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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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Bahiyyih Nakhjavani (on the burning itch to do something about it)

Hear voices? Maybe I do, but it’s banal: they’re all mine, or snippets of this song or that. (Recent visits: Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe”, and “Frosty the Snowman”. No explanation.) I’m as egotistical as the selfie-ing man-boy next door, but I don’t think everything refers back to me. This was happenstance. I know that Bahiyyih Nakhjavani wasn’t writing to me, personally, and even if you’ve been hauling around some weighty notion that you burn to DO something about, she might not have been talking to you, either.

"So, get on with it, then!" she might have been saying to us in this Guardian newspaper photo from 2015.

“So, get on with it, then!” she might have been saying to us in this Guardian newspaper photo from 2015.

Nakhjavani is a prose writer with the heart of a poet, and while her short book Four on an Island purports to be about 19th-century political prisoners in Cyprus, it’s more like meditative non-fiction, to coin a genre, than historical biography. She muses elegantly about Earth and Water, Air and Fire, and returns continually to these elemental themes. She teases the reader, occasionally, and finally admits on page 55 that she’s been somewhat coy, offering a kind of pseudo-confession at the halfway point about what the book is actually about. I don’t know whether this was genuine discovery, one of these mysterious cases in which writers claim that the book they are writing, or characters in it, taught them how to write it and what to say. I suspect Ms. Nakhjavani knew where she was going from the start, her twisting and mystical route notwithstanding. (Twistical!)

I was struck by how she prepared the ground for Four on an Island’s change in direction on page 55. Oh, it’s elegant, mildly amusing, and skilfully disguises its sharpness until the point sinks in. But it’s as if she was writing, say, of a book I haven’t finished writing. (It exists.)

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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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Recapitulation 7.5: Saeid Rezaie is STILL a Farmer-Loving Baha’i Intellectual*

* Clearly, he had to be stopped!

Mr. Rezaie was the fifth of the seven “friends” (Yaran) who had taken on the job of looking out for the needs of the oppressed Baha’i community in Iran, the land of its birth. In the past few decades, their elected councils have been outlawed, their reputations slandered, their businesses shuttered, their youth deprived of education, all in the wake of the execution of hundreds of believers following the “Islamic” revolution in 1979. Even the Yaran, voluntary leaders of the oppressed community, were arrested, and Mr. Rezaie and his colleagues are now halfway through their eighth year of unjust imprisonment in two Iranian jails.  He — and his six partners in the most benevolent, world-minded sorts of “crime” you could imagine — were the focus last May for the international #7Bahais7Years campaign, and this was my homage to Mr. Rezaie. The Seven are enemies of an insecure state simply because of their membership in a community enduring nearly two centuries, now, of slander and persecution in their homeland.

Now it’s November, half a year of imprisonment later, and the tragic, heroic and under-reported story of the Quietly Magnificent Seven, prisoners of conscience in Iran for a week of years, is still a burr under my saddle. So here’s what I said, and here’s what I say:

*****

Agriculture is quite old-fashioned. Who needs it? Who even cares? It’s as if we’ve gotten so modern and giga-groovy that we don’t have to think about food production at all, and if we do, chances are it’s not much more than a glimpse: an idyllic image of a family farm on some supermarket packaging, an image that bears about as much relationship to modern agriculture as fish do to fish sticks.

I have my own agri-romantic fantasies. I want to be a farmer. I was a happy man today with a shovel, a rake and a barrow — no wheel — in my tiny backyard garden. Maybe this comes from raking and draining ball diamonds to get ready for my team’s next youthful pitching and catching and swings of the bat. Certainly it comes from growing up in a little town with two old mills within, and endless fields of corn, hay and soy all around it. Our town fair featured — for a few years among the usual tractor and biggest-pumpkin displays, greasy food and clunky rides, the Baptist Church pies and the demolition derby — an earnest group of idealists celebrating the notion that “The Farmer Comes First”. (Always liked being first, I did, but my farm dreams are a rather unlikely route to victory. I digress.)

This advocacy for the preeminent importance of the farmer was, even then, a relatively doomed notion, as more and more of us became city-dwellers and ever more remote from the reality of food. (Never mind where babies come from – where does chicken or Cheez Whiz come from?!) And yet, it’s still a concept that we might find useful, this making-sure-we-can-feed-ourselves-not-just-cheaply-but-healthily-and-sustainably thing. Y’know, the small stuff.

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Re-wind 7.5: Who’s Afif Naeimi, Again?

I should likely have been writing about my visit with Margaret Atwood Monday night. (Me, and about 500 close friends.) I have strong feelings, overwhelming at times, about Beirut and Paris (and, did you hear? eastern Nigeria) that ought to be recollected in whatever tranquillity I can scrape together. What’s more, I could be writing about my basketball teams, which are pretty darned fascinating in themselves and in the contrasts they present with each other. Heck, I could even dive back into my stillborn book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Men and Sport and Meaning But Were Too Distrapathetic¹ to Ask.²
I may yet write the darned things.

