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Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations

Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations

A couple of friends on Facebook recently  flagged up an article on the Bahá’í International Community site that resonated particularly strongly with me, perhaps because of the way my life experiences have reinforced how important trust is as the foundation stone of any enduring relationship: it is something without which love, in any real sense of that word, does not seem to me to be possible. Below is a short extract: for the full article see link.

Many today are wondering whether the United Nations and the international system are up to the challenges of the moment.

The rise of non-state actors, the resurgence of nativism and xenophobia, the displacement and migration of populations at historic volumes – the challenges are numerous and rapidly changing.

Yet among the obstacles facing the international community, the Independent Commission on Multilateralism recently highlighted one as particularly problematic:

Repeatedly, the Commission heard reports of a deep lack of trust. There is a lack of trust both among states and between states and the UN Secretariat. There is a lack of trust between governments and their citizens….And there is a lack of trust within the UN itself among the various departments, agencies, funds and programs.

The problem, they suggest, is not that we are unable to work together effectively. Rather, it is that we frequently refuse to. Whether as individuals or members of families, communities, demographic groupings, or nation-states, we are disinclined to rely on others, to depend on them for aspects of our well-being. Humanity is faced with a deficit of trust.

The reconstruction of trust

This is one of the foremost problems facing the international community today.

If citizens and their elected institutions distrust each other, the affairs of society cannot be beneficially ordered. If governments distrust each other, meaningful progress on global challenges cannot be achieved – aspirational rhetoric notwithstanding. If ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic groups distrust each other, solidarity and social integration are little more than empty wishes.

Put simply, societies can neither endure nor advance without trust.

This is nothing new or revolutionary, of course. Nevertheless, numerous aspects of the multilateral system are shaped by the dictates of power politics and expediency – constraining or motivating actors ranging from nations and UN departments to civil society organizations and individual activists.

What becomes clear is that while the importance of trust is generally recognized, its construction is rarely prioritized. Whether the work is too long-term or its mechanisms insufficiently understood, its results too diffuse or not flashy enough, too few tangible resources are committed to this objective.

A central focus of civil society, United Nations agencies, and Members States alike in the coming years will therefore need to be addressing and reversing deficits of trust at all levels of the multilateral system. An explicit commitment, universal and resolute, must be made to the global reconstruction of trust.

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Trucks line up to demolish the Bahá'í cemetery in Shiraz, Iran.

Trucks line up to demolish the Bahá’í cemetery in Shiraz, Iran.

A post by Moojan Momen and  Jason Pack on the Newsweek site raises serious questions about the current flurry of activity aimed at securing trade deals with Iran, a country whose human rights record is seriously flawed. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.

In July this year, British Airways will relaunch six weekly direct flights from London to Tehran. And if you sit in first class, you are likely to see well-heeled Western executives jetting off to try to establish joint ventures or sell their high-end technologies in what is one of the only remaining lucrative and relatively unpenetrated markets.

Just this week it was the turn of President Matteo Renzi of Italy to take two hundred Italian business leaders to Iran. In preparation for the trade mission, Italian letting agencies have extended a 5 Billion Euro credit line to the country.

Similarly reliant on government financing to prime the pump, the American aeronautical giant Boeing has just entered into negotiations with Iran, hoping to land its highest profile deal of the decade.

This flurry of activity stems from Iran and the West settling their long-running nuclear dispute when the multilateral negotiations were signed on 2 April 2015. The multilateral sanctions were then lifted on 16 January 2016.

Iran has enormous oil and mineral wealth and is, therefore, set to become a large and rapidly expanding market just at a time when the most of the world’s economies seem to have stalled.

The Situation in Iran

But doing business in Iran raises the ethics question. Businesses like to demonstrate that they are not only profitable but also benefit the community. Many feel compelled to show that they are green, gender equitable, ethnically diverse, philanthropic—and ethical. . . . . . .

Many accuse Iran of human rights abuses, even “crimes against humanity,” also identifying it as one of the world’s most corrupt societies. They accuse it of genocide, ethnic and cultural cleansing, torture and human rights abuses against journalists, lawyers, women and ethnic and religious minorities.

In the freedom indexes published by Freedom House, Iran scores in the lowest two categories in all areas: civil liberties, political rights, press freedom and Internet freedom and is in the lowest quartile of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

The U.N. General AssemblySecretary-GeneralHuman Rights CouncilInternational Labour Organization and Special Rapporteurs have repeatedly reported over the last 30 years their deep concern at serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran” and “over reports of targeted violence and discrimination against minority groups”Governments and organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch express grave concerns, while the World Bank reports Iran among the world’s worst three countries for the legal position of women.

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Candles

Yesterday Hereford Cathedral hosted its first Peace Day Service to observe today’s International Day of Peace. The service was organised by the newly formed Herefordshire Interfaith Group.

The United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Peace is celebrated on September 21 each year to recognize the efforts of those who have worked hard to end conflict and promote peace. The International Day of Peace is also a day of ceasefire – personal or political. On this day, also known as Peace Day, people around the world take part in various activities and organize events centered on the theme “peace.” This was Hereford’s offering.

The Canon Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral & Venerable Tenzin Choesang welcomed everyone to the peace day service.

