The Infidel

Omid Djalili, the Iranian-born Baha’i comedian and actor stars in the new UK comedy “The Infidel”. In the film Djalili plays a Muslim man who discovers suddenly that he was adopted… from Jewish parents.

Here is the trailer:

They have also started a contest for the “funniest” religion. Here is Omid starting things off with a joke about Palestine:

Let’s hear your funniest joke about religion!

No One Knows About Persian Cats

Last year’s charade election in Iran laid bare the stark reality in that country for not only the rest of the world but also for many of the usually apathetic Iranians inside Iran. The friction between the oppressed and their oppressors reached a climax with street protests and violent clashes.

After a few weeks of shocking dismay, the powerful control apparatus put in place by the Basiji, the Revolutionary Guards and Ahmadinejad clamped down and eventually snuffed out the protests. But don’t mistake the tranquility on Tehran streets as a sign that everything is back to normal. The turmoil in Iran is simmering under the surface, ready to boil over at a moment’s notice. This is far from over.

Amidst this historic upheaval, the acclaimed film director Bahman Ghobadi made his latest work: “No One Knows About Persian Cats”. Like most Iranian cinema it defies classification being more a documentary than film. It chronicles the lives of a group of young Iranian musicians struggling against the stiffing oppression that prevents them from even playing the music they like.

The film was the winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival and was written in collaboration with Roxana Saberi (Ghobadi’s fiance), who as you might recall, was arrested and imprisoned on charges of espionage. I haven’t watched the movie yet but this clip featuring a Persian rapper is mesmerizing (pause if you need to, to be able to read what he is saying):

The ruling mullahs are afraid of the power of music like this. And for good reason. The video above is just one of the musicians featured in the film. All of them decided to leave Iran (and not to return from Cannes) expect the man rapping in this clip. Click to watch the trailer for “No One Knows About Persian Cats” or this alternative trailer:

This theme of leaving Iran to the decrepit cleptocracy is one that I’ve written about more than a few times already. Iran is bursting at the seams with youth who are brimming with potential. The problem is that the country has been organized in such a way to snuff out any and all hope and progress. Your average Iranian youth, like the ones above, have no qualms about leaving Iran in order to create a better life. Even Baha’is are doing so every day in groups.

My only bone to pick is with the Baha’i administration that actively pursues a policy to keep as many Baha’is inside Iran as possible. No matter how dangerous the consequences may be for them. Anyway, if you can catch Ghobadi’s latest work in your local cinema, don’t miss the chance.

Towards a New Economic System

The global financial crisis is abated and while most are glad to see it drop from the top spot in the media, there is still a danger that the underlying reasons why it occurred have not been resolved.

As Sonja asked last year, what would the Baha’i answer have been? Of course, the Baha’i Faith does not pretend to be an economic system. It neither endorses a laissez-faire economic system, nor a Marxist, socialist or communist system.

The world is by now becoming keenly aware that none of the frameworks implemented throughout history have been successful. The failures of Marxism and communism provided the right with a few decades to gloat. However, the recent collapse of the world economy is a sharp slap in the face of the Chicago school of thought.

Understandably, everyone is confused. Experts, economists, and politicians argue incessantly about what happened and why and what should be done. As always, there are a few who tenaciously cling to the old, fatal ideas, claiming that they are valid but their implementation was flawed. This is the tired refrain we’ve heard so many times from the left to excuse the collapse of communist states. And so it is equally invalid.

People are angry. The gap between the rich and the poor has reached epic proportions not seen for more than 80 years. Michael Moore who has his finger on the pulse of the masses has captured the zeitgeist yet again and released a scathing new documentary: “Capitalism, a Love Story”. Here is the trailer:

Being the agent provocateur that he is, Michael Moore doesn’t pretend to offer answers in this documentary. Instead, he exposes a broken system by asking a lot of daring questions. One of his main ones is that both capitalism and socialism are constructs 100′s of years old. We are now living in the 21st century – isn’t it time we created a new financial system for today’s world?

And most damning of all: how can we pretend to live in a political democracy when our economy is not democratic? Can we ever have true democracy when the top 5% of Western society control the majority of its wealth? When that top 5% uses money to influence politics to protect the status quo?

Of course, answering these questions and proposing new paths for humanity is complex and will take time. But if you look carefully, even right now, amid all the chaos and injustice, there are a few glimmers of hope. One that I learned about recently is a micro-credit project being spearheaded by a Baha’i NGO in South America. They are working with the locals to set up self-sustaining banking institutions, run democratically by the community, for the community. While these tiny micro-credit institutions have a Baha’i model built in, the vast majority of the members and participants are non-Baha’is.

The work they are doing is amazingly good as you can see from this documentary. It is a bit long at 40 minutes but well worth it. I encourage you to watch it. If you can’t in one sitting, come back and see it in two or three installments. And make sure you share it with your friends. It is life affirming and during difficult times like these, it is important to be reminded of the good in the world:

I’m not suggesting that these simple community based finance institutions are the panacea for an incredibly complex and interwoven global financial marketplace. But the underlying philosophy is what is important. Had the animating spirit behind these micro-credit institutions also powered Wall Street, we would not have gone through the wrenching financial crisis.

Rainn Wilson’s Soulpancake on Oprah

If you haven’t been following the launch of Rainn Wilson‘s new website, then you haven’t missed much because up until today it wasn’t more than a sign-up page. But now, it is finally here and you can signup, join, and take part in the conversation.

Rainn Wilson’s aim is to create a place to really delve into spirituality, religion and all those questions about God, the meaning of life, the universe, everything…

Here is Part 1 of his sit down interview with Oprah to introduce the site and the inspiration for this project (the Baha’i Faith):

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BBC: Around the World in 80 Faiths – Baha’i Faith

Around the World in 80 Faiths is a BBC program that explores the nooks and crannies of the world for religions, spiritual traditions, exotic rituals and pilgrimage rites. Thanks to for the tip.

The Baha’i Faith is #39 on the list. You can watch the short excerpt in the video below. The program is hosted by Peter Owen Jones, an Anglican vicar from the UK.

But as you might expect, Peter Owen Jones isn’t your typical vicar. He wears his hair dishevelled, sports cowboy boots, smokes, kicks back stiff drinks and has no qualms about getting mixed up with some exotic and downright strange rituals. The man is so open-minded, so curious and so ready to put himself in vulnerable situations that you can’t help but admire him.

Now, running around the world experiencing 80 different religions is a tall order and I don’t blame Jones for not being able to delve into the intricate details and histories of every one of them. But from watching the clip about the Baha’i Faith, it is obvious that he is making some very basic mistakes and misrepresenting what the Baha’i Faith is, exactly.

He says in the video:

Personally, I think one of the refreshing things about the Baha’i [sic] is that to become a Baha’i, you don’t even have to give up your existing religion.

This is, obviously, incorrect.

In the past, when the Faith was still very young, Baha’is were allowed to continue their affiliation with their previous religious institutions but gradually, we have come to recognize that as an independent religion, identifying as a Baha’i means that we leave behind previous affiliations. Shoghi Effendi was the Baha’i central figure that made this delineation. Currently there are only a few countries that are allowed exceptions to this, but for the rest of the world being a Baha’i means just that.

The Baha’i Faith comes across as one of the better or ‘best’ religions that are featured in the program. But if that is because it is characterized as a vague, all-inclusive, anything goes religion, it is misplaced. However, I do share Jones’ hope that the future is one where we are united in diversity.

I’m not sure where he got his information about the Baha’i Faith but Jones doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of things even beyond such elemental levels. For example, at the beginning he says that “the followers of the Baha’i Faith have built a garden at the shrine of their prophet, known as the Bab…” Without meaning to quibble over details, this is also incorrect. The prophet of the Baha’i Faith is Baha’u’llah. The prophet of the Babi Faith is the Bab. Perhaps Jones knows this and simply misspoke.

In a little bit, you can buy the book: Around the World in 80 Faiths. Here is the BBC website for the program.

It is wonderful to see such a program – even if it has a few errors – because it shows that we are slowly moving towards a recognition that we are all one family. Even if we may seem to have different ways of approaching spirituality, our intentions flow from the same divine inspiration. This reminds me of another project which I mentioned a while back: A Year of Faith where a group of youth decided to practice a different religion for a month (for a year). That project delved into the Faith in much more depth and resulted in some interesting perspectives:

An Introduction to the Baha’i Faith
The Kitab-i-Iqan
Theological Problems of the Baha’i Faith
The Baha’i Faith and Homosexuality

As a Baha’i, I greatly appreciate these efforts because it allows us to gain insight into what an ‘average person’ might go through when investigating the Faith.