Category Archives: politics

Educating Hillary Clinton and Every Other Girl

The Bahá’í Faith believes education will open all doors for girls and women, just like it did for Hillary Clinton.

DISCLAIMER: This and related posts discuss issues raised by the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, and the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith on those issues.  In keeping with Bahá’í principles of non-partisanship, this post and others related to it are not intended to, and should not be interpreted as, endorsing or opposing any candidate, party or political program.  The views in this and related posts are my own and have not been reviewed by any Bahá’í institution.  For official information about the Bahá’í Faith, please visit the sites of the U.S. Bahá’í community and the International Bahá’í Community.

In her 2007 Mary Louise Smith Lecture at the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton recalled the Harvard professor who told her, “We don’t need any more women at Harvard.”  So it’s Yale that has the chance to put a law school alumna in the White House, if voters choose her.  Harvard did wise up in the ensuing years, and now has a woman president, Drew Gilpin Faust.

In the years since Hillary Clinton entered Yale Law School as one of 27 women out of 235 students, a lot more doors have opened for women.  The U.S. Congress has its first female speaker, Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.)   Women have become governors, U.S. representatives, U.S. senators and cabinet ministers.  The first door to open for all these women, which opened all the other doors, was education. 

In her lecture, Sen. Clinton hailed, “The teachers who tell our daughters, ‘You are just as smart and capable as the boys, don’t you fail to live up to your potential.’ I think about my 6th grade teacher Mrs. King quoting from the Bible said not to hide your light under the bushel basket.”

The Bahá’í Faith believes in opening all those doors for girls and women through education, which is a fairly new idea:

” … if woman be fully educated and granted her rights, she will attain the capacity for wonderful accomplishments and prove herself the equal of man.  She is the coadjutor of man, his complement and helpmeet.  Both are human; both are endowed with potentialities of intelligence and embody the virtues of humanity.  In all human powers and functions they are partners and coequals.  At present in spheres of human activity woman does not manifest her natal prerogatives, owing to lack of education and opportunity.  Without doubt education will establish her equality with men.”

Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet/Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, said those words around 1912.  Women were still nine years away from the right to vote in the United States.  Wesleyan College, in Macon, Ga., chartered in 1836, was the first college for women.  A few others followed, such as Mount Holyoke in 1837, Vassar in 1861, and Smith in 1871, to name a few.  Boston University was the first American university to grant a Ph.D. to a woman, Helen Magill, a classicist, in 1877.   Wellesley, Hillary Clinton’s undergraduate alma mater, was founded in 1870 and admitted students in 1875.  The future, at least in America, looks bright for women, who, as Sen. Clinton pointed out, are now the majority of students in college and in law school.

College in particular gives women the opportunity to form the relationships and attitudes that create access to power and influence.  Women are increasingly gaining that power and influence.

“It has been objected by some that woman is not equally capable with man and that she is deficient by creation.  This is pure imagination.  [Italics added.]  The difference in capability between man and woman is due entirely to opportunity and education.  Heretofore, woman has been denied the right and privilege of equal development.  If equal opportunity be granted her, there is no doubt she would be the peer of man.”  Abdu’l-Bahá

But in the Bahá’í teachings, the importance of educating girls and women extends far beyond knowledge, skills and power.  Their education is vital to the development of children and thus to the progress of every nation and the whole human race:

” … the education of woman is more necessary and important than that of man, for woman is the trainer of the child from its infancy.  If she be defective and imperfect herself, the child will necessarily be deficient; therefore, imperfection in woman implies a condition of imperfection in all mankind, for it is the mother who rears, nurtures and guides the growth of the child.  This is not the function of the father.”  Abdu’l-Bahá

 The above statement does not imply that fathers have no role in raising and educating children.  Abdu’l-Bahá meant that mothers’ nurturing relationship with children is vital to their moral and spiritual development, which is enhanced by mothers’ education.  Bahá’ís consider this role so important that, if resources are limited, societies should give priority to educating girls and women.  The Universal House of Justice, the highest governing authority in the Bahá’í Faith, wrote this in 1985:

” … No nation can achieve success unless education is accorded all its citizens.  Lack of resources limits the ability of many nations to fulfill this necessity, imposing a certain ordering of priorities.  The decision-making agencies involved would do well to consider giving first priority to the education of women and girls, since it is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most effectively and rapidly diffused throughout society.”