PD start

The service began with a simple candle lighting ceremony where a member of each faith lit a candle as the choir chanted ‘Kindle a flame to lighten the dark and take all fear away’ in the background.Candle lighting

The choir then sang the Kyrie from Karl Jenkins’s ‘The Armed Man’, a mass for peace, before several readings were shared in alternation with choral music, chants and instrumentals. The first reading, from the Bahá’í Faith, was part of an address given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, on September 10, 1911. For the first time in His life after decades of imprisonment, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed a public audience in the City Temple on the Western edge of the city of London. He spoke such uplifting words even though he was aware that a traumatic war was almost inevitable. His address included the words:
Peace Day Reading

The sea of the unity of mankind is lifting up its waves with joy, for there is real communication between the hearts and minds of men. . . . This is a new cycle of human power. All the horizons of the world are luminous, and the world will become indeed as a garden and a paradise. It is the hour of unity . . . . and of the drawing together of all races and all classes. . . . . The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion. War shall cease between nations, and by the will of God the Most Great Peace shall come; the world will be seen as a new world, and all men will live as brothers.

This was followed by an Indian raga played on the Carnatic violin to the accompaniment of a tabla and tambura.

Raga

The Quaker community shared a peace testimony before two members of the local police force gave a moving rendering of ‘Panis Agelicus.’

Panis Angelicus

The First Church of Christ Scientist read from the King James version of the Bible as well as key quotes from Mary Baker Eddy. Her hymn ‘O gentle presence‘ was sung by both choir and congregation. This was followed by a “Qira’at,” which is the melodious recitation of the Qur’an according to the linguistic rules of the Arabic language, a Hebrew song of peace and the Buddhist chant ‘Om Mane Padme Hung.’ The presiding host, the Reverend Chris Pullen, read St Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Chapter 3) including the words:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Choir

The choir movingly sang ‘Nkosi Sikhele’ before the Peace Council read their dedication and the service closed with ‘Better is Peace,’ once more from ‘The Armed Man.’

All those present I spoke to expressed how much they had been moved and uplifted by the inclusive nature of the whole experience.

Congregation

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766px-Members_of_the_first_Universal_House_of_Justice,_elected_in_1963

Members of the first Universal House of Justice, elected in 1963 (For source of image see link)

The reason I gave recently for my being triggered to step back somewhat from blogging was the increased demand on my time. This was mostly from a particular project – the preparation of a series of eight workshops for a Bahá’í summer school. I thought it might be worth posting the material on this blog to see if it proves useful to others. Here is the last post of eight. I will be posting them on Mondays and Thursdays over four weeks. Century of Light is a key text published by the Bahá’í World Centre designed to help us understand the challenges we face in the world today. If you prefer you can download this in PDF version (8 The Universal House of Justice). I find I have learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days.

Whole Group Session (Slide Presentation)

Essential Background

After the passing of the Guardian in 1957, nine Hands of the Cause selflessly steered the Faith towards the next key development in its unfolding destiny. They organised the process by which the Universal House of Justice would be elected, and then stepped back to allow that institution to lead the Bahá’í community exactly as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had envisaged in His Will & Testament, though sadly, given that Shoghi Effendi had appointed no successor, with no possibility of the continuance of the Guardianship.

Century of Light describes the moment when the Universal House of Justice came into being (page 81):

On 21 April 1963, the ballots of delegates from fifty-six National Spiritual Assemblies . . . . brought into existence the Universal House of Justice, the governing body of the Cause conceived by Bahá’u’lláh and assured by Him unequivocally of Divine guidance in the exercise of its functions . . .

They point towards the difficult decision Shoghi Effendi had had to make (pages 82-83):

. . . . it is clear that Shoghi Effendi early accepted the implications of the fact that the Universal House of Justice could not come into existence until a lengthy process of administrative development had created the supporting structure of National and Local Spiritual Assemblies it required.

It is important we begin to understand the full significance of this election and what it presaged (page 92):

The process leading to the election of the Universal House of Justice . . . . . very likely constituted history’s first global democratic election. Each of the successive elections since then has been carried out by an ever broader and more diverse body of the community’s chosen delegates, a development that has now reached the point that it incontestably represents the will of a cross-section of the entire human race. There is nothing in existence . . . . . that in any way resembles this achievement.

The House then had some significant decisions to make given that it did not have the authority to appoint new Hands of the Cause but their function needed to continue (pages 97-98):

. . . the House of Justice created, in June 1968, the Continental Boards of Counsellors. Empowered to extend into the future the functions of the Hands of the Cause for the protection and propagation of the Faith, the new institution assumed responsibility for guiding the work of the already existing Auxiliary Boards and joined National Assemblies in shouldering responsibilities for the advancement of the Faith. [In 1973 there was] another major development of the Administrative Order, the creation of the International Teaching Centre, the Body that would carry into the future certain of the responsibilities performed by the group of “Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land”, and from this point on coordinate the work of the Boards of Counsellors around the world.

The Period Since Then

There has been a twin impact in terms of the Faith (page 97):

During these crucial thirty- seven years the work proceeded rapidly forward along two parallel tracks: the expansion and consolidation of the Bahá’í community itself and, along with it, a dramatic rise in the influence the Faith came to exercise in the life of society. While the range of Bahá’í activities greatly diversified, most such efforts tended to contribute directly to one or other of the two main developments.

