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Old 12-03-2014, 08:24 AM   #1
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non violent civil disobedience

I am a bit troubled by what I see as the Baha'i feeling about this, and maybe I am incorrect, but as I understand it, Baha'is could not have supported or be involved in such things as the Selma protests, sit-ins for social justice and so forth.

My wife is black and I am white. I have really appreciate the Baha'i teachings on racial equality, but on reflection, in the coutry I live in, if we had been born a couple of decades too early, the Baha'i faith would not have approved of our marriage as it was illegal in the state we live in until one brave couple challenged it in the courts.

Are we too good to do good? Is it possible to lead an exemplary life while riding the coat-tails of non-believers who do the leg work?

Just thoughts I have. It does bother me. Maybe I am wrong. I would like to be.
 
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Old 12-03-2014, 08:58 AM   #2
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There was an article I saw recently (unable to find it now, unfortunately) that was about a strange statistic uncovered by a census map. The map recorded the largest non-Christian religion in each US State. Surprisingly, the Baha'i Faith was the largest non-Christian religion in South Carolina (due mainly to the fact that most people in South Carolina are Christians, and thus even small minorities like the Baha'i had a shot at being the largest minority).

The article went on to examine the history of the Baha'is in South Carolina, and mainly covered the spread of the faith during the civil rights movement, as evidently that was when historically most South Carolinian Baha'is converted into the Faith.

Notably, though, they engaged in civil disobedience. Social meetings between whites and blacks was illegal at the time, making Baha'i worship services illegal activities. Thus, they would meet as usual for meetings, and when the police came around, they would safehouse-style suddenly pretend to be doing something else. The white Baha'is would take out cards and pretend it was a social gathering while the black Baha'is pretended to be servants, thus refusing to obey the unjust law, yet avoiding conflict with authorities.

And, of course, in the places where the Faith is or was illegal (Iran, Soviet Union, etc.), the Baha'is of those countries did not comply with those laws either.

I've also heard the Baha'i ID cards in the US were originally to conscientiously object to the "satanic institute" of war and refuse draft. I've also heard that the Baha'is in my area participate in protest events against police racial profiling, which is a big problem in this city. Neither of those two are illegal, so thus not civil disobedience, but shows that protesting unjust laws is possible without breaking laws.

I think largely God designed the whole "don't contend with earthly laws" thing as a survival mechanism. With the area in which the Faith was born, it likely would not have survived if it attempted to oppose that tyranny, violently or non-violently.
 
Old 12-03-2014, 12:23 PM   #3
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Greetings Noogan,

I have always enjoyed reading your posts and this one is no different as quite often the way people express their thoughts indicate the calibre of their character.

What you are feeling in this subject matter is perfectly natural because all human change comes about through positive advocacy. In the western world social injustice is addressed through case law. This often requires focus, courage and determination, but most of all it requires extreme passion, patience and commitment. Many law firms have little interest in case law, unless it is in their financial interests, and because of this people can start to look for other organisations that they believe should handle such matters. Therefore it is perfectly normal for anyone in any organisation with a high sense of social justice to believe that their organisation should intervene in such issues.

Establishing case law is a time consuming and expensive process. If you wish to see an example of what is actually involved, one relatively young legal organisation worthy of examination is the Native American Rights Fund. Indeed their entire history over the past few decades can help show you the type of dynamics required to bring about positive social change. Their key attorney is now recognised as one the top 100 attorneys in the US. This is a credit to his character more than anything else and I happen to think that Baha'is can learn a great deal from him and his fellow comrades.

At this time Baha'i Institutions and Baha'is lack the skills and resources to proactively challenge social injustice in any meaningful manner. Indeed, like it or not, the best Baha'is have been offering in recent decades are statements. While this could be considered unworthy of any follower of the Greatest Name, it is, sadly, the best that the Baha'is have been able to offer at this time. The core difficulty that Baha'is face at this time is that their advocacy skills are still in the process of forming. It is of course the Iranian believers that are helping to make this possible. They are of course paying with their lives while the free Baha'is in the western world learn to acquire these skills. Only once these skills have been learnt will Baha'is and Baha'i Institutions be in a better position to help change matters in the wider world.

I hope this might help you view the pragmatic realities of the challenges involved for the Baha'is, rather than than offering an apology for the sentiments I believe you have fairly expressed here. In the end we are still living in the arena of service. You just have to learn to become a champion. No one, absolutely no one, can stop anyone from obtaining spiritual growth and quite often frustration comes before growth.

Here is wishing you well in whatever actions your character drives you to undertake.

