WAR! – what is it good for?

In the past few years, the Baha’is and the Baha’i administration has done a delicate ballet around the major current events in the world – namely the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the same time as trying to protect the Faith and its adherents, the administration has attempted to not appear that it is siding with any political party or agenda. This has been difficult because the Baha’i principle of non-involvement in politics is usually misunderstood. But also, it has been difficult because these current events evoke such visceral emotions in people – Baha’i or otherwise.Recently, I read this in the Gleanings:

The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath bestowed the government of the earth upon the kings. To none is given the right to act in any manner that would run counter to the considered views of them who are in authority. That which He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men’s hearts; and of these the loved ones of Him Who is the Sovereign Truth are, in this Day, as the keys. Please God they may, one and all, be enabled to unlock, through the power of the Most GreatName, the gates of these cities. This is what is meant by aiding theone true God—a theme to which the Pen of Him Who causeth the dawn to break hath referred in all His Books and Tablets.

From this I get the clear message of separation of church and state – which is another whole different issue (also misunderstood). But I have difficulty in understanding what exactly Baha’u’llah means when He says ‘don’t speak up or do anything which is counter to the government or those in authority’. I wonder if He is speaking in the context of His time or whether it is something that transcends that.

As you probably know, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha had to fight their whole lives with the charge of being “subversive”. Baha’u’llah, repeatedly admonishes those who spread false rumours about Him and says again and again that His only wish is to bring a new message from God to the people of the world. To Prof. Edward G. Browne, He says:

We desire but the good of the world and happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment.

Abdu’l-Baha was also similarly labelled by the Covenant-Breakers when they spread rumours that the construction of the Bab’s sepulchre (later to be enhanced to become the Shrine that we know today) was in fact a fort from which Abdu’l-Baha was planning to gather the people under his own banner and wage war against the government to claim land and soverignty for Himself! So seriously were these allegations taken that Abdu’l-Baha almost called for the election of the UHJ so that the Faith would not be without leadership if anything were to happen to him.

So I wonder if Baha’u’llah, in saying the above, is soothing the worried brows of the governments of the time by admonishing Baha’is to listen and obey them. If not, then how should we as Baha’is behave in a situation where lying to the government or going against their laws would in fact save innocent lives. Such a hypothetical situation isn’t difficult to contemplate. Think back to the early Baha’is in Germany. Would you lie to the Gestapo if your Jewish neighbour and friend was hiding in your basement? or would you follow Baha’u’llah’s instruction above?

Obviously the principle of moderation comes into play here. Life is not black and white and we need wisdom and tact to be able to navigate the grey areas.

But then, the administration sure does speak up against governments which it believes are behaving wrongly. In fact, there has been an active agenda to use the NGO status of the Faith in the UN to lobby for better rights and freedoms for the Iranian Baha’is and elsewhere. How is that not in contradiction to what Baha’u’llah is saying above? why can the administration speak up against governments while individual Baha’is can not? where was this distinction made possible in the Writings?

Also, I found this quote about war which was alarming, to say the least:

A conquest can be a praiseworthy thing, and there are times when war becomes the powerful basis of peace, and ruin the very means of reconstruction. If, for example, a high-minded sovereign marshals his troops to block the onset of the insurgent and the aggressor, or again, if he takes the field and distinguishes himself in a struggle to unify a divided state and people, if, in brief, he is waging war for a righteous purpose, then this seeming wrath is mercy itself, and this apparent tyranny the very substance of justice and this warfare the cornerstone of peace. Today, the task befitting great rulers is to establish universal peace, for in this lies the freedom of all peoples.

Now I’m really confused! How is this any different from the neo-con agenda implemented by the current US administration? From their point of view their motivation is righteous. They believe they are bringing peace, freedom and an improved economic standard to Iraq and Afghanistan – as well as denying terrorists a haven.

Note that I’m not commenting on the current US govt policies but rather about the Baha’i Writings and what they say regarding this topic. I’m just using the current situation of the neo-cons as a convenient example. Nothing more.

Getting back to the issue at hand, what I find confusing specifically is who is to say if a particular war is ‘righteous’ or not? I suppose the Manifestation of God would be able to make that distinction with His authority. But I don’t think anyone else or any other institution can do that. So where does that leave us today?

Also we are told in the Writings that all rulers should rise up in unison against an aggressor nation. This is the most practical formula for eliminating wars around the world. And, arguably, we saw a version of it in the Persian Gulf war where a group of nations, led mainly by the US fought back the Iraqi army and indeed did liberate Kuwait. Unfortunately, that is probably the only recent example – more recent wars have offered the world similar opportunities but in the majority of the cases, the world has stood by and watched horrendous massacres take place without straining a muscle to stop the aggressor’s hand.

In any case, how are we to reconcile these two different viewpoints? how can rulers be asked to unite and stop an aggressor when that same aggressor can claim that his war is ‘righteous’ and therefore sanctioned by God? Again, who decided who is morally right in such a case? what criteria can we use to distinguish between these two situations?

I don’t know. But I do know that the Baha’i instititutions don’t even attempt to answer such tough questions. Instead, as they have in the past 3 years, they tell Baha’is to keep quite and to be inconspicuous. They also put out such documents as “Questions and Answers on War and Related Issues” – a childishly simple attempt to answer these troubling and complex issues. This document has a Q and A format where the Baha’is are supposed to simply read and memorize the answers – ala Ruhi. No critical thinking, no discussion,etc.

But while attempting to maintain a veneer of neutrality, there are certain hints dropped here and there which might suggest that the institutions have themselves decided that this war is of the ‘righteous’ variety and therefore, must go on unperturbed. Maybe it is the mentions of America and its leaders in the Writings which give them this apparent conviction:

May this American democracy be the first nation to establish the foundation of international agreement. May it be the first nation to proclaim the universality of mankind. May it be the first to upraise the standard of the Most Great Peace . . .

Various prominent Baha’is (occupying elected or appointed status within the administration) have in effect voiced similar opinions. And while they are just that, opinions, they do belie a sense that the whole administration is embued with the same ‘opinion’. In speeches and talks, they are basically saying that the recent wars waged by the US is the first steps towards the Most Great Peace and that the US government is basically doing God’s work!

Finally, its worth pointing out that neutrality is not always neutral. In many situations, not doing or saying anything, is considered as an implicit agreement. The fact that the Baha’is around the world have been muzzled on this issue speaks volumes of the way the people in the institutions are leaning. I especially don’t understand why Baha’is were told to not participate in peace rallies around the world when the Guardian says that participate in peaceful demonstrations is ok – especially when it is to advance a principle of the Faith.

This tacit approval by the institutions for war has alienated a huge number of rank and file Baha’is. Not surprising, as most Baha’is are liberal minded and peace loving people.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6765165 Bahai Angst


    Since nations should unite against an agressor nation, do you think that the nations of the world should unite against the Americans for what is happening in Iraq?



  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6765165 Bahai Angst


    Since nations should unite against an agressor nation, do you think that the nations of the world should unite against the Americans for what is happening in Iraq?



  • Winston Smith

    Ten years later, the answer is / should have been an unqualified ‘yes.’

    David Kelly, UK Baha’i and UN weapons inspector, was almost certainly murdered – ‘suicide,’ yeah right – trying to prevent the monstrous crime that was the Iraq invasion. A true martyr of the Cause of God.