“The Cost of Discrimination” screened by All-Party Parliamentary Group

“The Cost of Discrimination” screened by All-Party Parliamentary Group


On November 22nd, the Raoul Wallenberg All-Party Parliamentary Caucus for Human Rights hosted a screening of the film, “The Cost of Discrimination,” near Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The film draws parallels between life under apartheid in South Africa and the Iranian authorities’ treatment of the Baha’i religious minority. The event was co-sponsored by the Baha’i Community of Canada, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre.

The well-attended event included a diverse group of Members of Parliament, civil servants, academics, and human rights advocates. It featured a panel discussion with Hon. Irwin Cotler, former Attorney-General of Canada and Founder and Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, film presenter Arash Azizi, and two Baha’is personally affected by the persecution in Iran, Shakib Nasrullah and Naeim Tavakkoli. The panel was introduced by Corinne Box, Director of Government Relations for the Baha’i Community of Canada, and moderated by John Packer, Director of University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre.

The film begins with Arash Azizi, the film’s researcher and presenter, riding on horseback with Iraj Abedian, atop the grassy hills of Coffee Bay, South Africa. Abedian was an advisor to Nelson Mandela during the development of important economic policies, post-apartheid. He is also a Baha’i who left Iran in the 1980s to study at the University of Cape Town.

“Isn’t the cost of discrimination here clear,” asks Azizi, “when a government stops a citizen like Iraj to go and serve their own country because of their religion, isn’t it all of us who get hurt?” Herein lies the central thread of the film: when a state obstructs the social and economic development of one segment of the population through repressive and discriminatory policies, the rest of the population also suffers.

Between 1948 and 1991, South Africa endorsed of system of institutionalized racial segregation referred to as apartheid – an Afrikaans word that literally means “apart-hood.” The film identifies a parallel trend in Iran, where the Islamic Republic of Iran has systematically persecuted the Baha’is since 1979 through discriminatory policies and propaganda, inciting hatred and violence towards the country’s largest religious minority.

The film also demonstrates how both regimes employed religious arguments to legitimize and justify their discriminatory policies.

“The founding religious members of apartheid perverted Christianity for a particular end,” explains Abedian. “Exactly as it was the case with Apartheid, the Iranian regime has perverted Islam and its principles in order to shape its political ideology, and enforce it on Iran. It’s anything but religion, anything but godliness. It’s nothing more than a perverted and distorted interpretation of Islam for self-enrichment and political power.”

In the film, Azizi challenges the Iranian government to learn from South Africa’s experience. Post-Apartheid, South Africa suffered under the burden of a strained economy. The film attributes this economic strain to the underdevelopment and persecution of the Black population. Today, almost three decades later, South Africa continues to bear the burden of its past as it rebuilds.

After the screening of the film, the two Baha’i panelists reflected on the strength and resilience of the Iranian Baha’is. Shakib Nasrullah, a teacher with the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) who was arrested and imprisoned in 2011 for his involvement with this informal initiative, explained that, “for many of us, this is personal, and when it gets personal you become emotionally propelled to act.” Nasrullah described how it’s natural to react with anger and frustration in the face of injustice, but cautioned the audience to avoid being consumed by this “dark energy” in the quest for justice.

Mr. Cotler made a passionate appeal for a worldwide awakening to end the persecution of Baha’is in Iran, “just like it took a worldwide awakening to end apartheid in South Africa.” Cotler emphasized a recurrent argument: the treatment of the Baha’is is “the litmus test of human rights in Iran – what is good for the Baha’is will benefit all of Iran.”