¹Not a real word. (‘Til now.)        ² Not its real title.

But not tonight.

The Quietly Magnificent Seven, in freer times. Community service becomes treason to a government bigoted and paranoid.

The Quietly Magnificent Seven, in freer times. Community service becomes treason to a government bigoted and paranoid.

The short answer to the title question above is that, for the fourth day in a row, I’m reminding a vanishingly fine slice of humanity — you guys, the ones who read my stuff — about the seven Baha’i leaders who, by all accounts, remain amazingly resolute and even light-hearted about the kangaroo-court decision that put all of them in jail seven years ago. (Well, it was seven years last May, when I wrote this series of profiles as part of the #7Bahais7Years consciousness-raising campaign. It’s now seven-and-a-half.) They are awesome.

Six months ago nearly to the day, I wrote: “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.” Not exactly Twitter-verse, but not a bad sentence, if I do say. I then went on to write about my getting to know the fourth, Afif Naeimi, andthat’s the point of this short post. I commend him to your attention.

Over the previous three days, I’ve also re-pubbed my profiles of Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Jamaloddin Khanjani. (Three pretty links, all in a row.) Sorry, though: if you want to read RIGHT NOW about Number Five, Saeid Rezaie, well, you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow!³

³ Or, I suppose, you could search this site and find it lickety-split back in May, talented human that you are.

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.

Reboot 7.5: Late Night Thoughts on Mahvash Sabet

I had a few things to say, six months ago, on reading the story of a little-known Iranian woman named Mahvash Sabet. She was the focus, on May 14, for the international #7Bahais7Years campaign that tried to train a spotlight on her imprisonment, and those of six of her fellow Iranian Baha’is. Iran ought to be ashamed of itself.

The world was briefly more aware of the Quietly Magnificent Seven, prisoners of conscience in Iran for seven outrageous years, but as of right this minute it’s now seven and a HALF years. There is no sign of their imminent release from an incarceration that would be ridiculous if it weren’t such a serious injustice, such an outright loss to Iranian society. So if you missed it, here I was, trying to get to know Mahvash a little better.

Ms. Sabet was the first among the seven Baha’i leaders to be arrested, in March of 2008. These seven had taken on an ad hoc role of guiding and encouraging the oppressed Baha’i community of Iran, since its local and national institutions had been banned in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Over a year after her arrest, Ms. Sabet was charged with “espionage” and “spreading propaganda against the [government]” in a kangaroo court proceeding, more of a political harangue than anything we’d recognize as judicial. There she is, and here am I, wondering about her life as I read a brief biography.

Greyer, but what a kind, calm face.

Greyer, but what a kind, calm face.

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Where’s We At Then, Buddy? JH.com Wonders!

It’s not an anniversary, but it’s close. About mid-July 2014 my wife and son and I made our summer trip back to Canada from China, but for the first time in five years we were coming to stay. So. <Cleansing breath.> Alrighty, then. We’ve been back nearly a year. <Another breath, deeper. Shakes the tension out of his hands, drama-class style.> We’re looking at each other and thinking, This is where we are. How’re we doing? What’s up with you/me/him? Are we who we thought we were? And so on.

I study. I teach, coach, plan. Dishes, floors and laundry loads get done. The garden is weeded and I’d better pick more lettuce and funkygreens. (Note to co-habitants: belly up to the salad bar, hombres!) I am reading about: boys and young men and what might be holding them back; James Baldwin; the NBA draft and free agency; a wonderfully eccentric view of the Bible; Reading Lolita in Tehran. I’m not reading much fiction, again, but Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain and Atwood’s Maddadam are shouting at me.

I don’t write much. I’m borrowing a concept from The Year of the Flood, the second in Margaret Atwood’s vivid futureDoom trilogy. There, in a “God’s Gardeners” community, people who are lethargic, dispirited, depressed or otherwise dysfunctional are said to be in a “fallow” state, as fields are left uncultivated by wise farmers so that the soil might not be depleted. June was a fallow field for my writing, and after about mid-month I accepted that. It gave my days-ends greater contentment, which is almost always a good thing. I wrote this, however tentative and diffident it is as a spasm of seed-planting, just so that you and I know where we are. (Hello!)

Before I abandoned my writing desk, I was writing feelingly and hard (not sure how well; haven’t gone back to look), striving to better know and appreciate seven prisoners of exquisite conscience. These “friends” of the oppressed Iranian Baha’i community, a group of leaders who tried to encourage their fellow believers once all their institutions and most of their rights had been removed, are now well into the eighth year of their incredible sentences. (Maybe I went fallow then because of futility — daily, tapping my uncalloused fingers against prison walls in a strange and distant country. Or I just got lazy; as a matter of principle, I don’t believe in futility, though I practise it with astonishing persistence.) Maybe you would like to read about the “Yaran”. My personal (possibly meandering) responses to their captivity helped them become more real to me.

It’s time for a quick update, reminders, and some sense of where you are, electronically speaking:

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