- Published on Friday, 10 February 2012 18:18
Iran is a country with around 75 million people. However, the Islamic Republic has a number of religious minorities, including Christians, Jews and Zoarastrians. One minority, numbering around 300,000, has been singled out and persecuted at great length since the 1979 revolution.
The Baha'i faith, founded in Iran in the 19th century, is an offshoot of Shia Islam, but has been targeted by the government. Islamic officials including Ayatollah Khomenei have sanctioned that persecution. Among the laws against the Baha'i is one that bars them from receiving any form of higher education.
Co-sponsored by Amnesty International, Jeff Kaufman's new documentary, Education Under Fire, explores the Baha'i plight and the efforts of activists to bypass the education ban. In the 1980s, Baha'i citizens formed the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education, a loose collection of students and teachers that provided college-level classes to members of the faith.
The school grew, even getting an actual building before the government cracked down on it, closed its doors and and drove its members further into the underground where classes continue, but under even greater fear of the government.
Kaufman's film begins in the present, focusing on a 2011 raid on people associated with the BIHE and their arrests. It then moves into a broader look at the persecution of Baha'is, a smart move as it helps to explain just why the BIHE exists and what is at stake for those who participate in it. The film's opening tales of persecution from various former members of the BIHE set a dour mood, but punctuate the film with an optimism over the ability of the Baha'i community, and non-Baha'i friends, to work outside the system to make their lives better.
To its credit, the film does more than just offer personal tales. In looking into the government's role in persecuting the Baha'i community, it offers secret government documents, video evidence and statistics on the arrests and sentences of the members of the faith. The documentary lays bare just how committed the Iranian government is to depriving a minority of basic rights such as education. It is chilling and, as the film reminds viewers at the end, still ongoing with no sign of ending.
Education Under Fire presents a positive look at the BIHE and the efforts of all those involved. Rather than being clinical, Kaufman gets to the raw emotion and personal stories of each interviewee, and yet manages to keep the film supported by strong and disturbing facts. It is a documentary meant to spread the world of the persecution, call people to action and give those in the BIHE a voice. It succeeds on all fronts.By Nicholas Slayton, Aslan Media News Content Manager and Contributor