Thoughts on the Latest Raids Against BIHE

By now you’ve no doubt learned about the recent raids on the Baha’i Institute Higher Education by Iranian government authorities. This resulted in the confiscation of teaching materials as well as the arrest of several Baha’is serving as faculty. Sen wrote about this almost immediately after it occurred: Many searches and 14 arrests of BIHE faculty.

In case you’re not familiar with the BIHE, it was setup as a result of the systematic persecution of Baha’is in Iran. Part of the organized persecution of the Baha’i community is the Iranian government’s explicit policy to exclude Baha’is from the education system. As the BIHE’s website explains:

In 1987, after failed attempts to persuade the government to admit qualified Bah??’?­ students to Iranian universities, the Bah??’?­ community of Iran rallied its forces and expertise and established the Bah??’?­ Institute for Higher Education (BIHE)…. Professors and researchers in Iran who had been discharged from their universities and colleges for no reason other than their membership in the Bah??’?­ faith dedicated themselves to the BIHE project that has evolved from a compensatory institution to a university with academic standards not only on par with the Iranian public university system, but also equaling the standards adopted by universities in the West.

Sadly, this is not the first time that the Iranian government has raided and interfered with the activities of the BIHE. There were similar raids in the 1990′s and again in 2001/2.

Since the malicious intents of the Islamic Republic of Iran is clear, one alternative is to implement a different model. If the BIHE operated as an online education platform instead of an offline, real world decentralized one, it would be much more difficult to curtail. This way there is nothing to confiscate since the servers which contain all the necessary data are in a centralized location outside the purview of the Iranian regime. An example of this model already gaining traction is the Khan Academy.

Baha’i students could use a VPN to tunnel into servers and bypass any Iranian internet security that may prevent them access. This would also prevent hacking/eavesdropping by the authorities. For an extra layer of security the site can be anonymized via an .onion TLD (and accessed via TOR). Yes, there’s more to the internet than just http: IRC, torrents, usenet, etc. There is a whole darknet out there.

Of course, not all disciplines being taught at the BIHE will be compatible with an online teaching format, however many will. As well, the added advantage is that students can take courses even if they are geographically isolated.

Even if implemented, such countermeasures run headlong into Iran’s recent plans to close their internet off completely. Currently, as with many other countries in the Middle East, Iran has restricted access to thousands of sites. Many of these are popular ones you may use without a second thought everyday (twitter, youtube, facebook, etc.). But that doesn’t mean that Iranians can’t get around the restrictions.

In fact, ways to circumvent the Islamic firewall are well known. Just recently, Houshang Fanaian, a Baha’i living in Iran was sentenced to 4 years in prison for his activities on facebook. Ironically, Iran is putting in place such monitoring and censorship with the software and hardware sold to it by US companies such as Secure Computing Corp., Juniper Networks, and Fortinet.

As if by coincidence, just as news arrives of Iran’s intentions to heavily restrict internet access, a report from the United Nations declares unfettered and universal access to the internet a human right:

Given that access to basic commodities such as electricity remains difficult in many developing States, the Special Rapporteur is acutely aware that universal access to the Internet for all individuals worldwide cannot be achieved instantly.

However, the Special Rapporteur reminds all States of their positive obligation to promote or to facilitate the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and the means necessary to exercise this right, including the Internet.

Hence, States should adopt effective and concrete policies and strategies –- developed in consultation with individuals from all segments of society, including the private sector as well as relevant Government ministries -– to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all

Obviously if Iran is successful in isolating itself and forming its own massive ‘intranet’ instead of being connected to the same internet that you and I use, the countermeasures suggested above for the BIHE are useless.

Another obstacle is the cost of internet access in Iran. If you are connecting to an online site to learn via video and other rich content, you will need a high speed ADSL (or equivalent) connection. That is rather expensive in Iran. A 2 Mb connection costs the equivalent of $400 US per month. In Europe or North America the cost is less than a tenth of that.

Ultimately, the best of the worst options is for young Baha’is in Iran to leave and pursue productive and happy lives elsewhere. The continuing human rights abuses of the IRI regime will not stop and attempts to adapt and survive will in the end be nothing more than a cat and mouse game leaving the community harried and exhausted.

