Tsunami Response (or lack thereof)

I think Karen was one of the first out there that asked whether there was any official “Baha’i” response to the recent earthquake/tsunami in South East Asia. It is safe to say, that other than the limp response letter which she cites in her blog from the NSA of the United States to an individual believer wondering what the heck should be done, there is no real concerted and significant effort underway.I’m know that individual Baha’is are donating to various charity organizations but there hasn’t even been a press release from the BWC which would express the condolences of the Baha’i world community at such a monumental loss of life. I know that such a message would be of little comfort to those who have suffered and continue to do so in the aftermath, but it would be the minimum act of decorum to show that the Baha’i institutions are actually living in this world.

There have been many objections raised to the critique of this non-action: the institutions can not use the Baha’i funds for non-Baha’i purposes; there are no such funds available because each insititution is operating at razor thin margins, if not outright bankruptcy; we can not accept donations from non-Baha’is so we can’t donate to non-Baha’i causes; the best thing for us to do is to slog on and do “God’s work”; Baha’is don’t have the infrastructure or means to make a significant difference, etc…

Balderdash.

The institutions do have the money (the Canadian NSA by itself has in excess of $20 million sitting in its coffers collecting dust and interest – something which they tell the tax authorities because they have to, but not the Canadian Baha’is because they don’t have to). And the institutions are able to donate to non-Baha’i causes. Where does it say in the Writings they don’t? And what the heck does this expression mean anyway: “non-Baha’i” purposes or causes? Is it charitable? does it help the poor, hungry, destitute, needy? well, then it is “Baha’i” (in spirit and ideals) through and through.

Jeebus! Look at the whole life of the Person who we are all supposed to emulate: Abdu’l-Baha. He spent every waking moment serving mankind and trying to better its lot. Are we, the spiritual followers of such ideals, then supposed to brush aside His whole brilliant life and example?

Another ignorant statement made over and over again is that Baha’is can not accept money from non-Baha’is THIS IS FALSE. I’ll say it again:

THIS IS F A L S E

Got that? ok. I’ll say it again real quiet: t h i s i s f a l s e. Baha’is can indeed accept donations from non-Baha’is – as long as those funds are not comingled with the Baha’i funds and are used for the general service of mankind – be they Muslim, Christian, Jew, atheist, vegan, etc.

As to the objection that we should keep our nose the the grindstone and keep busy with “God’s work”, you really have to wonder about the sanity of a person who believes that such an acute and immediate need should be ignored, simply because there are chronic challenges in the world. Would God really want you to go to Ruhi class or to raise/donate money so that a family in Bangladesh has medicine and food in the aftermath of this devastation? How is one “God’s work” and not the other? Think about it.

And the other silly objection raised is that Baha’is simply don’t have the infrastructure to do this kind of work. Duh! Neither would the Red Cross, Medicin sans Frontieres, etc. if they hadn’t gotten off their lazy asses and created one a long time ago. But even without any infrastructure, what’s stopping, say the BMA from organizing a fundraising and then donating the resulting monies to a slew of such charitable organizations who do have the infrastructure in place.

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Here is an interesting article I stumbled upon recently. Basically it is talking about the reaction of the Indonisian Muslims to the assistance offered by the US. Some Indonesians are criticising the size and reluctance with which it was given (after some alleged political arm twisting in the world court of public opinion and the UN), but many others are praising it and facing the reality that it means they will have to revise the caricature ‘evil empire’ image. Indonesians are also questioning why fellow Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have donated so little.

The Baha’is and the Baha’i administration can learn a lot from two points in this article. First, that the world at large does in fact notice when someone comes to help those in need. Even more so if this is done sacrificially (the US is being praised for helping, but compared to their daily bill in Iraq it is a pittance). Second, that such help rendered at a historic time of suffering goes a long way in dispelling years and years of carefully doled out propaganda and misinformation.

So to relate it to the Faith; had the Baha’i community shown an outporing of generosity (which although it may not have been comparatively high in dollar values, would be high in relation to the means of the 6-7 million adherents) this would have been a brilliant testament to their true intentions towards the world and fellow man.

As well, it may have caused an interesting conversation to be started by many Muslims who might have ask why fellow Muslim countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. discriminate against the very people that helped them in their hour of need. Or they might even ask their own Imams right there in Jakarta. Or they might think, hey, these Baha’is perhaps, aren’t that bad, maybe I’ll befriend one next time I run into him/her.

Notice that i’m not talking about a bribe of any sort. I don’t want some idiot thinking that what I’m proposing is that Baha’is go out there and exchange money, food, etc. for goodwill. I’m simply saying that doing such charitable acts is in accordance to the Baha’i Faith and its ideals. And that it would as a consequence, lead people to really think about things they accepted at face value.

A real, once in a lifetime opportunity was lost here.

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Rumour has it that there is an unannounced official Baha’i response underway right now. Its just that we aren’t told about it because, you know, it wouldn’t be dignified to holler at the top of your lungs whenever you perform a charitable act. I confess to guffawing in response to such cherubic answers. Fact of the matter is that whenever an individual or an institution of the Faith does something worthwhile in SED or charitable causes, we hear about it. Nothing wrong with that. There is grandstanding and then there is simply informing people about what you are up to.

It is shameful that we do not see a collective Baha’i response at this distressing time. And it is confounding when we see the rest of the “non-Baha’is” out there doing exactly what Baha’u’llah commanded and what Abdu’l-Baha showed through his own life – serving mankind and helping your fellow man. You really have to wonder about the state of the Baha’i community when non-Baha’is are more Baha’i-like.

Funny thing is that tomorrow some Baha’is will still hold up their noses and consider non-Baha’is as belonging to “the old world order” while those same people are rushing about doing exactly what we Baha’is should be doing.

If it wasn’t so tragically sad it would indeed be (haha) funny.