Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The Gardener

Renown Iranian director and film-maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s recent work is simply titled “The Gardener” but it is about a topic anything but simple.

The garden, or gardener, in question is Eona, a Papua New Guinea gardener working at the Baha’i World Centre gardens on Mount Carmel, Haifa. And the film is an attempt to introduce to Iranian audiences, who may have only heard half-truths, propaganda or outright lies, to the Baha’i Faith.

Makhmalbaf says: “Many of us Iranians know more about religions and schools of thought from Indian, Chinese, or Japanese origin than religions that have grown out of Iran. Maybe this has been willed by censorship. The Gardener is an attempt to break this censorship.”

But the film, produced in a surreal docu-drama style, goes beyond that. Through the two perspectives offered by the father and son team of Mohsen and Maysan Makhmalbaf the audience is presented with the two starkly contrasting attitudes of Iranians today towards not only the Baha’i Faith specifically but religion in general.

Nor surprisingly, the newer generation is sick and tired of religion, having had their fill of it through the suffocating theocratic Islamic government of Iran. The older generation still cling to the ideal that religion can be a positive force in the world. The dialectic nature of the film succeeds in drawing in the audience and engaging them on a very deep and personal level.

Makhmalbaf hasn’t been very popular with the Islamic regime and this recent work will make him even less so.

Audience reactions at premiere:

IMDB page

Makhmalbaf has dedicated his prize from the 30th Jerusalem Film Festival to the Baha’i gardener featured in his film, Guillaume Nyagatare from Rwanda.

House of Baha’u’llah in Baghdad Destroyed – BREAKING

Communique from the Universal House of Justice – June 27, 2013:

With shattered hearts, we have received news of the destruction of the Most Great House — the House of Baha’u’llah in Baghdad. While the precise circumstances attending this outrageous violation are as yet unclear, its immediate consequence is without doubt, and must be emphatically stated: The peoples of the world have been robbed of a sanctuary of incalculable sacredness.

So deplorable an act, coming on the eve of the unprecedented worldwide convocation of Baha’u’llah’s young followers and their friends, calls to mind that mysterious interplay of crisis and victory through which His indestructible, irrepressible, inexorable purpose will finally be consummated.

We supplicate the Blessed Beauty to confer upon His faithful followers throughout the world fortitude and resolve in the face of this grievous blow. More information will be provided as it becomes available.

Continue reading

Sentinel Project Monitors Safety of the Baha’is of Iran

sentinel project bahais iran
The international tension between Iran and Western countries has ratcheted up to an alarming level. Although both sides are full of bluster, everyone is hoping that the P5+1 meeting to take place in Turkey on April 14th will provide an alternative to war.

The Islamic regime in Iran may shock everyone and ameliorate its stance on its ‘right to nuclear energy’. But even if it does, it will be for only one reason: self-preservation. For that same reason Iran is not letting up any pressure on human rights or freedoms of expression within its borders.

The recent UN special rapporteur’s report outlines just how bad the situation is in Iran and how it is worsening every year; not just for Baha’is but for anyone who falls foul of the Islamic regime.

In a few months access to the internet will be severely curtailed as Iran rolls out a “clean internet” which will be devoid of gmail, google, hotmail, twitter, etc. to be replaced with Iran Mail and “Iran Search Engine”. Iranians must register with their full legal name, address and national ID in order to use it. The next step will be a fully self-contained national intranet scheduled to go live in August 2012.

As human rights abuses perpetrated on the Iranian Baha’is continue, the 7 members of the Yaran (the alternative to an NSA which operated as the administrative body for the Baha’is of Iran) have been incarcerated for 10,000 days. The news of their arrest was broken first on Baha’i Rants in 2008: Baha’i Administrative Body of Iran Arrested.

This tragic milestone has lead to a redoubled effort by Baha’is to advocate on their behalf. A recent Op-Ed by Dr. Kishan Manoucha on the Wall Street Journal is one example of this.

Another is the Sentinel Project, a non-profit NGO based in Canada with the aim of providing an early warning system to prevent genocide around the world. Right now there are two situations of concern that they are monitoring, the Baha’is of Iran and Kenya.

The Sentinel Project monitors several important variables such as “symbolization”, “dehumanization”, “preparation” and “polarization”. They base these reports on available information, including the work of Sen McGlinn in reporting and translating Iranian reports.

