mr. Tizfahm to more easily work together with his Baha’i leadership colleagues. (You know, relocation to pursue sacrificial voluntarism, that old story.) The lad is now a sophomore in high school. I have a son about that age, who probably gets more contact with his Dad than he’d like. But what about young Mr. Tizfahm?

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Who in the World is Afif Naeimi?

It’s Day 4 of 7. I’m thinking of this man, previously unknown to me, who is among the seven innocent Baha’is now entering their eighth year of imprisonment in two Iranian jails.  He — and his six partners in the most benevolent, world-minded sort of “crime” you could imagine — are the focus for the international #7Bahais7Years campaign, and this is my attempt to honour Mr. Naeimi. This probably isn’t what Danny and Pej had in mind; the bulk of the campaign they asked me to contribute to involves social media, an area where I have only narrow and entry-level eptitude. These friends, among others that I’m close to, have only 1 or 2 degrees of separation from these sacrificial lions. The Seven are enemies of an insecure state simply because of their membership in an often-ostracized community, which has been subject to nearly two centuries of bigoted slander from the entrenched shiah orthodoxy in what was once Persia, now Iran. I learn more of this tragic, heroic and underreported story of the Quietly Magnificent Seven, prisoners of conscience in Iran for a week of years. I call to remembrance people that I don’t know, because when I read their stories, they are no longer strangers.

Mr. Naeimi, circa 2005 or so.

Mr. Naeimi, circa 2005 or so.

When I was young, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. So did Afif Naeimi. I was undone, for most medical schools, by my underwhelming performance in university chem and biology labs. At the progressive school I came the closest to being selected for, my clumsy interview performance likely roasted my goose. Mr. Naeimi? Now that’s a different story. He’s 53 now, which means that when he graduated from high school, a superb student, the Islamic Republic of Iran was in place, and a member of the “detestable Baha’i sect” was automatically disqualified from university. This is still the case in 2015.

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Biography of a Criminal: Fariba Kamalabadi

How’s this for a life of crime? Dad’s a doctor who loses his job for practising medicine while Baha’i (that’s known as a ‘PMWB’ offence, which went from a misdemeanour to a felony after the Iranian Revolution in 1979). He was imprisoned and tortured, though it probably did nothing to straighten him out. (You know how these people are!) His daughter Fariba seemed to think that, just because she had outstanding high school marks, her brazen attempt to go to university was somehow her RIGHT. The ruling authorities of the Islamic Republic, fortunately, were able to nip that nefarious plan in the bud. Ms. Kamalabadi, however, was incorrigible, embarking in her 30s on an extended, clearly delusional attempt at higher education from an underground university, the notorious “Baha’i Institute for Higher Education” (BIHE). She had a lengthy criminal record with a wide range of what are euphemistically called “volunteer activities” and was imprisoned several times. Finally, when her propensity for repeated, remorseless involvement with a gang of six other reprobates continued – why, these people were helping that illegal Baha’i element to learn, marry and other of their supposed “human rights” – she was among the seven who were finally rounded up and removed, dangers as they clearly were to law-abiding Iranian citizens, from decent society…

*Coughs*. That’s enough of that. Irony is hard. Sarcasm kills…

Pre-incarceration photo, likely much changed now -- except for that resolute chin.

Pre-incarceration photo, likely much changed now — except for that resolute chin.

[This is the second of my stubborn efforts to get to know more of the seven innocent Baha’is in Iran, who are the focus for the international #7Bahais7Years campaign, and so here’s a taste of the remarkable life of that “arch-criminal” Fariba Kamalabadi, 52. Again, thanks to intrepid Baha’i social networkers Danny and Pej, who have fed me with a steady diet of sad yet still ennobling information about this tragic, heroic and underreported story of the Quietly Magnificent Seven, prisoners of conscience in Iran for a week of years. This won’t take long; be sure not to miss her own description of her “crime” below.]

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7Bahais7Years: Getting Mad, No Getting Even

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 todaySEVEN. Seven Baha’is. Seven years in two different Tehran jails, and who can say which is more infamous?

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Hindsight: Memorial for a Quiet Hero

UPDATE (July 24, 2015): Two days ago, the Globe and Mail printed a sweet tribute to this man in its “Lives Lived”section. It was written by the man’s sister and his widow, and I learned more about a man that I miss(ed).

I didn’t know Mark well at all. We’d only met a few times, so when his husk was committed to the earth this week, I wasn’t there. That would’ve been for the dearest of family and friends, and Lord knows there was no shortage of those.

But funerals change me. (They certainly try hard.) I hope – I knew in the teary quiet of a Sunday afternoon – that his did wonders for me. Although I’d nearly found sufficient pretexts not to attend the service, I finally did, and thank goodness and greatness and mercy and joy for that.

For me, Mark was only the quiet, smiley man who opened the door and served the tea at Linda’s place. I’d been there occasionally, sometimes to lead a discussion or give a small talk in their modest living room, sometimes to listen in on what was sure to be an elevated conversation; no celebrity gossip, nary an ounce of snark. I can’t even say I knew his wife Linda all that well, either, though she’d been a community co-worker for a decade. Mark seemed a gentle support to Linda’s calm and steely leadership. That’s what I thought I saw there. What did he do outside those meetings? I wasn’t too sure, and to my embarrassment,

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