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? 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!)

I like to imagine that they still look like this, but it's been a long hard time. (Photo courtesy BIC)

I like to imagine that they still look like this, but it’s been a long hard time. (Photo courtesy BIC)

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.


Comments (5)

  1. Paul Desailly

    DANKON. James. What my amateurish penpersonship might not have conveyed adequately is the possible manipulation on the part of the regime to deliberately smooth the path re my trip to Iran. Whether I was plain lucky or protected from above no one can say. I was traveling and collecting info as an Esperantist who made no contact there with Bahai’s. Also, unlike the USA, my country (Australia) has an embassy in Iran. The main point is how or whether to engage Esperanto institutions to protest the persecution of religious minorities in Iran. That I traveled safely there once makes it even more scary, as I weigh up the possibilities re the second national congress of Esperanto in Iran in a few months. Paul

  2. Paul Desailly

    Your writing is moving and it’s modern. I’m an amateur scribbler but such a dinosaur on line (in my mid-sixties this year) that communicating my new idea re helping the poor Baha’i leaders seems to be disappearing in the ether.

    About a week ago Payvand Iran News, in association with the Baha’i World News Service, posted this A1 account with interactivity re the 7 Baha’is 7 Years campaign:

    Briefly, I’m asking Baha’i leaders at the Baha’i International Community in New York to consider seeking the assistance of one more respected intermediary whose good offices and neutrality are respected in and beyond Iran.

    Last year during my trip to Tehran I was stunned to see professors from the University of Tehran and some of Iran’s best artists attend the first national Congress of Esperanto ever held in that country.

    What do you think, James?

    • I’m grateful for your kind words and encourage you to continue in your work, which I don’t entirely understand. I assume that your surprise, while in Tehran, was about the seeming contrast between the oppression that you’re well aware of, and the openness (and maybe out-of-dateness?) implied by artists and intellectuals taking a latter-day look at Esperanto. What I’m sure of: 1. Iran will rise again, and I don’t mean as a belligerent military power. 2. Iran is much more complex than I can imagine. Thanks for your thoughts, which I may be too tired to appreciate!

      • Paul Desailly

        Maybe my one page report titled TEHRAN BOUND is a bit long here, James. [Ed. NOTE: I trimmed it a bit.] I try to politely explain in it that as I’m a published Baha’i Esperantist, I was pleasantly surprised but mightily suspicious of the smooth treatment that came my way in Tehran:

        IMPRESSIONS OF AN AMATEUR 31 March 2014

        That historic event in Teheran (brilliant sketches and speeches, Persian poetry, music and professional singing) will remain to my last breath an indelible memory. Yes, as far as Iran itself is concerned the congress was almost exclusively Tehranian with few participants from the other 30 provinces….

        That one hundred speakers in the capital utilized doctor Zamenhof’s international auxiliary language at a highly advanced level of spoken Esperanto attests to the success of a policy adopted by professor Saheb-Zamani Ph. D. more than thirty years ago, viz. ‘quality over quantity’. Please convey with sentiments of regard and respect my best wishes to that Doctor of Psychology together with my sincere hope that he once again enjoys sufficient health to guide even more successful congresses – not only on Iranian territory but also in neighboring countries where doctor Zamenhof’s ideals of world peace are so urgently required.

        Prior to my trip abroad certain westerners none too politely asked: ‘Are you serious or delirious about going there?’ Everything transpired so seamlessly and harmoniously for me in Iran that only one reply is valid: ‘I’m serious AND delirious vis-à-vis the happy nuance of the second adjective.’ Never before in my multifarious experiences in 45 airports has an official presented a rose to me on arrival or a smiling immigration official so effusively bid me welcome without a single form in sight, or charming customs officials waived the right to inspect my luggage while directing me to a waiting Esperantist. Time and again Iranians generously invited me into their homes, photographed my none too handsome visage, chauffeured me and fed me to such a degree that I hardly put my hand in my pocket all through congress and pre-congress week…

        Yours sincerely,

        Paul Desailly, Adelaide, Australia (Congress Number 45)

        PS Given that the Iranian government sees Esperanto as a respected and neutral organization, then it might be wise for Baha’is to try to enlist the help of Esperantists as intermediaries in an effort similar to other respected international organizations vis-a-vis helping the imprisoned Baha’is.

        “BONAN NOKTON” is Esperanto for ‘good night’, James.

        • Bonan Nokton to you, too, sir, et merci, xiexie…
          This “international language” idea could just catch on! I was glad to learn that the Esperantists are still out there promoting this prerequisite for world peace.

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