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Twenty-eight years ago today I arrived in the United States, a teenaged refugee from Iran, where I escaped religious persecution as a Baha'i.
I remember truly experiencing human rights for the first time when I went to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and they immediately put me on a path to come to the U.S. and become an American.
At that moment, I recognized the nobility of the United States. While the U.S. isn’t the only nation respecting and advocating for human rights, something special makes this country truly unique. America’s founders understood the pain of the oppressed of the world, and created a melting pot, allowing people from many different cultures to find a new, welcoming home—to no longer be a refugee, but rather become an integral part of society.
What if every country in the world felt that way?
Imagine a world where every country became a protector of people’s rights. No country would generate refugees, but all would protect the oppressed. I ask myself: is that an inevitable path that we’re on? Are we, as a species, making progress in understanding that boundaries, borders, race and religion are no reasons for creating division? Or are we likely to make progress for a while, and then make many steps backwards to the dark history where we came from?
The Baha'i teachings recommend the ultimate answer to those questions:
Note ye how easily, where unity existeth in a given family, the affairs of that family are conducted; what progress the members of that family make, how they prosper in the world. Their concerns are in order, they enjoy comfort and tranquillity, they are secure, their position is assured, they come to be envied by all. Such a family but addeth to its stature and its lasting honour, as day succeedeth day. And if we widen out the sphere of unity a little to include the inhabitants of a village who seek to be loving and united, who associate with and are kind to one another, what great advances they will be seen to make, how secure and protected they will be. Then let us widen out the sphere a little more, let us take the inhabitants of a city, all of them together: if they establish the strongest bonds of unity among themselves, how far they will progress, even in a brief period and what power they will exert. And if the sphere of unity be still further widened out, that is, if the inhabitants of a whole country develop peaceable hearts, and if with all their hearts and souls they yearn to cooperate with one another and to live in unity, and if they become kind and loving to one another, that country will achieve undying joy and lasting glory. Peace will it have, and plenty, and vast wealth.
Note then: if every clan, tribe, community, every nation, country, territory on earth should come together under the single-hued pavilion of the oneness of mankind, and by the dazzling rays of the Sun of Truth should proclaim the universality of man; if they should cause all nations and all creeds to open wide their arms to one another, establish a World Council, and proceed to bind the members of society one to another by strong mutual ties, what would happen then? ….
Wherefore, O ye beloved of the Lord, bestir yourselves, do all in your power to be as one, to live in peace, each with the others: for ye are all the drops from but one ocean, the foliage of one tree, the pearls from a single shell, the flowers and sweet herbs from the same one garden. - Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, pp. 279-280.
Baha’is believe that “the earth is one country,” and that all humanity is “the foliage of one tree.”
I believe, that whether we like it or not, we are on an inevitable path toward unification and away from hatred and division. I believe we are on a path that will ultimately result in that World Council the Baha'i teachings promise us. Think about it: the two greatest wars of the 20th century resulted in a more unified world. That unifying process will continue, until we have recognized our common humanity and forged a peaceful, unified planet.
But does this mean we need to have more suffering in order to realize the great need for unity, for working together and lifting each other up? Is another global war and disaster of greater proportion necessary in order for us to realize our true calling, and the fact that we must treat the world as one country and all people as one people?
Unfortunately, it seems that no matter how smart and intelligent a species we are, we tend to procrastinate and only react to major disasters when they happen, rather than taking action to prevent them in advance. Take the case for endangered species—they need to go on that list before we take real action. Or how about climate change? We will wait until sea levels rise and things get really ugly before we act.
Do things have to get worse, by frankly a lot over the next many years, before we turn it around? Will we keep on building armaments vs. investing in educating the world, while knowing very well that ignorance and the lack of education cause most global problems? Do we take real action now to feed the hungry of the world, and provide the basic necessities for the poorest of the poor, or do we put it off until poverty leads to violence, revolution and more warfare?
Perhaps more suffering for centuries to come is inevitable —unless we, as a united humanity, rise up to our true calling, our moral obligation, and our spiritual destiny:
Love gives life to the lifeless. Love lights a flame in the heart that is cold. Love brings hope to the hopeless and gladdens the hearts of the sorrowful. In the world of existence there is indeed no greater power than the power of love. – Ibid., p. 179.