One of my favorite quotes is that of Sen. George J. Mitchell: “No one should be guaranteed success…but everyone should have a fair chance to succeed.”
That quote coincides with a basic belief of mine — one that speaks to my personal fortune — my free access to education. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “Everyone has the right to education.”
Not everyone, however, is able to exercise this right.
It is an atrocity that millions of people around the world cannot exercise their basic right to education. In many cases, however, it is not a matter of will but of resources. In the developing world, especially, many governments simply do not have the infrastructure to provide their young people with an adequate education.
But it is an entirely different matter when a government willfully seeks to deprive its people — or a group of its people — from receiving an education. Sadly, this precisely is the case in present-day Iran.
Since 1979 in the country of Iran, the birthplace of my parents and the country of my heritage, the government has systematically sought to deprive its largest religious minority — members of the Bahá’í Faith — of the right to a full education. For more than 25 years the Islamic Republic of Iran has blocked the 300,000-member Bahá’í community from higher education, refusing young Bahá’ís entry into university and college. The government has also suppressed efforts of Bahá’ís to establish their own institutions of higher learning.
This suppression is ironic, because Bahá’ís believe in peace, nonviolence and cooperation and are some of Iran’s best citizens.
My parents grew up in this oppressive environment. They were allowed to attend primary and secondary school, but because of their religion, they were not spared psychological torture, bullying, and even beating by school teachers and administrators. They were asked to stand and publicly recant their faith before classmates and teachers. When they refused, they suffered gravely. In school, my parents were shining students, dedicated to academics and learning. My mother wanted to be a lawyer and my father a doctor. But to them, a college education in Iran was an elusive dream. Because of their religion, they were denied admission into college.
Prior to the Iranian Revolution, my father left Iran for neighboring India to pursue a college education.
At age 18, my mother left Iran under more dire circumstances, virtually by force; her family’s home was burned to the ground by governmental fanatics who rampaged in different cities across Iran burning Bahá’í homes. She sought refuge in India, where she later met my father at an International Bahá’í conference. They married and had me a year later.
With great difficulty, my parents came to America to pursue the American Dream. Through hard work and the opportunities that abound here, they succeeded.
Through good fortune, I have enjoyed the great bounty of a college education. I will never take it for granted, because I am keenly aware that my fellow Bahá’í students in Iran are being deprived of this basic right. I pray that, someday soon, they also will enjoy their “fair chance to succeed.”
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.