Review: Screening, with Q&A; of "Education Under Fire"


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On Friday January 20, Concordia University hosted the national premier of Education Under Fire, a powerful and evocative 30-minute documentary on the struggle of the Baha'i students in Iran from director Jeff Kaufman and producer David Hoffman. The documentary, sponsored in part by Amnesty International, profiles the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), its students and professors. It shows, in depth, their growth and their struggle to provide and receive a higher education in Iran. The audience was welcomed into the auditorium by volunteers distributing informational brochures. People slowly trickled in, but by the screening time, there was a diverse audience of around 60 people, eager to know what exactly Education Under Fire was about.

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Founded in Iran in 1844, the Baha'i faith was and is characterized by its social principles: the equality of men and women, the harmony between science and religion, universal education, justice, and peace. Followers of this faith represent a minority in the Islamic Republic of Iran and have faced systematic persecution in the forms of segregation, incarceration, execution and blockades in education and employment.

The persecution continues to this day and it has prohibited Baha'i students and professors from attending or teaching at Iranian universities. Because of this, BIHE was founded in 1987 by Baha'i professors and administrators as an independent, semi-underground university system to give young Baha'i students their only chance at receiving a higher education in their own country. Scenes and stories told in the documentary show us the danger BIHE has experienced since its founding. Despite the danger, repeated raids on facilities, confiscation of class equipment, and arrests, BIHE has grown to approximately 3,000 students today and offers seventeen undergraduate programs, several graduate and associate programs, and online courses in science, engineering, mathematics, business, law, and more.

This film opens with Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, "Everyone has the right to education...and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit," and continues to deliver a powerful message of not only the BIHE strength, but also of their hope for the future. The documentary was filmed in 9 Iranian cities and features testimonies from a dozen current and former BIHE students, professors, and administrators, and several human rights advocates.

Their personal stories are brought to life with photographs of imprisoned and executed family members, and archived video footage of the beginnings of BIHE. One story that really gripped the audience was of a man who spoke about his mother's persecution, with tears in his eyes. She would often be put in front of the firing squad, to scare her into denouncing her Baha'i faith, but she never did. Before her execution, she gave her son her wedding ring for him to give to his future wife because she knew she would not live to see that wedding.

Education Under Fire is more than a documentary film. If you visit the website at, you will see the international movement that is brewing to open up the educational institutions of Iran to Baha'i students and to have other institutions recognize the degrees earned at BIHE because internationally, only about 60 universities accept graduate applications from BIHE. Recently, the prestigious Harvard University was added to this list after the screening of Education Under Fire inspired students and faculty to bring this issue to the attention of their administrators.

The website also features a "Drive to 25!" campaign which is an open letter written by Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu and President of East Timor, Jose Ramos-Horta addressed to notable Iranian government officials. The letter calls on the government of Iran to end the oppression of Baha'is. The campaign urges everyone to sign the letter, with the goal being 25,000.

Following the screening there were speakers and an interactive Question & Answer period which invited the audience to express their thoughts on the issue and possible ways for Montreal students to be part of a solution. The speakers present were Donna Hakimian, a consultant for the Education Under Fire Initiative; Marnoush Deghani, a former BIHE student currently pursuing a PhD in Biology from McGill University; and Arash Abizaden, a professor of Political Science at McGill. They facilitated a lively conversation with the audience and spoke of their experiences and knowledge of BIHE and the challenges faced by Baha'i students.

But the questions remains, when the credits roll and the audience walk out of the auditorium; will they take the message home? I was inspired by the documentary's stories and hope to raise more awareness amongst the student body and Montreal community. I can't help but wonder how many of the audience members might have gone home without a dent in their apathy.

Education Under Fire Trailer:

Rainn Wilson BIHE Video Appeal:

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