Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What happens when you mention the cogito in a Baha'i Children's Class

Silvie did this cartoon during our children's study session last night.
I offhandedly mentioned the Cogito, how Descartes posited a daemon who deceives him about the whole world, until Rene finally decides that "I think, therefore I am," and that cannot be doubted. Silvie asks here, what if Descartes had in turn instilled doubt into the daemon? End of daemon. He would just flare out.

From The Badi Blog

Hypothetical Buzzers

Two Buzzers as Leaders' Lifelines

By John Taylor; 2008 Sep 30

Normally I avoid watching American politicians. I literally cannot face them. When I try, my cringe reflex overworks itself. I twitch until my facial muscles become fatigued and my whole countenance aches. However, the hullaballoo over Alaskan vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's recent interview intrigued me.

I tracked the video down on the Web and watched the eight minute report, which is still featured on an American television network's website. Then, with what she had really said fresh in my mind, I viewed the Saturday Night Live version with Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin. What a tough job the poor comedian has trying to satirize the preposterous personalities in the modern political scene! My heart went out to Tina Fey. Her version of the interview was very close, at times almost word for word. Palin, faced with a question she could not answer requiring detailed knowledge of McCain's record, had famously replied,

"I will have to get back to you on that."

Tina Fey's Palin was more imaginative. Before saying this, she asked for a lifeline, just like on "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" This was pretty funny and I thought satire had done its work until I saw the man-in-the-street interview made soon after the skit had played where a reporter asked the real Palin whether she had seen the Saturday Night Live skit. Palin's answer was, "Yes, I watched it with the volume turned down and it was hilarious." Just like the interviewer in the skit did throughout her interview with Tina Fey's Palin, all one can do is stare incredulously with one's mouth gaping. Satire decisively upstaged by inane reality. Truly, what can you say?

Of course for a Baha'i aspirant like myself the backbiting guilt reflex kicks in hard at this point. OMG. I am mocking a human soul. The fact that I am doing it with millions of others does not make it any better. God is not going to take that as an excuse. In fact, it makes it all the worse. The distain or mockery of many is surely far worse than anything that could happen in a one-on-one confrontation. Then you start to think, could I watch myself being pilloried on national television with the volume turned on? Probably not. Strike that. Definitely not. Then you start to admire the poor woman for saying pluckily that she had found it hilarious. I would not be surprised if there were not tears mixed in with her laughter at that silent screen. Then you think, no wonder there have been so few women aspiring to be leaders this level of American politics. They have to worry not about only knocking their heads on glass ceilings and the distain of men, but also cutting mockery from the likes of Tina Fey. Truly, in an election the one being chosen is not a handful of leaders but a mass of worthy voters, a people made capable by the act of voting of backing up these leaders in a way worthy of an upright citizen.

I like to laugh. Laughter is an effective medicine that alleviates the migraines that sit on my shoulders like malevolent monkeys half the time. I guess I allowed myself to be drawn into this satire by a need for relief from the depressing news of yesterday, the refusal of Congress to bail out their own golden nest egg, the de facto world currency, the dollar, and the subsequent stock market crash. By all accounts the man whom Palin was valiantly defending, Senator John McCain, was partly responsible for the failure of legislators to reach a consensus on the bailout proposal. McCain prides himself in being a maverick, an independent. But for a leader to go his own way in the present delicate climate amounts to flip-flopping and floundering. I was reminded of what John Keats wrote,

"The only means of strengthening one's intellect is to make up one's mind about nothing -- to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts. Not a select party."

Yet everything on the scene pushes leaders to align themselves with a "select party," ready or not. Whether the leader comes over well, whether he shines brilliantly in the glare of the lights of publicity, or whether she is burned, as Palin is burning -- in the end none of it matters, because in any case as long as personalities are in question the spotlights are turned away from the truth. As Heraclitus put it, nature loves to hide. The truth, the whole truth, cannot be exposed before it is good and ready, any more than you can tear open a seed and hope to find the fully grown plant inside.

One thing that Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth, long ago answered to an interviewer who asked him "What would you do if..." has stuck in my mind all these years as eminently wise. He responded, "I do not answer hypothetical questions." Clearly, that is not something that could come out of the mouth of a democratically elected leader. Why? Because everything they say has to be some sort of hypothetical. "If I am elected I will...", "If this happens I would..." But really, if a person of integrity is confronted with any changed situation there is only one thing to do. That is, consult with the parties involved, talk it over with the best advisors available, and then come to a conclusion based on what you learn. All you can say now is that you intend to to do the right thing. Therefore it is impossible before that happens to truthfully say anything about it. It lies in the dim mists of the future. The future is hypothetical by definition.

No, as I say, the really tough questions before an election are not directed at the poor servants we voted for, they should rather be asked of ourselves, by ourselves, in total honesty. In order for that to happen, we will require not the clamour of the hustings but the reverse, silent contemplation. Speech, like the seed in the ground, grows out of the dark deeps of truth, and therefore it must be buried in silent contemplation until it is mature. As Keats put it,

"Silence is deep as Eternity, speech is shallow as Time," and "As the Swiss inscription says: Sprechen ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden, 'Speech is silvern, Silence is golden;' or, as I might rather express it, Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity."

A silent election campaign would direct our attention to the eternal. The tough questions we ask of ourselves in private reflection would prepare us to voluntarily undergo what sacrifices are needed to respond to the challenge of the present hour. Unless we do that, it does not matter a hill of beans how competent or incompetent our elected leaders may be, they will be able to do nothing with us, any more than a potter, skilled or not, can mould dry sand into a firm vase. Elections have a serious purpose and we must be clear about how to attain that purpose.

I would therefore like to propose a hypothetical question buzzer. As soon as a candidate can point out that a question is hypothetical he can hit the buzzer and that reporter is bumped to the end of the line. For that matter, why not have a backbiting buzzer? This anybody, leader or reporter, could push at any time (I suppose I pushed it myself earlier on in this essay) and the discussion would then have to turn away from personalities. The only personality that can legitimately be skewered before voting is myself by myself. Let us keep it that way, and elections will turn out a firm clay of a citizenry ready to be shaped into great things.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Simple Solution to the Troubles in the Middle East

JET: This originally was the lead article of Star of the West, v. 10, p. 196-197, reprinted directly from a New York Newspaper that I have never heard of.

I read this amazing statement, reportedly from the Master, in my salad days, many years ago when I had leisure to read through all the volumes of the Star of the West. Unfortunately, when I looked for it it was nowhere to be found. So it remained as one of the most precious chapters of my vast collection of Kitab-i-Hearsay, usually coming out as something like: Yes, the Master had suggestions for how the troubles in the Middle East could have been averted before they arose, if only He had been listened to by the founders of the present nations of the region.

Then the other day, looking for something else entirely, there it was, the Master's solution in all its glory. I copy it here for your perusal. Think of the lives and funds that would have been saved if only his peace proposal had been enacted meticulously as when Palestine grew into present day Israel! Also, note that the "well trained secretary may have been Shoghi Effendi, since his photo of the Master -- lately reproduced here -- graces the facing page of this edition of Star of the West.

As always, we have to be cautious historians; this was the unconfirmed report of a non-Baha'i journalist on a visit to the Master, and as such it is not the same as authoritative scripture. Nonetheless, this is an amazing article, written, judging by her name, by an American Jewess, addressing the question of Zionism directly, frankly and decisively.

Eizzat (sic 'Izzat) 1, 75 (September 8, 1919)

Declares Zionists Must Work with Other Races

Leader of Bahaism believes Neutral Government Like British Is Best for Palestine at Present Says His Father Advocated League Half Century Ago.


(From the Globe and Commercial Advertiser, New York, July 17, 1919)

WHILE the league of nations is hailed or attacked here as a Wilsonian project, out in Palestine is a religious leader who claims it first saw the light in the writings of his father, fifty years ago. He is Abdul Baha, the son and successor of BAHAOLLAH, founder of the modern cult, Bahaism.

(The editors of Star of the West added this footnote: Bahais understand the Word of God again was "made flesh and dwelt among us" in the appearance of BAHAOLLAH. Miss Weinstein, not being acquainted with this fact, looks upon the Bahai Movement as a cult or "ism." The Editors.)

Abdul Baha, or Abbas Effendi, as he is widely known in the Near East, counts hundreds of followers in America.

He made a tour here in 1912, preaching his doctrine of universal love in churches and halls from coast to coast.

Born in Persia in 1844, he went to Acca as a young man. He was imprisoned by the Turks for his teachings, but was released in 1908, the year of the new Ottoman constitution.

Interested in World League.

I met Abdul Baha lately in his home in Haifa. He has many friends among the British, including General Ronald military governor of Jerusalem, and it was a British officer who took me to him. His influence is considerable in the Holy Land, but it is almost impossible to reduce it to actual numbers. I went to him curious as to his views of the future of Palestine, but he seemed more eager to talk of a matter of world importance -- the league of nations.

He spoke in Persian, a well trained secretary interpreting his low, soft words in good English. Through the open windows of the large sunny salon of his modern house came the trill of songbirds in the Effendi's lovely garden.

In white galabieh and turban, he fitted into the summery scene, his voice falling on the silence like a woodland echo. An ancient, venerable patriarch he seemed, with his snowy beard, a kindly patriarch, but with little of the Biblical fire.

Tells of Father's Plan.

"Fifty years ago," he began, "BAHAOLLAH wrote that there must be a league of nations to establish universal peace. He worked his idea out on practical lines, too. He said every nation must choose representatives, approved by the senate, the cabinet and the ruler of the country. They were to meet to found a universal peace congress to be forever a world court of arbitration.

"BAHAOLLAH saw even then, half a century ago, that unless universal peace is established, the world of humanity will continue in a state of barbarism. For it is a world of struggle for existence, of sensualism, a world of nature. Only when universal peace comes to stay will it become a world of spirit.

"I went to America myself on a mission of universal peace. I proclaimed seven years ago that Europe was an arsenal that needed but a spark to turn it into a volcano. The world leaders, I urged, must prevent this catastrophe. But they did not heed me. Now that they themselves are working for universal peace and we are soon to have a league of nations, there is no need for me to go to America again.

Message to His Followers.

"Tell my followers," Abdul Baha continued, "that I am always asking heavenly help for them, and that my deepest desire is that they shall be the source of the enlightenment of humanity and the unity of all the races of mankind. The point of distinction among men, let them remember, is their deeds, not their beliefs or words. I charge my disciples, too, at this time to show love even toward their 'enemies.'

They have no 'enemies.' The enemy of man is himself."

His religion, this leader explained, includes the highest principles of its forerunners, with this addition it fuses them all in the pursuit of one goal, the unity of mankind in universal love. Unlike its Mohammedan neighbor, it teaches the equality of man and woman.

"The world of humanity has two wings," is Abdul Baha's view, "man and woman. If one wing is weak then the bird cannot fly."

He looks to the rebirth of religion as a result of the war. The Bolshevist movement, he believes, will prove an admonition to the religious world and send mankind back to the fold, convinced that religion is the sole source of order and peace. Bolshevism was inevitable, because religion was on the daily decline in Europe, particularly in Russia.

Has Hope for Palestine.

For Palestine Abdul Baha has the brightest hopes. "It will develop day by day now," he declared, "in industry, in commerce, in agriculture, under an enlightened government. Up to the present the people of this country were like lost sheep. Now they have found their shepherd.

"If the Zionists will mingle with the other races and live in unity with them, they will succeed. If not, they will meet certain resistance. For the present I think a neutral government like the British administration would be best. A Jewish government might come later.

"There is too much talk today of what the Zionists are going to do here. There is no need of it. Let them come and do more and say less.

"The Zionists should make it clear that their principle is to elevate all the people here and to develop the country for all its inhabitants. This land must be developed, according to the promises of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah. If they come in such a spirit they will not fail.

Must Be Open to All.

"They must not work to separate the Jews from the other Palestinians. Schools should be open to all nationalities here, business companies, etc. The Turks went down because they attempted to rule over foreign races. The British are always in power because they keep fair and promote harmony.

"This is the path to universal peace here as elsewhere -- unity. We must prevent strife by all means. For 6,000 years man has been at war. It is time to try peace a little while. If it fails, we can always go back to war."


Examples of a Jelabieh, Jelabiah, or, if you prefer, a Djellaba, defined as a long hooded garment from Egypt; versions of it appear to be worn by both sexes. A reporter described the dress of Abdu'l-Baha as a Jelabiah in 1919.



Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dan Scott on core activities

About several things

Baha'i Columnist

Ottawa Baha'i scholar Jack McLean occasionally writes as a guest for a regular religious column by faith leaders answering a general question about faith. The latest question is:

"Do religious studies sometimes make students question their faith?"
Published: Saturday, September 13, 2008
Jack McLean, Ottawa Citizen Special

Baha'i Celebs

Every once in a while another article about or interview with Baha'i actor Rainn Wilson turns up. Here are a couple:

It is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Carol Lombard, a Baha'i star of the first order in Hollywood. An article is in one of the Baha'i Worlds about her, and this just appeared in her hometown newspaper.

Fort Wayne's brightest star: Carole Lombard
News Sentinel - Fort Wayne,IN,USA
Her mother, Bess Peters, was a member of the Baha’i faith, and Lombard formally declared in 1938.

My Comments on Children's Classes

I wrote this a month or so ago about our almost daily children's study session,

"I must say, I had no idea teaching a Baha'i class would be such an intense intellectual challenge. I feel like I am on a game show firing line every minute of every class; these two whippersnappers shoot out the most difficult and imaginative questions one after the other, non-stop, and I barely have one handled before another, tougher one comes at me. I liberally use answers like, "I do not know," and "What can I say? I had never thought of that." I have been studying the Faith and the principles with all my might for over thirty five years, and I had no idea how little I really knew about it. I respect, and pity, all these new Baha'is who are so bold as to teach Baha'i children's classes. How they handle more than two at a time is beyond me."

Since then they have gone back to school and things have settled down a little. We started a few new Baha'i books written for children; this batch did not turn out as interesting as I had hoped. I was starting to lose them, not to mention boring myself, so I turned to the talks of the Master, specifically Paris Talks and sometimes some of the talks in Promulgation. We have been doing a talk a day for a few weeks and it has been reasonably successful.

One thing that really got them enthusiastic was a Christian book of skits from which we read together, dividing up the reading parts among each of us. Each play is written for a youth group and combines humor with a moral lesson. Over the summer they began fighting with one another over everything. For a while the question of who got which role was a bone of contention. Finally I settled on this compromise: one picks the skit to read while the other kid gets to choose the first role. Now we have read through these skits so often that I am getting bored and have been desperately searching the net for Baha'i skits. I found two, one the "drama of the Kingdom," written by the Master Himself in London, and the other a play about Sherlock Holmes written by a Baha'i youth. If you are a Baha'i writer looking for something to write a book about, please, please write a book of skits...

Baha'i Prayers In Many Languages

The following site is an aggregator for Baha'i Prayers in many languages, as compiled by believers around the globe. These devotional sites feature a selection of Baha'i Prayers in the indicated language.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Karlberg, III of III, Baha'is Demo Democracy

Competitive democracy III

By John Taylor; 2008 Sep 26, 18 Izzat, 165 BE

Today, let us get on with the last in our three part review of a highly topical article from the latest Baha'i World Volume.

Michael Karlberg, "Western Liberal Democracy as New World Order?" in The Baha'i World 2005-2006 (Haifa, World Centre Publications, 2007), 133-156. (http://bahai.haifa.ac.il/pdf/mk-cv.pdf)

A reader wrote, "Hi John, I would imagine you are coming to this, but what kind of solutions does Karlberg offer the public? I really find his ideas very helpful." I'm glad you asked that, Ed, because that is just what I want to talk about today. I will quote at length the section where Karlberg offers the Baha'i solution with the eloquence of the top-notch lawyer that he no doubt is. He does this in a section called "An alternative to political competition." He does the job so well that I will not presume to add to what he says afterwards; instead, I want to glance at the philosophical causes and implications of his thesis that we do not have democracy but rather "competitive democracy."

from: The Baha'i World, 2005-2006, pp. 147-149

"Winston Churchill once stated that `democracy is the worst form of government -- except for all the other forms that have been tried.' More accurately, this statement describes competitive democracy because this is the only form of democracy that has been tried, to date, as a model of state governance. In keeping with Churchill's sentiment, apologists defend the prevailing system with the argument that it is the most rational alternative to political tyranny or anarchy. The problems inherent in the system of political competition are simply accepted as `necessary evils.' All systems of government are imperfect, the argument goes, and competitive democracy is the best we can do.

"This argument is premised, however, on the faulty assumption that processes of social innovation have come to an end. According to this `end of history' thesis, the social experiments that have characterized so much of human history have finally played themselves out and Western liberal models have emerged as the only viable models of social organization. Yet this is an entirely unsupportable thesis. Indeed, it would be more plausible to say that the history of humankind as a single, interdependent species, inhabiting a common homeland, is just beginning. Under conditions of increasing global interdependence, brought on by our reproductive and technological success as a species, we have barely begun to experiment with just and sustainable models of social organization.

"Processes of social innovation have clearly not come to an end. The example of the international Baha'i community suffices to illustrate this point. The Baha'i community is a vast social laboratory within which a new model of social organization is emerging. With a current membership of over five million people, drawn from over 2,000 ethnic backgrounds and residing in virtually every nation on the planet, the community is a microcosm of the entire human race. This diverse community has constructed a unique system of democratically elected assemblies that govern Baha'i affairs internationally, nationally, and locally in thousands of communities throughout the planet. Significantly, in many parts of the world, the first exercises in democratic activity have occurred within these Baha'i communities.

"The Baha'i electoral system is entirely nonpartisan and non-competitive. In brief, all adult community members are eligible for election and every member has the reciprocal duty to serve if elected. At the same time, nominations, campaigning, and all forms of solicitation are prohibited. Voters are guided only by their own conscience as they exercise real freedom of choice in voting for those they believe best embody the qualities of recognized ability, mature experience, and selfless service to others. Through a plurality count, the nine individuals who receive the most votes are called to serve as members of the governing assembly.

"Unlike competitive systems in which decision makers must continually negotiate the demands of constituents, campaign contributors, lobbyists, and activists, the Baha'i system is shielded from external lobbying and other pressures to influence decisions. This is accomplished in two ways. First, as discussed above, those who are elected to assemblies do not seek election and they have no interest in re-election. Elected members are not political entrepreneurs seeking to build or retain political capital, and campaign financing opportunities do not exist because there are no campaigns. Second, elected members decide matters through the application of principle, according to the promptings of their own conscience (one of the primary qualities for which they were elected), and not according to the dictates or pressures of competing interest groups. In this regard, elected members are expected to weigh all of their decisions in a principled manner, even if this means forgoing immediate local or short-term benefits out of consideration for the welfare of distant peoples or future generations."

I would only add that the ideal of a leader with no interest in politicking is not new. It was Plato's Philosopher King, a leader who not only led reluctantly, but who was first of all a philosopher, not a career politician. Such souls long to wander off outside the "cave" of worldly affairs into the sunlit uplands of spiritual knowledge. They enter the realm of human affairs as a sacrifice on behalf of enlightenment.

Plato's is not necessary a hopelessly unrealistic ideal that has never been lived up to. Philosopher kings have graced the throne on more than one occasion. Indeed, Plato's model may have been the Biblical hero-managers, David and his son, Solomon. David, the father, was what we call a "musician songwriter" whose lyrics move us even today, and his son, Solomon, was a literary genius of the first order in addition to being a resourceful problem solver and just king. Since then quite a few great ancient heroes, generals and other leaders started out as farmers who, after leading their country to victory in battle, gladly returned to ploughing their fields. It is not such a ridiculous thing to hope that present and future leaders of a united world should take on the burden of office in a similar detached spirit. The Baha'i electoral system is such a perfect model for such an improved democracy because it expects service, nobility, maturity and self-sacrifice as the norm not only from prominent leaders but from all believers. As a result the brilliant leadership of a Solomon will not be a rare gift of fortune but, we can hope, the norm for every level of society.

The question remains, why do we not at least try to get a Solomon onto our ballots in democratic elections? Indeed we seem to be doing everything possible to get the reverse of a Solomon up there, and then, should a wise leader somehow make it into a position of influence, the entire weight of the system works to obstruct him at every turn. I used to think of it as the old "one for forty" ratio, the system is designed so that the wealthy one percent of the population can hold on to their precious forty percent of world resources; but I think the value of Karlberg is that he points to a broader, more philosophical reason that we are being divided and conquered. We are perverted and destroyed by our own materialist, competitive obsession. It is not in our stars but in our minds and hearts. Here is how Karlberg answers such big questions:

"The uncivil nature of much partisan discourse, alluded to at the beginning of this essay, is an inevitable outgrowth of this inversion of material and spiritual priorities. When the pursuit of self-interest comes to be understood as a virtue, and selflessness is dismissed as naive idealism, it is not surprising that politics becomes an uncivil arena. In this regard, the reality of partisan politics is better captured by war metaphors than by the market metaphors discussed earlier.

"A campaign, after all, is a military term, not a market term. Like military campaigns, political campaigns are expensive. Candidates amass `campaign war chests' as they prepare to `fight' election "b`ttles." 'n an age of mass-media spectacle and sound-bite politics, this translates into an escalating cycle of negative advertising, insults, and mudslinging, as political campaigns and debates become a `war of words' conducted from `entrenched positions.'

"In the abstract, debate is about ideas rather than people. In practice, however, the competitive structure of the system erases the line between ideas and people, because if your ideas do not prevail, neither does your political career. Hence, political debate slides easily into the quagmire of egoism and incivility. On the sidelines, meanwhile, the public grows increasingly cynical and disaffected -- yet another spiritual cost of this system.

"The result is that diverse people, who do not naturally fall into simple oppositional camps, come over time to separate themselves into such camps -- a process that can be accelerated by astute politicians who make emotionally charged `wedge issues' the centerpieces of their campaigns in an effort to create and enforce partisan loyalties. The social divisions that result are further spiritual costs of competitive democracy." (145-146)

Wedge issues... what was that called again? Oh yes, divide and conquer. Except divide and conquer of the democratic kind. It is significant that Karlberg quoted Winston Churchill, because he was in many ways the epitome of what we are talking about with competitive democracy. Competition breeds the sort of person who can survive constant clashes and furious struggle. These tend to be men. Churchill was a scrapper, a natural fighter, and this did a lot of harm in his earlier career, both to labour relations and the Irish question. His finest hour came only with the rise of Hitler. At that point the flaccid democracies of the age needed a prod, a vigorous military response to the challenge of tyranny. In other words, a very rare, extraordinary moment in history. We need scrappy males, but not most of the time.

What we must do now is to reset the default. We need peacemakers. We need more women. We should raise the percentage of women to men in leadership to at least 60-40, or higher, for quite a while. Norway is the closest in the world, and it has barely fifty percent women legislators. Also, we need to raise principle above expediency, stage campaign-free elections and seek the One behind the many in order to eradicate the causes of tyranny before they catch hold. We must learn to see competitiveness in all institutions as something to be avoided like a highly infectious disease.

If all nations had taken such a course after WWI there would have been no perceived need for a Hitler. Churchill then might have moderated his scrappiness and lived out a quiet retirement.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

China-ward III

China as Country of the Future

By John Taylor; 2008 Sep 25, 17 Izzat, 165 BE

Let us continue with our quotes from the Writings on China, mixed with my own comments. First, here is an interesting incident Ahmad Sohrab reports taking place on Jan 5, 1913, while the Master was in London, just before He left for Scotland,

"After a few more people coming and receiving divine Blessings, an English minister who has been in China for 40 yrs is ushered into the Presence of Our Beloved. He is interested in the education and uplift of the Chinese women. He has done everything possible to help them. He has heard that the Baha'is are doing a wonderful educational work in Persia and he likes to get the facts so that he may write them for the Chinese people to show them how their Asiatic brothers are advancing in education. The Chinese are great imitators and if you show them how their Persian sisters are progressing they will walk in the same footstep[s]. The Master was patient enough to give him enough data and material so that he may go and write his articles. `This is indeed a marvellous man' he says as he goes out of the room, his face beaming with happiness." (Abdu'l-Baha in Edinburgh - Sohrab's Diary Letters by Ahmad Sohrab Edited by David Merrick, http://bahai-library.com/file.php5?file=ahmadsohrab_diary_edinburgh_1913&language=All)

From the Baha'i point of view, China is truly the place to watch; as the guy in Futurama dramatically announces, "Welcome to the land of the future." China was part of the birth of planning in the Faith, when it was mentioned a couple of years after the above incident in the foundational document of all Baha'i teaching plans, the Tablets of the Divine Plan,

"How good would it be were there any possibility of a commission composed of men and women, to travel together through China and Japan -- so that this bond of love may become strengthened, and through this going and coming they may establish the oneness of the world of humanity, summon the people to the Kingdom of God and spread the teachings." (Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 42)

Back in the 1980's I knew a physics student at McMaster from Hong Kong, who was an enthusiastic Baha'i and active member of the Baha'i Club on campus. I remember being with him while he was teaching the Faith to some other Chinese students; there was some confusion about the name of the Faith. Apparently instead of "Baha'i", at the time in pamphlets they were calling the Faith in the Chinese language something about "Unity Group." As far as I can guess, again gleaned from old Star of the West volumes, this word for Baha'i was probably "ta-tung," which means "great unity" in Chinese. This term is borrowed from the Chinese classical work, Li chi, or the Book of Rites. Because of its historical resonance, they probably chose that over the foreign sounding word "Baha'i." More recently I asked one of my Chinese pilot friends to translate the title of the current standard Baha'i pamphlet, and he sounded it out for me, "Baha'i." So now they are definitely calling "Baha'i" Baha'i.

Once the Revolution hit China, the Baha'is had to move very carefully in China. When the barrier of Communism was still in full force, the House of Justice wrote:

"The population of Asia and Australasia is well over half the world population. The area includes Asiatic USSR and mainland China, accounting for more than one thousand million souls who are, for the most part, untouched by the Revelation of Baha'u'llah. Obviously present conditions in these areas call for the exercise of the utmost wisdom and circumspection. Yet this vast segment of humanity cannot be ignored." (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, 341.5, p. 564)

In 1971 the House wrote the following in a message to the Oceanic Conference of the South China Seas in Singapore

"South East Asia, whose gifted and industrious peoples have embraced four of the world's major religions, have produced in all ages civilizations and cultures representative of the highest accomplishments of the human race, now experiencing with the rest of the world the disruptive, revolutionizing, `vibrating influence of this Most Great, this New World Order, the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed,' lies open and receptive to the Word of God, ready once more to nourish in its fertile soil that potent seed and to bring forth, in its own characteristic manner and as an integral part of the world civilization, the institutions, the fabric, the brilliant edifice of Baha'u'llah's World Order." (The Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973, p. 63)

As soon as Communism began to fall, in 1989, the House made public a goal that they had kept under wraps for decades,

"As Baha'is, we have been entrusted with the responsibility of taking the message of Baha'u'llah to all of mankind, but only a comparatively small beginning has yet been made to take the teachings to the vast population of China. The Universal House of Justice feels that this task must be regarded as one of the highest priorities for the entire Baha'i world." (April 19, 1989, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, Universal House of Justice, A Wider Horizon, Selected Letters 1983-1992, p. 208-209)

Abdu'l-Baha made several very similar statements, one of which I just blogged onto the Badi' Blog, where the Master in the early, dark days of His ministry apparently came within an ace of pioneering to the town in China known as Kashi. Here is a very similar statement about China that appeared at another time in Star of the West.

...And such is the prophecy of Abdu'l Baha, who bespeaks for China a destiny most great. "China," he says, "is the country of the future.

