My oh my. The New York Times published an interview with Thomas Erdbrink, its man in Tehran, about life in Iran. Here’s what he had to say about religious minorities:
Is there a Sunni population there or other minorities? How are they treated? – Phelps Shepard; Monmouth, Ore.
My mother-in-law, who taught me to speak Persian, is an Iranian Kurd. She is a proud and strong woman, loves Iranian Kurdistan just as much as she loves Iran. Kurds are Sunni, but not like Arab Sunnis. Her husband is Shia. They have been happily married for almost 38 years.
Now while there are issues for religious minorities, such as Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews, they are in much better positions compared with minorities in other countries in the region.
In Iran, those minorities have their own members of Parliament and are granted their places of worship. There are dozens of synagogues in Tehran, and thousands of Jews here — the most in the region after Israel.
The minority that has serious problems in Iran are the Baha’i, who are not allowed to attend universities or have houses of worship. Iran’s Shiite clerics do not accept the Baha’i belief that their prophet came after Mohammad, who the Muslims say is the final prophet. — T.E.
Where to begin? Firstly, Iran boasted a Jewish community of more than 100,000 before the Islamic Revolution. Today, it has just one-fifth that. When a community loses 80 percent of its population in a generation or two, that’s hardly evidence of religious and sectarian tolerance. The numbers Erdbrink cites have been cited as conventional wisdom for almost two decades. How sad it is that the paper for which Erdbrink works hasn’t seen fit to actually check the facts it takes at face value.
Nor for that matter are there dozens of synagogues in Tehran: There are a dozen, perhaps 13, many of which stand nearly empty. Does Iran boast more Jews than any other country in the region besides Israel? Hard to say any longer: Turkey may have more. But in a race to the bottom, second place isn’t necessarily a good sign.
Is there a seat in parliament reserved for a Jew? Yes. When I would attend synagogue in Isfahan and Tehran, however, congregants treated that parliamentarian with disdain. Nor did Jews feel free to speak openly inside synagogue; instead, they would hold certain conversations only outside walking along busy streets or against the backdrop of overwhelming noise to defeat the regime’s invisible ears.
Are the Baha’is the only minority to suffer serious problems? No. Sunnis constitute perhaps ten percent of Iran’s population, and are discriminated against hugely. There may be synagogues and churches in Tehran and, indeed, there is an Armenian cathedral in the center of town, but a Sunni mosque in a city of 14 million even though Sunnis number perhaps nine million in Iran? Good luck. Likewise, while Armenians might be tolerated, Protestant churches frequently run into trouble. Christians have disappeared and been murdered, as the State Department human-rights reports have chronicled over the years. How sad it is that Erdbrink doesn’t see fit to mention Saeed Abedini, an Iranian American imprisoned because of his Christian faith.
When it comes to religious freedom, there is no whitewashing Iranian repression. Unless, of course, one works for the New York Times. All the news that’s fit to print, indeed.