Thursday, February 23, 2012

Iranian Taboo: Islamist Persecution of Baha’i Followers

For some, Dizzy Gillespie’s conversion is they know about the Baha’i Faith. Many believe it to be a denomination of Islam, but that is a misconception. However, it was founded within the Islamic world, which makes its very existence an act of apostasy to hardline Islamists. As a result, Baha’i followers have often been persecuted in Islamic countries, most particularly Iran. Iranian-Dutch expatriate filmmaker Reza Allamehzadeh exposes Iran’s long and progressively escalating oppression of its Baha’i religious minority in Iranian Taboo (trailer here), which opens this Friday in the Los Angeles area.

Taboo may not be the most refined looking documentary, because so much of its footage was crudely recorded and surreptitiously smuggled out of Iran. Ironically, getting out of Iran is relatively easy for Baha’i followers. Living there in peace is another matter entirely. Taboo tracks one unfortunate family on their involuntary immigration to a less than welcoming Turkey.

Incorporating their video diary with the testimony of other Iranian followers, Allamehzadeh compiles a compelling indictment of the Iranian religious and governmental authorities. Perhaps most eye-opening is the story of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), an underground university founded to serve followers who were denied college admittance solely on the basis of their religion. Internationally recognized, it probably maintained higher standards than Iran’s officially sanctioned universities, until the government forcibly shut it down late last year.

Openly critical of the Islamist regime, Allamehzadeh was not allowed back into Iran, so he relied on a courageous network of professional and amateur filmmakers, who remain anonymous, for obvious reasons. At one point though, he offers up some kneejerk criticism of Israel that might depress more informed viewers. Yet, it makes it difficult to dismiss him as a “Zionist agent.”

In fact, he was making a similar point, arguing the Israeli-“Palestinian” issue he buys into has nothing to do with the repression of innocent Iranian Baha’i followers, especially those who found themselves absurdly accused of spying for the Mossad, the CIA, or whoever. Still, it is worth noting, as home to the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel’s tolerance and hospitality stands in marked contrast to the institutionalized discrimination of her neighbors. After all, Allamehzadeh was obviously allowed to freely film there.

Indeed, Taboo vividly illustrates the orchestrated thuggery and systemic prejudice endured by Iranian followers on a daily basis. Though it leans a bit heavily on talking heads during the closing segments, it is overall quite informative and authoritative. Shining a needed spotlight into a hidden corner of contemporary Iran, Taboo is a sobering film, well worthy of audience and media attention when it opens this Friday (2/24) at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills and March 13th for a three day engagement at the Landmark Shattuck in Berkley.