Significant cinema

To Light A Candle documentary illuminates educational injustices faced by Baha’is in Iran

It’s easy to take the right to an education for granted. 

With an abundance of excellent public schools scattered throughout the city and bachelor’s degrees becoming less prestigious and more common, many people have the privilege of drifting through the education system without ever having to face bureaucratic limitations that are outside of one’s own control.

In Iran however, men and women of Baha’i faith are currently being denied entry into schools and are being being violently denied the right to an education.

“It’s such a difficult situation. It’s really inconsolable,” Shar Mitchell says over the phone from Mexico where she is taking part in a writers conference. Mitchell is part of Winnipeg’s small Baha’i community.

“There are so many terrible things going on in the world and this situation is largely overlooked. People are being denied an education based on their religion, which we just take as a given.”

As part of the University of Winnipeg’s Middle East Week and in celebration of the first annual Education is Not a Crime Day, Iranian filmmaker and journalist Maziar Bahari’s documentary To Light a Candle will be shown in Convocation Hall. 

The film focuses not only on the injustices people of the Baha’i faith are facing in Iran, but also on the creative and courageous methods that are being utilized in order to attain
forbidden knowledge.

Presented on the evening of Feb. 27, the screening will also be followed by a panel discussion with Lloyd Axworthy, reverend Dr. James Christie, Dr. Gerald Filson and a graduate of the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE).

“I’m really pleased that To Light a Candle will be shown,” Axworthy says. “The issue of Baha’is in Iran is something that I have been involved with for many years, as has the University of Winnipeg.”

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, people of Baha’i faith living in the Middle East have experienced a myriad of human rights abuses. Confiscation of property, loss of jobs, vandalization of graveyards, and the execution of elected Baha’i members of spiritual assembly are just the tip of the iceberg. 

“Baha’is are considered to be misguided, a devious sect, a cult and an illegal association,” Mitchell explains. “The government has no problem persecuting Baha’is and trying to block any kind of development.”

This appalling human rights issue was brought to Axworthy’s attention while he was still working in government and he has made it a priority of his ever since. From speaking with Iranian foreign ministers, to the UN, to discussions with the Canadian government and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, raising awareness and bringing public attention to the situation has been critical.

“Of everything I’ve seen and learned from, access to a good education is not only something that helps the individual,” Axworthy says. “It is also an important part of the democratic culture that we have to promote.”

Middle East Week runs from Feb. 23 to March 2 with Education Is Not A Crime Day falling on Feb. 27. The screening of To Light a Candle will take place on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. in Convocation Hall with discussion and a reception to follow.

Published in Volume 69, Number 22 of The Uniter (February 25, 2015)

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