Humanitarian Responses to Global Conflicts
by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice2015-01-13
1. Letter to the Universal House of JusticeFrom: Phillip Tussing
Date: 6 Aug 2014
"Principles and Context for Bahá'í actions in Conflict Zones, with reference to Gaza"
Dear Friends serving in the Universal House of Justice,
I take part in an online forum of mostly Bahá'ís involved in historical research; recently we have been discussing events in Gaza. The world has been exposed to many images of the tremendous suffering of Palestinians in Gaza rightly so, I think, as it is a great humanitarian crisis.
For Bahá'ís, this crisis has special meaning, second only to the meaning associated with the oppression of Bahá'ís in the land of the birth of the Faith; this crisis unfolds in the land which is the home of the holiest shrine in the world — the tomb of Bahá'u'lláh.
Bahá'í historians know that 'Abdu'l-Bahá received His knighthood from the British crown as a result of His actions on behalf of the Arab inhabitants of what was at that time British Palestine during World War I. The needs and problems of the inhabitants of that land therefore have a special place in the hearts of Bahá'ís. Moreover, it is understood that the fact that the land which includes Haifa fell into the hands of Jewish partisans in 1947 amid much battle, which is now the seat of the Universal House of Justice, has been beneficial to the status and stability of the World Center ever since. This, if anything, gives Bahá'ís that much more incentive to address the sorrows of any oppressed citizens or former residents of that area.
Many Bahá'ís around the world are asked, by friends and colleagues as well as those with less friendly intentions, why Bahá'ís do not condemn the fighting in Gaza. Frequently we respond by saying that Bahá'ís do not become involved in partisan political or military affairs. The next question that comes up is why do we then not become involved at least on a humanitarian level? This is hard to answer, given our principles of humanitarian action.
Could you please suggest some principles by which we could be guided in this situation? Given that the fighting has resolved little, we can unfortunately expect it to recur in a short time. What do we say?
Also, the questions above are somewhat separate from a general discourse on the involvement of Bahá'ís in humanitarian actions other than those which support the oppressed Bahá'ís of Iran, but there is a relationship; if you can cite principles of how to act in the case of humanitarian problems other than those affecting Bahá'ís solely, that would be wonderful.
Last, one question which has come up is that sometimes individual Bahá'ís step forward to act in situations of humanitarian disaster, but rarely institutions of the Faith — even in cases when the issue under discussion is the oppression of many groups in Iran, in addition to Bahá'ís. What can we respond to organizers of conferences about Iranian actions against its own people? Would it be acceptable for Assemblies to agree to help support such activities if they deem that they have sufficient resources and the need is sufficiently great, or may only individuals join in? Could you help us understand the principles involved in this guidance?
2. Response from the HouseUniversal House of Justice
2015 January 13
To: Mr. Phillip Tussing
Dear Bahá’í Friend,
The Universal House of Justice has received your email letter of 7 August 2014, in which you seek guidance regarding the response of Bahá’ís to conflicts, such as that in the Middle East, and the humanitarian concerns they cause, and has asked that we convey the following.
The heart of a Bahá’í cannot but be distressed when contemplating the desperate state of global affairs. The friends must remember, however, that the conflicts, injustices, and suffering they observe are symptoms of the disintegration of the old world order. Ultimately, political affairs must be reordered and the lesser peace established, for humanity is a single entity and the best interests of any part are inextricably bound up with the best interests of the whole. Yet, so long as particular nations, peoples, and political factions pursue their own interests, whether by political, economic, or military means and often at the expense of others, the great challenges facing humanity will remain insoluble. While each side portrays its position in terms of what is just and right, using whatever means available to gain public favor — especially the media and global forums — Bahá’ís must be careful not to be drawn into such arguments, for they are the well-wishers of all peoples and nations. “Let them refrain from associating themselves, whether by word or by deed, with the political pursuits of their respective nations, with the policies of their governments and the schemes and programs of parties and factions”, Shoghi Effendi stated. “In such controversies they should assign no blame, take no side, further no design, and identify themselves with no system prejudicial to the best interests of that world-wide Fellowship which it is their aim to guard and foster.”
In regard to the political events occurring in the Holy Land, the attitude of the Bahá’í community is succinctly stated by Shoghi Effendi in a letter dated 14 July 1947 to the chairman of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which may be found on pages 287–88 of Amatu’l-Bahá Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s The Priceless Pearl (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1969, 2000 printing). [online here]
You ask why, in connection with certain political conflicts, Bahá’ís do not at least become involved at a humanitarian level. Generally speaking, Bahá’í involvement in humanitarian assistance is provided by the community where believers reside, and, as you are no doubt aware, there is no community of believers in Israel, only volunteers serving for temporary periods at the Bahá’í World Centre. To the extent possible, the World Centre supports activities in the Holy Land related to promoting a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation among the country’s religious communities. The contribution in Haifa to building good relations among the city’s religious and ethnic groups goes back to the time of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and is well known. It is interesting to note that Haifa is regarded as the city that has the most harmonious relations among the diverse citizenry of the land.
As to your question whether Bahá’í institutions may take action in relation to the oppression of others, such as various groups in Iran, Bahá’í institutions can, and do, take part in activities that defend the human rights of others. For example, the Bahá’í International Community has often spoken out about the oppression of other religious and ethnic minorities in Iran. Of course, in determining what kinds of activities Bahá’ís and Bahá’í institutions may take part in, a crucial distinction should be drawn between those that possess a partisan political character — participation in which would be contrary to Bahá’í principles — and those that do not.
Rest assured of the supplications of the House of Justice in the Holy Shrines that you may be confirmed in your efforts to share the healing Message of Bahá’u’lláh.
Department of the Secretariat