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Sunday, March 6, 2011

LEADERSHIP WITHOUT LEADERS


Every one of you devoted friends should consider himself the only person in the entire world who is wearing the luminous crown of divine teachings and the only one who holds in his hands the life-giving banner of the Cause of Baha'u'llah for the world of humanity; so that he may strive, with a firm resolution, unflinching determination, steadfast steps and hopeful heart, to tread his undeviating path in the chosen highway of God and, with a brilliant countenance and head held high, continue with an unwavering attitude to focus his radiant gaze on the golden horizon of the Cause of God.
With those words, the administrative order of Iran's long-oppressed Baha'i religious minority tried to prepare its membership for another bloody era in 1980. The earliest days of the Baha'i Faith in its native land had seen 20,000 martyrs, with practically every leader killed or exiled, by the time its age of martytrdom was declared over in the early part of the 20th Century. The restoration of Persia's monarchy had brought a new wave of oppression; Tehran's Baha'i temple was razed with official ceremony; but this bought them no credibility with the ayatollahs now leading the popular revolution.

It is impossible to overstate the intensely democratic form that Baha'i elections take. No one can mention any names, trade any horses, or advocate for any position. Wherever nine or more Baha'is live in any community, they gather once a year to pray and write names on secret ballots. Taking as many rounds as necessary, the assembly chooses a chairperson, a treasurer, and a secretary. Writings and prayer between ballots exhort each adult Baha'i to name the worthiest ones among them for the post in question. It can, indeed usually does, require much more time than your average voting experience in America.

The entire Baha'i administrative order mirrors this process of consensus. Baha'i organization subverts the ordinary lines of political geography: "clusters" of assemblies form communities. Regions overlap states. Alaska has its own "National Spiritual Assembly;" so do Sicily and Puerto Rico. Members of the highest international council -- the Universal House of Justice -- are elected regularly in much the same manner and mode as local assemblies. There are no clerics, and no administrative class. Merit is the order of a sober selection.

Before 1980 was over, all nine Baha'is in that photograph had been arrested and disappeared, never to be seen again. With astounding courage, the Baha'is of Iran immediately re-elected another National Spiritual Assembly. They, too, were arrested and executed -- and a third immediately elected in its place.

That assembly disbanded itself after the revolutionary government passed a law making Baha'i assemblies illegal. It was one of several repressive acts by the regime: Baha'is were denied state education, government jobs, or civic recognition of marriage. Baha'is in Iran resisted by not resisting. For the next three decades, Baha'is would see the heightened oppression of the revolution muted by the Iran-Iraq War, relaxed in the thermidor of Khatami's presidency, and returned to official policy in the Ahmadinejad years. By this time, an entirely informal -- and web-based! -- Baha'i education system had sprung up, and a highly-organized informal system to replace the assembly. From June of 2010:


— The trial of seven Baha'i leaders imprisoned for more than two years in Iran seems to have come to a conclusion after three days of successive court hearings.
The seven appeared in Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran on the morning of Saturday, 12 June and returned to Evin Prison shortly after noon.
All seven were convicted last August and sentenced to 20 years in prison for "establishment of an illegal administration." Calling themselves asyaran ("friends"), this simple coordinating group had committed the crime of providing basic community functions, like burial services and counseling. These convictions are ironic, as Baha'is created these informal arrangements to stay in compliance with the laws. Baha'i scriptures actually tell them to obey their national authority -- and they had been.

Yet even this repression has failed to end the Baha'i Faith in Iran. Indeed, it has obtained the opposite effect, kindling sympathy as the regime's popular support crumbles. Every Baha'i hanged, murdered, or imprisoned becomes a martyr of peaceful resistance instead of a warning to others. Every innovation by the state has engendered equal or greater innovation by the Baha'is, who continue to put their best and brightest forward without fear.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Matt. The organization of the B'hai "religion" mirrors that of Soldiers For Peace International, Wikileaks and other groups in that it is anarchic, meaning without leaders.

    Each of us can be a Soldier For Peace if we understand that the way to end war is to fight for social justice in any manner of our own choosing.

    The key objective for me is to establish democracy in the United States and the world by rising up to foil the plans of the international corporate terrorists to impose a fascist New World Order on all of us.

    It seems to me that the only way to establish democracy in the United States is by working together to end corporate personhood by Constitutional amendment.

    People from John Conyers to Thom Hartmann have told me it is impossible, yet Bernie Sanders implied in his national town hall on Thom Hartmann that he is preparing to introduce a Constitutional amendment intended to do just that.

    If he is serious, he is probably working with other true representatives of the People such as Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to select from among the various options that have been put forth. That makes it our job to make sure that they do it right.

    ReplyDelete

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