Baha’is express gratitude for open letter of support

February 15, 2009
The open letter signed by more than 240 Iranian academics, writers, activists and others, says “We are ashamed!” of silence in the face of persecution of Baha’is in Iran.

NEW YORK, United States — The Baha’i International Community has issued a statement of gratitude to the Iranian intellectuals, scholars, writers, journalists, activists, and artists throughout the world who signed an open letter apologizing for their silence during Iran’s long-running persecution of the Baha’is.

The open letter from the Iranians – dated 3 February and signed so far by 243 men and women living in 19 countries – had asked Baha’is to forgive them “for the wrongs committed against the Baha’i community of Iran” over the last century and a half.

“We will no longer be silent when injustice is visited upon you,” the letter said after enumerating some of the ways Baha’is have been persecuted, from “barbaric murders” to depriving youth of higher education.

In response, the Baha’i International Community told the signatories that the letter “brought a degree of solace and relief to the pain that your Baha’i fellow citizens endure.”

“On their behalf and that of the Baha’is throughout the world we convey our profound gratitude and appreciation for a deed of such historical moment,” the Baha’i message said, referring to the publication of the open letter.

The letter was particularly significant, said the Baha’i response, in that it rejected the milieu of intimidation created by Iranian authorities throughout the decades that served to silence “those fair-minded and informed individuals who had always wished to rise up” in support of the Baha’is.

Indeed, in a press statement yesterday, the organizers behind the letter said that many more people would like to sign.

“We are confident,” their statement said, “that many more individuals, responsible and humane individuals, both inside and outside Iran, will add their seal of approval to it, as they become aware of such a letter, and we hope that the independent and committed Iranian media will join us in disseminating this message.”

The open letter began with the heading “We are ashamed! A century and a half of oppression and silence is enough!”

“We are ashamed that during the last 30 years, the killing of Baha’is solely on the basis of their religious beliefs has gained legal status and over 200 Baha’is have been slain on this account,” said one clause.

“We are ashamed that a group of intellectuals have justified coercion against the Baha’i community of Iran,” the letter continued.

The letter ended thus: “We stand by you in achieving all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights. Let us join hands in replacing hatred and ignorance with love and tolerance.”

The Baha’i response also ended with a statement of hope: “The ardent hope of Iranian Baha’is is to be able to labor, shoulder to shoulder, with their compatriots for the progress and exaltation of their country that it may assume its seat of honor and glory among the family of nations.”

The open letter was initially signed by 42 people but more than 200 others added their signatures in the 10 days after it was first published. Their countries of residence were listed as Iran, Sweden, Canada, United States, Great Britain, Germany, Australia, France, Italy, Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Malaysia, Denmark, Belgium, Mexico, Turkey, Switzerland, and Norway.

The Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights has offered a response, stating that such a letter “by a group of Iranian intellectuals and activists (was) truly inspirational. Change and progress cannot be brought about until mistakes of the past are acknowledged and admitted, and a resolve is made for them to never be repeated.”

The network answered the “We are ashamed …” clauses of the open letter with declarations of “We are proud …”

“We are proud that after a long period of silence, voices of protest are now being registered,” the network wrote on its Web site. “We are proud that in the face of the increasing attacks against the Baha’is of Iran, the intellectual community refuses to be silent. … We are proud of your speaking out against the painful reality in Iran.”

Another response came from the Institute on Religion & Public Policy based in Washington, D.C.

“The open letter is a great first step in publicizing and accepting societal responsibility for the way Baha’is have been persecuted over the last 150 years,” said Joseph K. Grieboski, president of the institute. “Now it’s up to the Iranian government to do the same and stop its abuse of the community.”