Individual Baha’is Ignoring NSA Directive on Iran

Daniela recently wrote a guest post about the ‘official’ Baha’i guidance regarding the protest movement in Iran: Don’t Speak Out for Them. There she quoted the UK NSA’s guidance to Baha’is to keep mum about the developments in Iran.

I already linked to a similar message from the NSA of the USA. To summarize:

“the believers should be guided lovingly and firmly to distance themselves from either public or private commentary”.

And there are similar letters from all NSA’s around the world. Which means that this is a coordinated effort from the UHJ/ITC but for some reason it was deemed more prudent for the individual NSA’s to write similar letters rather than just one from Haifa.

In any case, it seems that Baha’is are ignoring such directives.

twitter is a new social networking site that allows people to ‘tweet’ 140 characters (or less) messages from their phones, computers, etc. It gained even more prominence during the first days of the Iranian post-election uprising as youth in Iran would send messages, often from the streets, to the rest of the world. With the harsh crackdown on foreign reporters, the youth became in effect the eyes and ears on the ground.

There are relatively few Iranians using twitter. The vast majority of the users are in the US and through the hashtag #iranelection they have been following the reports coming out of Iran and elsewhere. As a gesture of solidarity in the first days of the movement, many changed their account icons to full green or to the text “Where’s my vote?”

Then someone set up a site which would add a green overlay to the existing account icon and thousands showed their support in this way.

Not surprisingly, Iranian Baha’is have been one of the active sub-groups in following the recent developments in Iran. They are still connected if not by an emotional bond, by family and friends who are still there and are feeding them news. Many of them on facebook and twitter have added a green overlay to their account icons. Among the most prominent is Rainn Wilson. Click the image below to see a recent screenshot of Rainn’s twitter account:

rainn wilson twitter thumbnail

So while the NSA’s around the world are telling Baha’is to keep mum about the Iranian protest, it seems that at least through electronic means, individual Baha’is are largely ignoring this and continuing to be engaged in following and supporting the values that the Baha’is Faith stands for: equality, freedom, justice, separation of church and state, etc. Such values are hallowed above all and any political considerations and to cower in a corner, rather than stand up and defend them is to be ignorant of the very essence of our Faith.

Of couse, we have no problem advocating on their behalf when the downtrodden happen to be Baha’is. No. Not at all. We are asked to contact our government, speak with influential people, take our case to the UN, etc. to draw attention to the injustices heaped on Baha’is. But when Baha’is are not directly involved? Then we are told to STFU.

Turning your icon green may seem to be an infinitesimal gesture when compared to the actions of the youth of Iran right now who are facing beatings, arrest, torture and ultimately death but as spectators thousands of miles away from Iran it helps us as much as them to do something.

Finally, to characterize the protests that have taken place inside and outside Iran as ‘clearly partisan activity’ is to demonstrate utter ignorance. The will of a nation yearning to live free is as distanced from partisan politics as the Baha’is right to live without persecution. I understand that the only tool at the disposal of the NSAs is to characterize the peaceful protests as ‘partisan’ in order to persuade Baha’is to not support them. But mislabeling something so blatantly only damages the integrity of the said national bodies.

We must choose to side with our values and if they perchance make us allies with one or more political factions at any point in time, this is merely coincidence. Such seeming partnership is no reason to abandon one’s values and ignore them in the fear of appearing to be supporting ‘partisan politics’. This was the mistake that we made in South Africa during Apartheid when we stood aside while all the values we cherish as Baha’is were trampled.

How is it that we have no reluctance to approach differing political parties in power to lobby on behalf of the persecuted Baha’i minority in Iran? By what magical device is such activity and partnership not deemed to be ‘partisan’? How different is it to supporting any other group that is persecuted and has their rights removed?

Here is a letter from the Universal House of Justice to the Iranian Baha’is regarding the recent events.

Don’t speak out for them, they’re not Baha’is

What follows was posted to a UK-based mailing list called “Iran Press Watch: the Baha’i Community”.

I’ve been following it closely, as it contains precious information on the persecution of Iranian Baha’is. In the beginning, I had mixed feelings about it. I suspected it of being a Baha’i propaganda tool disguised as an independent media watch, which disturbed me.

I would see nothing wrong in Baha’is openly protesting against the treatment we get in Iran. Then why not state it clearly?
But in recent weeks, my prejudices started to melt away, as Iran Press Watch’s posts started to warm up to the opposition’s protest.

I even kind of hoped for a new official attitude against the regime. I dreamt of seeing Baha’u’llah’s fiery words to the Shiite clerics launched as rockets against the bearded and turbaned oppressors.

Would we, in the end, take our right place �in the forefront of all progressive movements�?

Alas, here comes the clarion call. Announcing a crackdown on those who side with those we ask to side with us when we’re the ones being beaten up or dragged to prison.

—————–From Iran Press Watch—————————————

Non-involvement in Discussions on Iran’s Elections
June 23rd, 2009
Editor’s Note: In light of recent events in Iran, we wish to bring to our
readers attention the following letter from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United Kingdom, the highest administrative body of the British Baha’is, on the non-involvement of Baha’is in discussions on the current state of affairs in Iran.