The Sentinel Project has released several reports about its work on behalf of the Baha’is of Iran, including “Threat of Genocide to the Bah??’?s of Iran” and a Supplementary Report.

The reports by the Sentinel Project mention several important variables including the Hojjatieh Society which I wrote about in 2005.

While the efforts of NGOs like the Sentinel Project are laudable and all decent persons everywhere wish to see a free and democratic Iran which upholds human rights, the Baha’is that are able to leave Iran and remove themselves from harm should continue to do so (Farewell to Iran). It is my sincere wish that the UHJ acts as it did in the previous intensification of persecution of Baha’is in Iran and actively encourage and support the emigration of Baha’is from Iran for their safety.

UN Special Rapporteur Report on Iran’s Human Rights Abuses

The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmad Shaheed, is included below. When the interim report was announced last year it sent ripples through diplomatic and human rights channels.

Iran’s human rights violations are many, the section below (section F) highlights the plight of Baha’is. At the bottom you can view and download the report in full.

F. Unrecognized religious communities

59. The Special Rapporteur continues to be alarmed by communications that demonstrate the systemic and systematic persecution of members of unrecognized religious communities, particularly the Baha’i community, in violation of international conventions. Moreover, the Government’s tolerance of an intensive defamation campaign meant to incite discrimination and hate against Baha’is violates its obligations as set out in article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. According to one report, 440 instances of slanderous speech against Baha’is were published or broadcasted in the past two years. One such article, posted by the Rasa news agency on 8 March 2011, accused the Baha’i community of attempting to subvert Islam.

60. Baha’is continue to be arbitrarily arrested and detained for their beliefs, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In a report submitted to the Special Rapporteur, it was alleged that 474 Baha’is had been arrested since August 2004. Of that number, 97 were currently imprisoned (see annex, table IV); 199 had been released on bail and were awaiting trial; 26 had been released without bail; 96 had been tried and sentenced, and free pending appeal or summons to begin serving their sentences; 34 had been tried and sentenced and had completed their prison terms and/or paid a fine; 14 sentences had been overturned on appeal; and 5 Baha’is had served their prison sentences and begun their terms of internal exile. An additional 35 arrests were reportedly made between August and November 2011.

61. Baha’is are subjected to severe socio-economic pressure, in violation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; in some cases, they have been deprived of property, employment and education. In recent months, for example, 10 shops and a well owned by Baha’is in two cities in Semnan Province were sealed by the authorities. Moreover, copies of several unsettling Government documents dating back to 1991 prescribe deprivation of education, the establishment of an office to counteract Baha’i publications, the denial of ?positions of influence? to them and the trades prohibited for them. One Baha’i student reported in an interview that 800 Baha’is were denied university admission the year that his application was denied. In addition, several Baha’is recently arrested were affiliated with the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), which is a university designed to educate Iranian Baha’is that are excluded from education.

Intellectual Othering & the Baha’i Question in Iran

The University of Toronto, in conjunction with the Foundation for Iranian Studies and the Toronto Initiative for Iranian Studies, is sponsoring a conference about the Baha’is in Iran.

The conference will take place July 1-3rd 2011 and offer an array of speakers, many of which should be familiar already to the readers of this blog: Abbas Amanat, Moojan Momen, Payam Akhavan, Muhammad Afnan, etc.

Here is the synopsis of the conference’s topic:

As a genuinely Iranian intellectual and religious movement emerging in the mid-nineteenth century, the Baha’i Faith has encountered relentless and sustained repression and scapegoating in the country of its origin. Exploring various aspects of the Baha’i Question in Iran over the past century and a half, the scholars participating in this international conference will critically reflect on a wide range of issues related to the similarities and differences of Shi’i Islam and Baha’i Faith, the role of Baha’is in Iranian cultural and intellectual life, and the fact of their continued repression and intellectual Othering.

Since a prominent Baha’i blogger will be attending, hopefully we can read about the experience soon after the conference. If you’re in the Toronto area or can travel and are interested to attend, the cost is minimal ($100 Canadian) – Registration.

The event’s facebook page also contains more information, including many videos of the upcoming presenter’s past speeches and related research.

UPDATE: You can view the videos of the conference presentations here, both in translated English as well as the original Persian.