BahaiResearch.com – New & Improved

Usually when I’m looking up for a specific quote or topic within the Baha’i writings I head to the “official” Reference Library at the world center. But there’s a new and improved website called BahaiResearch.com that has the same content, as well as writings from other religions and periphery content such as memoirs, pilgrims notes, etc.

Although the site is the work of Ian Vink and Runa Ali, it is hosted by USBNC.ORG (US Baha’i National Center web servers). And still the site is way too slow. Speed is extremely important for a search engine as it improves productivity and frequency of use.

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It also supports 14 languages in total: most romance languages, Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Japanese and more. As well, new documents are being continuously added. The best part is that it features boolean searches. This means you can use OR AND NOT to zero in on what you want.

You can even download the whole thing and work offline. And we are told that there are “widgets” coming that would enable you to embed it on your website to allow people a portal to access it.

You might remember a while back we talked about majnun, a Baha’i search engine which basically filtered the web according to what… we don’t know. While majnun is simply a veiled exercise in censorship, Ian and Runa’s project is about disseminating knowledge openly.

BahaiResearch.com reminds me of Ocean, another similar tool (but it is only downloadable and has no online feature).

So take BahaiResearch.com for a spin and let Ian know what you think. He’s done a great job of not only designing a very easy to use application but one that has some real practical value.

Eric Stetson: An Apology to the Baha’is

Eric was a Baha’i from 1998 to 2002, at which point he left and became a Christian. You can read more about him and his views on his site. Momen, in his recent paper, lumped Stetson in with a few others as “apostates” because of their belligerence towards the Faith they once belonged to.

Recently he wrote a lengthy letter outlining a public apology to the Baha’is of the world. And he has approached several websites and blogs to distribute this apology further. I’m happy to oblige his request:

Between the years 2002 and 2008, I have gradually progressed from the point of condemning Baha’u’llah to hell (a judgment that only rebounded back upon myself while I believed it) to a recognition that, whether or not he was inspired by God and regardless of any specific mistakes he may have made, he was surely a man who was trying to make a positive difference in the world and deserves much credit for that.

So let me join the Baha’is this year, this day, in saying “Happy birthday Baha’u’llah!” The world is a better place and many souls have been lifted up to greater heights because you were born and lived on this earth and shared your spiritual message with its people. I love you — not in the way Baha’is do as a follower of the religion you founded, but as a fellow child of God who yearns to do good for my brothers and sisters in the human family and who appreciates the positive things you did in your life in the face of extraordinary trials.

I apologize for excessive and sometimes unfair criticisms I have voiced against Baha’u’llah, his successors, and the Baha’i community. I ask forgiveness from all of you — those who are in this world as well as those in the world beyond. I especially ask those who have been martyred for their Baha’i faith to forgive me. I know that you sacrificed yourselves for something worth dying for: a vision of humanity united in inclusive love, common purpose, and peace among nations and religions under One God. Let me have as much courage and strength to live for these ideals as you had to die for them.

I didn’t talk with Eric very much when he was active and seemingly angry at the Baha’i Faith online. I did join his online group briefly and left on amicable terms after taking part in a few discussions.

The history of the Baha’i Faith and polemics on the internet is quite rich and I’m sure at some point historians will wade through the archives or discussion groups, websites and blogs to write more about it.

At the beginning Baha’i activities online were mostly dominated by academics, mostly because it was they who had ready access to the internet and were at the forefront of adopting new technologies. Then as the internet became more widely available, a more diverse group of people entered the fray. For the most part, it remained a very small group of people.

Over time the discussion flowed from these smaller academic discussion groups to the wider newsgroups: soc.religion.bahai and talk.religion.bahai – the establishment of the latter is itself an interesting story.

From there the online presence branched off into many different discussion groups and then into separate Baha’i blogs, like the one you are reading. Many of the original forums are still ongoing, with Talisman, being one of the oldest. You can find a full list of online Baha’i communities and discussion groups to the right.

No one knows what the future holds, the only thing certain is that the nature of discourse has been forever changed. Whereas before Baha’is were confined by geographic locations and the ability to travel and perhaps on a limited basis, communicate via letters and books, now, we can instantly exchange ideas, share news and collaborate.

radioNUR Website Hacked, Now Back To Normal

radionur-hacked-attack-site-warning.

I went to check up on radioNUR’s website recently and because I’m using Firefox, I was shown this warning. I’ve removed the website URL which shows up in the warning because it is another attack site and if people don’t have up to date protection, their computers can get infected.

