“Be not dismayed if your endeavours are dismissed as utopian by the voices that would oppose any suggestion of fundamental change. Trust in the capacity of this generation to disentangle itself from the embroilments of a divided society. To discharge your responsibilities, you will have to show forth courage, the courage of those who cling to standards of rectitude, whose lives are characterised by purity of thought and action, and whose purpose is directed by love and indomitable faith. As you dedicate yourselves to healing the wounds with which your peoples have been afflicted, you will become invincible champions of justice…”
Excerpt from a Letter to the youth of Paraguay
from the Universal House of Justice , 6 January 1998
Humanity is no stranger to adversity and suffering. Maybe it’s due to my own growing awareness of world events, but since the turn of the 21st century, it seems like the world has been confronted with an ever-accelerating chain of shocks—ever more frequent, ever more varied and costly ones. Natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, or the tsunami in the Indian Ocean and off northeastern Japan, or earthquakes in Iran, Kashmir, China and Haiti. Widespread droughts in places like the Western United States and the Sahel, threatening food security and human well-being. Growing social unrest and terrorism, resulting in the deaths of innocents everywhere—from the Middle East to Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook. In the face of such enormous suffering, one thing we often end up doing is shutting it out—changing the channel rather than thinking about it. But what happens when our neighbourhood is the one that’s flooded, shot through, or reduced to rubble?
Resilience is the quality of being able to bounce back from crises, to recover quickly from adversity. When tragedy strikes, resilience helps us to regain hope, recover our strength, rebuild our lives and move on. Very often—if not always—resilience depends upon strong family and community relationships. If we are surrounded by support from family, friends and neighbours who are looking out for our well-being, we have a better chance of weathering a crisis.
I witnessed something of this in action after Quynh’s father passed away in August 2010. Summoned to return much earlier than intended, I arrived in Vietnam two weeks after his passing, to find the grieving family—especially his beloved wife—in tears. Around them, close family, friends, neighbours and concerned well-wishers circled, first offering words of solace and support, then drawing back to allow time for grief to run its course, then returning when the time was right. At several points during my visit, they gathered at the family home for memorials, to burn incense and offer prayers. These memorials, I learned, were no mere expressions of superstition. Rather, they were signs of solidarity, and a way of providing structure for and sustaining the grieving family. I did my part as a Vietnamese son-in-law, taking up basic tasks to support the family, and in doing so, became part of a network that helped them recover from their pain over the months and years that followed. If that network wasn’t there, or if it wasn’t strong, what would have happened to the family? Nothing good, that’s for sure. But because the community was united in their concern for each other, they rallied around our family, visiting them and helping them to recover from their loss.
The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. If you meet those of different race and colour from yourself, do not mistrust them and withdraw yourself into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness. Think of them as different coloured roses growing in the beautiful garden of humanity, and rejoice to be among them.
As the Five Years Too Many campaign continues, support for the Yarán—the seven wrongfully imprisoned Bahá’í leaders in Iran—continues to pour in from around the world. One of the most impressive things I’ve found so far is the unofficial Five Years Too Many tumblr, which has been gathering photos of men and women of all ages and races, from many different nations, holding up their hands in solidarity with the Yarán. It’s been quite touching to see the groundswell of support in such a visual way!
Beyond a simple grassroots campaign, however, the Five Years Too Many campaign has continued to gather prominent voices at official events the world over. Here’s some of the latest news since my last post on the subject:
- United Kingdom:
- South Africa:
The plight of these seven is representative of the countless Iranian men and women who have been jailed for defending their freedom and human rights. Our message to the seven is this: The world has not forgotten you, and we will continue to fight for your freedom and that of other Iranian prisoners of conscience.
