Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The Gardener

Renown Iranian director and film-maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s recent work is simply titled “The Gardener” but it is about a topic anything but simple.

The garden, or gardener, in question is Eona, a Papua New Guinea gardener working at the Baha’i World Centre gardens on Mount Carmel, Haifa. And the film is an attempt to introduce to Iranian audiences, who may have only heard half-truths, propaganda or outright lies, to the Baha’i Faith.

Makhmalbaf says: “Many of us Iranians know more about religions and schools of thought from Indian, Chinese, or Japanese origin than religions that have grown out of Iran. Maybe this has been willed by censorship. The Gardener is an attempt to break this censorship.”

But the film, produced in a surreal docu-drama style, goes beyond that. Through the two perspectives offered by the father and son team of Mohsen and Maysan Makhmalbaf the audience is presented with the two starkly contrasting attitudes of Iranians today towards not only the Baha’i Faith specifically but religion in general.

Nor surprisingly, the newer generation is sick and tired of religion, having had their fill of it through the suffocating theocratic Islamic government of Iran. The older generation still cling to the ideal that religion can be a positive force in the world. The dialectic nature of the film succeeds in drawing in the audience and engaging them on a very deep and personal level.

Makhmalbaf hasn’t been very popular with the Islamic regime and this recent work will make him even less so.

Audience reactions at premiere:

IMDB page

Makhmalbaf has dedicated his prize from the 30th Jerusalem Film Festival to the Baha’i gardener featured in his film, Guillaume Nyagatare from Rwanda.

House of Baha’u’llah in Baghdad Destroyed – BREAKING

Communique from the Universal House of Justice – June 27, 2013:

With shattered hearts, we have received news of the destruction of the Most Great House — the House of Baha’u’llah in Baghdad. While the precise circumstances attending this outrageous violation are as yet unclear, its immediate consequence is without doubt, and must be emphatically stated: The peoples of the world have been robbed of a sanctuary of incalculable sacredness.

So deplorable an act, coming on the eve of the unprecedented worldwide convocation of Baha’u’llah’s young followers and their friends, calls to mind that mysterious interplay of crisis and victory through which His indestructible, irrepressible, inexorable purpose will finally be consummated.

We supplicate the Blessed Beauty to confer upon His faithful followers throughout the world fortitude and resolve in the face of this grievous blow. More information will be provided as it becomes available.

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“New” National Spritual Assembly Members Elected

The delegates of the 15th Baha’i National Convention elected the new members of the NSA for the United States. But to be fair, they are not all that new. Basically every single previous member was re-elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the US (in descending order of votes received):

Kenneth E. Bowers
Muin Afnani
Juana C. Conrad
David F. Young
Jacqueline Left Hand Bull
S. Valerie Dana
Fariba Aghdasi
Erica Toussaint-Brock
Robert C. Henderson

NSA US members 2013

Likewise, the delegates of the National Convention in Canada re-elected the exact same individuals to serve on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada (in descending order of votes received):

Karen McKye
Deloria Bighorn
Mehran Anvari
Judy Filson
Elizabeth Wright
Enayat Rawhani
Gordon Naylor
Susanne Tamas
Lisa Flynn

Canada NSA members 2013

Sadly, this pattern of electing the same people again and again has been going on for some time. The individuals on the NSA of Canada, for example, have on average 10 years of consecutive membership! And if there is any change, it is rare and small with one or perhaps two people changing at a time. In fact, over the past 16 years there has never been one instance of more than two individuals being changed in one year.

The results of this are apathy on the part of the general Baha’i community. The results of the election are a foregone conclusion before they take place and as such they are of no interest to the average Baha’i. And as apathy takes hold and less and less people vote, the effect of incumbency intensifies even further in a vicious cycle.

Apart from this negative effect on the community, the institution itself suffers as cliques form and individuals create and protect fiefdoms within their purview. Old time members naturally are more comfortable with old ideas and hostile to new ones. Even the wisp of fresh air brought in by the election of one new individual is overpowered by the musty stench of incumbency wafting from the other eight. And so, fresh ideas and insights are forfeit as group think takes hold.

Is there a way out of this quagmire? Yes, of course! But while it is simple it is not necessarily easy because many Baha’is today are more concerned with maintaining the status quo than addressing the shortcomings of community. The advice of the Guardian on the importance of “fresh blood” is disregarded in favor of not rocking the boat:
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Keep Calm and Ruhi On – Thoughts on the Frontiers of Learning Video

Last year the ITC sent a team around to world to document the success of four Baha’i communities in implementing the core activities. This film was released during the international Baha’i convention and has become a central focus of attention and conversation for Baha’is around the world. A reader of this blog, Rowland, mentioned the video recently in the post about the election of the UHJ. In case you haven’t yet, I invite you to watch the video. I wanted to briefly share my thoughts on it and what it means from a broader perspective about the Baha’i worldwide community.

Keep Calm and Ruhi OnAt first glance the video is quite uplifting because it showcases examples of community development where Baha’is have had a meaningful and positive impact. For example, in India we are shown how the institute process has lead some villagers to soften their deep-seated male chauvinism and to question the cultural norm of ‘castes’. It seems all very wonderful! Apparently the Baha’i community has discovered community development. More than that, it comes across as if the Baha’is have invented community development.

The truth is that the contributions of Baha’is around the world is miniscule compared to everything else out there, both in terms of manpower and in terms of resources; and it comes very late. Nevertheless it is praiseworthy and should be acknowledged as such. At the same time, it is important to maintain perspective and realize that there are other groups doing amazing work out there light years ahead of the Baha’i community and that we can learn much from them. This, I would submit, is the more appropriate tone to strike, rather than one of triumphalism and chest-beating “overstatements of the Baha’i experience”.
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Universal House of Justice: Ridvan Message 2013 (170 BE)

This year’s annual Ridvan message from the Universal House of Justice can be summarized with just a few words: “Keep Calm and Ruhi On”.

More on this and the recently released video, Frontiers of Learning, in the coming days. Until then, you’ll find the complete Ridvan message below: