For Bahais, a Crackdown Is Old News

June 26, 2009

Author: Samuel G. Freedman

Source: The New York Times

Sometimes during the past two weeks, making her rounds as a hospital resident, Dr. Saughar Samali has caught a glimpse of television news in a patient’s room or heard a bulletin on the radio in the family-practice office. Against her desire, against her better judgment, she has been plunged back into the maelstrom of Iran.

As long as she is on duty, Dr. Samali can suppress what she sees and hears of the marchers, the arrests, the beatings. But when she leaves St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson and returns home to nearby Clifton, the present conjures up a terrible past.

She remembers when her father’s factory in Tehran was set afire, leaving him severely scarred and blind in one eye. She remembers her family’s trying to escape to Pakistan, traveling in a smuggler’s Jeep, headlights out on a midnight desert. She remembers the army bullets that shattered the windshield and pierced the tires, and she remembers the months in prison that followed.

It was 1985, and she was 5 years old. In all the years since, even after a subsequent, successful escape and a new life in the United States, Dr. Samali has not forgotten what it meant to be a Bahai in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“I try to turn my emotions off,” Dr. Samali, 28, said of the current turbulence in Iran. “The Bahais in Iran go through this every day. It’s sad to see this, but maybe this is a way for the truth to come out.”

The Bahais have long served as the proverbial canaries in the coal mine of Iran’s theocracy. Their persecution, as documented over nearly 30 years in numerous human rights reports, has contradicted all the näively hopeful predictions that the hard-line surface of Iran obscures a deeper wellspring of moderation and tolerance.

In 1983, the Iranian government banned all official Bahai activity. Deeming the faith an apostasy, Iran’s fundamentalist Shiite government has denied Bahais higher education, confiscated Bahai property, desecrated Bahai cemeteries and refused to recognize Bahai marriages.

During the recent upheaval, which is essentially a struggle among Shiites over the dubious re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bahais have again served as scapegoats. Supporters of President Ahmadinejad have recycled the canard that Bahais are American spies and secret Zionists, and have added a new one, claiming the British Broadcasting Corporation stands for the Bahai Broadcasting Company.