USC’s Norris Cinema Theatre will screen Education Under Fire, a documentary produced by USC alumnus David Hoffman that discusses the religious persecution against the Bahá’í people in Iran and recaps attacks against the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education, on Friday.
Though BIHE is more than 7,000 miles away from USC, Hoffman, the film’s executive producer and co-creator, said USC students can help halt injustice.
“Every USC student should see this documentary and imagine in the 21st century a government that will use weapons against its own people to deprive them of higher education just because of their faith,” said Hoffman, a USC alumnus of the class of 1976. “Education is the bedrock of society and a fundamental human right so we are urging students to speak out against this injustice.”
One of the ways students can speak out is to sign an online petition that generates letters to top Iranian officials, Hoffman said.
“There are USC students here on this campus that have helped innocent people fight injustice and transform lives,” said Ata Farhadi, a graduate student studying law and a member of the Bahá’í Student Association. “When someone on this planet is denied a basic human right, we are all attacked because we are all human.”
Farhadi said ignoring injustice abroad is dangerous.
“We make a moral choice to either fight injustice or ignore it,” Farhadi said. “If we choose the latter, we are lessening ourselves and depriving our community. We all pay a price for every moral judgment we make and if we allow religious persecution in Iran there may come a day when we too will suffer the same fate.”
In 1948, Iran signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 26 of the document lists education as a human right. Still, Education Under Fire argues the Iranian government is attempting to strip Bahá’ís, Iran’s largest minority group of about 300,000 people, of their right to education.
Education Under Fire is a 30-minute documentary that follows the lives of several BIHE teachers who the Iranian government arrested in the name of national security. According to Hoffman, however, one of the key principles of Bahá’í faith is to obey the government or ruling power.
“The Bahá’í are a peaceful and noble people,” Hoffman said. “They have had to cope with arrest, imprisonment and even torture, but they still maintain BIHE.”
The film focuses on BIHE and how the institute is still in operation despite the Iranian government’s intervention, but Jeff Kaufman, the film’s director and producer, said the documentary is not against Iran.
“There are many Iranian friends, neighbors and even strangers who have reached out to help Bahá’í people,” Kaufman said. “This film shows the potential of Iran and the real power a whole group of people can make.”
Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni said all students, regardless of religion or study, can connect with the documentary.
“This documentary hits upon very important issues for USC students, such as pluralism, diversity, education and civil rights,” Soni said. “No matter what you’re studying, there is an aspect of what is happening to Bahá’ís in Iran that you can learn from.”
In addition to the petition, one of the main goals of the campaign is to convince university leaders in the United States to give Bahá’í students credit for BIHE courses so they can pursue post-graduate education internationally. Not long after the campaign launched last November, Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean Kathleen McCartney officially announced that the school accepts BIHE coursework for transfer credit.
USC Bahá’í Club President Laleh Mehrrafiee attributes this success to the size and strength of the Education Under Fire movement.
“This campaign is the largest action the Bahá’ís have taken to fight this persecution, and we are their voices, essentially, because if [Bahá’ís] in Iran stand up against this persecution, they end up more persecuted against,” Mehrrafiee said.