LOS ANGELES — Education is Not a Crime, a worldwide campaign drawing attention to the constructive response of the Baha’i community to the Iranian government’s systematic denial of university education to young Baha’is, is gaining momentum as it nears its global day of action, 27 February.
The campaign’s website highlights the breadth of efforts by authorities in Iran to persecute the Baha’is there, and it provides historical context.
Calling on people around the world to participate in the campaign, the homepage states, “Education is a crime in Iran. But we can change that”.
Launched in November 2014, the campaign, organized by Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker who was himself imprisoned in Iran in 2009, was inspired by the film “To Light a Candle”, a documentary made by Mr. Bahari.
The film uses interviews, personal stories, and archival footage – often smuggled out of Iran at great personal risk – to explore how the Baha’is in Iran, in the face of ongoing oppression, have found creative ways to respond to injustice. In particular, it highlights the constructive resilience of Baha’i youth who have expressed their desire to pursue their education by developing informal arrangements through which they could have access to university-level studies.
The campaign is leading up to a major event titled Education Is Not A Crime Live 2015, to be held in Los Angeles on 27 February, where “To Light a Candle” will be shown – one of hundreds of screenings to be held around the world on that day.
A significant element of this campaign is the support it has received from across the world. Notably, a growing number of Iranians have decided to defend the rights of the Baha’is against decades-long efforts by authorities and religious leaders in Iran to misrepresent the Baha’i community.
“Many people are learning from the Baha’is,” Mr. Bahari said during the premier of his film in London this past September. He added that, in the past, Iranians “were indifferent to the fate of the Baha’is. We didn’t care to care.”
“Most young Iranians today have Baha’i friends despite the fact the government continues to harass them and portray them in the same negative light,” Mr. Bahari said.
The Education is Not a Crime campaign has been endorsed by many prominent individuals. These include Nobel Peace laureates such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi, Tawakkol Karman, Jody Williams, and Mairead Maguire. In addition, it has won the support of a number of other artists and intellectuals including Nazanin Boniadi, Abbas Milani, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Azar Nafisi, Omid Djalili, Eva LaRue, and Mohammad Maleki, former president of the University of Tehran.
A section of the site has been devoted to providing information on how individuals can become involved in the initiative. In addition, numerous videos have been posted, both on the website and the Facebook page of the campaign, by people around the world who have sent messages supporting the right of the Baha’is in Iran to study.
“Education is a basic human right,” says an individual in his video posted on the website. “It’s like…the right to livelihood, safety or work, right to shelter. It’s a basic human right, it’s not a crime. Deprivation of it is a crime.”