A sequence of seven plans of various durations followed (page 98-99) until ‘Twelve Month Plan that ended the century.’ The strands of activity in each plan built upon those of Shoghi Effendi and the Founders of the Faith: ‘the training of Spiritual Assemblies; the translation, production and distribution of literature; the encouragement of universal participation by the friends; attention to the spiritual enrichment of Bahá’í life; efforts toward the involvement of the Bahá’í community in the life of society; the strengthening of Bahá’í family life; and the education of children and youth.’

The opportunities created were beyond the capacity of any individual to manage (page 100):

. . . it became necessary to ‘launch Bahá’í communities on a wide range of collective teaching and proclamation projects recalling the heroic days of the dawn-breakers.’ Teams of teachers were created and the Faith reached ‘entire groups and even whole communities. The tens of thousands became hundreds of thousands.’

As a result ‘members of Spiritual Assemblies . . . . had to adjust to expressions of belief on the part of whole groups of people to whom religious awareness and response were normal features of daily life.’

The role of the youth was central – not for the first time in the history of the Faith (ibid):

. . . one is reminded again and again that the great majority of the band of heroes who launched the Cause on its course in the middle years of the nineteenth century were all of them young people. The Bab Himself declared His mission when He was twenty-five years old, and Anis, who attained the imperishable glory of dying with his Lord, was only a youth. Quddus responded to the Revelation at the age of twenty-two. . . . . Tahirih was in her twenties when she embraced the Bab’s Cause.’

More challenges followed. Mass enrolments exceeded the community’s capacity to nurture those who had declared their faith in Bahá’u’lláh. Also (page 101)

. . . Theological and administrative principles that might be of consuming interest to pioneers and teachers were seldom those that were central to the concern of new declarants from very different social and cultural backgrounds. Often, differences of view about even such elementary matters as the use of time or simple social conventions created gaps of understanding that made communication extremely difficult.

Though the Bahá’í World Centre emphasised that expansion, the bringing in of newly declared Bahá’ís, and consolidation, their deepening in the Faith, were ‘twin processes that must go hand in hand,’ the ‘hoped for results did not readily materialise’ and ‘a measure of discouragement frequently set in.’ Enrolment slowed ‘tempting some Bahá’í institutions and communities to turn back to more familiar activities and more accessible publics.’

The main impact of the setbacks was to clarify that (page 102) ‘the high expectations of the early years were in some respects quite unrealistic.’ It became obvious that ‘the easy successes of the initial teaching activities . . . did not, by themselves, build a Bahá’í community life that could meet the needs of its new members and be self-generating.’

(End of Presentation: any questions? The video immediately below gives a sense of how the Bahá’í Faith has responded to these challenges: the original can be downloaded at this link.)

Key Questions

Pioneers and new believers faced questions previous experience offered few answers (ibid: my bullet points).

  • How were Local Spiritual Assemblies to be established – and once established, how were they to function – in areas where large numbers of new believers had joined the Cause overnight, simply on the strength of their spiritual apprehension of its truth?
  • How, in societies dominated by men since the dawn of time, were women to be accorded an equal voice?
  • How was the education of large numbers of children to be systematically addressed in cultural situations where poverty and illiteracy prevailed?
  • What priorities should guide Bahá’í moral teaching, and how could these objectives best be related to prevailing indigenous conventions?
  • How could a vibrant community life be cultivated that would stimulate the spiritual growth of its members?
  • What priorities, too, should be set with respect to the production of Bahá’í literature, particularly given the sudden explosion that had taken place in the number of languages represented in the community?
  • How could the integrity of the Bahá’í institution of the Nineteen Day Feast be maintained, while opening this vital activity to the enriching influence of diverse cultures?
  • And, in all areas of concern, how were the necessary resources to be recruited, funded, and coordinated?
  1. How many of these questions do we feel relate to our own situation?
  2. Do we have answers? If so, what are they? If not, what might those answers be?

Page 102: The pressure of these urgent and interlocking challenges launched the Bahá’í world on a learning process that has proved to be as important as the expansion itself. It is safe to say that during these years there was virtually no type of teaching activity, no combination of expansion, consolidation and proclamation, no administrative option, no effort at cultural adaptation that was not being energetically tried in some part of the Bahá’í world.

Group Work

For each group discussion the group should choose a facilitator. It would be best to change the facilitator for each piece of group work over the series of workshops but the group will remain the same. During the consultation, the facilitator’s role is to keep track of the time, to ensure that:

  1. everyone contributes something,
  2. no one keeps repeating the same point, and
  3. no one makes excessively long contributions.

All group members needs to keep their own record of the main points for using in the role play at the end of the group consultation. The notes should be easy to use in a conversation. Both groups will use the same material.

The Bahá'í House of Worship in Delhi, India

The Bahá’í House of Worship in Delhi, India (for source of image see link)

The Integration of Social Action

Page 103: The fact that the Bahá’í message was now penetrating the lives not merely of small groups of individuals but of whole communities also had the effect of reviving a vital feature of an earlier stage in the advancement of the Cause. For the first time in decades, the Faith found itself once more in a situation where teaching and consolidation were inseparably bound up with social and economic development.

An Office of Social and Economic Development was created at the World Centre in October 1983, and ‘Bahá’í communities throughout the world were called on to begin incorporating such efforts into their regular programmes of work.’

