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Enough? The Baha’i Seven Are Still There**.

**(Lest We Forget)**

The campaign is over now.

There have been several concerted efforts to raise global awareness. One proclaimed the passing of 10,000 hours of unjust, of ridiculously tragic imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders in Iran. Many fine words were said in numerous dignified contexts, but the “Yaran” – it means “friends” in Farsi – remained in jail. The five-year mark of their astounding 20-year sentences brought another crescendo of polite indignation, but these five years of loss, not only to the persecuted Baha’i minority but to all of Iranian society, moved the Teheran government not a bit.

Will a new logo be needed for nine?

Will a new logo be needed for nine?

In May of 2015, the hashtag #SevenBahaisSevenYears achieved not quite the currency of, say, #BlackLivesMatter (to say nothing of tags for TV shows or celebrity break-ups), but it circled the globe with awareness and a renewed call for justice. Earlier this month, #EnoughIsEnough and #ReleaseBahai7Now had their moments of trendiness as the Yaran’s captivity reached its eight anniversary.

The campaign did its best. More people than before are aware of the human rights situation in Iran, one that puts the Baha’is at the centre of the issue – not that they are the only, or even the largest, group that is oppressed and unjustly incarcerated. In fact, the Baha’i community wishes only to serve the broader population, and is dogged, even when its brightest young people are excluded from university admission, in its pursuit of education for all. Their “crime” is one, plainly and simply, of belief in the teachings of the 19th-century Persian nobleman known as Baha’u’llah, considered a heretic by Shiah Islamic clerics. All the noise about “sedition” and “immorality” and “spying” is nothing but bigoted, ignorant and baseless slander; religious intolerance is the reality.

So here I am. I tweeted and liked. Did my bit, I guess. Maybe so.

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Murray Sinclair (on Aboriginal justice)

This is not news, but it, too, is reality. (A tip o’ the cap to Peter Trueman – and how’s that for the name of a news reporter? – who finished off his nightly Global TV newscasts way back when with a commentary, which always ended with a similar line.) I’m thinking, again, this morning of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its work is done. Its recommendations are out there. Many a heart-tugging reminiscence has been aired, stories of the often-bitter legacy of Canada’s residential schools for Aboriginal children and youth. And as is the way of modern life, we are on to other things, most of us.

Just for this quotable minute, let’s remember. First, while I’m tipping my invisible fedora, I want to remember Desmond Tutu. As I understand it, he was the key mind behind South Africa’s origination of the “Truth and Reconciliation” concept, which has built into it not only the idea of an unblinkered and fearless gaze at the rancid facts of his country’s racialist history, but also this notion: look, we all have to live here together, and we’ll stay sick, slaves to the past, if we don’t forgive. That’s what the congregation of the Charleston Emmanuel church have (again) taught us in the aftermath of murder: that forgiveness is not some spineless absolution of another’s evil, but a courageous and hard-won insistence on clearing one’s heart of the barnacles of vengeance and the chains of hate. Tutu was a churchman. He knew and preached that Christ’s call to forgive must harmonize with the cry for justice. I’m glad we had the wisdom, however imitative, to call the Canadian investigation into our earlier policies of de-culturalization the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s a mighty marriage of mutually reinforcing principles. Hurray for us.

Many truths have been told. However, I’m not sure that reconciliation has been advanced much. There is greater awareness. Awareness is good. There is greater understanding and real sympathy, but it won’t take too many Aboriginal protests that infringe on suburban Canadian complacency to erode that. (I’m from Caledonia. Uneasy lie the heads of those on opposite sides of racially stained land disputes.) Still, I’m hopeful that the work of Justice Murray Sinclair and his Commission is a watershed moment in the history of Canada’s movement toward greater harmony and equality among our founding peoples and all the boat people, wagon people, car and airplane people that have joined them on this favoured hunk of Earth.

In a June 6 interview that bears re-reading, Justice Sinclair made a point that still echoes. Speaking to writer John Ibbitson, but through him to all Canadians of Anglo-French and other European backgrounds, he offered a particular and ominous reason for getting right the relationship with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.

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7Bahais7Years: Getting Mad, No Getting Even

UPDATE: After this post, I wrote short personal essays on each of the Quietly Magnificent Seven — Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm. Click on a name to get a quick impression of each.

Now this is really starting to burn my cookies. Must be time to write. (You write beautifully when you’re angry, cooed Howdy’s imaginary mistress of exposition. Liar. And thanks, he replied.)

Listen: I’ve known about the seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders in Iran for a while. I hang around the Baha’i community quite a bit. I am irritated occasionally by their relentless kindness and optimism and my repeated failures of same, it’s true. They’re everywhere you look, but there are never enough of them. But where else would I go for reasonable views on the spiritual life, for a worldview both epically hopeful and practical, for a community that embodies (better than anything I’ve seen) all the grassroots democracy and unity-in-diversity that I can shake an old hockey stick at? Long story short: nowhere. I keep lurking behind the frontlines of Baha’i community-building because it stirs my mind, shakes my lethargy, calms my despair and lifts my spirit. Not bad!

So: the Baha’is in Iran are under assault in their own home, right where this global system of knowledge and practice began. (Call it a religion, if the word doesn’t poison you) Where their Faith originated, they have been vilified, harassed and murdered for a century and a half. The old story. It continues. Scapegoating. Jail. Executions. The whole nine.

Or, in the particular case that’s overturned my emotional outhouse and toilet-papered my trees todaySEVEN. Seven Baha’is. Seven years in two different Tehran jails, and who can say which is more infamous?

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‘Abdu’l-Baha (on truth and national limitations)

His father called him "the Master". He preferred to be known as a servant.

His father called him “the Master”. He preferred to be known as a servant.

He was a big story in 1912, but aside from the Baha’i community and its friends, few remember ‘Abdu’l-Baha Abbas. For 239 days, he travelled about North America to considerable acclaim: he was heralded in newspapers from Montreal to San Francisco, New York to Chicago as an “Oriental Seer”, the “Baha’i Prophet”, as a “Wonderful Persian Mystic” and “Apostle of Peace”. He gave hundreds of talks in synagogues, churches, universities, public auditoriums and private homes. His topics were many, but the central core of his message was one of spiritual awakening, the hard but necessary road to global peace, and the essential oneness of all faiths, races and peoples. Imagine: 1912.

On May 3, ‘Abdu’l-Baha (it means something like “servant of the Glory”) spoke at the Hotel Plaza in Chicago. He analyzed what factors led to the advancement of civilization and the living of an ethical, productive life. He pointed towards what he called “universal educators”, those historical sources of spiritual, intellectual and material guidance around whom whole systems of belief and practice have arisen. Given where he was, Jesus Christ was his main example.

The quote below almost seemed a throwaway line given at the end of the talk.

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Tabatha Southey (on calling hatred hatred)

Ms. Southey is a fine Canadian writer. The Santa Barbara killings couldn’t have shocked her, but what she noticed in all the public commentary was that many issues suddenly needed to be talked about right now. Mental illness was there, of course. Guns. Race. She wasn’t complaining about our culture’s developing capacity to talk about realities that were once hush-hush. She was pointing out that misogyny wasn’t among them. What do people talk about when they talk about “honour killings” of supposedly shameful women, such as recent events in Pakistan (or Ottawa)? Insane ideology might get a mention, and Muslim extremism in general. We’re less likely to mention a rampant condescension towards what some men persist in regarding (sometimes consciously) as an “inferior” species, and a hatred of that stubborn species when women and girls presume to act as if they were capable of deciding and acting like human beings — that is to say, men — are expected to do. The road to realizing the equality between men and women is thorny, bloody dangerous — not only for women, but most brutally and frequently for them.

Southey’s strong, grimly witty article is here, and well worth a read. I quote only a bit of her true and pointed conclusion.

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2013 in Review: The Great Eighteen. Writing you can READ.

The last time I compiled a “Best of Howdy” list, for 2012, it was easier. I browsed through the year’s posts, remembered some things I liked, whittled it down to 10, gave a brief description, done. This time I tried to get more scientific, more democratic, and it’s been a mess. Not a lot of people responded to my invitation to submit favourites of the year, but they were some of my best readers and it was satisfying to hear about posts they liked. But.

My correspondents were far from unanimous in their preferences, and often those didn’t match the things I’d have chosen. And now that I have slightly more sophisticated analytics, I can easily check which posts had the most page views, which was often a completely different list from mine or the sometimes-odd choices of my panellists. A blogger’s work is never done. All this did cause extra work, but it was good thinking – along with the sidebar reflections that my Choice Readers had made – about what I’ve done, what worked and didn’t, and especially about what got read, and how. As it turns out, a tour of these will give you a pretty good idea of what I’m on (and off) about.

So here it is, again in the form of a quick trip through the Howdy catalogue. And I know: eighteen posts? Well, I plead indecision, for one thing, but it’s hard to choose among your children. There were 128 of them birthed on JH.com for 2013; also I reached my 500th post overall. Not a bad year, I’m not afraid to admit it.¹

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Baha’u’llah (the essence of all…)

I’ve been reading a short, incredibly dense series of statements by Baha’u’llah from “Words of Wisdom”. Each brief pronouncement names the “essence of understanding”, “the source of courage”, the “beginning of magnanimity”, “true remembrance”, and the like. It is five minutes of reading, and a lifetime of grasping. It concludes this way:

The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye.”

Baha’u’llah (1817-1892) was the Founder of the Baha’i Faith and the Author,

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(Not) Marcus Aurelius (on reasons for goodness)

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

Marcus Aurelius, 2nd century Stoic philosopher and, for twenty years, Emperor of Rome. I love this statement of the sovereignty of goodness above hairsplitting and vain imaginings. It comes from the Meditations of Aurelius. Actually, I don’t know where it comes from. I’m no classics scholar, and I was nearly fooled. It sounded so good to be quoting a famous but under-read (including by me!) philosopher.

According to WikiQuote, there is no record of such a statement before 2010.

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Time Goes Fast, Learning Goes Slow *

Love this album.

* This is a line from from Bruce Cockburn‘s song “When You Give It Away”,  from his 1999 album Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu. Bruce is mighty, but this post isn’t about him. It’s all about me, folks. (Well, and maybe them, and her, and all of us, and maybe even you.)

I should know by now.

(I do know, as through an angry glass, darkly.)

I should know by now that vehicles on Dalian streets do not yield for pedestrians, but may accelerate around corners or slalom from one lane of traffic to another to get past them. I should know better than to get revved up, but I still do. It happened again yesterday, though I didn’t shout and flail. (Progress!?)

I should know by now that my freshman class’s leader wouldn’t really understand my directions, though he said, “Got it!” I should have known that he would go upstairs to ask the school administrators for an empty classroom, rather than just doing the quick walkabout I’d recommended to find a spot for a writing class that we’d had to re-schedule. (I knew they wouldn’t help him, since he was a mere student, and they likely wouldn’t have had any better answer for me. Such requests are, no matter how banal, always “very difficult”.) By the time I arrived, just barely at the time we’d agreed on, some of the group had dispersed because there were “no rooms available”. Yes, well, except for the one on the first floor, the one on the second, and the one on the third. I didn’t go any higher.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn, later that day, that our Canada-bound sophomore students are required to pay a 6500-yuan “service/counselling fee” to get their visas. That’s about a thousand bucks. That’s about two months’ rent for our well-above-average apartment. My surge of head-shaking disgust was surely redundant. I shouldn’t have been surprised, either, that the kids seemed entirely resigned about it.

I should know better than to have let my temper rise at dinner last night, too. He was only 20-something, and yes, he had too much to say, and he talked right over the friend to his right and was sublimely uninterested in hearing from the two women at our table. Four bottles of beer in an hour didn’t help him much, come to think of it, and I do have a son-of-an-alcholic’s distaste for those who find loud courage in a bottle. It’s true, also, that most of our students and young Chinese friends assume that Canada is paradise and that our lives are far more fortunate than theirs – which, in most ways, is nothing but true.

But he got so aggressive in bemoaning how hard it was to find a wife, how little he had learned in seven years of university, his not knowing how to do his job, how difficult it was, how long it would take him to save for a house so long as he turned down his well-off daddy’s standing offer to buy him one or two (which would, according to Chinese custom, make his wife-hunt much easier, sad to say). By the time he launched into you don’t know, you’re from Canada, everything is easy for you, I should have known it was time to bid a polite good night, but this spoiled prince-ling had hit a whole bunch of a cheek-chewing Canadian’s buttons. He probably doesn’t think a lot differently than many young men I know here, but he was rude and insistent enough that he got both barrels. I don’t like to be so salty and direct, and I wish I’d been able to do it without so much heat, but enough was enough and maybe I was burnt by a long day of learning what I ought to already know. We had spoken earlier of the value of directness, and maybe he learned something, too. We parted civilly, all of us, with mutual congratulations for frank discussion and the importance of seeing for ourselves, but I was still muttering to myself as I got ready for bed. I slept long.

I knew this wouldn’t be easy. There is so much education to be had! (Trouble with nations, trouble with relations / Where you gonna go for some illumination? / Too much to carry, too much to let go / Time goes fast, learning goes slow…*) As we approach the end of four years living and teaching in China, I know who the real student is. (Imagine: I complained a little in our first year that our living conditions in China were too comfy, that we weren’t really experiencing sufficient hardship to genuinely grow, to contribute usefully to this society. I hope I’m growing. I hope I’m giving something that China can use. But I should’ve known better than to tempt the fates as brazenly as that!) I wasn’t used to thinking of myself as a slow learner1, but I should’ve known that a stubborn idealist and a fiery perfectionist (those would be me) would take some bumps.

 

1 And, if more evidence were needed, I’m headed for another adventure in old-boy basketball Sunday night, playing students again in the same gym from which I took an unscheduled hospital trip in January. Some guys never learn, and sometimes that ain’t so bad.

M.L. King (on love and power and where they meet)

 

“Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Martin Luther King, in Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community.
Read it again. Power and love are positioned as allies, not foes, whose intersections lead toward the justice we all seek. That man had a mighty dream, but not only that.