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Happy Naw Ruz?
Naw Ruz is the traditional Iranian holiday celebrating the first day of spring and the Iranian new year. It is usually a time of joyful feasts and family gatherings. Members of the Baha'i faith on Mercer Island were less joyful when they celebrated on March 21, especially Nasser and Nahid Fazilat. Nahid Fazilat's cousin is currently in prison. After the Iranian revolution, another relative of Nahid's, along with eight other Baha'i leaders, was arrested. They disappeared, and their bodies were never found. Since the 1979 revolution, more than 200 Baha'is have been killed. In 2008, seven Baha'i leaders were unjustly arrested and have languished in prison without access to their attorney, the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi. They now face trial and execution.
Nahid is greatly encouraged by a letter from a group of prominent academics, writers, artists and Iranian activists throughout the world to the Baha'i community. It is titled "We are Ashamed," and begins, "A century and a half of oppression and silence is enough!" It goes on to report, “According to historical documents and evidence, from the commencement of the Babi Movement followed by the appearance of the Baha’i faith, thousands of our countrymen have been slain by the sword of bigotry and superstition only for their religious beliefs. Just in the first decades of its establishment, some 20,000 of those who stood identified with this faith community were savagely killed throughout various regions of Iran. We are ashamed that during that period, no voice of protest against these barbaric murders was registered; we are ashamed that until today, the voice of protest against this heinous crime has been infrequent and muted.” The letter also says, "we are ashamed" for the arbitrary arrests, attacks on Bahai's homes and businesses, economic discrimination, denial of higher education, destruction of Baha'i cemeteries, and other discrimination based solely on religious beliefs. It closes with the following: “We are ashamed for all these transgressions and injustices, and we are ashamed for our silence over these deeds. We, the undersigned, asked you, the Baha’is, to forgive us for the wrongs committed against the Baha’i community of Iran. We will no longer be silent when injustice is visited upon you. 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.”
Hundreds of people have signed the letter thus far. The Fazilats and the Mercer Island Bahai's are greatly encouraged that so many non-Bahai's have stepped forward to end the silence. When I read the strong support and sincere apology put forth in the letter, I felt more hopeful that we will find peaceful ways to promote and defend religious freedom for all.
Susan Carol Price
Member of the Mercer Island Clergy Association and Baha'I faith