Page 104: The temptation was great, given the magnitude of the resources being invested by governments and foundations, and the confidence with which this effort was pursued, merely to borrow methods current at the moment or to adapt Bahá’í efforts to prevailing theories. As the work evolved, however, Bahá’í institutions began turning their attention to the goal of devising development paradigms that could assimilate what they were observing in the larger society to the Faith’s unique conception of human potentialities.

The successive Plans yielded the greatest harvest in India. By 1985 the growth of the Faith there had reached a level a more sharply focused attention was needed ‘than the National Spiritual Assembly alone could provide. Thus was born the new institution of the Regional Bahá’í Council, setting in motion the process of administrative decentralisation that has since proven so effective in many other lands.’

In addition (page 105) ‘India’s House of Worship has become the foremost visitors’ attraction on the subcontinent, welcoming an average of over ten thousand visitors every day, . . . [which] has given new meaning to the description by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá of Bahá’í Temples as “silent teachers” of the Faith.’

Its reputation was now such that the National Spiritual Assembly of India was able to host, ‘in collaboration with the Bahá’í International Community’s newly created Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, a symposium on the subject of “Religion, Science and Development“. More than one hundred of the most influential development organisations in the country participated.

Malaysia began to follow suit. Then Bahá’í communities in Africa (page 106) achieved remarkable spiritual victories, havingsurvived war, terror, political oppression and extreme privations.’

In 1992 (page 107) ‘the Bahá’í world celebrated its second Holy Year, this one marking the centenary of the ascension of Bahá’u’lláh and the promulgation of His Covenant. Truly remarkable was ‘the ethnic, cultural and national diversity of the 27,000 believers who gathered at the Javits Convention Centre in New York City’ together with together with the thousands present at nine auxiliary conferences acorss the world.’

At Ridván 2010, the Universal House of Justice’s message explained that ‘all social action seeks to apply the teachings and principles of the Faith to improve some aspect of the social or economic life of a population, however modestly.’ The Office of Social and Economic Statement (OSED – page 2) amplifies on this:

Most central to this vision was the question of capacity building. That activities should start on a modest scale and only grow in complexity in keeping with available human resources was a concept that gradually came to influence development thought and practice.

They continue (page 4):

Bahá’í activity in the field of social and economic development seeks to promote the well-being of people of all walks of life, whatever their beliefs or background. . . . Its purpose is neither to proclaim the Cause nor to serve as a vehicle for conversion.

Page 5: To seek coherence between the spiritual and the material does not imply that the material goals of development are to be trivialised. It does require, however, the rejection of approaches to development which define it as the transfer to all societies of the ideological convictions, the social structures, the economic practices, the models of governance—in the final analysis, the very patterns of life—prevalent in certain highly industrialized regions of the world. When the material and spiritual dimensions of the life of a community are kept in mind and due attention is given to both scientific and spiritual knowledge, the tendency to reduce development to the mere consumption of goods and services and the naive use of technological packages is avoided.

Page 6: Every member of the human family has not only the right to benefit from a materially and spiritually prosperous civilization but also an obligation to contribute towards its construction. Social action should operate, then, on the principle of universal participation.

The ‘scope and complexity’ (page 9) of such activity must be ‘commensurate with the human resources available in a community to carry it forward.’

Page 13: when an effort is participatory, in the sense that it seeks to involve the people themselves in the generation and application of knowledge, as all forge together a path of progress, dualities such as “outsider-insider” and “knowledgeable-ignorant” quickly disappear.

Capacity Building

Pages 108-09: One of the great strengths of the masses of humankind from among whom the newly enrolled believers came lies in an openness of heart that has the potentiality to generate lasting social transformation. The greatest handicap of these same populations has so far been a passivity learned through generations of exposure to outside influences which, no matter how great their material advantages, have pursued agendas that were often related only tangentially – if at all – to the realities of the needs and daily lives of indigenous peoples.

As a result, ‘the lessons that had been learned during earlier Plans now placed the emphasis on developing the capacities of believers – wherever they might be – so that all could arise as confident protagonists of the Faith’s mission.’ The means to achieve this had been developed from the 1970s in Colombia, ‘against a background of violence and lawlessness that was deranging the life of the surrounding society.’ A ‘systematic and sustained programme of education in the Writings’ had been devised and was ‘soon adopted in neighbouring countries.’

By the time the Four Year Plan ended (pages 109-110) ‘over one hundred thousand believers were involved world-wide in the programmes of the more than three hundred permanent training institutes.’ The process was moved on a stage further ‘by creating networks of “study circles” which utilise the talents of believers to replicate the work of the institute at a local level.’

  1. The word ‘modest’ effectively occurs twice in the quoted passages about social action. Why do we think that is?
  2. How does the idea of ‘capacity building’ translate into this context?
  3. How easy is it for us to step outside the assumptions we have acquired in our ‘industrialised’ (note OSED does not say ‘developed’) society? Why is it so necessary that we do so?
  4. Much of the work within the Bahá’í community has been aimed at breaking the prevalent pattern of passivity and involving an ever-greater proportion of people in its activities. Why do we think this can be so difficult to achieve? What are the influences that militate against this attempt? What are the benefits of breaking this pattern in however small a way?

Group Report Back: this is to be done as an exercise in role play. As far as time permits, one member of each group takes it in turns to explain to a member of the other group what they have learnt and needs to field whatever questions and comments come their way. This should involve those, if any, whom time did not permit to do this earlier. The exact method for this will be determined on the day when we know the exact group sizes.

Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan

Not Just the Bahá’ís

Page 110: The prosecution of the Divine Plan entails no less than the involvement of the entire body of humankind in the work of its own spiritual, social and intellectual development.

Various threads intertwine here.

  1. Involvement in the UN

Pages 115-16: The birth of the United Nations opened to the Faith a far broader and more effective forum for its efforts toward exerting a spiritual influence on the life of society. [In1948] the eight National Spiritual Assemblies then in existence secured from the responsible United Nations body accreditation for “The Bahá’í International Community” as an international non-governmental organisation.

In 1980 (page 117), ‘the attempt by the Shi’ih clergy of Iran to exterminate the Cause in the land of its birth’ catapulted the Bahá’í relationship with the wider world to a new level.’

The Bahá’í response was unusual (page 119):

The persecuted community neither attacked its oppressors, nor sought political advantage from the crisis. Nor did its Bahá’í defenders in other lands call for the dismantling of the Iranian constitution, much less for revenge. All demanded only justice – the recognition of the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, endorsed by the community of nations, ratified by the Iranian government, and many of them embodied even in clauses of the Islamic constitution.

  1. Justice.

The word ‘justice’ occurs a number of times in Century of Light. It is ‘the best beloved of all things’ in the sight of God, Bahá’u’lláh writes. It entails seeing with our own eyes and not relying on the eyes of others. To get a clearer sense of how the Bahá’í community sees this principle operating at the highest level of the wider society it is perhaps worth pausing to look at a statement that has been twice presented to the UN before we continue with the issue of the human rights of the Bahá’ís in Iran.

In terms of both the individual and the legal system the Bahá’í position is as follows (from Turning Point – pages 10-11 – and from Prosperity of Humankind – pages 6-8):

In any system of governance, a strong judicial function is necessary to moderate the powers of the other branches and to enunciate, promulgate, protect and deliver justice. The drive to create just societies has been among the fundamental forces in history and without doubt no lasting world civilization can be founded unless it is firmly grounded in the principle of justice.

Justice is the one power that can translate the dawning consciousness of humanity’s oneness into a collective will through which the necessary structures of global community life can be confidently erected. An age that sees the people of the world increasingly gaining access to information of every kind and to a diversity of ideas will find justice asserting itself as the ruling principle of successful social organization.

At the individual level, justice is that faculty of the human soul that enables each person to distinguish truth from falsehood. In the sight of God, Bahá’u’lláh avers, justice is “the best beloved of all things” since it permits each individual to see with his own eyes rather than the eyes of others, to know through his own knowledge rather than the knowledge of his neighbour or his group.

At the group level, a concern for justice is the indispensable compass in collective decision-making, because it is the only means by which unity of thought and action can be achieved. Far from encouraging the punitive spirit that has often masqueraded under its name in past ages, justice is the practical expression of awareness that, in the achievement of human progress, the interests of the individual and those of society are inextricably linked. To the extent that justice becomes a guiding concern of human interaction, a consultative climate is encouraged that permits options to be examined dispassionately and appropriate courses of action selected. In such a climate the perennial tendencies toward manipulation and partisanship are far less likely to deflect the decision-making process.

Such a conception of justice will be gradually reinforced by the realization that in an interdependent world, the interests of the individual and society are inextricably intertwined. In this context, justice is a thread that must be woven into the consideration of every interaction, whether in the family, the neighbourhood, or at the global level.

  1. Persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran

While progress was slow and complete reversal of the persecution was not achieved (page 121), ‘In time, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, however slow and relatively cumbersome its operations may appear to some outside observers, succeeded in compelling the Iranian regime to bring the worst of the persecution to a halt. . .’

As a result of the persecution the Bahá’í community (ibid) has learnt ‘how to use the United Nations’ human rights system in the manner intended by that system’s creators, without having recourse to involvement in political partisanship of any kind, much less violence.’

  1. Promoting Peace

In 1985 (page 122), as the Iranian crisis was unfolding, the Universal House of Justice issued through National Spiritual Assemblies the statement The Promise of World Peace, addressed to the generality of humankind. In ‘unprovocative but uncompromising terms’ the document expressed ‘Bahá’í confidence in the advent of international peace as the next stage in the evolution of society.’

  1. The Bahá’í International Community

The Bahá’í International Community (pages 122-23) ‘became, in only a few short years, one of the most influential of the non-governmental organisations . . . Because it is, and is seen to be, entirely non-partisan, it has increasingly been trusted as a mediating voice in complex, and often stressful, discussions in international circles on major issues of social progress. This reputation has been strengthened by appreciation of the fact that the Community refrains, on principle, from taking advantage of such trust to press partisan agendas of its own.’

  1. Publications

Page 140: This process [of spiritual empowerment] was immeasurably strengthened in 1992 through the long-awaited publication of a fully-annotated translation into English of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, a repository of Divine guidance for the age of humanity’s collective maturity.

  1. The Unity of the Bahá’í Spiritual and Administrative Centres

Page 142: In contrast to the circumstances of other world religions, the spiritual and administrative centres of the Cause are inseparably bound together in this same spot on earth, its guiding institutions centred on the Shrine of its martyred Prophet. For many visitors, even the harmony that has been achieved in the variegated flowers, trees and shrubs of the surrounding gardens seems to proclaim the ideal of unity in diversity that they find attractive in the Faith’s teachings.

