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Document Type

Engaging a New Conversation

Abstract

This article explores the Islamic Republic of Iran’s campaign to deny Baha’is, members of Iran's largest religious minority, access to higher education. It outlines the contours of this campaign: in the early 1980s, the newly established Islamic government began dismissing Baha’i students from universities; later and up to the early 2000s, it forbid them from even participating in the nation-wide university entrance exam; finally, in order to divert growing international attention from its campaign, it began admitting a small number of Baha’i students into universities, though in more recent years, it has expelled the majority of these students before they have completed their studies. Furthermore, this article surveys the government’s attempts to shut down the educational network Baha’is have formed in order to provide higher education to their youth, all the while claiming to the international community that Baha’is exercise the right of higher education. Situating the government’s campaign to deny higher education within the context of a systematic government-led campaign of persecution that has spanned decades, this paper petitions Agamben’s category of Homo Sacer and classifies Baha’is as a group that has been forcibly reduced by the sovereign to the state of “bare life” (zoé) outside the country’s legitimate social life (“Bios” or “political life”). It further suggests that the Iranian government’s treatment of Baha’is should be understood within the context of an inherent identity dilemma facing the Islamic Republic: is the Islamic Republic a modern state that is concerned with the wellbeing of all of its citizens, or is it an ideological entity that will deliberately deprive members of a minority community of one of their most fundamental human rights?