Opinions

IranWire goes to Africa. Yes, Africa

May 17, 2018
Saleem Vaillancourt
3 min read
In Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, and elsewhere on the continent, IranWire hopes to show some of our films about human rights in Iran – including the film Changing the World, One Wall At A Time
In Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, and elsewhere on the continent, IranWire hopes to show some of our films about human rights in Iran – including the film Changing the World, One Wall At A Time

I’m in Africa on behalf of IranWire to explore Iran’s relationship with different African countries and its self-claimed influence on the continent. I am also here to understand how much people, influencers and government officials know about Iran’s human rights abuses. We believe many Iranians want to know why some African governments vote against annual resolutions at the United Nations that highlight human rights in Iran – and why some of them even abstain from voting every year.  

Many Africans have a very recent and acute understanding of human rights – as we explored in our documentary The Cost of Discrimination, which was released last year. And so we want to learn whether these states can be champions of human rights not only in their own homes, but around the world. The flipside, of course, is that many UN member states would prefer it if human rights were not a part of the international discussion.

State sovereignty versus human rights is an endless debate. It needs to involve citizens of different countries – otherwise the most expedient thing for state officials is to just ignore the issue. We want IranWire to be a conduit, a small channel between our readers in Iran and our readers and interviewees in Africa. 

IranWire will also hold a series of events that in Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa later this year. We plan to show some of our films produced about human rights in Iran – specifically about the Baha’i religious minority. The Baha’is are Iran’s largest religious minority and they have been deprived of their fundamental rights since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The films – To Light a Candle, Changing the World, One Wall at a Time and The Cost of Discrimination – tell three different but related stories. To Light a Candle covers not only the history of the persecution, but also the creation of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education. Iranian Baha’is had been and still are barred from teaching and studying at universities and their response was to create their own – one that operated quietly in people’s homes and through distance learning. To Light a Candle later inspired the Education Is Not A Crime street art and equality campaign. The campaign – with its global scope and its story of 20 murals created in Harlem, New York, linking the Baha'i experience in Iran to the African-American experience of discrimination, is told in Changing the World, One Wall at a Time. And the parallels between the stories of discrimination explored in the street art documentary – especially with regards to education – inspired The Cost of Discrimination and its look at the similarities between Iran’s state-led persecution of the Baha’is and the decades of Apartheid law imposed by a white minority in South Africa.

Our hope is that by showing these films, and by understanding how the issues explored in each of them relate to life in each country we visit, we can broaden the discussion around Iran’s human rights so that it becomes a truly global concern. And it should be a two-way road: I’ll send updates from this trip so that IranWire’s readers may come to know more about life and progress across the mother continent.

IranWire exists to help challenge prevailing narratives about Iran. One of these is that only wealthy liberals or reformists or westerners care about human rights. But we know that Iranians from more traditional backgrounds care just as much about human rights and civil liberties – the protests at the end of 2017 made that clear.

Connecting human rights in Iran to African influencers and officials – and linking this back to IranWire’s readers – is also consistent with our mission. We hope that this new series of articles will open a new space where Africans can support Iranians and where Iranians can learn how similar challenges are being addressed in Africa.

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