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Posts Tagged ‘Baha’i International Community’

973_03_raidabadeh

Iranian government agents confiscated photographs, Baha’i books, CDs, and computers during a raid on 14 homes in Abadeh, Iran, on 13 October 2013. Shown here are broken picture frames in a Baha’i home after the raid.

Yesterday on the Baha’i World News Service there was a report of important developments in Iran. Below is an extract: for the full story see link.

GENEVA — Following raids on 14 Baha’i homes in the Iranian city of Abadeh last month, government agents summoned the occupants for questioning and urged them to leave town or face possible deadly attacks from city residents.

“The clear aim of the raids and questioning was to create an atmosphere of intimidation and fear, so that the Baha’is of Abadeh would be encouraged to leave the city,” said Diane Ala’i, a representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

According to Ms. Ala’i, agents from the Shiraz office of the Ministry of Intelligence, with agents from Abadeh, launched the raids at about 8 am on 13 October 2013. The homes were searched, and Baha’i books, CDs, computers, and other items, including photographs, were confiscated.

During questioning, several Baha’is were told that local residents “don’t like you” and that “when you are on the street, they might attack you and your children with knives.”

Ms. Ala’i said, however, that not only is there no evidence that the people of Abadeh themselves are against the Baha’is but that the experience of the Baha’is says the opposite is true.

“The real story is that the government is the culprit behind such threats and attacks,” said Ms. Ala’i. “The people of Abadeh have nothing against Baha’is and many love to associate with them freely.

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5y2 many

For the period of the campaign announced earlier this month by the Baha’i International Community, I felt that it would be more fitting, rather than using my own, to post poems taken from Mahvash Sabet’s powerful collection – ‘Prison Poems.’ For the latest update on the campaign’s progress see link.

Loneliness

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5y2 many

For the period of the campaign announced earlier this month by the Baha’i International Community, I felt that it would be more fitting, rather than using my own, to post poems taken from Mahvash Sabet’s powerful collection – ‘Prison Poems.’ For the latest update on the campaign’s progress see link.

Lights Out

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5y2 many

For the period of the campaign announced earlier this month by the Baha’i International Community, I felt that it would be more fitting, rather than using my own, to post poems taken from Mahvash Sabet’s powerful collection – ‘Prison Poems.’ For the latest update on the campaign’s progress see link.

Cocoon

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5y2 many

The following important piece was posted on the Baha’i World News Service website earlier today: for the full article see link.

5 May 2013

NEW YORK — To mark the five year anniversary of the wrongful imprisonment of the seven Iranian Baha’i leaders, the Baha’i International Community is launching a campaign to call for their immediate release – and to draw attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran.

“On 14 May, the seven innocent Baha’i leaders will have been behind bars for five full years, unjustly imprisoned solely because of their religious beliefs,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“We are asking people of good will around the world to raise their voices in an effort to win their freedom and the freedom of other innocent prisoners of conscience in Iran,” she said.

The campaign will run from 5 May through 15 May, under the title “Five Years Too Many.” Around the world, Baha’i communities and others are planning public events that focus on the plight of the seven, who face 15 more years in prison, and whose 20-year sentences are the longest of any current prisoners of conscience in Iran.

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942_01_ViolenceCover

The 45 page report documents incidents of violence and abuse against Iran’s Baha’i community.

Increasing violence against Iranian Baha’is engineered by government

While I have been consoling myself with my explorations of the mind as a spiritual power, my fellow believers in Iran, amongst many others, have been enduring intolerable persecution. I feel it is therefore necessary to share some of the context behind my deliberations as a way of emphasising how imperative it is that humanity addresses a potentially catastrophic common problem: how to deepen our understanding of true spirituality so that no sentient being, human or animal, ever has to suffer like this again. Below is an extract from a recent article: for the full report see link.

6 March 2013

GENEVA — In a report released today, the Baha’i International Community documents hundreds of incidents of torture, physical assault, arson, vandalism, cemetery desecration and the abuse of schoolchildren directed against the Iranian Baha’i community since 2005 – all carried out with utter impunity.