"China-ward the Cause of Baha'u'llah must march. China has most great capability. The Chinese people are most simple hearted and truth seeking. In China one can teach many souls and train and educate such divine personages, each one of whom may become the bright candle of the world of humanity.

"Truly, I say they are free from any deceit and hypocrisies and are prompted with ideal motives. I hope the right kind of a teacher will be inspired to go to that vast Empire to lay the foundation of the Kingdom of God, to promote the principles of Divine Civilization, to unfurl the banner of the Cause of Baha'u'llah and to invite the people to the Banquet of the Lord." (SW, Vol. 15, p. 45)

"China is the Country of the Future"

Words of Abdu'l-Baha from Diary of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, April 3, 1917.

CHINA, China, China, China-ward the Cause of Baha'u'llah must march! Where is that holy, sanctified Baha'i to become the teacher of China!

China has most great capability. The Chinese people are most simplehearted and truth seeking. The Baha'i teacher of the Chinese people must first be imbued with their spirit, know their sacred literature, study their national customs and speak to them from their own stand point, and their own terminologies. He must entertain no thought of his own, but ever think of their spiritual welfare. In China one can teach many souls and train and educate divine personages, each one of whom may become a bright candle of the world of humanity. Truly, I say they are free from any deceit and hypocrisies, and are prompted with ideal motives.

Had I been feeling well, I would have taken a journey to China myself! China is the country of the future. I hope the right kind of teacher will be inspired to go to that vast empire to lay the foundation of the Kingdom of God, to promote the principles of divine civilization, to unfurl the banner of the Cause of Baha'u'llah and to invite the people to the banquet of the Lord!

For the last twenty years I have repeatedly emphasized the matter of spreading the Cause of God. In every city there must be organized assemblies of teaching classes to teach the young how to teach the Cause and prepare them for this most important service. Every Baha'i must acquire the lessons of teaching. This will yield results. No other service is as important as this. This service of the promotion of the revelation of Baha'u'llah is the most confirmed service. Every time one service holds the most supreme importance.

There is one season to harrow the ground, another season to scatter the seeds, still another season to irrigate the fields and still another to harvest the crop. We must attend to these various kinds of activities in their proper seasons in order to become successful. Now is the time of seed sowing, but it seems to me some of the believers are thinking about crop getting. This will give them no results. Whosoever is thinking of any other thing, is wasting his time. The promotion of the principles of Baha'u'llah is the most dominant issue before the believers of God." (SW, Vol. 8, p. 37)




Here is where the Master almost pioneered during the early years of His ministry.
There seems to be a city by that name nearby, in Kazakhstan; the Chinese place seems to be a province. Here is an article about the Chinese Kashgar, from China Review:


Here is the Wiki article on Kashgar:


The Baha'i Cause and the Chinese People

(Words of Abdu'l-Baha recorded and translated by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, Star of the West, Vol. 13, 184-186)

A Chinese student connected with the Peace Conference in Washington, D. C. last February attended a Baha'i meeting and asked questions with intense interest. At the close of the session he said: "This is the best religion of which I have heard." Another Chinese student, whose family are leaders in the new China, read the Baha'i literature with great enthusiasm. "This is just what the new China needs," he said. "Confucius taught duties to princes. But how are we to teach the ethics of Confucius to the people in a Republic where there are no princes? Today we need a universal ethics in China, something modern and something to unite the religions."

"When I was a little boy," continued this student, "my dear old grandmother in China used to take me on her knee and say, `Some day, in the golden age, the good and wise Confucius will comeback to earth.' I do believe if my grandmother were living now she would say, 'Abdu'l-Baha is Confucius come back to earth!'"

This same Chinese student read Abdu'l-Baha's "Paris Talks" with enthusiasm. He read them in the morning and their radiant sentences filled his heart with the joy of loving kindness. But about four in the afternoon, after a hard day's study, he became irritable, ready, he said, to strike anyone who disagreed with him. Then he would sit down and read again the "Paris Talks." They filled his heart with such love that he could be kind and gentle to his associates until he went to bed at ten in the evening.

A Chinese students' club in one of our great universities listened not long ago to a Baha'i address and asked eager questions. Some of them had been caught by the materialism and agnosticism of current western thought but most of them were eager for a modern religion.

They were especially attracted to the Baha'i teaching of the oneness of the races, the need of a universal language, the fundamental truth in all religions, and to the picture of the universal Temple to he built at Wilmette, north of Chicago, with its nine gardens, nine doors open to all sects and religions. "How wonderful," they said, "to find a religion which teaches that all the world religions are fundamentally true and divine!"

The Chinese are just waiting for the universal light of the Baha'i Glad Tidings. "China, China, China-ward the Cause of Baha'u'llah must march," says Abdu'l-Baha. "Where is that holy, sanctified Baha'i to become the teacher of China! China has most great capability. The Chinese people are most simple-hearted and truth seeking. The Baha'i teacher of the Chinese people must first be imbued with their spirit, know their sacred literature, study their national customs and speak to them from their own standpoint and their own terminologies. He must entertain no thought of his own but ever think of their spiritual welfare. In China one can teach many souls and train and educate such divine personages that each one of them may become the bright candle of the world of humanity. Truly, I say, the Chinese are free from any deceit and hypocrisies and are prompted with ideal motives. Had I been feeling well I would have taken a journey to China myself!"

One day on Mount Carmel Abdu'l-Baha told of his plans to go to China in the days of his imprisonment and exile, of how he longed to travel to all nations in the service of the Kingdom. But for forty years he was a prisoner. He prefaces his story with these words about how Baha Ollah loved to describe the glory of teaching:

"Whenever during his lifetime the Blessed Perfection (Baha'u'llah) desired to signalize anyone with his special favor he encouraged him to go forth and teach the Cause of God. When he spoke to one of the pilgrims or wrote to a far off Baha'i concerning the promotion of the Cause, inciting the former and the latter to arise and deliver the message of the Kingdom, everyone felt instinctively that these souls were elected, the chosen ones and that the glances of mercifulness had encircled them. It is noteworthy to remark that most of the general epistles of Baha'u'llah, embracing comprehensive teachings and principles are revealed in the names of the teachers of the Cause. A number of rare spiritual souls having consecrated themselves to the promulgation of the glad tidings of the Kingdom were peculiarly favored by him. Whenever their names were mentioned in his presence his countenance became all wreathed in smiles. This was the most notable proof and clear evidence of the favor and bestowal of the Blessed Perfection. When he happened to discourse on teaching and teachers he waxed most eloquent, his words inspired the hearts, his face became radiant with the anticipated joy of a humanity instructed in the laws of God and the application of the laws of nature, and his unquestioned, divine authority filled the listeners with such fiery enthusiasm for the promotion of the Cause that they were ready to give up their lives to execute his command. He used to say that the teachers were the Israfels of God who, with the sound of their trumpets blow the spirit of life into the dead bodies of mankind.

"One day, in the course of his talk, he praised so much the lives and services of the teachers of the Cause and expressed such high appreciation of their unselfish lives that, although I was a prisoner said to myself: 'O! That I might be confirmed in this!' Then I thought I might go to Kashgar, one of the provinces of China and a place not visited up to that time by any Baha'i teacher. I was going to travel alone and with no baggage only a handbag containing a number of tablets and books and papers and pens.

"I secured even my passport; the old Mufti stood as my guarantor. When the crafty Motosarraf, Ibrahim Pasha, heard about this he sent his secretary to me with the message: I have heard that your Excellency contemplates taking a long journey. I will not be so disrespectful or discourteous as to thwart your plan or in any way hinder your departure but, as I am the Governor of this province, I am responsible to the central government for everything that happens here. Therefore, it will be but my official duty to send a cable concerning your departure as soon as you set your feet on the steamer.' I was familiar with the fortuitous ways of oriental expression. So I saw that this was a polite way of saying: 'We will not let you go.' Hence I deferred my departure to a more opportune time."

"China is the country of the future. I hope the right kind of teacher will be inspired to go to that vast empire to lay the foundation of the Kingdom of God, to promote the principles of divine civilization, to unfurl the banner of the Cause of Baha'u'llah and to invite the people to the banquet of the Lord!"

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Revisiting Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism True and False

By John Taylor; 2008 Sep 24, 16 Izzat, 165 BE

I have been fascinated over the past several months by the question of fanaticism and fundamentalism. Are false fundamentalists, simmering tensions among faiths and rioting fanatics mere symptoms of the disease of prejudice as it shows up in the realm of religion? Or is there more to it than that?

There is a big difference, it seems to me, in one major respect.

In religion fanatics tend to be systematically nurtured by professionals. For instance, the recent bombings in India may not have been directly coached by religious leaders, but their age-old rivalries, hatred and inability to unite for the common interest of humankind certainly laid the groundwork for such violence. Too often clergy see it as a central professional duty to instil ideology rather than understanding into their adherents.

It was noticed as early as Voltaire that this is not true of other experts in other specialties. Doubts and clashes of ideology are largely confined to discussions among scientists and professionals themselves. Theorists may fight like cats and dogs with one another but as a rule they are responsible enough not to bring their disputations into the classroom. The recent meltdown of stock markets, for instance, was not fomented by disputes among economists but rather by widespread lawlessness, irresponsibility and disavowal of principles that the experts generally agree upon.

Abdu'l-Baha, perhaps commenting upon Jesus saying that "if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out," and at the same time a point made in the Writings of Baha'u'llah that pure hearted, spiritual religious leaders are and always have been the "eyes" of humanity, said:

"Each power is localized. Reason has its seat in the brain, sight in the eye, hearing in the ears, speech in the tongue. The force of gravity is localized in the center of the earth. Everything on the surface of the earth is attracted toward the center. Our light is localized in the sun. The heat of the sun transforms minerals, vegetables, animals, and man. In the world of beings, some have specialized in statesmanship, some in morals, others in commerce, agriculture, art, politics, laboratory work, or industrial activities, for these are the outer expression of spiritual, philosophical and scientific faculties. In brief, each individual expresses himself through some special occupation; but one does not hold the others in condemnation."

"Certain religious teachers, however, think only of their creeds. They believe a holy war can conquer the world. They reason thus: `All the other religious teachers are in error and I am obliged to chastise them and show them their mistakes for their own salvation.' The belief of the friends of God is quite different. They believe that one must affiliate with all, love all humanity and seek ever to better its condition. God is one, the true shepherd of all creation. Let us be kind to every one in order to unify the world and spread affection abroad." (Abdu'l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 97)

Whether holy war is openly declared or not, the oppositional mind set is the same. It is a serious thing when among faith leaders there is an agreement not only to disagree but to do battle with one another and with the world. This is especially so if that profession plays the crucial role "eye" to the body politic. If spiritual leaders see the world in one-dimensional terms as right or wrong, either/or without gray areas; if they see competition and struggle as the only practical way to resolve differences, then what hope is there that the rest of society will stay un-beguiled by this false but seductive set of suppositions about human nature?

An academic who has studied fundamentalism points out that in America,

"Generic fundamentalism takes its cues from a sacred text that stands above criticism. (And) ... sees the secular state as the primary enemy, for the latter is more interested in education, democratic reforms, and economic progress than in preserving the spiritual dimension of life." (The Rise of Fundamentalism Grant Wacker, Duke University Divinity School, National Humanities Center, http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/twenty/tkeyinfo/fundam.htm)

Thus while trying to put it onto a pedestal a fanatic devalues his own Holy Writ by putting it above social transformation, by expecting that it cannot act as a progressive force in reforming and spiritualizing secular society. Thus enthusiasts become fundamentalists by taking a fundamentally self-contradictory position. On one hand, fundamentalism "sees time-honored social distinctions and cultural patterns as rooted in the very nature of things, in the order of creation itself. That means clear-cut and stratified roles for men and women, parents and children, clergy and laity." On the other hand, it,

"seeks to minimize the distinction between the state and the church. To hold that the state should operate according to one set of publicly shared principles, while individuals should operate according to multiple sets of privately shared principles, is morally pernicious and ends up harming everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike. Religious truths are no different from the truths of medical science or aeronautical engineering: if they hold for anyone they hold for everyone." (Id.)

Undoubtedly, in this last sense the fundamentalists are on to something. Religious truths, insofar as they are true, do hold for one and all. But the only way to prove they are true is for all believers of all religious traditions to hold to the true fundamentals, love, forgiveness and kindness to all, believers and non-believers alike. This is why I think we need to make a hard distinction between true and false fundamentals. False fundamentals only divide us further and deeper than we already are. True fundamentals, by their very nature, unite and promote peace. Leaders enlightened by truth encourage followers to look upon everyone they meet as suggested by Ali, Son-in-Law of Muhammad, "either as a brother in religion or a brother in humanity." Peter expressed the same sentiment when, addressing a crowd, he said,

"I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." (Acts 10:34-45)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

p24 bps qua Baha'i

The Baha'i Principles qua Baha'i

By John Taylor; 2008 Sep 23, 15 Izzat, 165 BE

Part I, The Spiritual Principles

I am about to plunge into a heavy reworking of my life-long study of the Baha'i principles in the light of the signal contribution of Jan Amos Comenius. Before I do so, however, I will briefly go over the principles in the light of their distinctive role as pillars of the Baha'i Faith. I am also preparing a website on the principles and a series of short YouTube videos on this theme.

About the Principles generally

The Baha'i principles, qua Baha'i, started when Baha'u'llah wrote the Kings, according to Abdu'l-Baha,

"Fifty years ago Baha'u'llah wrote epistles to the kings and rulers of the world, in which the teachings and principles revealed by him were embodied and set forth. These epistles were printed in India forty years ago and spread broadcast." (Promulgation, 295)

This does not mean that the principles were not discernable in earlier Writings of Baha'u'llah. Many, as the Master Himself pointed out, were laid out in the Hidden Words, perhaps for the first time. The concepts of the oneness and relativity of religion are worked out in detail in the Kitab-i-Iqan, which came just before the Ridvan announcement in 1863. Abdu'l-Baha appears to mean only that the principles were announced virtually at the same time that the word "Baha'i" was introduced to the world, and that they cannot be separated from the single organic unity we know of as the Baha'i Faith.

The Master, in His Secret of Divine Civilization, commissioned a year or two after the revelation of the Aqdas, stated that,

"The primary purpose, the basic objective, in laying down powerful laws and setting up great principles and institutions dealing with every aspect of civilisation, is human happiness..." (SDC 60)

This explains why the Guardian, in God Passes By, calls the principles the "comity of Baha'u'llah." A comity is an arrangement where science, religion and government unite with a single aim: the good and happiness of all. Any exclusion at all, any division into parts, falls short of comity. That is why nationalist politics, dividing humanity into citizens and aliens, is obsessed with competitive division. Only a comity can apply principle, and only principle can sustain world order. Baha'u'llah was very emphatic on this point, that His goal was not self glorification but the good and unity of the entire human world.

"My object is none other than the betterment of the world and the tranquillity of its peoples. The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded." (Gl 286)

Imagining Principle

My challenge, one that I hope my study of Comenius will help with, is to expound upon these central spiritual principles in a way that will include not only non-Baha'is, but even non-believers. Inclusivity is of the essence of principle. Somehow I believe that an image or model may help make the abstractions of principle universally comprehensible.

The principles have been pictured in many ways, as branches of a tree, in the Bible as twelve precious stones taken from surrounding mountains, as the variant colors of the spectrum of light, and so forth. The image I want to use throughout these videos on principle is a circular arrangement that returns to me persistently in recent years. I have rigged up a round tabletop with a Lazy Suzan turntable castor in the center in order to demonstrate it. On the spinning, slightly raised central level I will place the spiritual principles, of which I have discerned four (if you can think of other spiritual principles, do let me know). On the lower, fixed level I will place representations of the social principles, search, oneness, etc.

Spiritual Principle

Today, let us concentrate on an overview of the principles of the Spirit. Here are the four spiritual principles that vivify, inhabit and illumine the sunlit uplands of the human mind and spirit,

Oneness of God
Power of the Holy Spirit

In my little videos somehow I would like to convey the ineffable, transcendent, holographic quality of the spiritual principles, as opposed to the static, reified qualities of the social principles inhabiting the plane below.

So, on this upper, inner circle I would ideally place a black hole. I would do it, too -- if only such a thing were possible without destroying the earth and much of the solar system. Failing that, I will place a globe, or a beach ball, or one of those omni-reflecting silver balls that they used to place in Victorian gardens.

Alternatively, I could place there a model of a Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, or maybe several models of each of the continental temples. At Louhelen they have in their library a model of the Wilmette temple enclosed in a glass bottle. That would be perfect.

The temple, with its dome and nine sides symbolically represents many of the ethereal qualities of the spiritual principles. As the Master pointed out at the start of the second public talk He ever gave, this world is a reflection of the world of spirit. Since there are nine, more or less, major Baha'i social principles, having a nine sided temple on the inner, upper level would convey the overarching other-dimensionality of Spirit over mind.

Part One: Spiritual Principles

The spiritual principles are huge, completely impossible to hold or even touch with our tiny, finite minds. They are still but moving, everywhere but nowhere, complex beyond comprehension, yet at the same time almost too simple to realize deep down in our gut. They give life to the social principles, but it seems at times impossible to say which applies more or less to any given social principle. This is just why I have placed them on a spinning turntable jutting out into a third dimension, each principle equal to the other. The first spiritual principle is:

Oneness of God

The Oneness of God is the identification of God not with man but with what the atheist philosopher called Ubermensch, or Superman. As Baha'is grow in faith we in turn reflect this Mind in our self, our own loves and struggles. This principle was expounded in very personal terms by the Baha'i Superman, which we term the "Manifestation of God."

"The Great Being saith: The Tongue of Wisdom proclaimeth: He that hath Me not is bereft of all things. Turn ye away from all that is on earth and seek none else but Me. I am the Sun of Wisdom and the Ocean of Knowledge. I cheer the faint and revive the dead. I am the guiding Light that illumineth the way. I am the royal Falcon on the arm of the Almighty. I unfold the drooping wings of every broken bird and start it on its flight." (Tablets, 169)

This personal relationship at the core of principle distinguishes principle from ideology or the cold, necessary, inflexible abstractions of mathematical formulae. No, we hold to oneness out of a relationship with a Man who lived a life on earth, confronted history, suffering, weakness, ignorance and evil. His triumph inspires us and offers us strength to win our own spiritual victories.

This is an ethereal spiritual principle, but it becomes a religious principle as we unite with others in carrying out the social principles of oneness of religion, oneness of humanity, and so forth. Thus the personal becomes the social.

