None of my peers have any idea what or who Baha'is are but I do. One of my best buddies in basic training when I was drafted in 1965 was a Baha'i from California who took time to tell me about his faith. My purpose here is not to educate anyone about this very modern religion. That I will leave to the curiosity of the reader and spokespersons for the faith. I want instead to make two points.
First, Bahai's are among that small group of faiths known as "peace churches." Like many other groups they advocate peaceful conflict resolution to the point that they would never enlist in military service. During times of conscription they might register as conscientious objectors, serving their service obligation either as civilians or non-combatants in uniform (which in the US means medical corpsmen in the Army Medical Service Corps).
Second, Bahai's because of their peaceful ways are an easy and frequent target for persecution. This has been true of religious minorities throughout history so this is nothing new.
Mideast Youth is a site I track. From time to time I come across posts that mention the mistreatment of Bahai's across the Middle East, but particularly in Iran. This post by Kawthar, a prolific Sudanese contributor to that site, points to a group of Bahai's currently incarcerated by Iranian authorities, accused of spying for Israel, who will be subject to execution if found guilty.
Yesterday, Iran announced that it will be trying 7 leaders of the Baha’i community, 6 of whom were arrested in May last year, under charges of “espionage for Israel”.
The arrested 7 are in fact members of “the Friends”, an informal society that oversaw the needs of the Baha’i community in Iran. The group is described as informal because in 1983, after executing all members of two consecutive National Spiritual Assemblies, the Iranian government placed a ban on all Baha’i institutions and activities.
Accusations that Baha’is collaborate with foreign powers are not new and in fact have been circulating since the early years of the Faith’s inception. The Baha’i Faith was said to have been a Russian creation in order to undermine Iran, and its leaders were accused of being British spies who were involved in elaborate plots to establish a puppet regime. Today, the accusations of the past have been forgotten in favour of a more convenient narrative: that Baha’is are agents of Zionism.
The strongest “evidence” given to support the claim that Baha’is are Israeli spies is the presence of the Universal House of Justice in Israel, ignoring the fact that it was occasioned by the expulsion of Baha’u'llah to Acre, which was then under Ottoman rule.
Baha’u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i faith, was in fact a Persian, not a Russian, which may be why Bahai's, although a minority there, are well represented. Given their commitment to non-violence it is easy to see how they are easy targets in a culture (not unlike our own) which glorifies military power and incorporates the myth of redemptive violence in the fabric of their world view.
I doubt there is much to be done from here. American voices for human rights have lately been bruised badly in world opinion. And this young man's post is aimed at persuading fellow Muslims to come to the aid of a persecuted non-Muslim minority. My guess is that what we are seeing is a Sunni effort to bring pressure on a Shiite country, but I can't know for sure. In my reading I have come across occasional references to Baha'i groups being tolerated in other Muslim countries, notably KSA and Dubai, but I am by no means an expert. I'm blogging this item for my own information and to make note of this tragedy.