can bahá’ís vote? (and other non-partisan ponderings)

ridván election crowdIt’s election season in Canada. Last time a federal election came around I was too busy to write anything, although in previous years I took a few moments to lament over the excesses wrought by electioneering, and to highlight the Bahá’í principle of non-involvement in partisan politics. It should be clear to anyone who’s read into the principles of the Bahá’í Faith that Bahá’ís are forbidden to engage in partisan politics. But what does that mean for us, really? When election day rolls around, how are we supposed to vote in a non-partisan way? Is there such a thing? Is it just better to avoid voting entirely? Just what can we do, anyway?

First off, it’s pretty clear that Bahá’ís can and do participate in their country’s elections; that is, Bahá’ís can and do vote. In a recent letter, the Universal House of Justice noted that “Bahá’ís vote in civil elections, as long as they do not have to identify themselves with any party in order to do so.” Thankfully, in Canada, this is currently the case—I vote as a citizen of my country, not as a member or supporter of a party. An American Bahá’í asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to clarify whether the Bahá’í prohibition on partisan political activity extended to voting, and this was His reply:

“In the United States it is necessary that the citizens shall take part in elections. This is a necessary matter and no excuse from it is possible. My object in telling the believers that they should not interfere in the affairs of government is this: That they should not make any trouble and that they should not move against the opinion of the government, but obedience to the laws and the administration of the commonwealth is necessary. Now, as the government of America is a republican form of government, it is necessary that all the citizens shall take part in the elections of officers and take part in the affairs of the republic.”

So if we can and should participate in the election of our country’s officers, then how can we do so without involving ourselves in partisan politics? Below are a few ideas that might serve as an inspiration to all of us who struggle with this question.

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canada: parliamentary debate on iran

On Monday night, the Canadian House of Commons hosted a debate on the state of human rights of Iran, mentioning the persecuted Baha’i community many times. Of particular note is the testimony of David Sweet (Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale), who read the personal stories of each of the seven jailed Baha’i leaders (“Yaran”)—who are entering their fifth year of unjust imprisonment—for the parliamentary record. Here are a few more choice quotes:

For years, this peaceful community has been targeted by the Iranian authorities and subjected to discrimination and detention. Baha’i leaders have been arrested and imprisoned for practising their faith. Iranian officials have also made statements to try to link the Baha’i to the political unrest in that country. These are trumped-up accusations and a cause of concern for the safety and well-being of those unjustly detained in Iran. In fact, today, on the fourth anniversary of the arbitrary arrests and detention of several Iranian Baha’i community leaders, we are particularly reminded of the ongoing, persistent and pervasive prosecution of religious minorities. (Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs)

The plight of the Baha’i in Iran offers a looking glass into the plight of human rights in Iran in general, and the criminalization of innocence, as finds expression in the criminalization and targeting of Iran’s largest religious minority in particular. (Irwin Cotler, Mount Royal)

Bahá’ís are routinely executed. Others are arrested arbitrarily with no clear reason for it. Worst of all, this is done with the full support of the country’s judicial, administrative and law enforcement systems. The mullahs of Iran have long regarded the Bahá’í faith almost as an enemy of Islam. According to a report from Amnesty International, at the end of January 2012, over 80 Bahá’ís were held because of their beliefs. (Wayne Marston, Hamilton East—Stoney Creek)

From my familiarity with Baha’i people in my riding, these people promote peace wherever they are. It is just absolutely incomprehensible that any regime would target them as enemies. (John Weston, West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country)

You can take a moment to read through the debate on your own, or browse through highlights mentioning the Baha’is (PDF).

Update: The Baha’i World News Service and the Canadian Baha’i News Service are also carrying this story.

trials of a voting baha’i

The recent Canadian election season offered me time to ponder and reflect about the Baha’i attitude regarding politics. I find it quite difficult to place myself within the Canadian political system, given Baha’u’llah’s command to refrain from involving oneself in partisan politics. (And living in Ottawa, you tend to hear a lot about politics no matter what time of year it is.) I’ve heard different things from many Baha’is about what forms of political involvement and expression are appropriate. The following quote from a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi pretty much sums up my take on the matter:

The Guardian wishes me to draw the attention of the friends through you that they should be very careful in their public utterances not to mention any political figures-either side with them or denounce them. This is the first fact to bear in mind. Otherwise they will involve the friends in political matters, which is infinitely dangerous for the Cause.

From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, January 12, 1933: Bahá’í News, No. 72, April 1933, p. 3 Lights of Guidance, p. 441

That’s why, for example, I leave my “Political Views” line blank on Facebook. It’s also why I never blog about political figures, either to compliment or criticise them, either to express. When I get emails from people criticizing this or that politician—yes, even unpopular ones (who shall remain nameless)—I kind of bristle, just like I would when hearing someone backbiting about a friend.

What do you think? Is it appropriate for Baha’is to openly express their hopes that one or the other candidate in a partisan election will win? Is the opposite appropriate? Why or why not? Oh, and here are a few links as fodder for discussion: Bahá’í Involvement in Politics (from, The Spiritual Character of Baha’i Elections (from the Compilation of Compilations), a short Compilation on Criticism. (on that, since my lunch break is over, I’m out!)


on my semiweekly trips to the gym, I phase out for fifteen to twenty minutes or so watching the closed-captioned news on the TVs as I dutifully jog my heart out on a treadmill. last month it was olympics, olympics, olympics, which I enjoy for sure, but this month it’s all elections, elections, elections. bleah. and this year, we may very well have federal elections in Canada AND the United States at about the same time, which (as far as I can remember) doesn’t happen very often. Canadian elections I’ve always watched somewhat in the spirit of a deranged game; they’re short, vicious, and get your adrenaline going. American elections I watch more in the spirit of a slow-motion train wreck. Why anyone would want to spend over a year going through so many motions, procedures and ceremony to elect their leadership invariably elicits a reaction of horror and awe from me. In reality, though, either system has such glaring flaws that I find it genuinely difficult to participate — and impossible to involve myself — in election mania in any meaningful form.

First off, I don’t think I’ll ever understand the partisan political system really, or how anyone could claim that a “party” can ever truly represent them. God gave to humanity the gift of a diversity of views — how do they suppose that aligning oneself with or subscribing to the ideals of a “party” will advance the process of exchanging such views? Instead, all it does is obscure the truth and make every problem more difficult to solve, because people are too busy watching their backs, toeing party lines instead of being open, honest and frank. Second off, why are we to vote only for the rich and lucky ones who can pony up the most cash to pay for a glitzy campaign? Why can’t we vote for those people who, in our hearts, we truly believe deserve the station of servitude to their country, who show forth actual merit, virtue, character and solid worth? Why narrow the field to only a select few? Third, if our goal is to promote a unified nation, what is the point of such an adversarial system, both in the process of electioneering and campaigning, and within government itself? Why do we have to listen to week after week of pundits on Side A slam the pundits on side B, or the candidates on side B denigrate those on Side A? It’s not pleasant, for Pete’s sake. Why do we have to argue over whose kids are alcoholics, whose are pregnant and who forgot Poland? Unified societies are built upon cooperation and consensus. Why not try those out for a year and leave the bickering behind? If we find that we prefer the bickering afterwards, well, we can always go back.

In short, my impression of the prevailing partisan electoral systems in Canada and the US is that they don’t seem to support human dignity or its unity. To me, all they seem to do is to make problems harder to solve, because those who are elected to serve are too busy dealing with matters of the human ego. And I’m afraid that’s enough rambling for now; it’s getting late. Got more TV to watch at the gym tomorrow. As usual, I’d love to hear your comments.