Wednesday, April 30, 2008

No Surprises

International Teaching Center members Gustavo Correa and Shariar Razavi have been elected to the Universal House of Justice in their recent election -- something that was not only predicted by Baquia, but some quite conservative Baha'is were joking about the fact that it was patently obvious who would be elected. The problem is that there are probably few other Baha'i officials that would be known to all of the members of the world's National Spiritual Assemblies. In a Baha'i election, where any sort of campaigning is forbidden, and you can win by plurality, name recognition is everything. And the ITC deals directly and frequently with the NSAs -- in fact, I've been told that it never corresponds with ordinary individuals, only institutions and appointed officials. NSA members may not know much about NSA members in other countries, but they all know the Counsellors in Haifa.

As Baquia notes, this is the first year where all members of the UHJ are former ITC members -- the House, in essence, appoints its own future members. It's a closed system. Now, I've heard some hardliners venture the opinion that the composition of the House doesn't matter -- but this is utterly foolish. You have nine men consulting on the direction of the Baha'i world and making decisions about it -- of course the attitudes of the individuals matter, their experience and background. They aren't sitting around a table in Haifa taking dictation from God; they talk about things, and express their own opinions in those discussions and through a vote. And now, all of them come from a background where they engage in "protection" i.e. heresy-hunting, and are appointed to their positions instead of being elected .

I've heard it, only half-jokingly, suggested that the only way out of the dilemma of the international Counsellors being the only ones well-enough known to be elected is to make the ITC all-female, so that the members of that body would be ineligible to be elected. But I wouldn't hold my breath. . . .

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Breaking Baha'i News Stories

Besides the one on Iran below, there are two other news stories making the rounds of Baha'i cyberspace:

The Baha'i News Service has just announced the retirement of Harmut Grossman and Glenford Mitchell from the Universal House of Justice. Mitchell, of course, has been on the UHJ for many years and is due for retirement, but Grossman was elected just a few years ago -- although, at age 74 it seems reasonable for him to retire as well, even if he's served only a single term. It seems to me that there has been more turnover on the House than there once was, which is a good thing. What's not so good, and has been much discussed on various forums, is that all the new House members have come from the ITC, making appointment to that body a virtual nomination to the House. Here's to hoping that the next election is a deviation from that trend. In the only case where I was given the opportunity to observe the upper institutions closely, it seemed to me that the appointed ITC -- which has "protection" as part of its explicit job -- was far more harsh and condemning than the House itself, which was trying to stay more neutral, even distant, and in the end it did the right thing for the particular person involved. The appointed wing is scary: Although technically without power, it wields a tremendous influence that has had a negative impact on some people's lives -- the ramifications of which are still being felt. Anyway, I hope the NSAs elect someone from their ranks this time.

The second story is that the
US NSA court case against two Remeyite groups has failed.. Apparently, the NSA was arguing that these groups were in contempt of a 1966 court decision against Remey's original group disallowing them from using Baha'i copyrighted symbols. The court found that these successor groups are materially different from the original one set up by Mason Remey. Of course, there's nothing stopping the NSA from suing each of these groups individually, as far as I can tell -- and I suspect that's what will happen. But if their complaint is based upon web pages, they're going to have to not only sue the leadership of these groups, but every individual member who is using these symbols. This all could be in court a long time.

I have very little sympathy with these splinter groups -- one is fundamentalist and the other just plain nuts. Nevertheless, I'm uncomfortable with the notion that religous symbols are copyrighted; it seems very sectarian. Nobody owns the cross or the crescent, after all. And I don't think there is a significant danger that anyone who is halfway paying attention is going to confuse these groups with the mainstream Baha'i Faith, so all this litigation seems like a lot of time and effort for very little gain.

The Rising Generation in Iran

I seldom say much about the persecution of Baha'is in Iran -- besides the fact that I'm certainly no expert on Iranian affairs, there's very little to say, except what a horrible violation of human rights it is. And, I've been hearing predictions of the Islamic Republic's fall my whole adult life, so I'm a bit skeptical about yet another one. However, no regime, however totalitarian, is immune from the change of the generations -- even if there isn't a counter-revolution, there is bound to be counter-evolution.

