How to Get Elected to Baha’i Institutions

The dysfunction that I’ve witnessed in Baha’i institutions is both tragic and awe inspiring. Like many Baha’is I assumed that the institutions were there to help, protect and to serve the community. Had I not been witness to them, there was a point where I would simply not have believed the things that I saw. In the second stage, I grasped at the hope that the dysfunction was isolated to the lowest rung (LSAs) or to a geographic area. But soon, I saw that this was not so. I won’t go into the details now because I’ve already talked about it a few times. Needless to say, there is something very wrong here. And it is hurting the Baha’i community severely. Yet we trundle along, managing to ignore it for the most part.

I often think about why things are as they are. Part of it is our propensity to not take cold hard looks at ourselves as a community to evaluate the results we are achieving. Part of it is the culture that prevents any and all feedback, especially if it is remotely negative. Such feedback is seen as criticism and an attack on the institutions – no matter that it be truthful and delivered with loving intentions.

Part of the problem is that the same people are elected to the same positions year after year. This causes a host of problems from feelings of entitlement, to rigid group think, to the creation of little fiefdoms. Part of the problem may be that we haven’t been able to counter a social framework that has a bias for incompetent but loud members. I read this article in Times magazine and was immediately struck by how much of it reflected what was going on in the Baha’i institutions:

“Dominant individuals behaved in ways that made them appear competent,” the researchers write, “above and beyond their actual competence.” Troublingly, group members seemed only too willing to follow these underqualified bosses.

The only way I can think of to counter these harmful built-in biases is to create a culture of transparency (something which is completely lacking in the Baha’i Faith right now), to create a sense of accountability, to institute term limits that would bring in new faces and ideas to the table, to ask the community to give feedback to the institutions and to respond to it adequately – even if it means admitting mistakes.

On the other hand, if you can’t beat them, join them!

worlds-best-boss-bahai-insittutions
Michael Scott of The Office

How to Get Elected to Baha’i Institutions

Step 1
Wear nice clothes and be clean-cut.

Step 2
Attend every single Baha’i function and meeting. When you do, go around the room shaking hands and greet everyone by name. You should attend every single Ruhi book course – even if you’ve already taken it 4 times before.

Kick things into high gear when the new year rolls around. From January to April, you should be seen and heard by every single Baha’i in your community.

Step 3
Try to get on a high-profile committee that would give you as much public exposure as possible. Don’t toil away in the background doing actual work where no one can see you. For example, become a tutor and then get on the institute board. Or get on the feast committee so you can get face time with the whole community.

Step 4
As you walk around, casually carry with you a well-worn Baha’i book at all times –Creating a New Mind is trendy. Or try a Ruhi book. If anyone asks you about it, look away wistfully and say you’re re-reading it and every time you do, you get something new out of it.

Step 5
Speak up whenever there is a remote chance of an audience. Give mini-speeches, suggestions, pontificate or just ramble. Always have an opinion. And share it. It doesn’t matter that it is completely wrong. Just be forceful and revel in your own ignorance.

Can’t think of anything to say? Don’t worry. Just memorize some Baha’i-speak. Blurt out that “we need to prioritize capacity building and share learnings to implement the framework for action so that our pyramid advances us into A-cluster status”. It doesn’t matter that what you just said makes no sense. All that matters is that you use the vocabulary of the International Teaching Center. And say it with confidence. In other words, channel Paul Lample.

Arrested Iranian Baha’is Face Islamic Court

Almost one year ago, the news was first broken here that the authorities in Iran had arrested the administrative body of the Baha’is of Iran.

The news sent shock waves worldwide across the Baha’i community as everyone realized that this meant that our fellow Baha’is in Iran faced a renewed pattern of persecutions.

Now Baha’is are abuzz all around the web because we have news a few days ago that the 7 arrested Baha’is are to be tried in court with trumped up charges of espionage. They have never been allowed to see their lawyer, nor has any manner of due process been followed in their case.

If they do go to trial, you can expect it to be little more than kangaroo court with the verdict already decided well in advance.

yaran bahai group iran

The Baha’i community is doing its best to bring further pressure to bear on the Iranian Islamic regime by highlighting the persecution of these and other Baha’is in Iran in media, in talks with government officials and through a general campaign of public relations.

Every fair-minded person would attest to the injustice of what is happening. Beyond this obvious point, something else needs attention. I happened to read a recent article by Nazila Ghanea in the Guardian and in the comments section, someone wrote:

guardian-article-persecution-of-iranian-bahais-comment

This is, of course, nothing new (unfortunately). In the latest LA Class newsletter we read an article that Denis MacEoin wrote 30 years ago decrying this same self-serving attitude.

Although tragic and unjust, the treatment of the Baha’is in Iran is no less tragic and unjust than what is meted out to many groups in Iran. If we, as Baha’is, truly believe in a better world, then how can we choose to be silent while others suffer and only cry out when our own are in danger?

Rick Steves: A Perspective on Iran

While you can watch the video above (be patient for it to buffer), you can also watch the complete video here. Since it is long (over an hour including the question & answer portion at the end) from that link, you can jump through different sections at the bottom of the video.

For the most part he’s far too easy on Iran. He white-washes the treatment of women, citing for example that a separate car in the subway is out of respect for women. He somehow manages to bypass the myriad abuses and infringements of women’s rights in Iran. I don’t know if this is because of sheer ignorance or because he is so adamant about trying to see things through another perspective.

To see what he says about the treatment of Baha’is, jump to chapter 13: Religious Freedom. His conclusion is, “if you’re a Baha’i, get out of Iran“.

Steves also concedes that there is no religious freedom but then says that the same ‘tyranny of the majority’ exists in the US. While the US or any western democratic country is not perfect, such a comparison is completely without merit. The whole world was witness just a few months ago to the rule of democracy and meritocracy in the US. Something which has been wholly annihilated in Iran – as can be seen by the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International (Iran is #141 for 2008).

Something else which struck me is that he claims that Ahmadinejad came to power because of a populous dislike of the US (caused by the Bush administrations ill advised wars). This is incorrect. Ahmadinejad was brought to power by powerbrokers (Hojatieh Society) behind the scene that wanted an easily manipulated puppet that would implement their agenda to take the country further and further into fundamentalism.

The biggest mistake that Steves makes is to assume that Iran is in the mess that it is because a group of well-meaning, “family values” oriented folks are in charge. The truth is that Iran is controlled by a power hungry, kleptocrats that are using religion as a tool to enslave and manipulate.

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 BahaisOnline.net 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.