Power of the Holy Spirit

The Oneness of God, however intimately we may relate to it personally, is nothing but an idea, a vain feeling, an idle passion, if it is not carried out into action. To do that, we need power, what Baha'u'llah calls confirmations of the Holy Spirit. These confirmations come from constant relationship, as with a parent, sibling or friend. Hence the salutation in the following summary of this principle,

"O friend of mine! The Word of God is the king of words and its pervasive influence is incalculable. It hath ever dominated and will continue to dominate the realm of being. The Great Being saith: The Word is the master key for the whole world, inasmuch as through its potency the doors of the hearts of men, which in reality are the doors of heaven, are unlocked." (Tablets, 173)

The principle of divine power is the mother principle of all power because it deals with language. Old sayings like "the pen is mightier than the sword," and "a word to the wise is sufficient," teach that as long as we hold to the power of speech, there is no need for force or violence. This is a divine force. Conflicts can be worked out peacefully if we pray, consult and apply the result of consultation.

The Manifestation of God is the Word, the genetic code in every order we live by, personally and socially. As the Tablet of Ahmad puts it, He it is "through Whom ... the wisdom of every command shall be tested." Thus the chief way we know the Manifestation is through His Word, by constant study of the Writings. Hence language Baha'u'llah calls the "master key" to the power of spirit that informs all things.


"The light of men is Justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny. The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, 66-7, Kalimat-i-Firdousiyyih, 6th leaf)

Covenant is justice as expressed in our relationship with Almighty God. As with every relationship, for every action there is a reaction, implicit rules and obligations are set up by every interaction with God. When he and I become friends we agree to a contract of reciprocity, a covenant. Our creator sets it going by the very fact that we were created; the more we depend upon Him, the more we thrive, the greater our debt, the more actively we apply the contract. We pay our debt by participating to the extent of our ability in the principles of unity.


Love is the first teaching of all the Divine Teachers. The great Teacher whose main message was love taught that "strait is the gate and narrow the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it," (Matt 7:14) meaning that just as we enter and leave this life alone, so we must seek truth alone, and express it according to our own lights and that of none other. Baha'u'llah adds that the prime expression of this love is the primal love, love in, through and for God,

"For every one of you his paramount duty is to choose for himself that on which no other may infringe and none usurp from him. Such a thing -- and to this the Almighty is My witness -- is the love of God, could ye but perceive it." (Gleanings, p. 261)

The axial social principle of search for truth, along with that of justice, are rare in that they are spiritual as well as social principles. As such, they apply not only to a special area of expertise, but they make all the other principles into principles. For example, economics is mere selfishness, tinkering and money grubbing unless it is adjusted by the comity of individuals struggling towards God.

Some Baha'i Links

Badi' Blog reader Jimbo's website offers flowery prayer cards: http://members.shaw.ca/dawningplace/home.htm

Warning on Mount Carmel:

Earth Graphic

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Master by holy site


This picture appeared in Star of the West, Volume 10, Number 10, September 8, 1919
Captions below:
Abdu'l-Baha walking near the holy tomb
Photograph taken midsummer 1919 and sent to the Star of the West by Shoghi Rabbani
Posted by Picasa

Defending the Rights of Baha'u'llah

Most Canadians still know our most famous photographer, Joseph Karsh. He is the guy who took the definitive portrait of Churchill during WWII.


According to the Wikipedia article on Karsh, "The image of Churchill brought Karsh international prominence, and is claimed to be the most reproduced photographic portrait in history." It tells the story of how this famous shot, featured on postage stamps around the world, came into existence.

"Churchill, the British prime minister, had just addressed the Canadian Parliament and Karsh was there to record one of the century's great leaders. `He was in no mood for portraiture and two minutes were all that he would allow me as he passed from the House of Commons chamber to an anteroom,' Karsh wrote in Faces of Our Time. `Two niggardly minutes in which I must try to put on film a man who had already written or inspired a library of books, baffled all his biographers, filled the world with his fame, and me, on this occasion, with dread.' Churchill marched into the room scowling, `regarding my camera as he might regard the German enemy.' His expression suited Karsh perfectly, but the cigar stuck between his teeth seemed incompatible with such a solemn and formal occasion. `Instinctively, I removed the cigar. At this the Churchillian scowl deepened, the head was thrust forward belligerently, and the hand placed on the hip in an attitude of anger.' The image captured Churchill and the Britain of the time perfectly — defiant and unconquerable. Churchill later said to him, `You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.' As such, Karsh titled the photograph, The Roaring Lion."

Now the reason I bring all this up, is that this book by Karsh that the Wiki article mentions, Faces of our Time, is old enough to be remaindered in our Haldimand library's annual book sale, and this summer I picked up a copy. At the time I thought to myself, `Everybody thinks of this angry photo of the great leader as symbolic of his dislike of Nazi injustice, but all it was was childish petulance that somebody had dared take his cigar away.'

I thought nothing more of it until I came across a mention of a photo of the Master with prayer beads in an old Star of the West. The results of that little investigation I blogged yesterday, at:


This includes a large reprint of the photo, as printed in Star of the West in 1919; the shot is more impressive than I expected. It is the only one I know of where the photographer stamped his mark right on the face of the picture, and who asserts his copyright with a ferocity that is almost modern -- fortunately, it is expired by now. Anyway, if you look at the Master's expression, it reminds one of the Churchill picture taken by Karsh. Not that the Master looks angry in the same way, but there is definitely a touch of aggrieved indignation there. Considering that the Master was just leaving America, it is not the expression one would expect on a formal photo. You would think that he would look sad, or compassionate, or nostalgic, but not this. Did He just receive some bad news? Were the frequent betrayals by friends and enemies weighing upon Him?

I got some explanation when I picked up Mahmud's diary and read the entry for that day. The subject of His talk is "defending the rights of Baha'u'llah. Considering the increase of persecution in Iran of the Baha'is, that is a very pressing current issue for Baha'is right now. They just made it legal to murder apostates. Some may wish to retaliate at this injustice. If so, they would do well to read what the Master said on the day of this portrait. I therefore include the entire text of Mahmud's report.

from Mahmud's Diary, pp. 418-420:

Monday, December 2, 1912 

[New York] 

After the Master had finished His morning prayers, the friends began to come to visit Him such that by midday the Master’s residence was filled with people. He went downstairs and spoke to them: 

I have stayed a long time with you in New York. My stay in other towns has not been a tenth as long. I have met with you day and night, individually and collectively; conveyed to you the admonitions of Baha’u’lláh; delivered to you the heavenly glad tidings; and explained the means of human progress. I have elucidated the harmful effects of prejudices and imitations and the impurity of selfish desires, expounded the teachings of Bahá’u’llah and clarified the meanings of the divine proofs and questions.

The time for my departure is near and I am making arrangements for the voyage. Therefore I shall not be able to attend every meeting, so I shall bid you farewell. I am pleased with you and grateful for your services. Truly, you have shown great kindness and extended to me the utmost hospitality. I supplicate to the Kingdom of Baha’u’llah to shower upon you His assistance and confirmations so that day by day you may be more assisted to defend the rights of Baha’u’lláh, that your hearts may become mote enlightened your morals heavenly, your souls transported with joy and your conduct proof of your faith and certitude. May you be in the utmost sanctity, be completely attracted and turned to the Abha Kingdom and become like brilliant lights. May you become evident signs of the Blessed Beauty and proofs of the reality of Bahá’u’lláh so that you may illuminate the world.

And when people look at your deeds and conduct they will see the traces of holiness and severance and will behold heavenly brightness in you and all will testify that ‘these people are truly proofs of the reality of Baha’u’llah’, and that ‘Baha’u’llah is undoubtedly I the Sun of Truth who has educated these people through) His power’. May they see divine lights in your behavior, find the signs of the love of God, observe praiseworthy conduct in you and seek the virtues of the world of man within you. You must each become the proclaimer of truth and shine from the horizon of the world of humanity like brilliant stars.

This is what is meant by defending the rights of Baha’u’lláh; this is the purpose of the Blessed Beauty in suffering afflictions and accepting confinement in the Most Great Prison, He bore all afflictions and difficulties and ascended to the Kingdom of God a prisoner so that we would act according to His teachings and arise and carry out that which is consistent with faithfulness; that we may act upon His exhortation and raise the call of the Abhá Kingdom and proclaim the light of the bounties of truth, so that the waves of the Most Great Ocean may surge high, this world may become the mirror of the world above, this bed of thorns may turn into a flower garden and this region of dust may reflect the All-Glorious Paradise. 

In the afternoon He said: 

We have sown some seeds and hope that the sun of favor will shine upon them, the rain of mercy will pour down, and the breezes of generosity will waft over them, because America has receptivity.

In the evening, He spoke to a gathering of the friends and said:

I supplicate and implore that the clouds of mercy may shower upon you and the Sun of Truth may shine upon you so that you may attain to the purpose of the holy Manifestations of God. This is my supplication because you are the beloved ones of the Blessed Beauty and the servants of the Greatest Name. I undertook this voyage in order to see you and, God willing, you will come to the Holy Land and we shall meet there in that land which was trodden by the sacred feet of the Prophets of God.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Master with Prayer Beads

From Baha'is

This photo (the only one I know of where He is holding prayer beads) appeared in Star of the West, Vol. 10, No. 9; August 20, 1919.

Below the photo are captions in Persian, as well as this in English:

"His Holiness Abdul Baha Abbas"

(possibly His English signature) and,

"This blessed picture was taken in New York City, December 2nd, 1912, Copyright by Jacob Schloss, New York, N.Y."

Mahmud's Diary does not mention a trip to a photographer's studio on this day, so this portrait may have been taken in His residence. That day He spoke on the meaning of "defending the rights of Baha'u'llah." He left America on the 5th of December.

After the war, Shoghi Effendi came to work as His secretary. In his first communication with Star of the West, a diary of his activities, the future Guardian included a response -- almost certainly to this photograph, published recently in the Star of the West -- by a believer, introducing it in these words, " (A) detailed supplication from Juanita Storch, exquisitely written, reveals the sentiments of love and of thankfulness. I have already quoted a few of her characteristic lines and I cannot prevent myself from sharing with you some of its charming passages;" here is what she says about the picture.

"A picture of the Master comes to me as he holds his rosary in hand outstretched to all who heed to this heavenly call. A picture of the Master comes to me as he holds his rosary, thinking of friends both far and near as pearls of his heart. A picture of the Master comes to me as he holds his rosary, chanting in a prayerful hour, ‘Glory to the Most Great Power.'“

Shoghi then added, "To this profusion of genuine sentiments and to this authoress of tender feelings, Abdu’l-Baha not only spends the days in revealing his words of appreciation, but even until late at night, when everything is hushed in silence and every tongue is at rest, then does the wakeful Beloved reveal his soothing words and his precious lines." (SW v. 10, p. 219)

Juliet Thompson in her Studio

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Competitive Democracy

Karlberg III

By John Taylor; 2008 Sep 15, 08 Izzat, 165 BE

Let us continue our review of Michael Karlberg's article on Western liberal democracy.

Michael Karlberg, "Western Liberal Democracy as New World Order?" in The Baha'i World 2005-2006 (Haifa, World Centre Publications, 2007), 133-156. (http://bahai.haifa.ac.il/pdf/mk-cv.pdf)

Under the heading, "The Corrupting Influence of Money," Karberg states,

"In theory, when there are excesses and deficiencies in the operation of the market economy, a democratic government should be able to regulate and remedy them. The practice of political competition, however, makes this virtually impossible. The reasons for this are not difficult to understand. Political competition is an expensive activity -- and growing more expensive with every generation. Successful campaigns are waged by those who have the financial support, both direct and indirect, of the most affluent market actors (i.e. those who have profited the most from market excesses and deficiencies). (Karlberg, Western Liberal Democracy, 138)

As was previously shown on this blog several times in great detail, Aristotle held that just as living organisms die and rot in recognizable ways, the same holds for the death and corruption of the diverse forms of human governance, including democracy. Aristotle, observing the history of the many city states within his purview, noticed that that democracies inevitably sicken, die and are reborn as plutocracies, the rule of the wealthy. It has happened many times, though on a smaller scale than today. In a pure democracy citizens vote with their ballots. However, in practice their economic role, what we call "voting with our dollars," starts to count for more. Market forces (which are free only for the strong) steer the state away from equality, the principle of "one person, one vote," towards something entirely non-egalitarian. As in ponds and lakes, big fish start feeding cannibalistically on little fish until there remain only two kinds, lunkers and feeders. This we call plutocracy. In a plutocracy the big bucks dictate the agenda and the Golden Rule means only that those with the gold write the rules.

Now as far as I recall, Aristotle did not offer any theories as to why democracies degrade in this peculiar manner, he only noticed that they always seem to do so. Karlberg believes that the main explanation is human competitiveness, pure and simple.

"Yet the root of the problem is political competition itself. From the moment we structure elections as contests, which inevitably require money to win, we invert the proper relationship between government and the market. Rather than our market existing within the envelope of responsible government regulation, our government is held captive within the envelope of market regulation." (139)

Karlberg's expression "held captive" implies that government is unwillingly involved, but now the highest levels of government, in North America at least, are staffed by corporate executives holding strictly to a market fundamentalist ideology. This means that for the past several years at least Western liberal democracies are democratic in name only; by every objective criterion they are plutocracies. Nominal democracy is just another tool in the plutocrat's toolbox for manufacturing consent. If there remain any doubt, ask yourself: If the lion's share of the wealth is in the hands of a tiny minority, why is the question of sharing the wealth not first on the agenda of every political party? In anything resembling democracy, the mere suggestion would guarantee easy electoral success.

So very briefly, Karlberg's thesis is that it is not market forces alone but competitiveness itself that corrupts democracy and puts the wealthy at an advantage. As long as elections are contests, and candidates fight for their jobs -- and dread losing them in future elections -- the common interest will be held up for ransom by special interests.

"As long as governance is organized in a competitive manner, this relationship cannot be fully corrected. Any scheme to tweak the rules here and there will merely cause money to flow through new paths. This is what occurs, for instance, with attempts to reform campaign financing. New forms of contribution merely eclipse the old. Even if societies could eliminate campaign financing entirely, money would simply flow through other points of political influence such as the constantly evolving species of political action groups that exert strategic influences over media coverage of issues, public opinion formation, electoral outcomes, and many other political processes." (139)

No amount of fiddling with the rules will get around the fact that as long as competition is our model the entire electoral system will favor big fish and their divide and rule tactics. Little fish may try to hang together in a large school hoping for safety in numbers but their predators will break it up and feed on stragglers one by one. Karlberg compares this inevitability to the downward tendency of flowing liquid.

"In a competitive political system, where candidates are vying for favorable coverage, public opinion and votes, money will always flow to the most effective points of political influence just as water always flows to the point of lowest elevation. We can alter the path of that flow, but we cannot stop it." (139)

As long as we hold to competition, money will decide influence, and those who control the most money will see to it that even more money flows their way.

"This problem is a primary cause of the growing disparities of wealth and poverty that are now witnessed throughout the world, including within the Western world. The expanding income gap is not simply a result of the market economy itself. It is a result of the competitive political economy that is coupled with it. Through this political economy, the wealthiest market actors define the market framework within which they accumulate wealth. This framework comprises systems of property law, contract law, labor law, tax law, and all other forms of legislation, public infrastructure, and public subsidies that shape market outcomes. In competitive democracies, this framework is defined, over time, by the wealthiest market actors, owing to the influence of money on political competition. The result is a political-economy feedback loop that serves the swelling interests of the wealthiest segments of society." (139-140)

The result of the competitive model for democracy is not "mere" injustice but a dangerous narrowing of the diversity of opinion that is validated, recognized or even gains a hearing in public discourse. This Karlberg calls "perspective exclusion and issue reduction." Issue reduction is not just a narrowing down of the number of issues, but full fledged reductionism. A tiny, selfish minority cannot possibly represent the entire spectrum of human opinion, and when their voices only are heard, we all put on blinders. Whether we wish it or not, a shrill philosophy, what has been called the "curse of oversimplification," is systematically pounded into our heads.

"In addition to the problem of money, political competition does not provide an effective way to understand and solve complex problems because it reduces the diversity of perspectives and voices in decision-making processes. There are a number of reasons for this. First, political competition yields an adversarial model of debate which generally defaults to the premise that if one perspective is right then another perspective must be wrong. In theory, the most enlightened or informed perspective prevails. This assumes that complex issues can be adequately understood from a single perspective. However, an adequate grasp of most complex issues requires consideration of multiple, often complementary, perspectives. Complex issues tend to be multifaceted-like many-sided objects that must be viewed from different angles in order to be fully seen and understood. Different perspectives therefore reveal different facets of complex issues. Maximum understanding emerges through the careful consideration of as many facets as possible." (141)

Diverse views must oppose, push one another aside, rather than complement one another. It is a zero sum game where one binary opposition wins at the expense of the other. The commercialized media are heavily invested in this Procrustian way of dealing with varied perspectives. They must do whatever is necessary to attract mass audiences in order to sell to advertisers.

"The cheapest, and therefore most profitable, way to manufacture a mass audience is through the construction of spectacle -- including partisan political spectacle. Political coverage is thus reduced to a formula of sound-bite politics in which emotionally charged sloganeering becomes the ticket into the public sphere. As a result, simplistic political mantras echo throughout the public sphere, distorting the complex nature of the issues at hand, constraining public perceptions, and aggravating partisan divisions. In such a climate, it is virtually impossible to solve complex, multidimensional social and environmental problems." (141)

The result? The old Roman technique of pacifying the mob, oppress all you want but give the ignorant masses their bread and circuses. Make food cheap, in other words, and offer exciting spectacle, and the masses will quiet down and accept the status quo. Politics is just another circus to distract us. Unfortunately, as Karlberg points out, we need problem solving on a wide level, not reductionism or pacification. The problems confronting the world are complex and pressing and old tactics of divide and conquer, bread and circuses, are just not enough anymore.

Underlying it all is Jesus critique of Roman hegemony, the question, "What profiteth it a man to gain the world and lose his soul?" The solution that Karlberg, following the House of Justice, offers is more sophisticated than this aphorism but essentially the same in spirit. If we are at all aware of our spiritual nature and destiny we will never be satisfied with "bread alone," meaning the "isms," distortions and reductionist pap that dominates a godless, secular political agenda.

"Other challenges associated with competitive politics are less tangible, but no less important. These are the spiritual costs of partisanship and political competition. Again, these problems stem directly from the assumptions that underlie the model: that human nature is essentially selfish and competitive; that different people tend to develop conflicting interests; and that the best way to organize democratic governance is therefore through a process of interest-group competition. By organizing human affairs according to these assumptions, we are institutionally cultivating our basest instincts. In the process, we become what we expect of ourselves. The Universal House of Justice has observed that `it is in the glorification of material pursuits, at once the progenitor and common feature of all such ideologies, that we find the roots which nourish the falsehood that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive. It is here that the ground must be cleared for the building of a new world fit for our descendants.'
"These culturally formed expectations, however, have no solid basis in the social and behavioral sciences. In these fields, the emerging new consensus is that human beings have the developmental potential for both egoism and altruism, competition and co-operation -- and which of these potentials is more fully realized is a function of our cultural environment. This insight is also familiar to many of the world's philosophical and religious traditions. Metaphors that allude to humanity's "lower" and "higher" nature, or "material" and "spiritual" nature, convey this insight, as does the Eastern concept of "enlightenment." However, contrary to the theory and practice of political competition, the primary impulse behind these philosophical and religious traditions has been to cultivate these more co-operative and altruistic dimensions of human nature. (144-145)

We will continue with more of Karlberg's excellent distillation of the Baha'i understanding of the political state of the world at a future date.

My son, and friend



These are from his mother's blog, in Czech.

I entered lots of photos for our fall fair with indifferent results, but this, taken by Marie, of a stupid, ordinary dandelion (pampaliska, in Czech), won first prize. Go figure...

From The Taylors etc.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Karlberg II

Democracy's Invisible Twin

Michael Karlberg, "Western Liberal Democracy as New World Order?" in The Baha'i World 2005-2006 (Haifa, World Centre Publications, 2007), 133-156. (http://bahai.haifa.ac.il/pdf/mk-cv.pdf)

As promised, let us take a closer look at Michael Karlberg's discussion of liberal democracy in the Baha'i World. This subject is on everybody's tongues in North America this year, since both Canada and the U.S. are both having national election campaigns this fall. Therefore it would be wise for Baha'is to go over this article in detail, as I will try to do today on the Badi' Blog. Before, we briefly outlined Karberg's thesis that struggle is both root and branch of the current order of things,

"Western liberal democracy, at its core, is based on the premise that democratic governance requires individuals and groups to compete for political power. The most recognizable form that this takes is the party system. Political competition also occurs without formal political parties in many local elections, and when independent candidates run in provincial (or state) and national elections. In all of these cases, however, the underlying competitive structure is the same, and it is this underlying structure that has become anachronistic, unjust, and unsustainable." (Liberal Democracy, p. 134)

In politics there is a clash between two great worldviews, not unlike that in cosmology between Copernicus's sun-centered concept of the motions of the spheres and the older earth centered one. In this case the dominating theory is that nature determines who we are, while the Baha'i challenge takes God to be at the center. In the West the Master did not specifically criticize Western Liberal Democracy, but instead habitually offered an alternative model for emulation, that is, a God who is all loving and who encourages us to imitate His loving ways. If we do not imitate God, the only alternative is to imitate is what surrounds us, that is, nature. There is no way around it, the human soul is a mirror. It has no choice but to reflect and emulate conditions around it. Whatever we see is soon “natural” to us.

The only question is, what nature do we imitate?

Yes, there is a great deal of co-operation and co-evolution going on in nature; but this is a man's world and men are deeply fascinated by fighting, the sort of struggle and competition that goes on constantly in nature. As a result we imitate not just any part of nature but its "male" rather than "female" side. In a male dominated society, it seems only natural to see this way. We associate with the wrong crowd, we avoid the cute and cuddly, the co-operative, sharing aspects of nature and instead take to heart the Hobbesian side, the Mad Max gone wild, nature "red in tooth and claw." Thomas Hobbes in the 13th chapter of his Leviathan famously called this the "condition of war." In nature we must fight to survive. The weakest can kill the strongest. In this war, life ends up "nasty, brutish and short." Hobbes points out that,

"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

As Hobbes says, natural conditions of war are inimical to everything that human civilization stands for. As the Master put it succinctly, war is death and peace is life. Ours is a war paradigm. We are essentially warlike, built for competition. This permeates our thinking and determines what our democracy is. Democratic institutions, then, become a new sort of Leviathan who is not an individual (God) but a collectivity. He does not mandate peace but continually breeds war, like a referee dressed in a striped shirt, pitting groups of solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short fellows against each other in eternal conflict. Strife conditions our attitudes and the tone of political discourse. Karlberg writes,

"Statements such as these raise legitimate concerns about the state of partisan discourse, but they obscure the underlying problem of political competition. According to these views, political competition and political parties are the natural, normal, and inevitable way to organize democratic governance; the problem arises only when partisan rhetoric becomes too adversarial or mean-spirited. As the socio-linguist Deborah Tannen states, `A kind of agonistic inflation has set in whereby opposition has become more extreme, and the adversarial nature of the system is routinely being abused.'" (Liberal Democracy, 135)

What a lovely term, "agonistic inflation"! Struggle for mere existence gone wild, acting like monetary inflation in the economy to devalue all getting and spending. Karlberg cites what Baha'u'llah said in the Proclamation to the Kings, "No two men can be found who may be said to be outwardly and inwardly united," saying that this lack of inner and outer unity gives birth to what one female political scientist, using another gorgeous turn of phrase, calls "adversary democracy." Adversary democracy, subject to agonistic inflation, is the fruit of bad DNA; our profoundest conceptions of human nature assume that we are in essence selfish and competitive. We also presume that "different groups of people will naturally develop different interests, needs, values, and desires, and these interests will invariably conflict." Furthermore, "given a selfish human nature and the problem of conflicting interests, the fairest and most efficient way to govern a society is to harness these dynamics through an open process of interest-group competition." (136) As a result, elections are nothing better than cockfights; extremely boring cockfights but cockfights nonetheless. No matter what the issue, it is squeezed into and subordinated to the logic of competitive contests. The "goal of winning trumps all other values" and, as one authority cited by Karlberg points out,

"Parties may aim to realize a programme of `ideal' political principles, but unless their activities are based on systematic strategies for achieving electoral success they will be doomed to insignificance. Accordingly, parties become transformed, above all else, into means for fighting and winning elections." (137)

Reading about this competitive model conjured up the image of a very large man squeezing into a tiny box. He starts out with a head, two arms and legs, his natural form. However after the election he ends up in a small cube form and cannot move a muscle. That is why political institutions are immobile in the face of increased threats like nuclear war and worsening climate change. We lose an entire dimension of humanity because our worldview will not let us budge.

From a technical point of view, I admire how Karlberg introduces at just the right moment the alternative, the purely co-operative democracy in the Cause of God. That is how the Master taught and it cannot be improved upon. I also admire how he squeezes the entire paper essentially between these two famous statements of Baha'u'llah:

"No two men can be found who may be said to be outwardly and inwardly united..."

And at the end of the paper,

"The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective. (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, Maqsud, p. 171)

The paper shows how our lack of inner and outer unity gives birth to our referee Leviathan, and how he eventually causes despair – how close His analogy of “winds of despair” is to the climate change that threatens to be our undoing.

Before closing, let us consider another consequence of competition, lack of gun control and the consequent proliferation of weapons both with and between national borders. A headline in the New York Times says, “U.S. Arms Sales Climbing Rapidly; Sales of weapons to foreign governments have risen to more than $32 billion, up from $12 billion in 2005.” Instead of building friendships among nations and strengthening international ties, “The Bush administration is pushing through a broad array of foreign weapons deals as it seeks to rearm Iraq and Afghanistan, contain North Korea and Iran, and solidify ties with onetime Russian allies.” One of the military salesmen for the Americans explains, "This is not about being gunrunners. This is about building a more secure world." This, then, is about the same logic that says you are safer if you pack a gun and store guns in your house than if there were fewer guns overall, and most were in the hands of the police. Recall what Baha'u'llah said about being unified even in ourselves – then consider the statistics which show that with a gun around your chances of shooting yourself are between four and seven times greater. The same has to be true on the international level with weapons of mass destruction.

“The United States has long been the top arms supplier to the world. In the past several years, however, the list of nations that rely on the United States as a primary source of major weapons systems has greatly expanded. Among the recent additions are Argentina, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Georgia, India, Iraq, Morocco and Pakistan... In many cases, these sales represent a cultural shift, as nations like Romania, Poland and Morocco, which have long relied on Russian-made MIG-17 fighter jets, are now buying new F-16s, built by Lockheed Martin. In the Persian Gulf region, much of the rearmament is driven by fears of Iran.”

Thomas Hobbes, who was born prematurely due to his mother's shock at the coming of the Spanish Armada, said of himself that his “twin brother was fear.” The same thing could be said of the 21st Century. Its twin brother is fear. The greater the fear, the better the sales of arms. The argument that Americans in Afghanistan had to fight insurgents using older US arms does not hold water, since fear forces the weapons makers to make newer and more fearsome arms. And the great thing about fear is that, like an invisible twin brother, it pushes competition to ever higher levels. The Pentagon's weapons seller points out the logic perfectly. With so many nations now willing to sell advanced weapons systems, the United States could not afford to be too restrictive in its own sales.

"Would you rather they bought the weapons and aircraft from other countries?" he said. "Because they will."