Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tiananmen Two? What should Unitarians do?

In Iran Awakening, Nobel Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi described the draining-away of democracy after the revolution.

As the population became better educated thanks, to be fair, to Islamist doctrine, it increasingly voted for reform: to such an extent that the Mullahs created the Guardian Council to vet potential candidates and "safeguard the revolution". Only four of the hundreds of applicants for President at the recent elections got through the process, and even then the regime apparently had to stuff the boxes to ensure "their" man won. In at least 50 cities more votes were reported than were actually voters registered to vote.

Now protests are being violently repressed, the regime seemingly discardjng its final fig leaf of democracy and following the Chinese example - "safeguarding" their revolution in blood. Because there is a precedent - how many of us remember that China still suppresses dissent? Yet we buy everything from its toys to computers to cars, participate in its Olympics, and borrow its money: it is in fact America's banker, the world's economic engine. Our hope now looks east - keep building China, keep us rich.

Would anyone be surprised if Moscow went the same way? What am I saying... to be a journalist in Russia is suicide.

Our Politicians do nothing. Why should they - they are a reflection of our self-interest. Their voters did not want the repression of Cold War communism, so they held firm, but none of the above appear yet to threaten our freedom. Indeed our Faustian bargain buys it at the expense of others.

So what can we UUs, as a relatively tiny, if also relatively well-heeled, religious sect do?

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki considers the possibility of ballot irregularities in the presidential elections as almost nonexistant.

"The possibility of organized and comprehensive disruption and irregularities in this election is almost close to zero given the composition of the people who are holding the election," he told foreign diplomats on Sunday.

Mottaki blamed Britain for interfering in the elections, saying it had been planning against the vote for more than a year.

"We witnessed an influx of people from the U.K. ahead of the election," he said, without offering specifics.

Mottaki accused Britain of supporting followers of the Baha'i faith, a religion that originated in 19th-century Persia but which Iran does not recognize.

Britain can of course look after itself, but the Baha'i is another matter. There are around 300,000 of them in Iran - about the same number of UUs in the US - and they are frequently persecuted by a regime always hungry for scapegoats. In February the Washington Post reported:

TEHRAN, Feb. 17 -- Seven leaders of the Bahai faith who have been detained for more than eight months in Iran have been officially accused of espionage, a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary said Tuesday.

The prosecutor general, Ayatollah Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi, wrote in a letter made public Sunday that there are "strong and long-term relations between the Bahais and the Zionists," as Iranian officials often refer to Israelis. The Bahai headquarters is in Haifa, Israel, but the denomination says it has adherents in virtually every country.

"All evidence points to the fact that the Bahai organization is in direct contact with the foreign enemies of Iran," Dorri-Najafabadi wrote in the letter, which was addressed to Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei. The letter appeared in the Kayhan newspaper, which has strong ties to the government.

"The ghastly Bahai organization is illegal on all levels, their dependence on Israel has been documented, their antagonism with Islam and the Islamic System is obvious, their danger for national security is proven and any replacement organization must also be dealt with according to the law," Dorri-Najafabadi wrote.

Abdolfattah Soltani, one of the lawyers for the Bahai leaders, said he had not been permitted to meet with his clients. "How can I make my case ready? I'm only their lawyer in name," he said in an interview. The Bahais are also being represented by Soltani's colleague Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and Nobel peace laureate.

There Shirin pops up again - what a brave woman. Anyway, if there is one thing UUs can do, we can announce our solidarity with the Bahai, a faith that bears many similarities to our own, and do all we can to aid them.

As UUs, solidarity with the Bahai is surely an act of our faith - power politics may shape our times, but the unity of the human spirit is universal.

No comments: