Tehle is the planner for the event Education Under Fire—an organization that has been traveling to universities and colleges around the United States to spread a message about education and the oppression of the Bahá’í faith in Iran.
The event will be coming to campus on March 23 and will feature two speakers, Dr. Nadar Saiedi and Parva Fattahi, who will speak about the lack of educational rights for Bahá’ís in Iran. The event has two components; the first is a screening of a 30-minute documentary about the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), and the second part following the screening is to engage in a dialogue with the community to come up with a collective social action.
“At the same time that there was an uprising in Iran against the Bahá’ís, the documentary was to be released to the public. Because of these uprisings, we didn’t want to just release it to the public; we want to use it as a social justice tool, to bring awareness,” Lugsch-Tehle said. “It will be used as an opportunity to create discussions within the school environment.”
Tehle hopes to get Gustavus students to be interactive during this event and show them the steps they can take to help this cause.
“We need to think about what we as a community can do to support the freedom of education for all people. This is an opportunity to hear a story of courage in the face of oppression, and to know that we can make a difference, even if we are a small community,” Lugsch-Tehle said.
In Iran, members of the Bahá’í Faith—a faith with a world-embracing vision based upon the fundamental spiritual truth that all of humanity is one family—are not only banned from attending post-secondary institutions, but are also being stripped of their individual rights to educate themselves outside of accredited institutions.
Since the inception of the Bahá’í faith in the nineteenth century, there has been a pattern of systematic oppression against those who practice it. This faith is currently dealing with the effects of religious intolerance in its home country, Iran—a place where the Bahá’í faith is viewed as a threat to Islam. Hundreds of Bahá’ís have been killed, imprisoned and deprived of their natural rights because of their faith; students and professors have been forcibly removed from their homes and imprisoned and their text books, computers and other personal belongings confiscated, simply for being Bahá’í.
“Being a Bahá’í in Iran today is not only difficult, it is almost impossible—the mark of your faith
prohibits you from going to college or keeping a job. Recently, the biggest manifestation of this persecution has been through education,” Lugsch-Tehle said.
One of the speakers who will come for the Education Under Fire event, Dr. Nader Saiedi, has knowledge and personal experience on this subject.
“The Islamic revolution of 1978 destroyed the traditional rivalry between the two centers of power in Iran, namely a relatively secular state and a powerful Islamic clergy. This new situation meant that there was no restraint on the ruling group to persecute the Bahá’ís. One of the first expressions of this persecution was firing of all Bahá’í professors from their posts and disallowing Bahá’í students from continuing their higher education. By law no Bahá’í could enter an Iranian university any more. Curiously, I was the last Bahá’í who graduated from an Iranian university,” Saiedi said.
The young Bahá’ís that hope to further their education in Iran face a dead end—their applications turned down at the sight of their religious preference, leaving them with no hope for a career or any further education past secondary school. In attempts to give the young members of the community an education, a small number of Bahá’ís formed a decentralized college in 1987 that is now known as the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE).
“The need for the BIHE developed as students of accredited institutions were denied access to education solely because of their adherence to the Bahá’í Faith,” Lugsch-Tehle said.
Since its inception, the BIHE has been operating in living rooms and kitchens throughout Tehran. This is in large part due to the support and volunteer efforts of college and university professors from around the world, including those professors within Iran who have lost their jobs because of their faith.
“Harassed by the state, this heroic university has succeeded to become a high quality center of higher education whose graduates have been accepted by prominent universities in Canada, England, the United States and other countries. During the last few years, however, the regime has declared this University as illegal and has tried to prevent the Bahá’ís from even such voluntary search for knowledge,” Saiedi said.
Without the BIHE, Bahá’í students would have no chance at attending graduate schools. Students must now search to further their education outside of Iranian institutions.
“In the face of oppression, Bahá’ís have become constructively resilient. Education is one of the main principles in the Bahá’í faith,” Lugsch-Tehle said. “It’s imperative that as an individual, we seek truth. To not blindly follow, but to independently investigate—education is crucial.”
Graduate-level programs outside of Iran, such as UCLA and Columbia, have been accepting students who have studied at the BIHE and it is a goal of Education Under Fire to continue to educate universities about this issue.
“There is immeasurable support for the Bahá’í through events like Education Under Fire. Understanding that people elsewhere, who are just the same as us, are being stripped of their right to education because of their religion and their beliefs is crucial and pertinent. To realize this is to make a profound commitment to making a difference as best we can,” Sophomore Bahá’í Valentina Muraleedharan said.
What Can You Do?
*Do the ìDrive to 25î- be one of the 25,000 to send your petition to top Iranian officials. Visit http://educationunderfire.com/
*On the same website, Read the Nobel Laureatesí Letter and pass the word.
*Visit http://can-you-solve-this.org/us/ to learn how to write letters to the U.S. Congress.
*Get educated. http://www.educationunderfire.com/multimedia/
Meet the speakers
Dr. Nadar Saiedi was born in Iran, where he has Studied economics in Pahlavi University. He has received his Ph. D in sociology from University of Wisconsin Madison in 1983. He has taught sociology at University of Virginia, UCLA, Vanderbilt University and Carleton College. His areas of research are Bahaíi Studies, Social Theory and Peace Studies. Dr Saiediís Published books include The Birth of Social Theory, Logos and Civilization and Gate of the Heart.
Ms. Parva Fattahi is an attorney admitted to practice in Maryland and New York. Her practice areas include immigration, economic sanctions and criminal defense. She holds an LL.M. and a J.D. in international trade, both from American University. Ms. Fattahi also graduated with a B.A. in Law from the Bahaíi Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) in 2000. As a Bahaíi woman, she routinely experienced religious and sexual discrimination in Iran–experiences that taught her the value of impartial laws and international standards.