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Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: An ex-President Ayatollah's Daughter and the Baha'is

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Faezah Hashemi (middle) with Tehran Baha'is; Fariba Kamalabadi seated to Hashemi's right.
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"By the time that Iranians were getting ready to tear down the very foundation of Qajar monarchy in the course of the Constitutional Revolution"[during 1905-09; the son of the founder of Baha'ism, ʿAbdu'l-Baha] officially sided with Muhammad Ali Shah"and went even further and was knighted by George V, and under the British mandate established the center of his vanity in Haifa -- Hamid Dabashi, Islamic Liberation Theology, 2008, 83.


"I fully support a first strike on Iran's nuclear facilities wherever they may be hidden and by whatever means are needed to destroy them. If the Iranians deny us their oil, destroy their oil facilities - if we can't have their oil, neither will they... Regime change (one way or another) is coming in the relatively near future and Baha'is must be there when a new regime is established to make their mark on the new government and help move it in genuinely new directions -- Ian Kluge, Canadian Baha'i scholar, public list: talisman9|AT|yahoogroups.comtalisman9 (yahoogroups), April 15, 2006.

The Nature of the Controversy

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For the past two weeks a scandal has been raging inside Iran centring on Faezah Hashemi, 54, former parliamentarian and daughter of former president, billionaire power broker and Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah ʿAli Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Appearing to be part of an escalating power struggle developing between the two blocs of so-called moderate-reformists (who recently took the majlis and Assembly of Experts elections) and their 'principalist' (i.e. hardliner) opponents; assorted principalist publications as well as leading figures in the Islamic Republic of Iran have gone on the attack denouncing her and her father alike for being traitors to Islam and the Revolution. Not losing a moment's opportunity to exploit the situation, and with all the typical warped exaggeration and blatant misinformation of neo-colonialist perception management regarding Iran's apparently 'abysmal' human rights record in relation to the Baha'i minority; the Western corporate media (and particularly the Persian language sections of the BBC and the VOA) have launched a veritable blitz campaign around the story not too dissimilar to what we have seen before.

The controversy surrounds Faezah Hashemi's publicized house visit to temporarily paroled Baha'i leader Fariba Kamalabadi, 52, with whom she apparently shared a prison cell in 2009 when Hashemi herself was briefly imprisoned following the post-election fracas of the Green uprising. One year before those events, in 2008 Fariba Kamalabadi, along with six other Baha'i colleagues of the seven-man ad hoc Iranian Baha'i administration known as the hayat-i-Yaran ('the Council of Friends', henceforth 'Yaran'), was tried on charges of espionage and spying for Israel, found guilty and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. What has particularly raised the ire of some principalists in Iran is the group photograph of the house visit published in social media afterwards by the Baha'is which shows Faezah Hashemi with Fariba Kamalabadi seated among a group of other middle-class Baha'is somewhere in Tehran --- with the women all notably unveiled -- with a picture of the Baha'i patriarch ʿAbbas Effendi ʿAbdu'l-Baha (d. 1921) prominently displayed on the wall to the left of the assembled party. The story with its photo(s) immediately went viral on social media, precipitating a huge uproar throughout the Iranian establishment.

While a seemingly innocuous gesture to most foreign observers not informed of bigger pictures, such an act under the Islamic Republic of Iran, and especially one undertaken by a daughter of such a prominent, high profile figure as Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, albeit symbolic, yet for all the wrong reasons, constitutes an unambiguously subversive act of outright sedition against the entire ideological edifice of the present system in Iran. Given its nature, and especially since the Baha'i question has consistently been a successful disinfo propaganda talking point for Western establishments to exploit and bludgeon Iran with for thirty-seven years; this act by Faezah Hashemi can also be interpreted as playing by design right into the hands of Iran's enemies in the West, and particularly the 'regime changers' and their agendas. More alarmingly, it may also be signalling that some sort of alignment is possibly forming between the moderate-reformist bloc, the Baha'is and the 'regime changers' abroad.

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Publicly in word, at least, Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani distanced himself from his daughter's actions while simultaneously denouncing Baha'ism itself as well. Yet, arguably, such a high profile and politically charged undertaking by Faezah Hashemi would not have been possible without either some kind of foreknowledge or complaisance, whether by her father personally and/or the power bloc behind him, because the entire gesture reeks of wider political manoeuvrings, and not just in Iran. As such characterizing the situation as merely a "debate about religion," as the New York Times has put it [1], is not only simplistic but grossly inaccurate, not to mention being the usual smokescreens and sleights of hand well known as being choice discursive gimmicks of false narrative building and disinfo propaganda engaged in by the Western corporate media, its agenda setters and the Western imperial human rights industry.

There is a complicated and tumultuous history behind all of this that, while located in Iran's religious history during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, also holds explicit geopolitical dimensions which involves Iran's bitter encounter with the forces of Western imperialism, colonialism and Zionism in the region, and, above all, with all of those trojan horse, native informers inside Iran as well as abroad who have consistently undermined the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1979 --- and even well before. The Baha'is are indeed one of the more prominent among such groups of native informers. But let us be precise here as to who it is we are actually talking about.

Haifan Bahaism

At issue is the Haifan Baha'i organization[2]: the uber-wealthy, well organized and corporate-driven majoritarian Baha'i sect loyal to the Baha'i 'Universal House of Justice' headquartered on Mt Carmel, Haifa, Israel, since there also exist other schismatic Baha'i groups who are not loyal to Haifa but stand in opposition to it (and who themselves have faced persecution by the majoritarian Haifan Baha'is, viz. the so-called 'Covenant Breaker' Baha'is) -- groups which the Islamic Republic of Iran has little to no interest in [3]. This last point alone complicates --- even outright negates -- the whole Western human rights narrative surrounding the apparent persecution of the Baha'is in Iran and shifts all of its discursive registers into other, more sinister contexts entirely. As an example of what is being pointed out here, the quote above by prominent Canadian Baha'i scholar Ian Kluge should give pause to any neutral observer as to the underlying political motivations of the Haifan Baha'i establishment towards Iran.

Now, contextualized by a few Western social scientists under the rubric of an NRM (New Religious Movement, which is to say, a 'cult') rather than, technically speaking, a 'world religion' [4]; the origins of Bahaism are to be found during the mid nineteenth century within a violent schism of the Babi movement that occurred in the territories of the Ottoman empire [5]. During that period, and while in exile after earlier being expelled from Iran during the early 1850s; the founder of Baha'ism, Mirza Husayn ʿAli Nuri Baha'u'llah (the Glory of God) (d. 1892), broke with his younger step-brother, the appointed supreme pontiff of the Babi movement, Mirza Yahya Nuri Subh-i-Azal (the Dawn of Pre-Eternity) (d. 1912), and proclaimed himself to be the universal messiah and penultimate divine messenger (or 'manifestation of God' in Baha'i technical language) come to establish a new global religious order that is to eventually succeed and supplant all religions and belief systems throughout the world. As a consequence of this violent schism, which included murders and assassinations by the Baha'is against their rival detractors among the Azali Babis, the Ottomans banished Baha'u'llah and his partisans to Acre in Palestine while Subh-i-Azal and a handful of his followers were sent over to Cyprus. Later on, the Azali Babis and Baha'is would stand at opposite poles of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1905-09, with the Azali Babis not only supporting but at the forefront driving the people's revolution while the Baha'is instead stood with the forces of the royalist reaction and the revolution's Tsarist Russian-sponsored violent suppression by Muhammad ʿAli Shah Qajar (d. 1925) [6].

During the ministry of Baha'u'llah's son and successor, ʿAbbas Effendi ʿAbdu'l-Baha (the Servant of Glory) (1892-1921), further schisms took shape inside Baha'u'llah's own household with additional schisms developing after the deaths of ʿAbdu'l-Baha in 1921 and that of his grandson and successor Shoghi Effendi (d. 1957), who appointed no formal successor. Since 1963 the dominant Haifan sect has been ruled by the all male, nine-man body oligarchy (no women are allowed), viz. the Universal House of Justice. While some recent scholarship in Iran demonstrates that as early as the mid 1850s close contacts and linkages were already being actively forged between Baha'u'llah and agents of Western imperialism in the region, such as Manekji Limji Hataria (d. 1890) and Mirza Malkum Khan (d. 1908); it was under ʿAbdu'l-Baha specifically that these relationships and contacts were openly formalized and strategically solidified, particularly with the British and then the Americans. Close contacts with Tsarist Russia had likewise existed since the early 1850s, only to be interrupted by the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Notably in 1891, and only one year before his death, Baha'u'llah was actively corresponding with Baron Nathan de Rothschild (d. 1942), and in so doing openly forming an alliance with the European proto-Zionist movement that was to be officially launched only a few years later in 1897 in Basle, Switzerland [7].

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ʿAbdu'l-Baha himself became a key figure in the British war effort against the Ottomans in Palestine during World War I, and in 1919 he was officially knighted by the recently established British Mandate for Palestine for his ""valuable services rendered to the British government in the early days of the occupation" [8]. Concurrently during the time when ʿAbdu'l-Baha was cooperating with the British war effort and then soon thereafter being knighted by them, in Iran itself the British had engineered a genocidal famine which, according to historian Mohammad Gholi Majd [9], had wiped out between eight to eleven million Iranians in only two years. Some recent sources even suggest an instrumental Baha'i hand in the rise of Reza Shah (d. 1944) and the establishment of the Pahlavi monarchy. The role of the British in bringing Reza Shah to power in 1921 is already widely known, with the Baha'is here being one of the British empire's trusted agents locally facilitating his rise through the devices of the Indian Parsi agent and head of British secret intelligence in Iran, Sir Ardeshir Reporter (d. 1933), who would have acted as the go between.

Under the Pahlavis the Haifan Baha'is thrived economically as well as politically in Iran, enjoying enormous perks and privileges with the elite of that regime. Following the August 1953 coup d'etat against Mossadegh, for example, industrialist and business tycoon Habib Sabet (d. 1990) --- a lifelong member of the Iranian Baha'i leadership until the eve of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 --- was awarded the Pepsi Cola and Iranian Radio & Television franchises by Muhammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi (d. 1980) for his role in supporting the Shah during that crisis. Additionally, the father of Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveyda (d. 1979) had been a lifelong Baha'i who had even acted for some time in the official capacity of a personal secretary to ʿAbdul-Baha in Palestine -- Amir Abbas Hoveyda himself being a Freemason. The Shah's personal physician, General ʿAbdu'l-Karim Ayadi (d. 1978), a long time royal court insider and crony to his twin sister Ashraf Pahlavi (d. 2016), was a Baha'i. The notorious Sangsari criminal warlord and underworld figure, Hozhabr Yazdani (d. 2010), was a Baha'i. Parviz Sabeti, the deputy-head of SAVAK --- being the man credited for much of the violent excesses committed by that state security organization against the Shah's opposition throughout the 1960s and 1970s --- was a Baha'i (albeit the Baha'i establishment vehemently denies the fact at present). Countless other examples such as this could be furnished from that era. So given this, the Haifan Baha'is obviously occupied a privileged place as a pillar of the Pahlavi ancien regime as they arguably remain to the Empire's anti-Iran initiatives presently.

Be that as it may, technically speaking, the Islamic Republic of Iran, while it does not constitutionally recognize or accord legitimacy to Bahaism as a creed, has no state sponsored policy of persecuting Bahaism either. Baha'is as Iranian citizens are legally accorded full citizenship rights under the law in Iran. It is their creed (together with its organization and activities) which is not recognized, or granted legal privileges, and not their rights as citizens per se. This fact is consistently misrepresented, confused or totally glossed over in silence in the West. Nevertheless, besides the fact that at all stages of its history Bahaism has been consistently sponsored and supported by the forces of Anglo-European imperialism and colonialism against the interests and security of Iran; the issues the Islamic Republic of Iran currently has with the activities of Bahaism have to do primarily with the reality that the Haifan Baha'i organization and its leadership have consistently enjoyed a tightly knit relationship with the state of Israel, its establishment and state apparatus. The Israeli establishment, quite literally, has gone out of its way to protect the Baha'is since 1948 and in turn the Baha'is themselves have been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Zionist state. The reader is invited to Google pictures of their Baha'i World Centre in Haifa to see for themselves the kind of allowances the Israeli state has made to this organization in the construction of their megalomaniacal Hanging Gardens of Babylon on Mt Carmel. Independent Israeli filmmaker Naama Pyritz even confessed during her 2004 interview of Frederick Glaysher what she believed to be the Haifan Baha'i organization's inordinately 'special relationship' with the Israeli state (as well as with the United States and Great Britain): a special relationship which no other community or organization in Israel presently enjoys [10].

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Wahid Azal is an independent scholar and political commentator living in Berlin, Germany.

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