From the article The Mullah's Achilles' Heel: Iran's Youth:

Notwithstanding the Mullahs' pretensions, the Islamic Republic is built less on the sublime spirituality of religion and more on the profane temptations of power. In placing so much focus on demonizing the peaceful Baha'i minority and threatening human rights champions, such as Dr. Ebadi, the hardliners betray the emptiness of their beliefs and ideals, which must be imposed through violence and intimidation.

Instead of celebrating the transcendent values of compassion and justice, which inspired a glorious and pluralistic Islamic civilization for centuries, Iran's self-appointed clerical rulers promote a hateful and ignorant totalitarian ideology. Some of the most vigorous dissent against clerical rule is by clerics themselves, both orthodox and reformist, calling for separation of religion and state, consistent with 500 years of Shia tradition. Many Islamic clerics are persecuted and there is even a special court for the prosecution of dissident clergy.

A regime that does not enjoy a democratic mandate, and which is unresponsive to popular demands for a prosperous and open society, desperately needs foreign conspiracies, heresies and other enemies within to legitimize its rule. But time is not on the hardliners' side. The reality is that 70% of Iranians are less than 30 years of age, many are Internet-savvy, glued to satellite television and have very little toleration for the Islamic utopia promised by their leaders when the evidence of national decline is apparent everywhere.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Karen's Now on Facebook

Just thought I'd give folks a head's up, in case any of my online friends are into the whole social networking site thing. It took me a while to get around to it -- my main exposure to the phenomenon was scolding my teenage daughter for the kinds of things she puts on hers, and occasionally insisting on deletions.

Right now, I'm mostly having fun messing around with the applications, putting books and music on the site. I don't have many "friends", i.e. folks who are allowed to see the site, but then, neither do most of my friends. I admit some shyness about requesting "friends" on there, even though people do it all the time. I don't have a picture up yet, either.

So, it's not profound -- even kind of silly, but that's what I've been up to lately.

Click on the title of this blog entry for the page -- but I think you have to join Facebook yourself in order to see it.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Refusing to Take Men for an Answer

Yeah, I know I said yesterday that folks don't seem to come here to read news stories, but I couldn't resist this one:

Many years ago, when she was still a tiny girl in braids, and not the professional she is today, Eufrosina Cruz heard the story of how her father married off her sister to a stranger at age 12: She wondered if a man might come to claim her too.

Being a girl isn't easy in Santa Maria Quiegolani, a poor rural village where Zapotec is the native language and most girls are lucky to complete grade school.

Cruz left to eventually become a college-educated accountant. But now, at age 27, she has returned to her old village in the mountains of Oaxaca, and stirred up a gender war.

This is a woman with a heck of a lot of guts. Click on the title to read more.

Friday, April 04, 2008

How Privileged Are You?

I was thinking about posting a news story today, but I'm finding that folks aren't visiting the blog for news stories -- the Baha'i posts get far and away more visits. The only non-Baha'i subjects that get any significant traffic are those on education and Maggie Ross. So, there's no sense in me posting news stories just to keep the blog updated.

This has been doing the rounds of the blogosphere, though, and I thought I'd chime in. It was based on an exercise about class and privilege developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate in this blog game, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.

Some of these were difficult to answer because I had four different "childhood homes" before I was 18 -- and they were quite different from each other: 1. My brother and I lived with Mom and Dad (birth to age 9); 2. My mother and us kids lived with my maternal grandparents during my parents' divorce and ensuing custody battle(age 9 to 11); 3. My brother and I lived with my dad and stepmother, and her two kids(age 11 to 14); 4. I left my dad's house to live with Grandma and Grandpa again. (age 14 to age 20).

So, answering something like this gets a little complicated for me. (Probably that in itself makes me less "privileged". ) Dad had more money than my grandparents, but they were more likely to have an interest in things this test marks as high status, like books, art, and music -- in spite of not having finished high school. My paternal grandmother had some college education, as well as musical training, but I didn't live with her -- and Dad had a different attitude.

Everybody else who has this on their blog bolds the ones that apply, so I'll do the same.

