Archive for July, 2009

O Son of Man! Wert thou to speed through the immensity of space and traverse the expanse of heaven, yet thou wouldst find no rest save in submission to Our command and humbleness before Our Face. Bahai writings

I was driving with Moojan from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Wilmette, Illinois, on 20 July 1969, trying to arrive there before the astronauts landed on the moon. We had car trouble on the way and I had to use a coat hanger to keep the exhaust in place as we drove through Nebraska.

I had not been to my family’s home in Wilmette, as they have only recently moved there, and had no idea where the street they lived on might be. There was no such thing as a SatNav and the map we had showed Wilmette as a suburb of Chicago but no streets. Once in the Chicago area, I just pointed the car towards Wilmette and, having arrived there, looked for the dome of the Baha’i House of Worship above trees, as I knew the street to be nearby. Just before 3:00 in the afternoon I pulled into the parking lot next to the House of Worship, my car roaring as the silencer (muffler, for those in the US) had completely gone. A car was just leaving the car park as I drove in, so I asked the driver where Greenleaf was — and got directions from Hand of the Cause Zikrullah Khadem!

We quickly drove the two blocks and ran into the house just in time to sit with my family to watch the historic moon landing at 3:17 Chicago time.

We were thrilled by the words of  Neil Armstrong as he set his foot on the moon’s surface: `That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ – they seemed to capture the very spirit of the changes and advances that were happening in the world. For me, it was particularly poignant to watch with my grandmother, the first Baha’i in our family, who was born in Norway in 1896 and had come to the US on a ship in 1902.

But it was Buzz Aldrin who, unwittingly, echoed Baha’u’llah’s truth-statement of more than a century before – `Wert thou to speed through the immensity of space and traverse the expanse of heaven, yet thou wouldst find no rest save in submission to Our command and humbleness before Our Face – when, in the first broadcast from the moon, he requested us to be show humility and gratitude to our creator: `I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.’

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Women Advance

So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it. This is true and without doubt. Bahai writings

We can tell that women still do not `participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world’ because we still do not have universal peace. However, compared to the status of women in 1912 when `Abdu’l-Baha made this statement to a women’s suffrage meeting in New York, we are advancing along this trajectory. Witness the number of women now in government, business, the law, the professions, in contrast to the number a hundred years ago – not enough, certainly, but many more. Witness also the growth in the organisations that work for the advancement of women. equality and justice.

Last evening I attended the 40th anniversary of the establishment the independent advisory body set up under the Wilson government as the interface between the British government and women and women’s organisations: the Women’s National Commission (WNC). Over 450 organisations in the UK are partners, organisations concerned inter alia with the advancement of women, women’s rights, the education of women and girls, the role of women in peace and security, mothers, women workers, women scientists, family planning, grandparents, widows, housing, health, justice, trafficking, violence against women, families, women in politics and gender and equality issues in general, as well as faith communities, cultural organisations, professional associations and trades unions. The role of the WNC is to ensure that the views of women are taken into account by the government and are heard in public debate. Although paid for by the government, the WNC comments independently on government policy and advises the government. And, in my experience, actually listens to the people and organisations it represents and includes them in forming its policies and recommendations.

I was invited as a co-founder of Advance, a Baha’i-inspired organisation (follow us on Twitter: advancewomennow). One of the aims of Advance is to introduce the principles and concepts found in the Baha’i writings into the discourse on gender and equality issues being conducted by the Women’s National Commission and its partners. The statement made by Prime Minister Harold Wilson at the launch of the WNC in 1969 resonate with the Baha’i teachings: `Women’s experiences, capabilities and sensibilities enable them to contribute something additional, valuable and possibly different, to thought and discussion on public issues.’

The 40th anniversary celebration was held on the terraces of the House of Lords, so was quite a prestigious event and I was really honoured to be invited. Most of the people there were commissioners or former commissioners of the WNC, statesmen, politicians, lawyers, social activists, educators – women who have `entered confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics’. They represented many cultures, backgrounds and religions, united in their dedication to making the world more equitable and just.

Chair Baroness Joyce Gould

Baroness Gould

outlined the evolution of the WNC and the issues it tackled, starting with a review of family law in the early 1970s, and moving on to equal pay legislation, tackling violence against women and female genital mutilation, issues concerning older women, and how to engage more women in public life. This last was of particular relevance to me, as it was through the efforts of the WNC that the government was persuaded to actively recruit more (and younger) women to positions such as non-executive director of health boards, one of which recruited me in 1990 (I am still serving on the successor board, NHS Bedfordshire).

