Proven innocent – but still guilty

24Dec08

dsc00015There’s only one way to deal with busybodies trying to help young people become good citizens – throw them in prison. Here, comedian Inder Manocha casts a wry look at the situation of Iran’s Bahá’ís.

At a time when youth crime is on the rise and images of young people wielding weapons in the name of yet another cause are commonplace on our television screens, any group of people attempting to promote the opposite trend is worthy of attention.

There is only one fitting way to acknowledge the efforts of such individuals: jail them. Such people cannot be trusted; especially if they belong to some dangerous, deviant religious movement that espouses equality and tolerance. Thank heavens then for the Justice Administration of Shiraz in the Islamic Republic of Iran. They can spot a deviant a mile off.

In May 2006, fifty-three young followers of the Bahá’í faith were arrested on the grounds of indirectly teaching their religion under the guise of a social service project for underprivileged children in Shiraz and the surrounding localities in the south of Iran, aimed at developing the moral values, literacy levels and hygiene standards of these young people. Three of the Bahá’ís were incarcerated in November 2007, having been sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. So far, so good. 

Now, though, an investigation undertaken by the Office of the Representative of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the province of Fars has concluded that there had been no mention of religious or political matters by the Baha’i facilitators of the programme. Its report upheld the claim of the Baha’is that they were purely carrying out charitable and humanitarian service.

But can this impartial investigation be trusted?  The report of the Office quotes the opinion of a retired colonel from the Islamic Republic police force resident in the area where the project had been run.  He claimed that as a result of the programme of education “the social skills, behaviour, and ethics of the youth in that area had improved so much that it had given hope to the families concerning the behaviour and the future of their children.”  But who trusts a retired colonel?  No doubt he was put out to grass and given ‘early’ retirement.  The report goes on to cite the conclusions of eight of the young participants in the project who state that “truthfully, we, the junior youth and youth, learned a lot from this group and request their return”.  But what do young people know about morality and hygiene?  

Given these compelling reasons, it is clear why the three Bahá’ís, pictured above, remain in prison and have not been allowed basic prisoners’ rights.  Some Western commentators might view this situation as a gross violation of human rights – rights enshrined in the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights of which Iran is a signatory.  Such a view betrays a typically Western sense of moral superiority. The authorities in Shiraz have more taxing matters to address, such as making sure women are walking exactly the right distance behind their husbands. During the winter months, in conditions of poor visibility, such cases are especially hard to judge and require the country’s finest legal minds as well as the most accurate measuring devices. 

We can only hope that the other fifty Bahá’ís who were initially arrested are learning lessons about how to run a religiously sensitive programme of education from the classes they are themselves now attending, conducted by the Islamic Propaganda Organisation. Invaluable learning about morality and, above all, hygiene is clearly being demonstrated in the separation of boys and girls in to different groups. In these Islamic guidance classes, the Bahá’ís are having their Faith questioned, or to use the politically correct term, as the Baha’is insist on doing, ‘degraded’.  Instead of being grateful, the Bahá’ís have raised their concern with the court but, naturally, the court has not caved in to pressure.

The Bahá’ís have brought this situation on themselves. With their belief in the oneness of humankind and the equality of all people, with their conviction that all the major religions come from the same divine Source and with their efforts to build inter-faith bridges, they are bound to be regarded by the authorities in Iran as dangerous. How can a Faith, the religious institutions ask themselves, which believes another Prophet has come after Muhammad be sincere and trustworthy?  Hopefully the Bahá’ís will learn from this unfortunate episode.  The next time they want to help their fellow citizens, particularly the young, to develop skills and socially constructive attributes they will need to think twice. 

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One Response to “Proven innocent – but still guilty”

  1. 1 Toby Doncaster

    I wholeheartedly agree with the article’s main points; people have no business trying to improve their own local situation. What is required is a carefully planned approach which takes into consideration the social, religious and cultural background of the ruling government. This can only be provided by experts in their field, and not “have-a-go” amateurs. I am appalled that the Baha’is can honestly think they can change communities by improving moral and hygiene standards; large sums of money, and not learning to reflect on your deeds is what counts here. Thank you again, Rob and Inder, for bringing this dire situation to our attention.

    Disgusted in Ashford


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