Firuzeh Mahmoudi, United4Iran
It was five years ago today. Six law-abiding Iranian Bahá’ís, members of a committee devoted to looking after the minimum needs of the long-persecuted Bahá’í community in their homeland, were arrested in early morning raids by government agents. Their whereabouts unknown, the six—along with a seventh compatriot who had been arrested earlier—were held incommunicado, while their captors cooked up charges: they were being held “for security reasons”, and they were somehow linked to “Zionists”—baseless charges that have been debunked and denied many times since. After languishing in crowded prison cells for over a year and a half—during which the number of unjustly imprisoned Bahá’ís continued to grow, and during which trial dates were repeatedly set and postponed—they were finally called to appear in court. Their trial, however, quickly turned out to be a sham—a televised “show trial” that was closed to observers, during which their legal counsel was obstructed and denied the right to speak. In the end, the seven were sentenced for 20 years’ imprisonment—the longest sentence given to any current prisoners of conscience in Iran.
Support for the Bahá’í Yaran—”Friends”—has poured in from around the world, along with outrage at the gross injustice to which they continue to be subjected. Earlier this year, the U.N. General Assembly adopted its 25th resolution condemning human rights violations in Iran, and academics, artists, media personalities and human rights supporters across the globe have become increasingly vocal in calling for the rights of Iranian Bahá’ís to be respected. Today, on the fifth anniversary of the arrest of the Yaran, a worldwide campaign is underway in support of human rights in Iran, gathering what may be unprecedented support and attention.
Five Years Too Many is its name—since even one day is one day too many for these innocent souls, well-wishers of their government and lovers of their country and their kind, to be imprisoned. Many prominent voices have already joined the campaign: Senator Bob Carr of Australia; actor Rainn Wilson and journalist Roxana Saberi, the latter of whom was imprisoned with the two women among the Yaran; Omid Djalili, comedian; Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, and Mahnaz Parakand, an Iranian lawyer who assisted in the Yaran’s defense; Markus Löning, the German Government’s Commissioner for Human Rights Policy, and MP Erika Steinbach; Lloyd Axworthy, former Canadian Foreign Minister; prominent British jurists such as Sir Desmond de Silva QC, Cherie Booth (Blair) QC, and Michael Mansfield QC; and a number of high-level UN human rights experts, including El Hadji Malick Sow, Heiner Bielefeldt, and Rita Izsak. Major events have already taken place in Rio de Janeiro, Frankfurt, Berlin, Sydney, Washington DC, London, Paris, and Toronto, and more are happening as you read these lines.
Learn more about the Five Years Too Many campaign, about the Yaran, and about the persecution of Iranian Bahá’ís from cradle to grave.
Shoghi Effendi, in a passage written not long before his passing, referred to the future of the American nation. And one of the things he mentioned as being within the future of the American nation has arrested my attention in recent years. He said, at that time, that the Bahá’ís of America faced a future challenge. And what was that challenge? In the message published in the book Citadel of Faith, Shoghi Effendi refers to a number of challenges before the American friends, one of which was that “apathy and lethargy [would] paralyze their spiritual faculties in the future.”
We, today, face that test—the test of overcoming apathy and lethargy. The test that those around us increasingly lack zeal and idealism and a passion for changing the world. Society around us has lost its vision. It lacks heroes and heroines. They have become discredited. Exposes have been written about them. They have been found to have feet of clay. There are no heroes. There are no heroines. There is no vision.
It is a matter of making it through day by day, being concerned only for one’s self because no one else is interested in us. You survive or not. It is a hard, cruel world out there.
That is not the Bahá’í way. We are people committed to the creation of a new society. We are summoned to heroism. We are summoned to sacrifice. We are summoned to idealism and to altruism. We are people creating a new society, a new civilization. We are people who love and are concerned about generations yet unborn and we are prepared to dedicate our lives that those generations to come, in decades and centuries into the future, may have a better life; may have a life of peace and unity and harmony and the possibility for the full development of their potential.
This is the idealism to which we are summoned as Bahá’ís. We need to overcome the apathy and lethargy of society and stand apart as people dedicated to the creation of a new world.
From a talk given by Peter Khan,
former member of the Universal House of Justice