“The entire situation puts the Baha’is in an impossible position because they must ask for justice and protection from the same authorities who are systematically inciting hatred against them and from a judicial system that treats virtually every Baha’i who is arrested as an enemy of the state,” said Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i International Community’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

“This report shows that attacks on Baha’is are engineered by government agents and actively encouraged by the authorities and the Muslim clergy in Iran – and that attackers are well aware that they will go unpunished,” added Ms. Ala’i.

Titled “Violence with Impunity: Acts of aggression against Iran’s Baha’i community,” the 45-page report provides case studies and statistics that document a rising tide of violence against Baha’is – and the complete absence of prosecution for attackers.

Violence with Impunity: Acts of aggression against Iran’s Baha’i community

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 . . . . . religion must be conducive to love and unity among mankind; for if it be the cause of enmity and strife, the absence of religion is preferable.

( ‘Abdu’l-BaháPromulgation of Universal Peace page 128)

In the previous post, focusing on the role of religion in society, I tried to convey some of Jonathan Haidt‘s key points, from his penetrating overview of the area – The Righteous Mind. He contends amongst other things that the sense of belonging religion brings is an essential foundation stone for more general human cooperation. He tested this idea against the evidence and found it rang true. He then moves on to look at other evidence that provides a test from a different angle.

Long-Term Social Glue

What was really interesting to me was that he finds that religions are better than other ideologies at binding communities together long-term. He quotes evidence of where communes were compared (page 256):

Communes can survive only to the extent that they can bind a group together, suppress self-interest, and solve the free rider problem. . . . Which kind of commune survived longer? Sosis found that the difference was stark: just 6 percent of the secular communes were still functioning twenty years after their founding, compared to 39 percent of the religious communes.

He looks at the analysis of the key ingredient of this superiority (ibid.):

What was the secret ingredient that gave the religious communes a longer shelf life? . . . . He found one master variable: the number of costly sacrifices that each commune demanded from its members. . . . . . For religious communes, the effect was perfectly linear: the more sacrifice a commune demanded, the longer it lasted.

This did not work for secular communes even though such sacrifices are necessary for longevity (ibid.): for them, ‘demands for sacrifice did not help.’

The inescapable conclusion seems to be, as Sosis argues, that (ibid.):

. . .  rituals, laws, and other constraints work best when they are sacralized. . . . In other words, the very ritual practices that the New Atheists dismiss as costly, inefficient, and irrational turn out to be a solution to one of the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship.

As we have already seen, Haidt is very aware that there is a sting in the tail of this position that absolutely needs to be acknowledged (pages 265-266).

So religions do what they are supposed to do. As Wilson put it, they help people “to achieve together what they cannot achieve on their own.” But that job description applies equally well to the Mafia.

This is where Haidt’s close analysis of the kind of community a religion helps develop kicks in (pages 266-267):

Whether you believe in hell, whether you pray daily, whether you are a Catholic, Protestant, Jew, or Mormon … none of these things correlated with generosity. The only thing that was reliably and powerfully associated with the moral benefits of religion was how enmeshed people were in relationships with their co-religionists. It’s the friendships and group activities, carried out within a moral matrix that emphasizes selflessness. That’s what brings out the best in people. . . . “It is religious belongingness that matters for neighborliness, not religious believing.”

The Downside not Unique to Religion

As we have already seen, he looks closely at the old and thorny problem. You certainly can’t accuse him of ducking it (page 268).

Anything that binds people together into a moral matrix that glorifies the in-group while at the same time demonising another group can lead to moralistic killing, and many religions are well suited for that task. Religion is therefore often an accessory to atrocity, rather than the driving force of the atrocity.

The subtle point he makes, which should be obvious to anyone who looks dispassionately at the history of atheist regimes such as those under Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot, is that the problem is not religion per se, but the loss of a compassionate perspective that can come from identifying strongly with a group of any kind rather than with humanity as a whole.

This is the potential cost of the tool that can bring huge collective benefits in its wake that help everyone. However, to focus simply on the costs of religion without also weighing in the same scale the costs of secularism is hardly fair and certainly not objective. Haidt makes it very clear that even in terms of evolutionary success, i.e. reproductive superiority, secularism isn’t doing very well, let alone in terms of more subjective measures such as happiness and well-being (ibid.).

We evolved to live, trade, and trust within shared moral matrices. When societies lose their grip on individuals, allowing all to do as they please, the result is often a decrease in happiness and an increase in suicide, as Durkheim showed more than a hundred years ago. . . . the first atheistic societies have only emerged in Europe in the last few decades. They are the least efficient societies ever known at turning resources (of which they have a lot) into offspring (of which they have few).

He accepts that it is still early days in the history of such societies but feels that extreme caution is warranted before we can conclude that societies without a God can function any better on average than those with one, and he suspects that in the end they might come out worse for the comparison.

The Seed of Universal Fellow Feeling?

So, in spite of the well-attested dark side of belonging to a group, Haidt still feels that the potential is basically benign. He sees groups, which are demonised as the source of division and prejudice, also as the seedbed of fellow feeling (page 307):

We need groups, we love groups, and we develop our virtues in groups, even though those groups necessarily exclude nonmembers. If you destroy all groups and dissolve all internal structure, you destroy your moral capital. . . . . To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.

It helps if we factor in what Robert Wright has written in his book The Evolution of God. One of his key ideas could also apply with equal force to any ideology (page 439):

Any religion whose prerequisites for individual salvation don’t conduce to the salvation of the whole world is a religion whose time has passed.

His ultimate contention builds on what Haidt is saying here (page 428-429):

The expansion of the moral imagination forces us to see the interior of more and more other people for what the interior of other people is – namely remarkably like our own interior.

In Haidt’s words (page 307):

Anything that binds people together into dense networks of trust makes people less selfish.

Neither of these authors is complacent. They are very aware of the pitfalls that lie in wait. Haidt finds evidence, for example, that proximity to other groups does not necessarily breed tolerance and understanding (pages 307-308):

Putnam examined the level of social capital in hundreds of American communities and discovered that high levels of immigration and ethnic diversity seem to cause a reduction in social capital. . . . . . Putnam’s survey was able to distinguish two different kinds of social capital: bridging capital refers to trust between groups, between people who have different values and identities, while bonding capital refers to trust within groups. Putnam found that diversity reduced both kinds of social capital. . . . . people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to “hunker down”—that is, to pull in like a turtle.

Another Complicating Factor

Jeremy Rifkin, in his searching book, The Empathic Civilisation, highlights the contradiction that might still sink us even if we learn to love all our neighbours. It is true that he is convinced of the positive power of such a kind of empathy (page 16):

Much of our daily interaction with our fellow human beings is empathic because that is the core of our nature. Empathy is the very means by which we create social life and advance civilisation.

But he’s also aware of the entropy such wide connections bring in their train. As wider empathy creates bigger civilisations we need to consume more resources to sustain them, until what we need becomes unsustainable. One of the starkest statements of that principle comes early in his book (page 44):

The tragic flaw of history is that our increased empathic concern and sensitivity grows in direct proportion to the wreaking of greater entropic damage to the world we all cohabit and rely on for our existence and perpetuation.

Even so, even though all these writers understand the risks, there is tremendous hope in their more optimistic analysis of human potential and the value of religion at its best to bring that out. And if religion can help us extend our effective empathy beyond even our fellow human beings to include future generations, all life on the planet and even the planet itself, we might have some hope of long-term survival. Of course there are powerful forces that militate against this. We are all aware of them. But there are powerfully constructive forces within our nature upon which we can draw to effectively oppose them:

The faculties needed to construct a more just and sustainable social order—moderation, justice, love, reason, sacrifice and service to the common good—have too often been dismissed as naïve ideals. Yet, it is these, and related, qualities that must be harnessed to overcome the traits of ego, greed, apathy and violence, which are often rewarded by the market and political forces driving current patterns of unsustainable consumption and production.

(From a statement by the Bahá’í International Community.)

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