Participation in Anti-War Demonstrations
by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice and National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom2003-02/2003-03
1. Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual (2003-03-27)27 March 2003
Dear Bahá’í Friend,
Your email message of 4 March 2003 has been received at the Bahá’í World Centre, and we can reply as follows. You state that there are large-scale demonstrations arising in your community and in communities around the world, and you inquire about the appropriateness of Bahá’ís participating in demonstrations for peace. It is important to keep in mind that while these activities are generally carried out in the name of peace, such occasions are motivated by highly political and controversial sentiments at a time of turmoil and confusion in the world. Not only would it be contrary to the Bahá’í principle of non-involvement in politics for individual believers, or Bahá’í institutions, to become associated with such activities, it could also be harmful to the interests of the Faith internationally. The point to bear in mind here is that current demonstrations are not intended to promote peace in principle but are focused on a specific dispute among governments. As you can no doubt understand, Bahá’í participation in public demonstrations involving controversial issues would undermine the Faith's essential purpose of promoting unity in all aspects of human affairs, and your desire to remain focused on the essential work of the Faith is deeply appreciated.
Department of the Secretariat
cc: National Assembly of the United States (by email)
2. Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an LSA (2003-02-20)20 February 2003
The Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of ...
Dear Baha’i Friends,
The Universal House of Justice was concerned to learn from your email letter dated 18 February 2003 that your Assembly has decided to participate in activities aimed at protesting against the United States government’s actions in Iraq and the Middle East.
While the activities you describe are to be carried out as elements of what is purported to be a peace campaign, it is obvious that the occasion is motivated by highly political and controversial sentiments at a time of turmoil and confusion in the world. Not only would it be contrary to the Baha’i principle of non-involvement in politics for Baha’i institutions, or individual believers, to become associated with such activities, it would also be harmful to the interests of the Faith internationally. The point to bear in mind here is that this event is not intended to promote peace in general but is focused on a specific dispute among governments. You should, therefore, reverse your decision; and if it becomes necessary to give a reason for not participating in the event, you need simply to explain that the Baha’i community prefers not to join in public demonstrations involving controversial issues, as this would undermine its essential purpose of promoting unity in all aspects of human affairs.
Department of the Secretariat
cc: International Teaching Centre Board of Counsellors in Asia
3. Follow-up letter from the NSA of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom (2003-02-24)"Responding to the Middle East Crisis"
Guidance from the National Spiritual Assembly
24 February 2003
The National Spiritual Assembly is aware that reactions in the UK at national, regional and local levels to the possibility of war in Iraq and to the anticipated policies of the UK and United States governments has resulted in an increase in anti-war and anti-government activities, and that these activities are contributing to divisive sentiments and tensions. Members of the Bahá'í community may be uncertain as to what the proper Bahá'í attitude should be with regard to their involvement in these matters. Some Bahá'ís may wish to participate in anti-war demonstrations or to assert their 'right and responsibility' to protest.
The National Assembly asks the believers to carefully study the relevant guidance given by the Guardian and by the Universal House of Justice so that they will be better able to appreciate and understand not only the implications of any actions they wish to take, but also the wider perspective on the unfoldment of world events.
In a letter dated 12 January 2003 and written on its behalf to an individual believer, the Universal House of Justice summarises the issues very clearly:
'As you are aware, it is not the practice of Bahá'í institutions or individuals to take positions on the political decisions of governments. One of the greatest obstacles to progress is the tendency of Bahá'ís to be drawn into the general attitudes and disputes that surround them. The central importance of the principle of avoidance of politics and controversial matters is that Bahá'ís should not allow themselves to be involved in the disputes of the many conflicting elements of the society around them.
Bahá'ís should exercise extreme caution in any active involvement in demonstrations. Although there is no prohibition against individual Bahá'ís joining in marches and demonstrations as long as they are legal, non-violent, and politically non-partisan, the National Assembly hopes that individuals will be guided by their Bahá'í principles when considering the implications of their participation in this type of activity. In the current situation, the overarching principle is that the Bahá'í Faith does not take sides in conflicts between countries. Participating in a march or demonstration for or against military action in another country presupposes taking sides.
In a letter dated 27 November 2001 on its behalf to an individual, the House of Justice says this:
'The programme of the Bahá'í Cause itself operates in the political realm to the extent that it is concerned with inducing changes in public policy and behaviour at local, national and international levels. To this end, the community collaborates with other like-minded organisations and works closely with sympathetic governments and United Nations agencies. In doing so, its efforts are scrupulous to avoid entanglement in agendas that serve the interests of particular parties, factions, or similarly biased political forces. This standard must likewise govern the behaviour of individual believers.'
Bahá'ís may wish to consider channelling their energies into more positive actions, particularly those which enable Bahá'ís at local level to 'participate in building peace without becoming entangled with political interests'. Local Spiritual Assemblies are free to explore such possibilities, in accordance with their financial and human resources.
Bahá'ís who are asked for the Bahá'í position on the Middle East situation should respond that the Bahá'í Faith does not take positions on particular crises or conflicts. We hope and pray that all such conflicts will be resolved quickly and as peacefully as possible. We are confident, in spite of conflicts which erupt in the world, that world peace is inevitable. Bahá'ís support international law and the role of the United Nations. It would not be appropriate for Bahá'í institutions or individuals representing Bahá'í institutions to participate in demonstrations regarding the crisis in the Middle East.
As Bahá'ís, we are aware that there will be great turmoil in the world before world peace is attained. The Bahá'í Faith teaches that through the development of collective security and of international law the means will be found to control aggression.
Study of the following will help the friends develop a deeper understanding of the processes at work in the world: The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, especially pages 64-67 and pages 191-193, The Advent of Divine Justice, especially pages 72-77, 'The Promise of World Peace', The Promised Day is Come, pages 114-124, and Citadel of Faith, pages 30-38. The National Spiritual Assembly also strongly recommends that we study Century of Light, the document issued by the Universal House of Justice at Naw-Ruz 2001 that reviews the profound changes that our world underwent during the twentieth century in the context of the Bahá'í Teachings.
The Major Plan of God proceeds in mysterious and unpredictable ways until it has achieved its destined goal - the unification of the human race in a global society that has banished war and taken charge of its collective destiny. But this process has barely begun and we still have a long way to go. It is ultimately a spiritual process, and in traversing the great distance that lies ahead there will clearly be many obstacles and pitfalls. As Century of Light states:
'It would be unrealistic to imagine that the challenges lying ahead may not exact an even greater toll of a human race that still seeks, by every means in its power, to avoid the spiritual implications of the experience it is undergoing.' [Century of Light, p. 138].
The Bahá'ís should not be daunted by the world situation. In a timeless piece of exposition, Shoghi Effendi has already set out what should be our approach to the operation of God's Major Plan and the recurrent turbulence associated with it. The Bahá'ís must:
'...acknowledge its necessity, observe confidently its mysterious processes, ardently pray for the mitigation of its severity, intelligently labour to assuage its fury, and anticipate, with undimmed vision, the consummation of the fears and the hopes that it must necessarily engender.' [Promised Day Is Come, p. 4]
Let this guidance of our beloved Guardian shape our response to what is happening to current world events.
At moments of crisis such as this, the needs and the opportunities for attracting ever larger numbers of souls to the Cause of God are at their greatest. People are longing for solutions to the problems that have beset humanity for far too long. Let us, then, devote ourselves, our time, energy and resources, to the Plan at hand, with complete confidence that from our humble efforts will emerge the unassailable foundation of the true and enduring peace of mankind.
National Spiritual Assembly
Acknowledgement: Some of the guidance in this document is quoted from letters issued in 1991 and 2003 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States, to whom we are most grateful.