Education Under Fire

Education under Fire is a poignant documentary providing an expose in the systematic persecution of the Baha’i in Iran. The denial of education for many young Baha’i is a way to keep them down. The documentary underscores the creativity of the Baha’i in providing higher education to its young. It is a strong story of resilience. Directed by Jeff Kaufman, the documentary, “examines the struggles of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) to provide Baha’i youth with an opportunity for a college education. The BIHE was founded in 1987 in response to the Iranian government’s campaign to deny Baha’is access to higher education. The Iranian authorities carried out a series of raids and arrests of BIHE faculty and staff in May and June; statements in the government-linked press indicate that the BIHE has been declared illegal. Amnesty International estimates that over 100 Baha’i are currently imprisoned in Iran. The Baha’i have been arrested, tortured and even executed for their beliefs…”Amnesty MIT.

The screening took place at MIT’s Stata Center to a full audience on 11-11-11. Josh Rubenstein, Northeast regional director, Amnesty International USA moderated the distinguished panelists who included Jeff Kaufman, Rainn Wilson NBC’s The Office actor, David Hoffman founder and director of Education Under Fire Campaign, Mojdeh Rohani a former BIHE student and Fatemeh Haghighatjoo a women’s rights activist and former member of the Iranian Parliament.

Jeff Kaufman and Rainn Wilson listen to Fatemeh Haghighatjoo discussing the documentary

Rainn’s fear is that the Baha’i are being disappeared and if the world continues to do nothing the community will be completely extinct. The documentary is to therefore shed light on this persecution and call the world to action.

Mojdeh Rohani, a former BIHE student now living in the US who also features in the documentary expressed the beauty of freedom. Of being able to sit in a public space at MIT and discuss the persecution of her people without fear of arrest. She asked the audience not to take the freedom they have for granted. It is a blessing. The documentary features two main raids, one in 1998 where students and professors were arrested, and the most recent one in May 2011 where the university was closed and 7 professors have been meted with various sentences totally to 30 years imprisonment.

Rohani was in the second lot of students admitted to the underground university. There were no offices and the students did not know who their professors were. The professors did not sign off their names on assignments sent to protect their students in case they were arrested, they would not be forced under torture to reveal the names of their professors. The labs started in kitchens and in basements and later grew to a campus which has since been closed down. After the raid in 1998, a lot of the activities were moved overseas. Now most of the classes are conducted online.

Fatemah put in context the persecution of the Baha’i in the Arab world. She said the persecution is based in the origins of Islam and added that the persecution is happening in other Muslim countries as well. In the Arab countries, she said, there is no separation between state and mosque, and the Baha’i have been persecuted from the beginning. The Muslims believe that prophet Mohammed is the last prophet in the world and any other religions recognizing new prophets or faith are not accepted. She reiterated that the persecution of the Baha’i is due to religious intolerance in Iran. The documentary is therefore such a powerful tool of awareness on the crackdown of the Baha’i and needs to be watched widely.

David Hoffman reiterated that the documentary is not for sale but for wide distribution and screenings are being shown around universities in the country. There have been over 100 requests from various universities and students since the screenings began. In addition, working with Amnesty International that has a background of making action happen, makes them reach more audiences.

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