Earth
 
Old 12-03-2014, 02:06 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noogan View Post
I am a bit troubled by what I see as the Baha'i feeling about this, and maybe I am incorrect, but as I understand it, Baha'is could not have supported or be involved in such things as the Selma protests, sit-ins for social justice and so forth.

... Are we too good to do good? Is it possible to lead an exemplary life while riding the coat-tails of non-believers who do the leg work?

.
No, it is not legitimate to ride on the coattails of non-believers. Neither is it possible for any one person to fight every battle. Choose a battle that matters to you, where you can expect to achieve something, and don't let your own hobby-horse blind you to the value of the battles that other people are fighting.

Bahais did play a role in the US civil rights movement, including protesting, and the Guardian supported them in this, against criticisms from others in the Bahai community.
Quote:
"In connection with the subject matter of Mr. Blackwell's letter and your reference to it, the Guardian feels that, as he said in his letter to Mr. Blackwell, there was no objection at all to the students taking part in something so obviously akin to the spirit of our teachings as a campus demonstration against race prejudice. The Bahá'ís did not inaugurate this protest, they merely were proud to have a voice as Bahá'ís in such a protest, took part, and he thinks they did quite right and violated no administrative principle."

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, November 18, 1948)
Check out the pics of the protest, with the Baha'i sign prominent on the left :

echo of picture of protest includes Baha'i poster - on Newspapers.com
 
Old 12-04-2014, 10:56 AM   #5
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Thank you all for your words. I find that very helpful, and things are not quite as I was afraid they were. I do not want to give the impression I am some sign waving radical. Honestly I am pretty quiet. But I suppose there are some things happening lately that just make me wonder about one's place in the world.
 
Old 12-04-2014, 11:08 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by noogan View Post
Thank you all for your words. I find that very helpful, and things are not quite as I was afraid they were. I do not want to give the impression I am some sign waving radical. Honestly I am pretty quiet. But I suppose there are some things happening lately that just make me wonder about one's place in the world.
. We should be wondering at our place in the world. I keep reading Sen's Daily blog about all the Baha'is being sent to prison, far more than just a few once in awhile. An older couple getting 3 or 6 years for teaching the Baha'i Faith and "propaganda angainst the regime", and that sort of thing. These blessed souls have found their place in the world in some little prison cell in Iran.

. A part of us goes to prison with them when we allow ourselves to feel their spirit and expand beyond the confines of our otherwise comfortable lives. We become lost in this world of comfort and illusion which surrounds us, and maybe "buy into it". Something in us is uncomfortable, however, and we know we must do something on our part, with our bodies, which are not in prison.

. They have their part accomplished. What is my part? What can I do today to fulfill Baha'u'llah's injunction: "Make mention of Me on My earth, that in My heaven I may remember thee. Thus, shall Mine eyes and thine be solaced."

.
 
Old 12-04-2014, 12:19 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by noogan View Post
I suppose there are some things happening lately that just make me wonder about one's place in the world.
Indeed there are: Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, ebola.

gnat
 
Old 12-04-2014, 02:07 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Walrus View Post
There was an article I saw recently (unable to find it now, unfortunately) that was about a strange statistic uncovered by a census map. The map recorded the largest non-Christian religion in each US State. Surprisingly, the Baha'i Faith was the largest non-Christian religion in South Carolina (due mainly to the fact that most people in South Carolina are Christians, and thus even small minorities like the Baha'i had a shot at being the largest minority).

The article went on to examine the history of the Baha'is in South Carolina, and mainly covered the spread of the faith during the civil rights movement, as evidently that was when historically most South Carolinian Baha'is converted into the Faith.

Notably, though, they engaged in civil disobedience. Social meetings between whites and blacks was illegal at the time, making Baha'i worship services illegal activities. Thus, they would meet as usual for meetings, and when the police came around, they would safehouse-style suddenly pretend to be doing something else. The white Baha'is would take out cards and pretend it was a social gathering while the black Baha'is pretended to be servants, thus refusing to obey the unjust law, yet avoiding conflict with authorities.

And, of course, in the places where the Faith is or was illegal (Iran, Soviet Union, etc.), the Baha'is of those countries did not comply with those laws either.

I've also heard the Baha'i ID cards in the US were originally to conscientiously object to the "satanic institute" of war and refuse draft. I've also heard that the Baha'is in my area participate in protest events against police racial profiling, which is a big problem in this city. Neither of those two are illegal, so thus not civil disobedience, but shows that protesting unjust laws is possible without breaking laws.

I think largely God designed the whole "don't contend with earthly laws" thing as a survival mechanism. With the area in which the Faith was born, it likely would not have survived if it attempted to oppose that tyranny, violently or non-violently.
The history you describe is interesting to describe to be sure, but I can't help but wonder if there's still a profound contradiction between the idea of not participating in politics, and participating in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations that are often political in character.
 
Old 12-04-2014, 02:25 PM   #9
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Just cause one attaches politics to both acts of expression does not make it a contradiction to accept one and not the other. Politics and unharmful disobedience of injustice serve two completely different purposes that any logical person would readily recognize!

You are merely attributing one name to two unlike things and thus deducting that the two are inseparable, that no law can accept one and deny the other!
 
Old 12-04-2014, 02:36 PM   #10
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Just cause one attaches politics to both acts of expression does not make it a contradiction to accept one and not the other. Politics and unharmful disobedience of injustice serve two completely different purposes that any logical person would readily recognize!

You are merely attributing one name to two unlike things and thus deducting that the two are inseparable, that no law can accept one and deny the other!
I feel what you're saying depends on how you define "politics" exactly. But even then, I'm not sure how you can separate the idea of civil disobedience, which while protesting injustice often does so in an attempt to oppose an unjust policy in order to change it, from even the most basic definitions of political activity.
 
Old 12-04-2014, 03:51 PM   #11
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Let each follow his informed conscience
 
Old 12-04-2014, 04:38 PM   #12
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Let each follow his informed conscience
I agree wholeheartedly with this, if your intentions are pure and you focus on following Baha'u'llah's teachings, including against violence, you should not worry about skirting the grey area of being offensive to some people by speaking up.

I spent most of the 1980s living in the Caribbean and South America, during the time that most countries were applying sanctions against South Africa to end the Apartheid regime there, and that was not even slightly controversial where I was living, it was the right thing to do. I remember coming back to the U.S. and mentioning that in a Baha'i gathering, and was asked not to talk about that. Not that any of the Baha'is actually disagreed, but it was very politicized in the US at the time because the current president was against it thinking that Mandela was a communist, etc.

The trouble when issues get wrapped up in politics is that you get painted as advocating a political side. But sometimes you just have to run that risk, and try to explain Baha'u'llah's teachings to those who will listen.
 
Old 12-05-2014, 06:29 AM   #13
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Civil Obedience

For many years, I worked with questions pertaining to international cooperation, mainly humanitarian issues in the UN. Finally, I was forced to admit that the political, conflict-orientated thinking tends to permeate every single decision down to the grassroots level, to such an extent that to believe that my Bahá'í apporach could make any difference felt like an illusion. In the public sector, I've experienced a negative approach from conservatives, liberals and socialists alike, to the Bahá'í stance of not taking part in partisan politics: it's seen as an unwillingness to take responsibility.

Still, however, I think that we, as Bahá'ís could do much more. We could be much more visible in all kinds of political arenas in a very simple way: we could be present. We could for example open a little Bahá'í coffee shop in front of every decision-making body of the world, federal parliaments, state parliaments, city governments, international organizations, administrative offices, treating everyone to coffee and tea, showing our love (or at least decency and tolerance) to everyone, communist, fascist, socialist, conservative alike, explaining our values to everyone, telling them that we believe in unity and cooperation, showing that we don't take sides, but merely are concerned about the whole of mankind.

That, I would say, would not be civil disobedience, but a show of civil obedience.

gnat
 
Old 12-05-2014, 07:00 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by gnat View Post
For many years, I worked with questions pertaining to international cooperation, mainly humanitarian issues in the UN. Finally, I was forced to admit that the political, conflict-orientated thinking tends to permeate every single decision down to the grassroots level, to such an extent that to believe that my Bahá'í apporach could make any difference felt like an illusion. In the public sector, I've experienced a negative approach from conservatives, liberals and socialists alike, to the Bahá'í stance of not taking part in partisan politics: it's seen as an unwillingness to take responsibility.

Still, however, I think that we, as Bahá'ís could do much more. We could be much more visible in all kinds of political arenas in a very simple way: we could be present. We could for example open a little Bahá'í coffee shop in front of every decision-making body of the world, federal parliaments, state parliaments, city governments, international organizations, administrative offices, treating everyone to coffee and tea, showing our love (or at least decency and tolerance) to everyone, communist, fascist, socialist, conservative alike, explaining our values to everyone, telling them that we believe in unity and cooperation, showing that we don't take sides, but merely are concerned about the whole of mankind.

That, I would say, would not be civil disobedience, but a show of civil obedience.

gnat
Dear gnat what a wonderful idea.

I would go and sit in these coffee shops and help spread the message.
I love coffee
I also love meetimgs people of all cultures, countries and for me their political views are the least important.
 
Old 12-05-2014, 08:59 AM   #15
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I like the idea too gnat. I have heard people say MANY MANY times, they are tired of the simple choices they get, in a republican government. They see themselves as offered two choices, and picking the least awful of both, most of the time. (that's how I feel sometimes, looking at a ballot in government elections!)

But it does not have to be that way..
 
Old 12-05-2014, 10:15 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SmilingSkeptic View Post
The history you describe is interesting to describe to be sure, but I can't help but wonder if there's still a profound contradiction between the idea of not participating in politics, and participating in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations that are often political in character.
It probably depends on the situation. The nonviolent demonstration that I specifically mentioned were protests on excessive force used by a police officer in shooting a sleep-deprived schizophrenic man fourteen times. The local chief of police has fired the officer in question stating that the victim should have been treated like a mentally disabled person instead of a violent criminal.

The question of supporting or opposing the officer's actions probably fall along party lines, as party lines are often the only thing people are capable of seeing, but the protests themselves are simply to have the shooting brought to trial, and aren't advocating any specific politics, policies, or parties.
 
Old 12-05-2014, 10:38 AM   #17
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It probably depends on the situation. The nonviolent demonstration that I specifically mentioned were protests on excessive force used by a police officer in shooting a sleep-deprived schizophrenic man fourteen times. The local chief of police has fired the officer in question stating that the victim should have been treated like a mentally disabled person instead of a violent criminal.

The question of supporting or opposing the officer's actions probably fall along party lines, as party lines are often the only thing people are capable of seeing, but the protests themselves are simply to have the shooting brought to trial, and aren't advocating any specific politics, policies, or parties.
In such a case as well, given the tendency towards polarization, the only role I can see for the Bahá'ís would be to stand outside the court of law, in the midst of demonstrating people, just praying for just and equitable decisions to be taken, serving tea and coffee to anyone involved.

The same goes for any other of today's conflicts, the opposing sides so quickly polarizing their standpoints that it's very hard to distinguish between right and wrong, lies and truth.

gnat
 
Old 12-05-2014, 01:37 PM   #18
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Also, since many people here are not from the U.S., it might be useful to share the US NSA's letter for the Feast of Izzat. Their opinion seems to be that even if it often gets sadly political, failure to speak out against racial injustice is against the Teachings.

(emphasis added to highlight parts that seem to encourage civil action against injustices)
Quote:
Dearly loved Friends,

With all Americans, we received with dismay and deep sadness news of the tragic death of Michael Brown, a young African American man not yet out of his teens, on the streets of his suburban home in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9. While we are not in possession of the exact circumstances of the police shooting that resulted in his death—nor is it ours to assess its justifiability—it is not difficult to understand why people across the nation reacted strongly to the incident and arose publicly to register their distress: the incident felt like one more painful reminder of a pattern of indignity and injustice African American men experience every day of their lives. Whether looked at from the standpoint of educational and employment opportunities, the workings of the criminal justice system, economics, politics, or any other facet of American life, there can be no doubt that, despite the advances of recent decades, a deeply ingrained, cancerous racial prejudice continues to afflict American society, disproportionately limiting the prospects for a happy and prosperous life for millions of our fellow citizens of a variety of races and national origins, frustrating their aspirations, compromising their safety and security, and thwarting their ability to realize their full potential.

Witnessing injustice, fair-minded people feel compelled to take action. How much more should this be true for the community of the Most Great Name—we who have recognized the Promised One, Whose purpose is to unite all the human family in a peaceful and just world civilization! Surely we, of all people, cannot afford to stay silent or aloof. We, who have access to the healing message of Bahá'u'lláh, cannot fail to apply the remedy. We can neither surrender ourselves to anger or despair nor merely mouth platitudes or offer shallow prescriptives unsupported by the force of example. We must never imagine we have achieved the high standards of conduct we are called to by Bahá'u'lláh. Rather, we must recognize the greatness of the challenges still before us, the vastness of the learning and growth we must still acquire. We must also never doubt the transformative power latent in the community life we are laboring to create. As the Universal House of Justice has stated:

"We live in the midst of populations which are in desperate need of the Message of Bahá'u'lláh. It is our duty to present it lucidly and convincingly to as many souls as possible. The darkness and suffering around us not only are the signs of a need, but also present us with an opportunity which we must not fail to use. Conveying the message is merely the first step. We must then ensure that it is understood and applied, for, as we read in one of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian: “Until the public sees in the Bahá'í Community a true pattern, in action, of something better than it already has, it will not respond to the Faith in large numbers.” When people embrace the Cause, they should then, through the Teachings, develop their relationships with each other and with their fellow-citizens to gradually produce a truly Bahá'í community, a light and haven for the bewildered."

In light of these words, let us not underestimate the power for change inherent in the Five Year Plan’s framework for action. Beginning with a few simple but profound lines of action, growing more complex and far-reaching over time, they give rise to a way of community life in which outmoded habits of thought and action yield to new understandings and practices founded in God’s purpose for this Age. Imagine thousands of diverse people in a community engaged in meaningful conversations about unity centered in the Word of God; people inspired to translate their insights into active service; people accessing a system of spiritual education capable of nurturing them from childhood to adulthood; people worshiping and serving together for the material and spiritual betterment of all. Imagine the cumulative effect that hundreds of such communities would have on our society! And this is no abstraction—such vibrant communities are already in existence in various parts of the world, as the Supreme Body points out in its most recent Ridván message, as well as its August 1 message surveying the progress of work on Bahá'í Houses of Worship across the globe.

The distress we see around us is as much a part of God’s plan as our own efforts to spread His teachings. The beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, reminded us many times of the promises ‘Abdu'l-Bahá voiced about the future spiritual leadership of our nation. Yet he also reminded us that America would be made fit for that role through great tribulations. Consider but one of his statements to this effect:

"The woes and tribulations which threaten [America] are partly avoidable, but mostly inevitable and God-sent. . . . These same fiery tribulations will not only firmly weld the American nation to its sister nations in both hemispheres, but will through their cleansing effect, purge it thoroughly of the accumulated dross which ingrained racial prejudice, rampant materialism, widespread ungodliness and moral laxity have combined, in the course of successive generations, to produce, and which have prevented her thus far from assuming the role of world spiritual leadership forecast by 'Abdu'l-Bahá's unerring pen—a role which she is bound to fulfill through travail and sorrow."

Dearest friends! What a great destiny the Blessed Beauty has ordained for this nation! Yet how very long the road to that destiny seems! We can be confident He will do His part to prepare the people of this land to make their full contribution to the building of God’s Kingdom on earth. But we must also do our part. Our opportunity is priceless, our duty inescapable. We must not fail in our ceaseless campaign to eradicate racial prejudice, that indispensable element in our “double crusade, first to regenerate the inward life of [our] own community, and next to assail the long-standing evils that have entrenched themselves in the life of [our] nation.”

The American struggle is our struggle. We are one nation, one people.

With deepest Bahá'í love,

NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY OF
THE BAHÁ'ÍS OF THE UNITED STATES
 
Old 12-05-2014, 02:45 PM   #19
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Correct me if I'm wrong,doesn't the Greek word 'politic' mean 'of the people'? In which case all the manifestations of God are political activists, revolutionaries in effect
 
Old 12-05-2014, 02:54 PM   #20
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Walrus thank you very much for posting this message.

I for one on the outside looking at the headlines of these most disturbing events in the USA have remained silent as did not wish to bring the wrath of Baha'is upon myself for wondering what support people of colour receive through the different Institutions of the faith.

Hopefuly the day is coming when we will look upon each other as brothers and sisters, and no longer as different races of people.
 
Old 12-05-2014, 07:40 PM   #21
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erived from the word pollute

Quote:
Originally Posted by aidan View Post
Correct me if I'm wrong,doesn't the Greek word 'politic' mean 'of the people'? In which case all the manifestations of God are political activists, revolutionaries in effect
My old man died 9 years ago at age 99 and one thing I remember him saying:

"Politics is derived from the word: pollute ... "

;-)

.
 
Old 12-05-2014, 10:27 PM   #22
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Correct me if I'm wrong,doesn't the Greek word 'politic' mean 'of the people'? In which case all the manifestations of God are political activists, revolutionaries in effect
Well, literally and in English at least. Of course, the chances of the original writers having that ancient Greek meaning in mind when writing their advice is slim.
 
Old 12-06-2014, 03:23 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by aidan View Post
Correct me if I'm wrong,doesn't the Greek word 'politic' mean 'of the people'? In which case all the manifestations of God are political activists, revolutionaries in effect
No, polis in Greek means the city-state. It includes the rural area governed by that city.
 
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