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Saint Mary’s screens film on freedom of education

| Thursday, February 26, 2015

Saint Mary’s screened the documentary “To Light a Candle” on Wednesday to help launch the “Education Is Not a Crime” campaign.

The Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL), the Center for Spirituality, the Religious Studies Department and Campus Ministry sponsored the screening.

The Iranian government makes it difficult for members of the Baha’i community to receive an education, although they opened some of Iran’s first modern schools, according to the campaign’s website. The Baha’i community, which is Iran’s largest religious minority, has been persecuted for decades.

In the face of persecution, the Bahai’i community established the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) in 1987. The BIHE follows a tradition of Baha’i educational initiatives that date back to the 1800s and works as an informal university to give young Baha’is a chance to learn, the campaign website states.

Associate director for CWIL, Mana Derakhshani, who is a practitioner of the Baha’i faith, said screenings of this film are happening around the world, and Feb. 27 has been dedicated as Education is Not a Crime Day as part of the campaign.

“Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Baha’i community … has been the target of systematic, state-sponsored repression,”Derakhshani said.

“As recently as last week, security officers raided and searched the homes of Baha’is in [Iran] and arrested seventeen Baha’is. And just yesterday, actually, a man in the south of Iran was kidnapped and beaten up,” she said. “The film and campaign are aimed at exposing social injustice and religious intolerance through personal stories and rare footage often smuggled out of Iran at great personal risk.”

“To Light a Candle,” a film by Maziar Bahari, chronicles the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran and the creation of the BIHE. Bahari, a Muslim Iranian-Canadian journalist and human rights activist, was incarcerated by the Iranian government for five months in 2009.

The film uses interviews, secret footage and letters written by Baha’i prisoners currently detained in Iran to document the non-violent resistance of the Baha’i. The film sparked the “Education is Not a Crime” campaign, aiming for universal access to higher education.

Sr. Amy Cavender, associate professor of political science, spoke following the film.

Cavendar read from the BIHE mission statement, which says students and graduates will “be trained to seek knowledge, to search for truth, beauty and justice, to pursue excellence in a spirit of loving fellowship, to become independent learners.”

“Those words resonated with me … as someone who is a member of the Holy Cross community,” Cavendar said. “The sentiments aren’t identical, but it did call to mind Fr. [Basil] Moreau’s Circular Letter 36.”

Cavendar read from that letter: “We do not want our students to be ignorant of anything they should know. To this end, we shall shrink from no sacrifice. But we shall never forget that virtue. … We shall always place education side by side with instruction; the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart.”

Cavender said the founding of both Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame can be attributed to the emphasis placed on the importance of education.

“Just about every place in the world we end up, we end up in education,” she said. “Sometimes that’s more traditional schools — grade schools, high schools, colleges — sometimes it’s evening programs for adults whose schooling was interrupted and wanted to come back and get schooling.”

Cavender said the Holy Cross community and BIHE both hold that education is vitally important.

“Every time I saw one of the students or the teachers [in the film] speak, I saw eyes light up with joy in following knowledge and seeking it and in sharing that knowledge with others and trying to build others up, improve society, make life better for everyone, whether or not they shared that faith,” she said.

“So education is really important for the individual to help him or her develop into all that is possible for them to be and also to equip people to make contribution to the society’s in which they live,” Cavender said.

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About Nicole Caratas

Nicole is a senior English Writing and Humanistic Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. Now a senior news writer, she previously served as the Saint Mary's Editor. She was born in real Chicago but grew up in the suburbs, and she currently lives in Opus Hall.

Contact Nicole