A program related to the Murray State Reading Experience, held this Wednesday in faculty hall, helped to shed greater light on the context of the book chosen, Persepolis in Tunisia.
Zack Heern, professor in the department of history, and his wife, Mona Heern, delivered a presentation on the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Baha’i faith.
They presented in a tag-team effort. He presented historical background information on Iran and provided some context for the audience regarding the social, political, and religious state of Iran.
During the mid 1970s, there was a popular revolution that declared many enemies including officials of the former Shah’s government, communists, and the Baha’is.
The Baha’i faith is the second most geographically widespread religion on earth, the largest minority religion in Iran, and they believe in the core truth of all world religions.
There has been renewed persecution of those who practice the Baha’i faith in Iran since 1979 after the revolution. Many people have been executed for holding children’s classes, imprisoned and tortured, more than 15,000 jobs have been lost, and all Baha’is have been barred from attending college.
The current Iranian government views the beliefs and theology of the Baha’i as being antithetical, such as the progressive ideas of equal rights for women and the belief that they need to find their own truth and this can only be achieved through education.
Mona Heern discussed her childhood during the revolution and the fear and uncertainty.
“Overnight, things changed in Iran, it was a very scary,” Mona said.
When it came to women, they could not wear blue jeans, were required to wear a head covering, and always had to be accompanied by a male when walking in the streets, she said.
“In fifth grade, my teacher came into the room and asked who the Baha’i students were and she said she had received a letter from the Iranian government declaring that all children of the Baha’i faith were banned from school,” Mona said.
This was not the end of Mona and her family’s struggle with the new government and the religious persecution. She went on to account her father’s disappearance, imprisonment, and ultimate execution at the hands of the government. She spoke of the few visits she had with him while he was imprisoned and the constant fear they lived in.
“Those ten minutes I got to visit with him every month were the most precious minutes of my life,” she said.
After some time and an arrest and release of her mother and grandfather, her mother, sister, and Mona completed a seven day escape to Pakistan where their freedom was ultimately bought by the United Nations.
Mona said she enjoys sharing her story with her students and others to help teach religious tolerance.
Said Heern: “We have an obligation to be educated and to be aware of what is going on around the world. Sometimes the only thing that works is international pressure for change.”