Minister for Women and Equality, Harriet Harman,

harriet harman

spoke of the progress made and work still to be done in all these areas, particularly in this time of financial difficulty, when the temptation to backtrack on issues such as childcare for working women, equal pay and support for families is great.

It wasn’t all serious, though. Comedian Jo Brand

Jo Brand

made us laugh at ourselves (`Feminists range from women in high heels and lipstick to those in overalls and Doc Martens. I’m the first but I look like the second.’)

And among the hundred or so people there were Carwen Wynne Howells, Federation President of Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland; Jonathan Rees, Director-General of the Government Equalities Office; members of UNIFEM NC UK – and two other Baha’is, Lois Hainsworth MBE, veteran activist for women’s rights; and Mieko, co-founder, with Zarin Hainsworth-Fadaei and me, of Advance.

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The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. Bahai writings

Today, 11 July, is Baha’i Rights day, when bloggers and tweeters offer a thought on the rights of  Baha’is. Organised by the Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights, it is an opportunity to communicate some of the human rights abuses that the Baha’i suffer in many parts of the world.

I expect quite a few people will do this, so I thought I might take a different approach.  `Abdu’l-Baha says that `the moderate freedom which guarantees the welfare of the world of mankind and maintains and preserves the universal relationships, is found in its fullest power and extension in the teachings of Baha’u’llah’. So what does the Baha’i Faith say about human rights and what freedoms does it guarantee?

When He was travelling in America in 1912, `Abdu’l-Baha described the how much more effective, progressive and just a community was if its people were granted certain rights: `Under an autocratic government the opinions of men are not free, and development is stifled, whereas in democracy, because thought and speech are not restricted, the greatest progress is witnessed. It is likewise true in the world of religion. When freedom of conscience, liberty of thought and right of speech prevail — that is to say, when every man according to his own idealization may give expression to his beliefs — development and growth are inevitable.’

In my reading of the writings of Baha’u’llah, `Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi and the published talks of `Abdu’l-Baha I have come across many statements that describe the legal, equitable or moral entitlements of individuals within a society functioning according to the Bahá’í teachings. These are sometimes expressed as `freedoms’ and sometimes as `rights’. Many of these are the very entitlements that Baha’is – and others – are denied in their home countries today.

Freedoms (those that are more or less the same I have grouped together):

Freedom to worship God as one believes to be right
Freedom of belief
Freedom of choice of  religion

Freedom of conscience
Freedom of thought

Freedom of speech
Freedom of expression
Freedom to have and express one’s own opinion
Freedom to criticise
Freedom of the press

Freedom of investigation

Freedom from government oppression
Freedom of the person
Freedom from slavery and bondage
Freedom from oppression
Freedom from all forms of abuse

Freedom from fear
Freedom from want
Freedom to marry the person of one’s choice (for Baha’is, conditioned on the consent of the parents)
Freedom of movement
Freedom of the voter to vote for whom he chooses
Freedom to bequeath ones property as one wishes

Rights of the Individual

Right of the family to maintain itself under conditions favourable to body, mind and spirit.
Right to survive
Right to hold opinions and express these opinions appropriately
Right to information

Right to establish centres of worship

Right to a happy, comfortable life
Right to a social order
Right to be citizens in good standing
Right to be recognized as a person before the law
Right to privacy
Right to freedom from racial discrimination
Right to expect that those cultural conditions essential to one’s identity enjoy the protection of national and international law

Right to a living
Right of the workers to share in the profits of the enterprise
Right to dignity
Rights of minorities and fostering their interest

Right to development
Right of women to equality with men
Right to help others
Right basic necessities such as food, shelter and health care
Right to education (also, `daughters have a prior right to education over sons’)

Baha’is believe that `rights and responsibilities are inextricably linked’ thus for every `right’ there is a counterpart responsibility

Responsibilities of individuals

To recognize the essential oneness of the human race
To promote the human rights of others
To uphold the rights of others
To develop a personal commitment to building a broader sense of community
To promote the well-being, and respect for the rights, freedoms, identity and human dignity of others
To promote the rights of women and children
To obey the law
To educate children

Responsibilities of governments

To respect the rights and freedoms listed above and to find ways to foster their expression

To respect the rights of minorities, women, children and the disabled

To be fair in their judgement

To provide employment for everyone

These are a few of the freedoms, rights and responsibilities of individuals and their governments that are described in the Baha’i teachings.

