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Scholars and practitioners have said much about this area, which has various names, such as community development, literacy programs, grass-roots empowerment processes, strategic public communications, voter education, and others. It is the focus of many of the more effective development initiatives in fragile states and in other places, especially where it is active at the local neighborhood level.
In this arena, Baha’is and friends who are local or foreign technical advisors can have a significant impact in a variety of ways, ranging from supporting national-level electoral and democratization processes, strengthening the independent media and civil society organizations, to smaller scale community-level literacy, health and economic development programs.
At this level many aspects of the spiritually-coherent, endogenous and organic approaches Baha’is use worldwide appear similar to some successful local development project initiatives. One example, Afghanistan’s well-regarded National Solidarity Program, a centrally-supported local level consultative and development initiative active in over 20,000 villages across the country, merits all the support it can get.
As Abdul-Baha said:
…when the pure intentions and the justice of the ruler, the wisdom and consummate skill and statecraft of the governing authorities, and the determination and unstinted efforts of the people, are all combined; then day by day the effects of the advancement, of the far-reaching reforms, of the pride and prosperity of government and people alike, will become clearly manifest.
These key elements in any country’s progress, when combined and diligently developed, can bring about enormous positive change.
But in some states, including some in the so-called “developed” world, self-serving leaders limit international efforts to improve their performance by “playing the sovereignty card,” keeping well-conceived external influences at bay. Although the international community has recognized this problem with measures such as the UN’s Declaration on Responsibility to Protect, the world does not yet have an established supra-national government that is empowered to intervene un-invited in poorly managed nation states. This makes it possible for predatory elites to hijack elections or spend the country’s wealth on weapons or lavish palaces rather than to foster the social good. For Baha’is, one solution to this problem exists – world unity. The Baha’i teachings focus on this pivotal point:
Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 202.
Toward this noble end, we need to broaden state-building scholarship and practice from an essentially economic, legal and administrative focus to include culture, values and religion, forces which are at the root of human motivation everywhere.
Of course, many of the causes of state fragility are linked to the policies and practices of so-called developed states and their multinational corporations, as well as the effects of some international institutions and global trade patterns. Even the “fragile” concept is questioned by some — because it is a deficit-based comparison with industrialized states, which are presumed to be well-governed – which is open to question.
A more productive strategy, on the other hand, finds strengths in societies that have somehow managed to survive for thousands of years in spite of calamities and civil wars,and help create what some call a “Hybrid Political Order” that builds on the better features of local traditions in a form suited to the evolving global context. This calls for a diversity of culturally and contextually appropriate institutions, something the international community has just begun to understand. The Faith’s rather straightforward and adaptable pattern of administration has much to offer as a model in this regard.
One way of regarding the challenge facing humanity involves realizing that we live on an under-developed planet which has pockets of material over-development. Our perceptive son Peter said some years ago that we should recognize that we are as midwives assisting at our own rebirth. We are in the early stages of the birthing process, a turbulent time that demonstrates the resilience of the human spirit in even the most trying of circumstances. Baha’u’llah’s Fire Tablet has some advice for us that relates well to working in fragile war-torn states:
When the swords flash, go forward! When the shafts fly, press onward! O Thou Sacrifice of the worlds.
Dost Thou wail, or shall I wail? Rather shall I weep at the fewness of Thy champions, O Thou Who hast caused the wailing of the worlds.
Read the previous article in the series: Values, Altruism and Statecraft