Letter to the Editor

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: RELIGIOUS CONVICTIONS LED TO DEATH OF MEN IN SOUTH AFRICA

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To the Editor,

On June 6, we paid special homage to all the beautiful young men who gave their lives on our behalf a half century ago. I would like to call attention to another remarkable sacrifice; only three men were involved, but their story is so unique I feel everyone should know about it.

In Ciskei, South Africa last March, three white men chose to be killed rather than express prejudice against blacks. Their story was very movingly told on a National Public Radio broadcast of Saturday, March 19 -- the day of the funeral, attended by more than 500 people, both black and white.

Briefly, four armed men rushed into a Sunday service at the Ciskei Baha'i Center, demanding that the people present divide themselves into a black group and a white group. Three white men hesitated. It is an important principle of the Baha'i faith that all people and all races are completely equal in every way.

The three white men who hesitated were of Iranian descent. In their native land, Baha'i have been actively -- and often brutally -- persecuted by Muslim fundamentalists ever since the inception of their faith in 1844. All three men were rendering professional service to the black community.

Dr. Shamam Bakhshandegi was a dentist, one of only a handful of white doctors serving an impoverished township; Houshmand Anvari was helping to improve educational quality for 80 black children; Riaz Razari served as director of finance for an all-black university.

For refusing to segregate themselves from their African friends, the three Baha'is were lined up against a wall and murdered with automatic weapons, as their fellow Baha'is looked on in horror.

Those responsible (the Azanian Liberation Army) are reported by the press to have said: "Those men were shot to show there's no role in the new South Africa for anyone of the race that invented apartheid and suppressed the black masses."

It is especially ironic that the men who were the victims of the extremist group were Baha'is. Baha'is are opposed to apartheid as a matter of religious conviction, and have stated and demonstrated this consistently throughout the 40-some years their faith has been established in South Africa.

JOANN M. TAYLOR

Cape Girardeau