Today the trial of the seven imprisoned Baha’is facing the death penalty in Tehran was due to start. We have just learned that it has been postponed. Whether there has been the usual kind of judicial delay or there has been a change of heart, whether this is yet one more ploy by an unscrupulous administration to achieve some undisclosed agenda or is an attempt to deflect international criticism has yet to be determined. Whatever today’s event, the rights of the Baha’is are still severely restricted so a focus on them in still very much required.

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Trails to Trials

l have rolled up the world and all that is therein, and spread out a new Order in its stead.’ `The day is approaching when God will have raised up a people who will call to remembrance Our days, who will tell the tale of Our trials, who will demand the restitution of Our rights. Bahai writings

Like Christians, Baha’is annually commemorate the state execution of a person considered by the leaders of His day to be a criminal. Like Jesus, who prayed as He was crucified,`Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34), when the Bab was set before a firing squad in Tabriz, Iran, on 9 July 1850, He explained to His executioners that they had no idea who He was and what they were doing. His last words were: `O wayward generation! Had you believed in Me every one of you would have followed the example of this youth [Anis], who stood in rank above most of you, and would have willingly sacrificed himself in My path. The day will come when you will have recognized Me; that day I shall have ceased to be with you.’

Both Jesus and the Bab were around 30 when they died. Both envisaged the Kingdom of God on earth. Both taught a message of love. Both were victims of ignorance and fear. Both suffered at the hands of government. Both faced a show trial where the verdict was determined before they ever appeared. Both were deemed to be criminals and executed as such. Both were told that their religion would die as soon as they did. Both proved this expectation to be wrong.

But the fear and ignorance remain. Although the Bab died 159 years ago today, His followers are still being persecuted. Seven are locked up in prison. Their trial is set for 11 July. Their prospects are not good. In the end, the charges against them will not matter: their actual crime is to be a follower of the Bab and His successor, Baha’u’llah. No doubt there will be a show trial to prove that the Baha’is are criminals, not followers of a religion. If things get that far, no doubt there will be calls for their execution.

So while today Baha’is around the world are remembering the Bab and recalling His life and martyrdom, they will also be remembering the Evin Seven and praying for their safety and eventual release.

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Insight into Buying a New Car

. . .  open the eye of thine insight, travel in all the realms of God, see the splendour of the Kingdom and behold the effulgence of the Realm of might. Bahai writings

My old car was becoming a liability and beginning to cost a lot to repair and service, so I decided to take advantage of the UK government’s old car scrappage scheme, which gives you £2000 towards a brand new car if you scrap your old one.

There are some rules for this: your old car must be a passenger car or small van up to 3.5 tonnes in weight; it has to have been registered in the UK before 1 August 1999; it must still be registered with the DVLA; it must have an MOT certificate; and you must have owned it for more than one year. The rules are to prevent people from buying up rusty wrecks for a few hundred pounds and scrapping them for unfair profit.

The general idea is that there will be fewer high carbon emitting cars on the road. The other idea is that the ailing motor industry will get a boost. The idea for me was, for the first time since 1975, to get a new car.

As my car was well over 10 years old, I’d owned it for most of that time, it was MOTed and everything, it qualified. What I didn’t realise was that `scrapping’ means `crushing’. This is how it works. Once you have decided what new car you want, you have to ascertain that it is actually available. This is because under this scheme you have to hand over your old car to the dealer before you can get the new car. You also have to hand over your car registration document and MOT tax disc. Then the dealer contacts the crushing service, which has 48 hours to collect your old car. From the time of collection, it then has 48 hours to crush your car and issue a certificate of crushing to the dealer – in fact, though, there is a backlog, as so many people have taken up this option this may take longer. Until the dealer gets the certificate of crushing, your new car cannot be registered to you. In the meantime, you have no car . . .

You also need to arrange the insurance for the new car, as it cannot be registered until you have this. Of course, until you have the registration number of the car, you can’t get insurance. So the timing is a bit tricky. In the meantime, you have no car . . .

Once the registration number has been assigned, you can buy insurance. For me, this was the longer part of the whole thing. I compared insurance prices on line – but when I went to buy the insurance, it `only’ took four hours (most of the time was trying to get through to the chosen insurance company on the phone, as a crucial question needed to be answered by a real person). Getting the certificate to the dealer is also tricky. The dealer cannot accept anything other than the original certificate of insurance or cover note – a fax won’t do, `for security reasons’ the insurers won’t email it to you and the cover note can’t be delivered for a week, during which you have no car…

But once all these issues are sorted, you can get your new car. I bought a bright red Honda Insight, a petrol-electric hybrid. I really love it!


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