1. Father went to college
2. Father finished college
3. Mother went to college
4. Mother finished college
5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home. (Probably my grandparents had this many.)
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.
9. Were read children's books by a parent. (This one's really a "maybe". I have memories of reading to my mother, but not vice versa.)
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 (Swimming lessons)
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18.
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs.
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
16. Went to a private high school
17. Went to summer camp
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18.
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels. (Dad liked to travel, but he always pulled a trailer.)
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18. ( I had hand-me-downs when I was living with Dad and stepmom -- where there were four kids to take care of, but not in the other homes I lived in.)
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them. (I bought a hand-me-down car -- Grandma's Mustang.)
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child.(I had a great-grandmother, my maternal grandmother's mother, who loved to paint. The smell of oil paint always reminds me of her, and one of her paintings adorns my wall to this day. But she wasn't a professional artist or anything.)
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house.
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home.
25. You had your own room as a child.(from age 10, although for a brief period when I was 12 I didn't have a room and slept on the couch.)
26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18.
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course.
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.(not in high school -- my brother and I had a little black-and-white tv when we were little kids, but I never had one after that.)
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16. (Once, I think. Actually my flying experience was mostly on my paternal grandfather's Cessna.)
31. Went on a cruise with your family.
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.(I went with people other than my parents.)
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.( I find this one kind of weird -- how many parents tell their kids how much their bills are?)

So, I only have nine of the 34, so that makes me approximately 26% privileged? I'm actually uncertain as to how this is supposed to be scored -- I wonder what the original authors actually did with this exercise. Just count up how many kids in the class had their own rooms growing up or had parents who bought them cars?

This appears to exclude anything that would be considered a necessity -- like food, shelter, or medical care. Compared to much of the world, just the fact that we have those means we're in the upper tier. Also, there would be a significant difference between generations here -- my grandparents wouldn't have been able to answer "yes" to any of these, and my parents to very few, and my children to several more.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The World's Fastest Growing Religions

My friend Baquia, has mentioned on Baha'i Rants that
Foreign Policy has named the Baha'i Faith as the second-fastest growing religion. What I found interesting was *why* it was so listed -- that is, because about a quarter of Baha'is live in India, and there are high birthrates there. In fact, four of the religions on the list -- the Baha'i Faith, Sikhism, Jainism and Hindusim -- have high growth rates attributable to the fact that a large percentage are in India.

A few years back, there was a lot of discussion about how solid the numbers of Baha'is in India actually are. There's over a million on the rolls, but in India there tends to be a more inclusive Baha'i identity, so that many Baha'is still bring Hindu practices and identity with them. My guess would be that you have a range of commitment, just like you do in the U.S. No doubt there are some on the rolls that have reverted to Hinduism, some who are wholly Baha'i, and a portion in the middle with a mixture. I've heard reports of Indian Baha'is having pictures of 'Abdu'l-Baha' right next to Hindu gods on the family altar, or of them performing puja, which is Hindu worship. I recall one book speaking of "distinctive Hindu-Baha'i forms of worship". In such a case, a person looking in from the outside might have a hard time figuring out what religion these folks belong to.

As Baquia mentioned, the Indian census put the Baha'i numbers very low, but I think it likely that some were missed -- it depends on how the census was done. If assumptions were made about certain areas being Hindu, so that the whole population was attributed to that religion, rather than census workers going door-to-door, then certainly a lot of Baha'is were missed. If every household was carefully accounted for, like they do in the U.S.(although, of course, our census forms don't ask about religion), then that low number would have to be accurate and the Baha'i rolls are way off base. But I think the former case more likely.

Another thing that struck me about this article is the key factor of population growth. I always think of "growth" in a religion as being conversion -- people decide to join. But that comes from my experience, I guess. The only religion named on FP's list where conversion was a major factor was Christianity.

The notion of growing up in a religion is foreign to me. It's not that I didn't have some religious training -- I was sent to church at various times during my childhood, although it was not a regular thing. My interest in religion was very personal, even as a child. And, as time went on, the Protestant Christianity I grew up with became less dominant within the family. I used to joke with friends that I'm a heretic in my family, not because I'm a Baha'i, but because I don't believe in reincarnation! Actually, the notion that family pressure could influence my spiritual decisions makes me very uncomfortable; I've always charted my own path. I can't imagine just parroting my family's ideas about anything -- religion, politics, the role of women, child-rearing, or whatever. In fact, I was raised to be independent and wary of authority.

But I guess my experience -- and my family -- is unusual. According to the stats, most people do identify with the religion of their parents, even if they don't stay active practitioners. I expect the rates would be even higher in traditional societies in the global South.