There are many countries that would be happy to provide a new home to Baha’is. Many are taking the offer and saying “Farewell to Iran” every day. To the young Baha’is in Iran that are able to leave but may be reluctant because of feelings of doubt about the West or perhaps due to nationalistic loyalty I’d like to remind Baha’u’llah’s words:

Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.

  • Bird

    Great article again and I really loved the ending passage.  ^5

  • Fubar

    re: “Ironically, Iran is putting in place such monitoring and censorship with the software and hardware sold to it by US companies such as Secure Computing Corp., Juniper Networks, and Fortinet.”

    Aren’t there economic sanctions against Iran? Are those products not on the sanction list? If not, why not?

    As you may know, we are entering a period of significantly increased “cyber-warfare”, some by organized crime, some state sponsored. The current method consists of “advanced persistent threats”, which typically utilize a combination of “social engineering” techniques (human behavioral manipulation such as an imposter gaining accounts/passwords) and actual technical methods (exploiting unpatched security vulnerabilities) to compromise the security of a given organization.

    The “most” secure american defense company, Lockheed Martin, was attacked a few weeks ago (June 2011), but according to report, no actual data breach happened (the attack surface was contacted but not penetrated).

    Before that, RSA, a secure certificate company, was breached by APT. If a company that sells IT security products can’t maintain its own security under APTs, then there probably aren’t many organizations that can.

    One response by the IT security industry is to more aggressively market “whitelisting” (or more correctly “intelligent whitelisting”) products due to the failure of conventional anti-malware products (that are “blacklist” technologies).

    According to some reports, a state sponsored cyber attack against Iran happened late year. It was speculated that either american and/or israeli state intelligence operations were responsible. The goal was supposedly to disable much of the IT infrastructure in Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

    It may seem paranoid for the Iranian regime to suspect “innocent” bahai students of complicity, but on the other hand, it certainly is in the realm of possibility that they would be seen as a group potentially containing recruits by western intelligence services.

    Consider that Juan Cole was apparently “targeted” by the Bush administration because he was merely being critical of Bush policies/incompetence in the Iraq war.

    This is no longer your grandmother’s internet, people.

  • FriendinFaith

    Thanks for sharing your personal insights into the recent arrests of BIHE collaborators in Iran. I just personally think that we should be careful in how we respond and react to such news so as not to misrepresent and/or misinterpret with our words regarding what is actually happening versus personal perceptions of the situation (i.e., “Islamic firewall”). :-)

  • Desir0101

    i believe that what going is on has nothing surprising.
    I deeply sympathize  with the horror facing persecution Bahais of Iran.
    Shoghi Effendi said that the Faith will do great bounce to expansion through persecutions of Bahais. By the human rights treaty of the United Nation the Faith has been recognized internationally.

    Very, very sad what they are enduring.
    They are perhaps innocent victims, heirs of past history.

    On the other hand remember these great convulsions that shook the very foundation of Persia at the birth -time of Babi dispensation.
    History recounted that only Babis has been murdered and tortured, but it’s not totally true.
    Horror also been committed by Babis on the population.
    In the Bayan it preach the destruction of unbelievers and confiscated of their wealth, the burning of their books etc etc.
    How a fanatical groups/government (Iran) remained peaceful before such religious group when they have attempted murder against their then late dignitary, atrocities against its people and destabilize its political regime at that time.
    When their sanctuaries and most sacred places now found in their (Iran) enemy territory (Israel).

    And the Bahai Faith branched from the Babi Faith.

    How will you react??? if you were there.

    Even if the Bahai Faith prone peace, but it condemn believers to God’s vengeance, to eternal death, covenant breaker and shunning if question their authority.

    It’s politically understood that opposite elitist groups is a threat to any present regime. So destroy it before it destroy you, taking into consideration it’s past history.

