Thursday, January 03, 2008

Sticks, Stones and Fire

Near Cape Coast, Ghana, 2006. Cape Coast was a major hub of the transatlantic slave trade.

"Ye observe how the world is divided against itself, how many a land is red with blood and its very dust is caked with human gore... Nay, even worse, for flourishing countries have been reduced to rubble, cities have been levelled with the ground, and many a once prosperous village hath been turned into ruin. Fathers have lost their sons, and sons their fathers. Mothers have wept away their hearts over dead children. Children have been orphaned, women left to wander, vagrants without a home. From every aspect, humankind hath sunken low. Loud are the piercing cries of fatherless children; loud the mothers' anguished voices, reaching to the skies. And the breeding-ground of all these tragedies is prejudice: prejudice of race and nation, of religion, of political opinion; and the root cause of prejudice is blind imitation of the past -- imitation in religion, in racial attitudes, in national bias, in politics. So long as this aping of the past persisteth, just so long will the foundations of the social order be blown to the four winds, just so long will humanity be continually exposed to direst peril."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 246)

I wonder about those final moments in the fire, in the smoke of that burning church. What anguished prayers were uttered from chapping lips, what desperate thrashings against unyielding wood or broken glass or entanglements with the dead did this group of mostly women and children endure as they roasted or suffocated their way out of "a strangely disordered world"? Does anyone know? Does anyone care? Kenya has descended into tribal based homicidal madness. This was supposed to be an exception, a stable nation, a welcomer of refugees from failed states, an East African economic powerhouse. What went wrong? From the news the violence appears to have been prompted by the disputed outcome of an election of questionable integrity. However it is the tribalism involved that hurts my heart. As a descendant of enslaved Africans brought to the New World, I am the product of tribal divisions that were manipulated by Europeans to facilitate the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Africans selling Africans to fund their wars on each other. Closer to home, cities and small towns bury black men, women and children sacrificed to the gods of gang warfare, an American version of tribalism. I find myself asking the same question that Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith asked:

"How long will humanity persist in its waywardness? How long will injustice continue? How long is chaos and confusion to reign amongst men? How long will discord agitate the face of society?... The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 216)

At the dawn of the 21st century, the urgent need for a new world order could not be more clear. Partisan politics, self-interested nation state action, military might, economic globalization, the proliferation of narrow special interest group agendas, ethnic nationalism, religious fundamentalism and liberalism, "all about me" spirituality, none have proven themselves conducive to the creation of a new civilization. The unity of the human race is our only viable option. It's time is way overdue.

"The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 286)