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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.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Education under fire

Photo property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
I took part in a teleconference today with people all over North America. A number of "speakers" presented on various aspects of the Education Under Fire campaign, and the denial of access to higher education that young Baha'is in Iran continue to be confronted with today. Education Under Fire is a campaign to raise global awareness about the plight of young Baha'i students who graduate from high school only to be denied access to higher education solely because of their religious beliefs, and to encourage individuals, organizations, institutions and governments to speak out against the Iranian government's consistent denial of access to education to Baha'is.

The denial to higher education has been going on so long now that the Baha'i community of Iran, recognizing the importance of finding a way to educate its young people, created the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). The BIHE provides Baha'i youth with a means of obtaining higher education, and as such is seen by the government of Iran as being an illegal institution. The Institute has had its classrooms and labs raided more than once, and its faculty and students are regularly arrested, imprisoned and tortured.

This semester, for example, the BIHE began its semester with two of its faculty in prison. The first day of class the students were given an orientation that included an overview of the laws concerning imprisonment, and guidance for how to behave if anyone should be imprisoned or tortured during the semester. Can you imagine living in a country where you are confronted with the very real possibility of being imprisoned and tortured for pursuing your education? I certainly can't, and do not believe anyone should have to risk their freedom and life to pursue their education.

A global campaign is under way to make sure that no student in Iran -- Baha'i or other faith -- is barred access to higher education because of their religious beliefs. A documentary film has been made in which former BIHE students are interviewed about their experiences before they left Iran. The documentary will be launched in January, showing on university campuses across the United States. The film will be followed by a discussion with a group of panelists, the hope being that the documentary will encourage audiences across the continent to speak out against the denial of this very basic and yet so very important human right to the young people of Iran.

The campaign also includes a letter written by two Nobel Laureate winners speaking out against the current policies of the Iranian government towards Baha'i students in Iran that the public is being encouraged to endorse and share with others who they think might be interested. The producers of the film are trying to get 25,000 people to endorse the letter by May 2012. If you would like to read and endorse the letter, you can do so here

The topic of the teleconference today was synergy: that two or more people working together generate a power that is much greater than the sum of each of their individual abilities. The point being made is, of course, that denial of access to higher education to the Baha'i youth in Iran has implications for access to higher education globally. This is not just an issue confronting the Baha'i community of Iran. This is an issue of access to education for people everywhere around the world. The more people talking about the plight of the Baha'i youth of Iran--the more people standing up and taking a stand--the more powerful the call for an end to denial of education to anyone based on their faith will be. People can only continue to treat a minority unjustly as long as the majority is content to stand by and allow it. Injustice cannot persist when the majority is demanding justice.

Listening to the conversation today made me reflect on my own education. It is not often that I have thought about higher education as a right, but nobody ever tried to take access to a university degree away from me. I also did not often think of access to higher education as a privilege, but hearing about students whose desire to learn is so great that they are willing to risk their lives to obtain their education makes me realize that it is indeed a privilege to have had such easy access to university when I pursued my Bachelor's and Master's degrees. All I had to do was focus on my studies. My life was never threatened.

I am working with some friends to make sure that when the documentary Education Under Fire is released this January, it is shown on the Sac State campus here in Sacramento, and I would like to encourage you to visit the Education Under Fire website and find out about showing the documentary in your community--at an academic institution or a community centre or private home. There is great power in lending our voices to support human right in Iran. There is tremendous strength in synergy.

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