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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Guilty as charged

I want to use today's entry to talk about justice. I spent this past weekend with over 1,500 other inspired and inspiring folks at the Association for Baha'i Studies Conference on Changing Patterns of Thought in San Francisco. I will write more about the conference later this week. What I want to focus on today is something that most of us take for granted: the right to obtain a university education. Growing up I never once doubted that I would go to university. The only thing between me and a higher degree was hard work to get into the school I wanted to go to. 

Young Baha'is in Iran are today, in 2011, being denied access to higher education. Not because they are not good students--many are actually some of the highest achieving students coming out of Iranian high schools. No. The reason these students are denied entry into university is their religious beliefs. Those of you who have been following my blog for some time will know that I am also a Baha'i. My faith is founded on the principle that all religions come from one God; on the essential truth of the equality of men and women; on the oneness of science and religion; the belief that all races and people are one family, and that human beings should devote their lives to the service of humanity, the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty, to educating our children, taking care of the environment, and eliminating injustice. It is true that I may be slightly biased, given that I am a Baha'i, but when it comes down to it, there is nothing that the Baha'i community is doing that is negatively impacting the world -- in reality, the global Baha'i community helping to build a better, more tolerant, just world for everyone. 

You might wonder, therefore, why a community with such universal beliefs is being denied such a basic human right as higher education. This question is one that international governments and the United Nations has been asking the Iranian government repeatedly for many years now. The answers have varied, but have generally been based on ludicrous claims of espionage, dishonesty, and heresy among other things. None of these claims have been backed up by any concrete evidence by the Iranian government. 

In the meantime, barred from public education, the Baha'is set up their own university in an attempt to provide for themselves what the government was denying them. This university has been raided, books and materials confiscated, and professors arrested and thrown into prison before. With few other options however, the Baha'i community of Iran re-established it, and continued to educate their youth. Recently the university was again attacked, and its faculty arrested and imprisoned. 

The thing about injustice that is as true today as it was 100 years ago is this: it can not be perpetrated without the compliance (or silence) of ordinary people like you and me. Not speaking up against injustice is, in reality, condoning it. 

This past weekend at the ABS conference a couple of initiatives were brought up. One is Called "Conspiracy to Educate: Guilty as Charged." This is a facebook initiative in which ordinary people (like you and me) can go to the website, "like" it, take a mug shot of ourselves holding a sign that lists the university we went to and the words: "Guilty as charged," and upload it as our profile photo, tagging it appropriately so that the group administrators can keep track of how many people are supporting this initiative. It may seem like a small thing, but when it comes down to it, every small effort each of us makes to highlight injustice in the world is a huge step towards eliminating it, and the more people join in this effort, the more media attention it will get.

Another initiative that is happening is that people are sending postcards to Mr. Kamran Daneshjoo, the Minister of Science, Research and Technology of Iran, stating clearly that they do not agree with Iran's policy to discriminate against the Baha'is of Iran; that the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education "prisoners" should be released immediately; that Baha'is should be able to enter universities as faculty and staff and as students who can get a degree, and urging the Minister to instruct all schools in Iran to respect freedom of religion or belief, including the Baha'i Faith, and take specific measures to reprimand any individuals who are intimidating or discriminating against Baha'i schoolchildren.

I want to invite you to join me in either joining this facebook initiative or sending a postcard to the Minister of Science, Research and Technology (or both). It does not matter what our religious convictions are, or where we live in the world. If injustice persists anywhere, it is impossible everywhere, and denying a person access to education is effectively denying him or her a place in the global community. 

You can send your postcard to the following address:

Minister of Science, Research & Technology, Mr. Kamran Daneshjoo
Piroozan Jonoubi Avenue, Hormozan Street, 
Khordin Street, Sanat Square
Shahrak Ghods

Thank you for listening, friends. I hope you will join me in supporting one of these worthy causes, and thereby support the right to higher education for all people, everywhere in the world. I wish you all a superb week!

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