I start my day by checking a number of websites to find out about the latest arrests and human rights violations in Iran. My heart sinks each time I read the name of another detainee. This unfortunately has been happening much too often in recent months. Innocent people are being persecuted solely on the basis of their religious beliefs. These are individuals who are trying to earn an honest living, and yet face confiscation of their licenses and businesses. Educators are imprisoned solely because they volunteered to educate those who are denied the right to higher education. This is the Baha'i Community of Iran -- the place that I grew up.
Baha'is have been subjected to persecution in Iran since the inception of the Faith there. After the 1979 Islamic revolution, the persecution intensified. Hundreds of Baha'is have been executed, and hundreds more imprisoned. My family has been no exception. My father, a prominent lawyer and scholar was arrested and executed in 1981 solely for being a Baha'i. My mother was summoned to the revolutionary court several times, our home was raided on many occasions, and all our possessions including our house, furnishings and cars, were confiscated.
Growing up during the time of the Iran-Iraq war, I knew that the future held little promise for me as Baha'is were barred from entering institutions of higher learning. In 1987 the Baha'i community established a correspondence and home-learning university for its youth taught by Baha'i educators. Later, this initiative became the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). Many of the BIHE professors and administrators offer their services on a volunteer basis. The government of Iran has attacked the BIHE on numerous occasions. In May 2011, the homes of many professors and administrators of the BIHE were raided. Dozens were arrested; books and equipment confiscated. Soon after, the Iranian press declared the BIHE illegal.
Reading the news of the arrests took me back to BIHE's early days, when I was a student there. I remember how we had to discipline ourselves to study every day without even knowing who our professors were. When taking exams in the homes of the Baha'is, we were less concerned about how we were going to do on our tests than we were anxious about being arrested by the authorities. We were, at all times, conscious of the risk our professors and administrators were taking to offer their knowledge and expertise. Their tireless efforts, despite limited resources and eminent danger inspired us to believe in the power of unity and purity of purpose.
Not being able to fulfill my dream of becoming a surgeon, I decided to study psychology, which for me came closest to my goal of being of service to others. I came to the U.S. as a refugee and applied to five graduate schools, all of which recognized and accepted my bachelor's degree in psychology from the BIHE. I earned my master's degree in social work from Boston University, where I teach as adjunct faculty. As a clinician, I have chosen to work with survivors of torture and other types of human rights violations from around the world. Every day, I marvel at the resiliency of the human spirit while time and again, I am struck by ideologies that instill a sense of alienation and hatred prompting ordinary people to commit unimaginable atrocities.
I draw strength from the fact that today the plight of the Baha'i community of Iran is heard around the world. Various governments, UN agencies, NGOs, intellectuals, academia and students across the globe have spoken out against the denial of that community's basic human rights. Most recently, respected leaders of thought such as the Honorable Bishop Desmond Tutu and President of East Timor, José Ramos-Horta, have lent their voice in support.
Sitting in the comfort of my living room -- expressing myself freely -- without the fear of constant surveillance by the government, my heart goes out to courageous people around the world, including my friends and fellow Baha'is in Iran. Inspired by their belief in the ultimate goodness of human nature, they persevere.
For more information, look for a film on the BIHE that will be released soon and a new campaign that is being launched at www.educationunderfire.com.