June 22, 2009

Dearly loved Friends

Events taking place in the Islamic Republic of Iran in recent days have
naturally been occupying the minds of the believers here in the United Kingdom, especially those of us concerned for the safety of our loved ones in that land, and for the well-being of our sorely-tried brethren and others facing oppression.

The National Spiritual Assembly would like to share with the friends the following guidance, contained in a letter dated 4 February 2008 written by the Universal House of Justice, which states that the believers’ “avoidance of any form of partisan alignment and non-involvement in political affairs, whether as individuals or as groups, should be the basis of their activities in order that they become the icons of trust of the people, of government officials and of the leaders of the nation, as was the wish of the beloved Guardian.”

“Participation in civil elections”, the House of Justice reminds us, is permissible “provided the elector can do so without any attachment to any political party or demonstrating any partisan inclination”. The Supreme Body continues: “But this participation is voluntary and not compulsory.

Bah??’?­ institutions and the Bah??’?­ community have nothing to do with it. The believers do not consult with each other about whom they vote for and the community does not act in any way to influence the participation of individuals and whom they vote for. Avoidance of any discussion on this matter is necessary and the preservation of the unity in the community of Bah??’u’ll??h is, at all times, of utmost importance.”

In light of this guidance, the friends should not be discussing matters to do with the Iranian election result and its aftermath on social networking sites such as Facebook, on their personal weblogs and other online media. Such unwise and wholly inappropriate actions may only serve to reinforce the misconception in the eyes of the Faith’s detractors that our long-suffering, persecuted friends in Iran have some form of political agenda or allegiances.

With loving Baha’i greetings

National Spiritual Assembly

————-End of quoted post————————-

The words attributed to pastor Martin Niemoller spring to my mind:

“When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
Then they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
I did not protest;
I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me”.

When they come for our friends (and come they will) there may be no one left to speak out for them

daniela pinna

Parallels to 1979 Revolution

While no one knows what the end game is for the massive protests that have roiled Iran this past week, everyone is noticing the parallels with the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

The irony is not lost on those in power in the current regime. If anything it heightens the stress they feel. For 30 years they have convinced themselves that threats would only come from the ‘evil’ external forces of Britain, USA and the like. They can not believe that their own people are against them.

Of course they are trying to paint the demonstrators as agents of foreign powers, manipulated into protesting. But this only serves to intensify the rage of the Iranian people on the street.

A red line has been crossed and the game has changed. While Mousavi is an old guard and wants to maintain the existing power structures and work within them, the movement has morphed beyond this.

There are now open cries of ‘Death to Khamanei’… something absolutely unheard of before. What is more, as the legitimacy and supremacy of the Supreme Leader is being assailed by loud and boisterous protesters on the street, a much more insidious threat is approaching from Qom.

While most people mistake the Mullah’s as one bloc and supportive of Ahmadinejad and Khamanei, this is not the case. In fact they resent the Revolutionary Guard backed Ahmadinejad and have only derision for his cookoo brand of Hojjatieh Islam. There are exceptions of course. For example, Mulla Mesbah Yazdi who is the mentor and leader of this faction.

The real news in the past few days then is that Mousavi is not really a leader but a prominent icon which is being swept up by a ground swell of anger and resistance against the very system of the Islamic Republic: velayat-e faghih.

Rafsanjani has kept quiet and stayed out of the public eye. But he is very busy in Qom rallying the 86 member Council which he heads. There are rumors that he is proposing a variation to the existing structure which would oust Khamanei and put himself at the top (of course).

Getting back to the parallels with the 1979 Revolution, here are some similarities:

  • the state of the Iranian economy is weak with rampant inflation and unemployment
  • dissatisfaction with human rights violations, lack of free press, lack of democracy
  • dissatisfaction with financial prosperity and extremes of wealth & poverty
  • the merchant class (bazaari) are against the state for mishandling the economy
  • strikes fuel demonstrations with those unemployed and on strike joining them
  • people leave their doors unlocked so demonstrators can find shelter
  • cries of ‘Alla-u-Akbar’ throughout the night from rooftops
  • protest starts out against one injustice and gains momentum and widens scope
  • demonstrators from all strata of Iranian society
  • the government cracks down, killing some demonstrators
  • the dead are considered martyrs and mourned leading to further demonstrations and deaths
  • the cycle of deaths and mourning protests draws in more and more people
  • the attention of the world is focused on the events unfolding in Iran
  • with normal channels of communication censored or cut off, Iranians turn to alternatives
  • the state makes small concessions to no avail (rejected or ignored)
  • the crackdown (communication blockades) and demonstrators hamper normal economic activities

These are some of the parallels I’m seeing. But by drawing your attention to this I don’t mean to argue that we are seeing a revolution or that there will definitely be real change in Iran. No one really knows. If any expert pretends to know, they are lying or deluded. No one predicted what we are seeing on the streets of Iran even weeks before hand so it is folly to pretend that anyone can know what will happen in the next few days. The only thing I have is a gut feeling that things will get worse – much worse – before improving.

There has been no letters from the Universal House of Justice that I know of but the NSA of the US has put out a letter recommending that Baha’is there do not participate in sympathy demonstrations. This is also the case for other NSA’s around the world, which leads me to believe that the UHJ/ITC was involved.

For more news and links see the first post election message (scroll down).

Mental Health Break

I’m sure you’ve been following the significant developments in Iran which are both exhilarating and tragic. I’ve continued to add important links at the end of that post.

But it has been a whole week and to provide a much needed break from the heavy torrent of news, here are two lighthearted videos for your enjoyment.

This is a re-mixed or re-imagined trailer for a movie most of us have seen – a movie 3000 years in the making!

This is the trailer for an upcoming (real) movie starring Paul Giamatti called ‘Cold Souls’ about a man who decides to remove his soul. He regrets the decision but when he tries to undo the separation there is a bit of a snag:

Hope you enjoy the weekend wherever you are.

Ahmadinejad Wins Rigged Iranian Election

The Iranian elections are over. For the most part they were quiet boring but then in the final weeks, things got very interesting.

We have never seen such a campaign in the 30 year history of the Iranian Islamic Republic. Usually elections are carefully choreographed from start to finish. The candidates are vetted and chosen by the powerful 12 member Guardian Council (which is not an elected body itself). There is a lot of the usual rhetoric in ads but no debates and at finally, at voting time, the majority of the public either stays at home or casts an empty protest vote.

This election however was different. In the final weeks, Tehran and other major cities took on a carnival feel with the youth using the pretense of campaigning for their chosen candidate to raise a little hell. They stayed up all night, played music, paraded through the streets showing off themselves and their banners on foot, on bikes and in cars.

This election had the first televised debate between the 4 carefully vetted candidates in the 30 year history of ‘Islamic democracy’. Everyone was expecting the usual soporific hour of national television but what they got instead was a total drag out, hard knuckle fight with many punches thrown below the belt.

Ahmadinejad crossed many socially unacceptable lines and named names. Iranian propaganda portrays the government as spotless. But Ahmjadinejad pointed out that his main opponent, Mousavi, was backed by Rafsanjani. He went on to accused his former rival of massive corruption. He dragged Rafsanjani’s sons into the fray saying that they have also amassed large fortunes by fraud. He dragged Mousavi’s wife into the debate by claiming that her academic degrees are meaningless. He accused his opponents of belonging to a cabal that wants to stop him because they want to be in power and steal from the national coffers.

Things got so heated that Rafsanjani, a very powerful power broker now operating mostly from the periphery, wrote a sternly worded letter of protest to Khamenei (the Supreme Leader) asking for his intervention.

If you were watching the final days with your friends through the Western media, you got the sense that some real change was afoot. There were raucous groups of youth wrapped in green ribbons (the color of Mousavi’s campaign – he is a Siyyid) chanting “Ahmadi-Bye-Bye”. You also discovered which of your friends is gullible.

What those expecting change missed is that northern Tehran is not the whole country. Ahmadinejad had toured through all of Iran handing out cold hard cash to poor families throughout his years as president. The rural vote in Iran always trumps the urban elite.

Oh and there’s another little thing that guaranteed Ahmadinejad would continue the two terms streak all previous presidents have enjoyed: the vote was rigged.

Using the official results released from the Iranian Interior Ministry, Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic shows just how a bald faced a lie the results are:

Official Iranian Election Results

Since Iran is a diverse nation, the normal pattern of votes would have the results sway back and forth as regional results came in. Especially considering that the four candidates came from different part of the country. Mousavi, an Azari (who speaks Turkish fluently and has a clumsy grasp of Farsi), was a clear home town favourite in Azerbaijan (25% of the Iranian population are Azaris). There are no reliable statistics (the Interior Ministry said 85%) but there is much anecdotal evidence that this election had an extremely high voter turnout.

But the ‘official’ results would have us believe that Ahmadinejad beat Mousavi with the same 2-1 margin everywhere, including his opponent’s home province! and maintained this margin at each interval of vote counting!

All Iranian election results have been suspect but this latest farce is so transparent that it demonstrates just how comfortable the clerical ruling class has become. They do not even attempt to hide their control of the election. They have totally thrown off any previous dedication to the appearance of legitimacy. As you might expect, there are some who are protesting the results but expect the Revolutionary Guards (who were already put on high alert) to ruthless crush any uprisings as they have in the past.

You can see more pictures and videos of the unrest here.

If it wasn’t before, it is all too evident now that all Iranians are now prisoners in a totalitarian state. As I’ve said many times before, it is my ardent wish that fellow Baha’is in Iran realize the danger that they especially are in and leave so that they and their children can enjoy civilization.

There is a burst of activity in MSM, blogs (sites like youtube, facebook, etc. are blocked) but foreign journalists are stopped and their equipment confiscated.

Breaking news and analysis will be added to the bottom of this list to keep you updated: