BY CAITLIN WEBSTER
CENTERVILLE — Imagine living in a country where you or your children are not permitted to go to school and where your every effort to home school is blocked by an institutionalized effort of your own government.
This situation is a reality faced daily by members of the Baha’i Faith in Iran. It will be the subject of a video presentation and discussion on Tuesday, November 13, at the Centerville Library, 45 S. 400 West.
The presentation is free and open to the public. Educators, high school and college students and families with children in the upper grades are especially encouraged to come.
“Since the 1979 revolution in Iran, the government has indulged in a systematized attempt to carry out what has been called ‘genocide by attrition’ by denying Baha’is the right to work and the right to educate their children,” said Paul Webb, vice chairman of the Baha’i Community. of Centerville organization.
“If you have grown up in the United States this is no doubt very hard to imagine,” he said. “But if you had grown up in Iran as a member of the Baha’i Faith you would not have to imagine it: it would be the daily reality of your life.”
The government of Iran is systematically denying Baha’i youth a college education as part of its governmental policy, Webb said.
The largest religious minority in Iran, the Baha’is number about 300,000.
In 1987, a group of Iranian Baha’i educators banded together to form the BIHE, the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education. Meeting in homes, in basements, with what resources and materials they could find, they developed a system that has expanded and gained the respect of educational institutions around the world.
“Unfortunately,” Webb said, “the BIHE has been raided periodically. They have recovered and continued each time.”
In May of 2011, the government staged a massive raid on the homes of BIHE educators and administrators. Many were arrested, and seven administrators, none of them young, received jail terms.
An immediate international outcry followed the sentencing. Groups as diverse as Amnesty International and the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center and individuals as prestigious as Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Arch-bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and President Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor have arisen in support of the Baha’is.
The case of 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl and blogger Malala Yousufzai, who was shot at close range by members of the Taliban in early October for advocating for education for women, has drawn public attention to the issue of equal access to education worldwide.
“I think teenagers over here sometimes forget how easy we have it,” said Webb’s son Zayne, a 15-year-old sophomore at NUAMES, an early college charter high school in Layton.
“Lots of schools in the area have caught onto the idea of concurrent enrollment, so if we want, we can have the chance to have a college education while we’re still in high school,” he said.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to be so careful you don’t get kicked out of elementary or high school and then that’s it: no college, no chance to be a doctor or an engineer or an astrophysicist.”