Apparently radioNUR’s website was recently hacked and taken over for some nefarious reason. It seems that they are back up and trying to clean up after the fact. I hope they are ok and can recover from this. They are a small operation that does good work and don’t really need this headache.

I’m not sure if they are struggling financially as they were before but I’m glad to see that Michael’s project continues to operate. Way back when I started writing this Baha’i blog, radioNUR was going through some extreme financial pressures and I offered some ideas and suggestions: radioNUR part I and radioNUR part II.

Unfortunately, not only have they not taken any of my suggestions regarding improving their useability but they’ve somehow managed to make it even more challenging for their listeners to tune in. Sheesh.

But if any Baha’is out there have money simply burning a hole in their wallets, consider buying a donation or ads on radioNUR. And if you are a fan of Baha’i Rants, you could do worse than buy an ad to mention and promote this blog on radioNUR ;)

Or you can simply tune in and listen to the broadcast when you’re online. If you can make heads or tails of the instructions.

Iranians Curious About “Bahai”, Americans Not

Google, being the most widely used search engine, collects an unbelievably large amount of data about how we use the internet and what we search for. Since their motto is “Don’t be evil” they are rather transparent and open up a lot of this data, offering an intriguing view into what people around the world are curious about.

According to Google, a lot of folks are interested to learn more about the Baha’i Faith on the internet. The keyword “bahai” ranks at around 80, which is relatively high (out of 100). The trend over the past 4 years is moderately decreasing however.

Google also breaks down the search volume for keywords by geography. Perhaps you would be surprised to learn that, by far, the most curious, are Iranians:

bahai-internet-interest

According to Google, Iran’s search volume for the keyword Baha’ is 100 (the highest). I’m amazed to see such unbridled curiosity from the cradle of the Faith. Not just because I tend to read from most parts that people there are generally apathetic but also because of the technological limitations imposed by a nationwide firewall which rivals China’s.

If you drill down into the Iranian data, you discover that there has been a dramatic drop off in search volume for Baha’i in the past 4 years. It has gone from 100 to low double digits. Maybe that’s when the firewall went into effect. Or perhaps it was ratcheted up.

Understandably, the second spot goes to Israel, at a respectable 67. I don’t know about you, but I would be a tiny bit interested to learn more about this “Baha’i” thing if I had scores of Baha’is in my backyard every year.

Unfortunately for the proclamation efforts of the NSA of the United States, Americans are apathetic at an index reading of just 39. However, the people in the state of Illinois, for some strange reason, show the highest interest. Followed very closely by Alaska.

Another country scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of interest is Chile. Hopefully once the Santiago Temple is finished, that will change things.

If you want to tinker with the data, here is the link for the Google Insight worldwide, and Iran specific search data.

“Pre-Approved” Individual Investigation of Truth?

Neysan Zoelzer-Mehrabkhani, a Baha’i from Germany has created a Baha’i search engine (through Google Co-Op) named Majn??n.

Regular Google search already does a great job of providing information, Baha’i related or otherwise.

So why do we need this service? Well, as Neysan’s site explains, Majn??n:

Searches approved Baha’i-related websites only…

Searches approved Baha’i-related blogs only.

Searches approved Baha’i Book Stores only.

You may ask, “approved”? Approved by whom, exactly?

Well it seems by “Majn??n editors”. Whoever they may be.

The site then goes on to quote from Baha’u’llah’s mystical work, The Seven Valleys to explain the inspiration behind the name of the site (please read carefully):

It is related that one day they came upon Majn??n sifting the dust, and his tears flowing down. They said, ‘What doest thou?’ He said, ‘I seek for Layla­.’ They cried, ‘Alas for thee! Layla­ is of pure spirit, and thou seekest her in the dust!’ He said, ‘I seek her everywhere that some editors have pre-approved for me; haply somewhere within those limits I shall find her.’ Yea, although to the wise it be shameful to seek the Lord of Lords in the dust, yet this betokeneth intense ardor in searching. ‘Whoso seeketh out a thing among pre-approved websites with zeal shall find it.’

ok, that was tongue-in-cheek (for those that are bereft of a sense of humor). But I hope you get my drift.

Among the most powerful animating principles of the Baha’i Faith is the unfettered individual investigation of truth.

It is truly sad that some Baha’is do not understand this fundamental feature of their Faith and through ignorance of it, do things like this.

If history teaches us anything, it is that anyone who has ever attempted to “fetter” information in any way, has failed most spectacularly.

majnun-bahai-search