  • Desir0101

    Wahid VII, Chapter 16. God has made it incumbent on every King who is raised up in the Religion of the Bayan to allow no one in his land who believes not this religion, and the same is incumbent on all men, except in the case of merchants who trade in what is advantageous to men, like the Letters of the Gospel. In the Manifestation of Him whom God shall manifest, the same order holds good of those who do not believe in him. This is that the Tree of Truth may not witness in that land wherein he appears any but believers in him, and that in Paradise, there may be no persons of Hell-Fire. The permission to merchants is only given to those who trade on a large scale, and no unbelievers who are in an inglorious condition are to be allowed in the country at all.
    Wahid VI, Chapter 6. The command to destroy all books except such as have been or shall be composed in this religion. So, though there had been many heavenly books from the time of Adam till the time of the Qur’an, all were removed and those who continued to believe in them were pronounced untrue. If it be so with divine books, how shall it be with books of creatures which beside those books are as a reflection in a mirror compared to the Sun? I swear by God that in the Day of Him whom God shall manifest, to recite one of His verses is greater than all the Bayan.
    Wahid V, Chapter 7. God hath given permission to him who believes in the Bayan that whatever he buys from those who do not believe in that religion is clean unto him when it comes forth from the possession of the latter and enters his possession, by reason of the honour conferred upon it by its relation to this Religion. God’s gift to such as believe in the Bayan is that things obtained by sale or purchased from nonbelievers become pure by their severance from unbelievers and their association with believers. For instance, if there be a rose in the hand of a Christian, it at once becomes pure on his giving it to one of the believers. The believers in the Bayan are permitted to obtain whatever is good in every land, that perhaps in the day of the Manifestation of the Truth that thing may reach the presence of the Lord of Existence and become beloved by Him. For whatever appears gracious in the world, is a drop from the ocean of his Grace.
    Wahid V, Chapter 5. Concerning the command to take the possessions of those who do not believe in the Bayan, and the command to restore it, if they enter the Faith, except in those countries wherein its seizure is impossible. In the day of the Manifestation of the Apostle of God [Muhammad], the soul of naught that breathed was its own; how then that which is subsidiary to life? Unless it entered his religion; whereupon that which God hath bestowed on it became lawful to it. So also in the Manifestation of Him whom God shall manifest, no soul is lawful to its possessor unless it believe in Him, and all shall be taken from all, except that which enter under the shadow of His Religion……….
    Wahid IV, Chapter 12. Concerning the removal of all shrines upon the earth. In each Manifestation which appears from God, the shrines which were aforetime are taken away, as today you see in the Religion of the Apostle of God that his followers know not the shrines, nor even the very names, of the Saints of Jesus, much less their tombs. Tombs of ancient prophets and patriarchs, shown in some places,12 must also be abolished.
    Wahid IV, Chapter 10. It is unlawful to teach books other than the Bayan unless there be therein something relating to Scholastic Philosophy (Ilm-i- Kalam), but Logic, ‘Principles, and Jurisprudence, Philosophy, and dead languages, and the like, are forbidden, as also what has been written on [Arabic] Grammar and Syntax: unless anyone should desire to learn so much of the latter as may suffice him to read the Bayan,……..
    This abstract was completed at 12.40 a.m. on the morning of the 1st of January AD 1889. Edward G. Browne
    Summary of the Persian Bayan is a Section 3 (pages: 316 – 406) of the book “Selection from the Writings of E. G. Browne on the Babi and Baha’i Religions” by Moojan Momen (Oxford: George Ronald, 1987),

  • Craig Parke

    Indeed. Things are NOTt looking good. Things are NOT looking good at all. I, for one, am not talking people’s possessions away from them for any reason. Nope. Not gonna do it! It’s against my personal code of morality.

  • Mhig

    In fact BIHE has been carrying out on-line courses for quite a number of years and have university faculty from around the world involved.  I taught courses myself on-line, but was saddened to learn that some of my students’ houses were raided and their computers stolen.  Not to be stopped easily, the students went to internet cafes and did as much work as they could before their studies were again disrupted.

  • Baquia

    Thank you for your comment. While some courses are online the suggestion offered above was for all of BIHE to go online. But that is not a realistic solution, as you yourself explain.

  • Amado de Dios

    Thank you for the reference to the Khan Academy. How wonderful! I offered to help BIHE and got the runaround – a dozen tries to get into the “training” to be able to begin volunteering. They won – I gave up. But I could certainly get into helping Khan Academy present material in Spanish!

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