Final Questions (hopefully 30 minutes!)

It is clear that on the world’s stage the Bahá’í community has achieved increasing prominence over the years, first through the travels of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, then through the campaigns launched by Shoghi Effendi, later by our involvement at the UN and finally by increasingly effective programmes of expansion, consolidation and social action.

  1. Where does that leave us now – whether as members of the Bahá’í community or of the wider society?
  2. What are our respective roles?

3. How do we play our different parts in the context of what we have learnt about the world right now?

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Kofi+Annan+UN

No two men can be found who may be said to be outwardly and inwardly united. The evidences of discord and malice are apparent everywhere, though all were made for harmony and union. The Great Being saith: O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.

(Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh – page 163)

Let all be set free from the multiple identities that were born of passion and desire, and in the oneness of their love for God find a new way of life.

(From Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – page 76)

The reason I gave recently for my being triggered to step back somewhat from blogging was the increased demand on my time. This was mostly from a particular project – the preparation of a series of eight workshops for a Bahá’í summer school. I thought it might be worth posting the material on this blog to see if it proves useful to others. Here is the fifth post of eight. I will be posting them on Mondays and Thursdays over four weeks. Century of Light is a key text published by the Bahá’í World Centre designed to help us understand the challenges we face in the world today. If you prefer you can download this in PDF version (5 Unity the implications). I find I have learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days.

Whole Group Session (Slide Presentation)

Unity: Methods of Implementation

Given that (page 22) ‘the development of the whole range of human potentialities will be the fruit of the interaction between universal spiritual values, on the one hand, and, on the other, material advances that were even then still undreamed of,’ what should we be doing? This will hopefully become clearer after reading the following.

Page 24: [‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s] hearers were summoned to become the loving and confident agents of a great civilising process, whose pivot is recognition of the oneness of the human race.

. . . . It is equally clear, however, that the wide range of expression and understanding among them did not prevent them or their fellow believers from contributing to building a collective unity that was the chief attraction of the Cause.

Page 41: For unity to exist among human beings – at even the simplest level – two fundamental conditions must pertain. Those involved must first of all be in some agreement about the nature of reality as it affects their relationships with one another and with the phenomenal world. They must, secondly, give assent to some recognized and authoritative means by which decisions will be taken that affect their association with one another and that determine their collective goals.

. . . . . Unity is a phenomenon of creative power, whose existence becomes apparent through the effects that collective action produces and whose absence is betrayed by the impotence of such efforts.

Page 51: Deliberation on this vast conception was to lead Shoghi Effendi to provide the Bahá’í world with a coherent description of the future that has since permitted three generations of believers to articulate for governments, media and the general public in every part of the world the perspective in which the Bahá’í Faith pursues its work: [my bullet points]

The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth:

  • in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and
  • in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.

This commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it,

  • consist of a world legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind,
    • ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and
    • will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples.
  • A world executive, backed by an international Force, will
    • carry out the decisions arrived at, and
    • apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, and
    • will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth.
  • A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise between the various elements constituting this universal system….
  • The economic resources of the world will be organised,
    • its sources of raw materials will be tapped and fully utilised,
    • its markets will be coordinated and developed, and
    • the distribution of its products will be equitably regulated.

Page 55: Unlike the Dispensations of the past, the Revelation of God to this age has given birth, Shoghi Effendi said, to “a living organism”, whose laws and institutions constitute “the essentials of a Divine Economy“, “a pattern for future society“, and “the one agency for the unification of the world, and the proclamation of the reign of righteousness and justice upon the earth”.

. . . . [Spiritual Assemblies are forerunners of local and national ‘Houses of Justice,’ the Guardian explained.] As such, they were integral parts of an Administrative Order that will, in time, “assert its claim and demonstrate its capacity to be regarded not only as the nucleus but the very pattern of the New World Order destined to embrace in the fullness of time the whole of mankind”.

. . . . For the vast majority of believers . . . great messages from the Guardian’s pen, such as “The Goal of a New World Order” and “The Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh”, threw brilliant light on precisely the issue that most concerned them, the relationship between spiritual truth and social development, inspiring in them a determination to play their part in laying the foundations of humanity’s future.

Page 129: “Unity in freedom” has today, of course, become a universal aspiration of the Earth’s inhabitants. Among the chief developments giving substance to it, the Master may well have had in mind the dramatic extinction of colonialism and the consequent rise of self- determination as a dominant feature of national identity at century’s end.

Whatever threats still hang over humanity’s future, the world has been transformed by the events of the twentieth century.

. . . . . On 22-26 May 2000, representatives of over one thousand non-governmental organisations assembled in New York at the invitation of Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General. In the statement that emerged from this meeting, spokespersons of civil society committed their organisations to the ideal that: “…we are one human family, in all our diversity, living on one common homeland and sharing a just, sustainable and peaceful world, guided by universal principles of democracy….”

Page 130: [Re: Millenium Summit] Nothing so dramatically illustrates the difference between the world of 1900 and that of 2000 than the text of the Summit Resolution, signed by all the participants, and referred by them to the United Nations General Assembly:

“We solemnly reaffirm, on this historic occasion, that the United Nations is the indispensable common house of the entire human family, through which we will seek to realise our universal aspirations for peace, cooperation and development. We therefore pledge our unstinting support for these common objectives, and our determination to achieve them.”

