Living in Canada we have a tendency to take for granted the universal human right to education. Article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human rights states “Everyone shall have the right to education” and “that higher education shall be equally accessible to all based on merit” and “individuals shall not be discriminated against on the basis of religious, political or ideological affiliations.” However, in today’s shrinking world, not everyone is afforded that luxury.
In Iran, since the early 1980s, members of the Baha’i Faith have been denied the right to higher education based solely on ideological and religious beliefs.
To overcome an unacceptable oppressive government policy, the Baha’i community in Iran devised a peaceful solution by forming the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education which provided university level courses to Baha’i youth in the kitchens and living rooms of Baha’i families throughout the country.
In June, 2011, Iranian government agents conducted raids on these homes, seized the computers and confiscated educational materials.
They also arrested 19 BIHE professors and administrators. Six of them are imprisoned and serving four- to five-year sentences at this time.
Mishkin Tavakoli feels truly blessed to be living in Canada and able to experience the freedom of access to educational opportunities.
After an urgent need to leave Iran prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Tavakoli family eventually settled in Summerland in 1989. Mishkin attended primary school in Summerland and later went on to study at Okanagan College.
When I asked him how he would feel being denied access to higher education based on the requirement of renouncing his Baha’i religion he answered “I could never imagine what that would be like. I guess I would feel terribly disillusioned and trapped, unable to pursue my life goals, and it would greatly limit my choices in a career path. I wouldn’t be able to compete on a level playing field in seeking employment. It’s a hard question to answer not having walked in their shoes (referring to Baha’i youth in Iran); however, I do communicate with cousins in Iran from time to time who share their guarded concerns with the situation.”
When you prohibit an entire generation access to higher education it’s like cultural genocide.
It’s very difficult to succeed in today’s world with a limited education.
We would do well to remember the significance of our universal human right to education, free of harassment and discrimination.