Note from the editor: This is a repost of an article contributor Bahram Nadimi wrote on the five year anniversary of the arrest of the Yaran—the seven person guiding council of the Bahá’ís of Iran. This is now the seventh anniversary of their arrest. They are still imprisoned with no expectation of release.
I love science fiction. A few friends and I recently finished watching the highly acclaimed Babylon 5 science fiction TV series. I have been thinking about one of my favorite episodes called: “Here comes the Inquisitor”, in which an inquisitor called Sebastian is summoned to determine if two of the main characters, Delenn and Sheridan, are ready for the challenges ahead. In a cold and dark dungeon, Sebastian interrogates the beaten and chained Delenn and Sheridan, trying to get to the heart of their motives by asking the same question over and over again “Who are you?
During Sheridan’s violent interrogation, Delenn comes to the his defense and says “Your quarrel is with me…if you want to take someone, then take me.”
Sebastian replies: “You would trade your life for his? I thought you had a destiny! Is that destiny not worth one life?…No Glory. No fame. No armies or cities to celebrate your name. You will die alone unremarked and forgotten…”
Delenn then says: “If I fall, another will take my place, and another, and another….Life is my cause. One life or a billion, they are all the same … this body is a shell, you cannot harm me. I am not afraid.”
Stunned and surprised Sebastian says: “How do you tell the chosen ones? ‘No greater love hath a man than he lay his life for his brother’ for one person in the dark, where no one will ever know, or see…I have for centuries been looking for you: Diogenes and his lamp looking for an honest man willing to die for all the wrong reasons…When the darkness comes, know this: You are the right people, in the right place at the right time.”
This brings me to the subject of this blog: Do we have invisible heroes now in real life, or is it just reserved for fiction fantasy?
If we look hard enough we will find countless souls who have quietly sacrificed their lives for and out of Love. Here is a story of seven of these invisible heroes.
Five Years too Many
Exactly five years ago, May 14, 2008, seven Bahá’ís—five men and two women—were arrested and taken to the notorious Evin prison, merely because of their religious belief. They are Bahá’ís. They were eventually given twenty year sentences—the longest sentences given to any prisoner of conscience in Iran.
Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations stated:
“On 14 May, the seven innocent Baha’i leaders will have been behind bars for five full years, unjustly imprisoned solely because of their religious beliefs… The arrest of the seven Baha’i leaders on false charges, their wrongful imprisonment, and severe mistreatment while in detention are emblematic of the suffering of the Iranian Baha’i community as a whole – and, indeed, the situation of the hundreds of other innocent prisoners of conscience who have been incarcerated for their beliefs… Their long sentences reflect the Government’s determination to completely oppress the Iranian Baha’i community, which is the country’s largest non-Muslim religious minority… We are asking people of good will around the world to raise their voices in an effort to win their freedom and the freedom of other innocent prisoners of conscience in Iran.”
It was not only the length of these sentences but the manner which these seven souls were treated, in futile attempts to break them, that has caught the world’s attention.
Encounter with an American Journalist
An American journalist, Roxanna Saberi, shared a cell in Evin prison with Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, the two women among the seven Bahá’í prisoners. This brief encounter had a profound effect on Roxanna, and she subsequently wrote many articles about her experiences. Here is an excerpt of an article in the wall street journal
“For several weeks last year, I shared a cell in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison with Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, two leaders of Iran’s minority Bahá’í Faith. I came to see them as my sisters, women whose only crimes were to peacefully practice their religion and resist pressure from their captors to compromise their principles. For this, apparently, they and five male colleagues were sentenced this month to 20 years in prison… After I was transferred to their cell, I learned that Mahvash had been incarcerated for one year and Fariba for eight months. Each had spent half her detention in solitary confinement, during which time they were allowed almost no contact with their families and only the Koran to read. Recently the two had been permitted to have a pen. Oh, how they cherished it! But they were allowed to use it only to do Sudoku and crossword puzzles in the conservative newspapers the prison guards occasionally gave them”
She goes on to say “…my cellmates’ spirits would not be broken, and they boosted mine. They taught me to, as they put it, turn challenges into opportunities — to make the most of difficult situations and to grow from adversity. We kept a daily routine, reading the books we were eventually allowed and discussing them; exercising in our small cell; and praying — they in their way, I in mine. They asked me to teach them English and were eager to learn vocabulary for shopping, cooking and traveling. They would use the new words one day, they told me, when they journeyed abroad. But the two women also said they never wanted to live overseas. They felt it their duty to serve not only Bahá’ís but all Iranians… Later, when I went on a hunger strike, Mahvash and Fariba washed my clothes by hand after I lost my energy and told me stories to keep my mind off my stomach. Their kindness and love gave me sustenance”.
She concludes by saying “I know that despite what they have been through and what lies ahead, these women feel no hatred in their hearts. When I struggled not to despise my interrogators and the judge, Mahvash and Fariba told me they do not hate anyone, not even their captors”
These seven Bahá’í prisoners of conscience were imprisoned because of their belief, belief in a better world where love will be the primary animating force. Attempts to break their spirits have not been and will never be successful, because they know that love, including the love of their captors, will eventually conquer hate. This is their enduring legacy; they are immortal martyrs of love.
Sorrounded by dark and thunderous clouds of hate, they are the right people, in the right place at the right time.