Thoughts on the Israel/Lebanon conflict

I have made a podcast of this blog entry, which you can download. It's 20 minutes long.


The music used in the podcast is by Kevin MacLeod and is taken from the site, which contains royalty-free music. The file used here is "Awaiting Return", which is found in the New Age Piano section. It is a piano derivative of Holst's "Thaxted".

I had made a rule with myself that I would not talk about politics on my blog. The rule that Baha'is should not get involved in divisive politics is a wise one in my view. It took me ages to fathom Abdu'l-Baha's wisdom that if two people argued about something, then both were wrong. I assume that this principle is based on Baha'u'llah's principle that, in this day, conflict and contention are categorically forbidden. It helped when I saw that there was an important difference between 'disagreeing' and 'arguing'. You can politely disagree with someone. You see Baha'u'llah doing this in the Iqan, when he patiently suggests to narrow-minded divines that there is another way of looking at things. But that is a far cry from getting on your high horse and sustaining an argument. That is morally wrong because it entwines us and others in self and passion. Winning and seeking an advantage over others becomes the order of the day, and not simply uncovering the truth and seeking answers.

{josquote}Put bluntly, I didn't recognise the Administration's right to get it wrong.{/josquote}

Something like this characterised the way I used to think about, and deal with, the Baha'i administration. I thought they had strayed from the straight path (and still do), but back then I thought it was important to go on about this in a bid to demonstrate that I was right and provoke change. Put bluntly, I didn't recognise the Administration's right to get it wrong. There was, and is, so much at stake for the future of humanity. But that's the world stage God has provided for us, to demonstrate, in the way we live our lives, who we really are spiritually. If members of the administration choose to make bad decisions when so much is at stake, then the Lord has supplied them with the stage on which their actions will condemn them beyond question.

Baha'u'llah demonstrated the importance of this principle when he stopped on his way to the Siyah Chal and pushed his head forward to give a woman good aim to throw a stone at his face. He was respecting her right to get it wrong. She sincerely believed that what she was doing was meritorious in the sight of God and Baha'u'llah honoured that. In doing this, Baha'u'llah was light years from the "winning and losing" state of being. He wouldn't contend with others, and why should he bother? What others think is their business, not his. They have to account to God for it, not him. But the minute we become hooked in, wanting to contend with another, we have become morally culpable.

All this is on the road to another of Abdu'l-Baha's principles—also difficult to fathom and practise—that we should treat our enemies as friends. If we look at Baha'u'llah's example above, we can see that he was treating the woman as a friend. Even in those appalling circumstances, Baha'u'llah remembered to treat her honourably. It's interesting that Abdu'l-Baha makes it clear that hating someone and treating them as a friend is hypocrisy and without merit. So it's not just about having superhuman self-restraint. It's about finding genuine states of the soul that enable us to reflect the spiritual qualities of inner peace, forgiveness and humility.

One tangle I used to get caught up in, with regard to this principle, was that I thought Abdu'l-Baha meant for us to make friends with our enemies and somehow dissolve the enmity between us and them. Of course, Abdu'l-Baha often succeeded in achieving these outcomes. But not always. I realise now that he means for us to treat everyone in a friendly way, no exceptions. Often this will lead to our enemies becoming our friends. But whether or not they do is up to them and God. Our responsibility is to ensure that our hearts are genuinely free of hatred and prejudice, so that if the other party frees up too, friendly relations will inevitably follow. We have to be the first to offer the hand of friendship, thus preventing a stand-off.

It may sound like pie in the sky to most, but this is the path to peace—particularly a lasting peace. It's not the sort of talk about peace that you hear in the regular news when people ask the question: how will we find peace in the Middle East? Instead, the focus is on changing others, not on finding an inner state of peace. The idea that we should not contend with others and treat our enemies as friends never enters the picture.

The trouble is that people do not know that Baha'u'llah has radically changed reality. Throughout history, people saw the enemy as another group of people and saw 'winning' and 'peace' in terms of the destruction and conquering of that people. So one group of people would go to war with another and one side or the other would indeed conquer and win. This appears to be the paradigm on which the Israelis, anyway, are operating. They see Hezbollah as the enemy and want to destroy it and see that outcome as the way that they will win and achieve peace. But Baha'u'llah tells us that he has submerged all in the ocean of oneness. This rules out the kind of thinking the Israelis are indulging in. It's an old way of thinking that worked in previous dispensations, but will not work today. There are new rules at play and, no matter how much money, men and munitions they put into their project, they will not achieve their goal.

This is one principle the Baha'is are familiar with. We know from the history of the Faith that martyrs produce believers. If the tree is cut down, it will sprout again from the roots. We talk about how the blood of the martyrs waters the tree of the cause and leads to its growth. This principle doesn't just apply to our faith; it applies in other contexts as well. When people in Lebanon see people dying around them, they will join the ranks of Hezbollah to fight back. They'll be drawn in, not driven away. The idea that Hezbollah is a finite group of people who can be crushed is nonsense. Hezbollah is a sea of feeling that resides in hearts, and when one heart is eliminated another comes to take its place. When the Americans went into Iraq, I said that Saddam Husayn was like a big oak tree. If you have ever walked under a large oak tree you will have noticed that the ground is full of seeds. If you cut the tree down, a forest of seeds will grow. And that is what has happened in Iraq. Now the 'enemy' is everywhere and out of control.

This idea that we can go in, guns blazing, and destroy the enemy is no longer a solution to our problems. All it does is draw us into a self-created hell without end. Today, I found this quote from Baha'u'llah that described it perfectly: "Guard thyself, lest darkness spread its veils over thee, and fold thee away from His light." (Summons of the Lord of Hosts, page 56, paragraph 106) The sacrifices we willingly make for what we perceive to be an achievable end—and as we are sucked in, we make ever greater sacrifices and convince ourselves that the goal is in sight—are the punishments of the Fire that are promised to us if we disregard the commands of God.

And although the parties in this conflict don't know it, the commands of God for this Day have been given to us by Baha'u'llah, who tells us that all are submerged in a sea of oneness and that to act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of men. In this day, to resort to war to solve differences is barbarism. Instead, we are to avoid conflict and treat our enemies as friends. At the very least, this involves recognising and protecting their human rights—as Amnesty International repeatedly reminds us to do. Like Baha'u'llah with the woman who threw the stone at him, we need to recognise and respect the humanity of those who do not show such consideration to us.

But for both sides of this conflict, such an understanding would require an inner transformation that only God could accomplish. For either party to draw back and adopt a position of inner peace, respect, forgiveness and humility seems impossible. This is at once their choice and their judgement.

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