Why These Seven?

(Two responses to this question. One is my apologia, my reasons for concerning myself so — and so often — with seven people I’ve never met. The other is for the Iranian government to make. How do you solve a problem like the Baha’is? They need new answers, to both questions.)

They have endured a lot since this photo was taken.

There are countless political prisoners in the world. We call them the “unjustly accused”, “prisoners of conscience”, and they’re everywhere. There are likely some in North American and European jails, too, lest we get too self-righteous. More commonly, though, “First World” inmates, even if wrongfully held, face punishments for minor crimes based on class or racial bias. A number of Canadians, one of my sons among them, make their warehoused fellow citizens a personal cause. I don’t. Nor do I devote much time to the, what, tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands? of souls locked up by tyrannical regimes simply because of opposition, real or paranoically imagined. As my mother-in-law says, pick only one or two lost causes to get behind.

So why was I writing little-read protests about the Yaran (Farsi for “friends”), the “Baha’i Seven”, two years ago, and 18 months ago, and again now? Why flood the Inboxes of my hearty band of Twitter followers with news of the continued imprisonment of this small group in an Iranian prison? Why these Seven? I’ll start with the lamest of my reasons, which also happens to be the most emotionally compelling. This is PERSONAL:

Because they’re Baha’is, and so am I. Global citizens, we in the Baha’i community are called to be. Lovers of humanity, and not simply of our own family, congregation, tribe or nation. But I can’t help it: I identify with these people because we share a spiritual choice, though our cultural backgrounds differ widely. Barely one in a thousand citizens of Earth belong to this community, and it is natural to stand up for your own. Necessary.

Because there’s no other way to fight. Baha’is don’t oppose their governments.

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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, 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-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.

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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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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