The Magazine

"Murder with Impunity"

Iran targets the Baha'i--again.

Nov 5, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 08 • By PAUL MARSHALL
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In May 2006, 54 Baha'is were arrested in Shiraz, the largest roundup since the 1980s. Over the last two years, some 129 have been arrested, released on bail, and are now awaiting trial. In many cases, high bail demands have required Baha'is to hand over business or work licenses and deeds to property. There are also threats from vigilante groups such as the uneuphemistic "Association Hostile to Apostate Baha'is," which has threatened the life of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi for her defense of them.

These events clearly demonstrate that the Iranian regime is vicious even toward gentle, peaceful, and apolitical people. But they also show that the government remains afraid of international opprobrium on this and other points. The 2006 directive ordered security officials to proceed "cautiously and carefully" lest too much notice be taken. There are additional indications that the regime, rather than being proud of what it claims are "Islamic principles," seems determined to hide them.

When asked about Baha'is in his September 24 National Press Club speech, President Ahmadinejad said merely that Iran recognizes only four "divine religions." He declined to mention or defend either the government's recent actions or the regime's longstanding "Laws of Islamic Punishment" under which Baha'is fall in the category of "murder with impunity" so that, if they are murdered, the state will not punish their killers. (At Columbia University, he showed similar shame about his country's draconian penal code in deflecting a question about Iran's intolerance of gays by asserting that there are no homosexuals in Iran. While proclaiming the glories of the Iranian model, he hid the fact that Articles 109 and 110 of its legal code prescribe the death penalty for male homosexual acts, while Articles 129 and 131 specify 100 lashes for women, with death for the fourth offense.)

But Iran's growing systematic campaign against Baha'is suggests something more. These regulations and restrictions are not haphazard but are systematically structured and, as such, are remarkably reminiscent of the Nazi Nuremberg Laws imposed against Jews in the 1930s. They are steps toward the destruction of a religious community, and they require the international condemnation and pressure that the Nuremberg Laws did not receive.

Iran's actions are reminiscent of the Nazis in another way: Even while under great internal and external pressure, the regime is still committed to diverting resources to pursue an ideological and religious campaign that conforms to no realist evaluation of any national interest. The mullahs' Iran is not a normal country.

Paul Marshall is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.