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A peaceful purpose

Borhari Borhani
Borhari Borhani


Law and economics student Borhan Borhani is on a mission to change the world and his ideas of a peaceful, global society governed by mediation not power politics sound surprisingly like the views of a radical feminist. IAN FRAZER reports

BORHAN Borhani is 21, recently married, and wants to change the world.

His quiet manner and, perhaps, his pale pink shirt and tie, belie the size of his ambition to see a peaceful, global society governed by mediation not power politics.

In fact his view of world events is anything but rose-coloured -- he fears it could take a catastrophe bigger than either World War to bring true peace.

"Some say we are living it now," the Brisbane law and economics student said on Tuesday, while holidaying with his parents in Townsville.

But Mr Borhani, the youngest son of Iranian refugees Monir and Fereidon Borhani, has a non-violent plan to tackle the hegemony which he and other Baha'i followers see as the major source of injustice, inequality and unhappiness.

They see the foe, almost invisible in its commonplace presence in government, business and personal relationships, as patriarchy, or the dead hand in power structures deemed "masculine".

Mr Borhani outlined his plan last week in a talk titled Women, Equality and Modernity introduced by Dr Betty McLellan, a radical feminist and founding member of the Townsville Feminist Collective.

A flier describing Mr Borhani as a feminist advocate said he would dissect "the current philosophy of equality".

Dr McLellan said on Thursday she thought the Baha'i community had been courageous to invite her. She would not have been surprised to have disagreed with Mr Borhani.

"In the beginning I was pleased to see a young man who was willing to give a lot of serious thought to these issues," she said.

"That's what we've wanted, since the 1960s, from men and mostly they don't take feminist views seriously."

But after listening carefully she rated his views as close to her's.

"All of us are interested in changing the structures of patriarchy," she said.

"It was very interesting to hear the Baha'i teaching about peace and social justice . . . it was very close to radical feminists."

Mr Borhani said he had given similar public lectures at the Gold Coast and in Brisbane and planned more in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

He estimated he had spoken at 20 smaller meetings with invited students and fellow Baha'is.

Criticism helped him refine his argument, which he hoped to turn into a book some time.

He was working on the project as well as studies in law and economics at the University of Queensland.

Mr Borhani, who aims to become a barrister, completed the first two years of his double degree at JCU.

He enrolled in 1999, after 12 months' voluntary work in Papua New Guinea and Romania which he says changed his world view.

He spent six months in each country, with drought-affected villagers in the highlands of PNG and with AIDS patients among gypsies in Romania.

"It was my youth year of service which is encouraged but not mandatory for Baha'is," he said.

"You go and explore the world and try to contribute."

He chose PNG after making friends with students from PNG while attending the Cathedral School.

Romania was his second choice after Albania, which was difficult to enter in 1998.

"I realised there are a mass of problems in the world," he said.

"The current political solutions are not sufficient; they are neither means to an end or an end in themselves."

Using the analysis of Baha'i prophet Abdu'l Baha, he found a patriarchal core in corrosive capitalism.

Then he decided on a simple scheme to undermine patriarchy in a generation by gently persuading mothers to teach their children feminine qualities of consultation, collaboration, mediation and philanthropy.

He hoped his ideas could contribute to a "more feminine" society, not one where women and men played the same ugly game.

He said he was not advocating more power for women, but making any quest for power irrelevant.

He saw some hope for western democracies in the consultative structure of representative government.

On the other hand, the growth of litigation based on assertion of individual rights suggested society was becoming more adversarial and less open to mediation.

Terrorists and some feminists used patriarchal means to get their point across.

Mr Borhani said he hoped he could make his by talking and listening.

He aimed to raise awareness but dared not claim his was the only way.

"It would take a lot of ego to say I have a solution to the world's problems," he said.

"What we've seen on September 11 and Bali may be the tip of the iceberg of problems that our patriarchy has contributed to.

"All religions talk about an era of peace ... Judaism, Christianity and Islam foretell this will occur after a terrible event.

"Some say we are living it now. It's not in nature's composition to allow oppression to continue, it will climax and there will be a reversion to peace.

"World War I led to the establishment of the League of Nations and World War II to the United Nations. What would have to happen on the other side of the equation if we were going to have a peaceful world would be more dreadful than either of these."

In his ideal society shaped by feminine qualities, people would take only what they needed and live a subsistence lifestyle.

Mr Borhani said his mother had taught him to eschew the pursuit of power. She supported his ideas, as did his sister, Mitra Maggs, and his wife, Sita.

But he saw room for improvement in his feminine side.

"I believe I am in touch with the feminine side and am channelling it in this way, whenever we have debates," he said.

Feminine qualities could generally be practised in approach to finance, marriage and "the way you spend your money".

"Getting married young is a very feminine thing, to give up your autonomy and take in another person's universe," he said.

©Copyright 2002, Townsville Bulletin (Queensland, Australia)

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