(End of Presentation: any questions?)

 Creative Pause

As we have agreed that memorising is a valuable way to internalise important quotations and can help us in moments of quiet reflection, can we take a few moments now to begin to reflect upon a quotation we have memorised.

Groupwork

Change of Method: For each group discussion the group should choose a facilitator. It would be best to change the facilitator for each piece of group work over the series of workshops but the group will remain the same. During the consultation, the facilitator’s role is to keep track of the time, to ensure that:

  1. everyone contributes something,
  2. no one keeps repeating the same point, and
  3. no one makes excessively long contributions.

All group members need to keep their own record of the main points for using in the role play at the end of the group consultation. The notes should be easy to use in a conversation. Both groups will use the same material.

For source of image see link.

For source of image see link.

Unity: Implications & Immediate Impact

Page 7: He came to it resolved to proclaim to responsive and heedless alike the establishment on earth of that promised reign of universal peace and justice that had sustained human hope throughout the centuries. Its foundation, He declared, would be the unification, in this “century of light”, of the world’s people:

. . . . . Hence the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved. Verily this is none other but one of the wonders of this wondrous age, this glorious century.

Page 9: ‘My meaning is that the beloved of the Lord must regard every ill-wisher as a well-wisher…. That is, they must associate with a foe as befitteth a friend, and deal with an oppressor as beseemeth a kind companion. They should not gaze upon the faults and transgressions of their foes, nor pay heed to their enmity, inequity or oppression.

‘. . . . . He hath brought the whole creation under the purview of His gracious utterance, and hath enjoined upon us to show forth love and affection, wisdom and compassion, faithfulness and unity towards all, without any discrimination.’

Page 24: . . . . . Unity is a phenomenon of creative power, whose existence becomes apparent through the effects that collective action produces and whose absence is betrayed by the impotence of such efforts.

Page 131: Despite the historic importance of the meetings and the fact that the greater portion of humanity’s political, civil and religious leadership took part, the Millennium Summit made little impression on the public mind in most countries. . . . This sharp disjunction between an event that could legitimately claim to mark a major turning-point in human history, on the one hand, and the lack of enthusiasm or even interest it aroused among populations who were its supposed beneficiaries, on the other, was perhaps the most striking feature of the millennium observations. . . . .

Those who long to believe the visionary statements of world leaders struggle at the same time in the grip of two phenomena that undermine such confidence. The first has already been considered at some length in these pages. The collapse of society’s moral foundations has left the greater part of humankind floundering without reference points in a world that grows daily more threatening and unpredictable. To suggest that the process has nearly reached its end would be merely to raise false hopes.

Page 132: The second of the two developments undermining faith in the future was the focus of some of the Millennium Summit’s most anguished debates. The information revolution set off in the closing decade of the century by the invention of the World Wide Web transformed irreversibly much of human activity. The process of “globalisation” that had been following a long rising curve over a period of several centuries was galvanised by new powers beyond the imaginations of most people.

Pages 133-34: The benefits to many millions of persons are obvious and impressive.

  • Cost effectiveness resulting from the coordination of formerly competing operations tends to bring goods and services within the reach of populations who could not previously have hoped to enjoy them.
  • Enormous increases in the funds available for research and development expand the variety and quality of such benefits.
  • Something of a levelling effect in the distribution of employment opportunities can be seen in the ease with which business operations can shift their base from one part of the world to another.

The abandonment of barriers to transnational trade reduces still further the cost of goods to consumers. It is not difficult to appreciate, from a Bahá’í perspective, the potentiality of such transformations for laying the foundations of the global society envisioned in Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings.

Far from inspiring optimism about the future, however, globalisation is seen by large and growing numbers of people around the world as the principal threat to that future.

  • The violence of the riots set off by the meetings of the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund during the last two years testifies to the depth of the fear and resentment that the rise of globalisation has provoked.
  • Media coverage of these unexpected outbursts focused public attention on protests
    • against gross disparities in the distribution of benefits and opportunities, which globalisation is seen as only increasing, and
    • on warnings that, if effective controls are not speedily imposed, the consequences will be catastrophic in social and political, as well as in economic and environmental, terms.

Such concerns appear well-founded. Economic statistics alone reveal a picture of current global conditions that is profoundly disturbing. The ever-widening gulf between the one fifth of the world’s population living in the highest income countries and the one fifth living in the lowest income countries tells a grim story. According to the 1999 Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Programme, this gap represented, in 1990, a ratio of sixty to one. That is to say, one segment of humankind was enjoying access to sixty percent of the world’s wealth, while another, equally large, population struggled merely to survive on barely one percent of that wealth. By 1997, in the wake of globalisation’s rapid advance, the gulf had widened in only seven years to a ratio of seventy-four to one. Even this appalling fact does not take into account the steady impoverishment of the majority of the remaining billions of human beings trapped in the relentlessly narrowing isthmus between these two extremes. Far from being brought under control, the crisis is clearly accelerating. The implications for humanity’s future, in terms of privation and despair engulfing more than two thirds of the Earth’s population, helped to account for the apathy that met the Millennium Summit’s celebration of achievements that were, by every reasonable criteria, truly historic.

From Universal House of Justice letter to Bahá’ís of Iran (2 March 2013):

The rejection of deeply ingrained prejudices and a growing sense of world citizenship are among the signs of this heightened awareness. Yet, however promising the rise in collective consciousness may be, it should be seen as only the first step of a process that will take decades—nay, centuries—to unfold. For the principle of the oneness of humankind, as proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, asks not merely for cooperation among people and nations. It calls for a complete reconceptualization of the relationships that sustain society.

  1. The idea of unity should be powerfully appealing. What obstacles are there, do we think to its acceptance and implementation?
  2. In what ways is globalisation a mixed blessing and how does this affect the work of those seeking to convey the value and reality of humanity’s essential oneness?

Group Report Back: this is to be done as an exercise in role play. As far as time permits, one member of each group takes it in turns to explain to a member of the other group what they have learnt and needs to field whatever questions and comments come their way. The exact method for this will be determined on the day when we know the exact group sizes.

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UN

The UN Human Rights Council, where Iran’s Universal Periodic Review outcome session took place. (UN Photo)

 

Sadly the most recent statement made by the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations Human Rights Council indicates that the Bahá’í community, amongst others, is as far away as ever from attaining equal rights as law abiding citizens of Iran. Below is an extract from the news article: for the full post see link.

GENEVA — Iran’s limited and conditional acceptance of just two out of ten recommendations made by other governments about its ongoing persecution of Baha’is today suggests there will be no significant change in government policy in the near future – and a bleak outlook for human rights generally in Iran.

“The sad reality is that Iran has largely refused to accept recommendations made by the international community that it end discrimination against Baha’is, offering instead to the Human Rights Council only token concessions on the issue,” said Diane Ala’i, the representative of the Baha’i International Community in Geneva.

She noted that Iran gave only partial acceptance to two recommendations that specifically mentioned Baha’is in its response to October’s Universal Periodic Review at the Council, rejecting completely the other eight.

“Other governments in October offered some very strong and significant recommendations about how Iran could end its systematic persecution of Baha’is, but Iran has walked away from them almost entirely, accepting only two in a limited and conditional manner,” said Ms. Ala’i.

“Based on this – and their past record of failure to live up to recommendations made at the 2010 UPR – we doubt there will be any improvement in the near future for Baha’is, who are persecuted in Iran solely for their religious beliefs,” said Ms. Ala’i.

In a statement read today to the Council, Ms. Ala’i observed that during the October UPR, “Mr. Javad Larijani, the head of the delegation, claimed that Baha’is ‘are dealt [with] under the so called citizenship contract’ and ‘enjoy all the privileges of any citizen in Iran,’ and that ‘they have professors at the university’ and ‘students at the university.’

“But recently Ayatollah Bojnourdi, who was one of the drafters of the Charter for Citizenship Rights, publicly said: ‘We never say that Baha’is have the right to education; Baha’is don’t even have citizenship rights!’

“This is the sad truth of the reality in Iran,” Ms. Ala’i told the Council.

Ms. Ala’i expressed the hope that, in its desire to prove to the world its oft-stated respect for the Universal Periodic Review, Iran will begin with the easy step of allowing Baha’is unrestrained access to higher education, a development that would be in line with the two recommendations it has partially accepted.

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Yesterday a crucially important piece was posted on the website International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. I am taking the unusual step of copying the entire post below. The reasons for my doing so will hopefully be obvious. For the full post on its own site see link.

Impact Iran Coalition and International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran draw attention to Iran’s upcoming human rights review

October 14, 2014  – Impact Iran, a coalition of human rights organizations, in partnership with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, today launched a new video, “Promises Made, Promises Broken.” The video is part of a series aimed at drawing attention to Iran’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council on October 31, 2014. A new video will be released each week leading up to the review.

The first video features nine persecuted Iranians who powerfully tell their stories of repression, harassment, detainment and torture in their own words. While these activists, bloggers, lawyers and students put a face to Iran’s human rights abuses, their stories are shared by many Iranians whose rights are violated every day.

“’Promises Made, Promises Broken’ tells the story of Iran’s human rights abuses through the compelling personal accounts of those who have experienced firsthand what it is like to live with this level of repression,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “These individuals were targeted because of their religious beliefs, their peaceful rights advocacy, their sexual orientation, and their ethnicity, which goes against all of Iran’s human rights commitments.”

Despite the fact that Iran accepted 126 recommendations from UN Human Rights Council member countries at its last UPR in 2010, it has not honored the majority of these commitments, and violations continue to occur. For example, Iran agreed to improve protections against torture and ill treatment of detainees. However, several of the Iranians featured in “Promises Made, Promises Broken” report being victims of physical and psychological torture during their unjust detainments. The video calls on viewers throughout the international community to raise their voices and hold Iran accountable for its track record on human rights.

An analysis of Iran’s UPR commitments is available at www.ImpactIran.org and www.UPRIran.org.

“As Iran’s second UPR approaches, it has never been more important that we take measures to ensure the Iranian government keeps its human rights promises,” said Mani Mostofi, Director of Impact Iran. “This video series puts human faces to each of Iran’s repressive practices and urges viewers to raise their voices in solidarity with these persecuted Iranians to hold Iran accountable.”

* To learn more visit www.ImpactIran.org and follow @ImpactIran for updates.Visit the Campaign’s website at www.iranhumanrights.org and follow @ICHRI for latest human rights development in Iran.

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