 So we can see that the Bahá’í writings declare that equal education for women is indispensable to the material, social, cultural and spiritual progress of every nation and the world.  But it goes further.  Equal education and the equality it brings to women will not merely give them equal power in the same world, it will change the world:

“When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed.  Without equality this will be impossible because all differences and distinction are conducive to discord and strife.  Equality between men and women is conducive to the abolition of warfare for the reason that women will never be willing to sanction it.” Abdu’l-Bahá

If women leading the world to peace seems far-fetched at the present moment, that is because women haven’t yet won equality in much of the world.   America is further along than other nations.  We’re giving a woman a fair shot at becoming President, although we’re behind other nations.  But it it will take more than electing a woman here and there, as important as those victories are.   It will take a village, to borrow Sen. Clinton’s words — it will take every village, town, city, state and nation educating its girls and women.  It is only a matter of time.  How much time is up to every one who hears the message in the words quoted above.

SOURCES:

Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Ill.  2008 Edition.

Women: Extracts from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice.  Bahá’í Canada Publications

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

The Iranian Woman Who Made Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Possible

On Hillary Clinton, Gender Equality and the Future of Politics

OTHER POSTS OF INTEREST:

Obama Stirs Multiracial Dialogue

A More Pefect Union Through Race Unity

A More Perfect Union Through Race Unity: Cure the Cancer!

A More Perect Union Through Race Unity: Multiracial Possibilities

Obama’s High Ground on Public Dialogue

A Prayer to Rein in ‘Forces of Division’

 

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Let Us Now Praise Dangerous Men

NOTE: This post is my own opinion.  It has not been reviewed by or endorsed by any insitution of the Bahá’í Faith.  For official information on the Bahá’í Faith, please see these sites.  U.S. Bahá’í website and Bahá’í International Community website.

I’ve been bored the past week or so.  Anniversaries of significant dates can bring out the boredom in me.  It’s all the unoriginal things people write and say, in this case around Martin Luther King and the commemmoration of his death.  It is obligatory to wax poetic about “King’s legacy” and the “dream” and to analyze “how far have we come and how far we still have to go.”  If I were a gambling man, I would bet someone a nice sum that I could compile a speech or article about Dr. King using nothing but strung-together clichès, and get compliments about it.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I admire Dr. King and I hope and pray for the further development of his legacy.  I just get suspicious when people across the entire political spectrum can invoke King’s “legacy” or  a few cherry-picked phrases in order to gain some kind of political credit.  When you turn a man and his legacy into clichès, you make him safe and boring.  And Martin Luther King, in his day,  was neither safe nor boring.

King was not assassinated so that school children could write reports about his dream and his legacy, or to make him an icon for fireplace mantles, often next to JFK.  He was killed because he was dangerous.  That now much-loved dream was a nightmare to many.  If justice flowed and righteousness cascaded, that would threaten the unjust and scourge the wicked.  The fulfillment of that dream would have ended the racial power and privilege so vigorously amassed and fiercely defended.  The unfolding of King’s legacy was chipping away at the entire social order, and his moves into economic issues and anti-war activism expanded the threat.  In an op-ed piece in the the Sunday New York Times, King biographer and historian Taylor Branch wrote: “The St. Louis Globe-Democrat called Dr. King ‘one of the most menacing men in America today …’ ” At least one newspaper publically acknowledged King’s dangerousness.

Why was Mahatma Gandhi assassinated?  He, too, was a threat to the social order, indeed, the cultural and religious order.  He was killed by an orthodox Hindu, not an agent of the British Empire, although the empire had fought him and persecuted him for decades.  Gandhi was a champion of the downtrodden, of the Untouchables; he did not respect the ancient, established order.  That made him a threat.  With India’s independence won, Gandhi’s continued presence posed a threat to the interests of many within India.  Gandhi — that paragon of non-violence — was more dangerous than an army with guns and bombs.

Let’s discuss even greater, more dangerous men.  Why was Jesus Christ crucified?  He, too, was a threat.  He was a threat to the Jewish hieararchy and a threat to the Roman Empire and its social and political order.  Anyone who liked the established order didn’t want this Jewish agitator to gain a following.  This man who counseled turning the other cheek, this healer, this friend to prostitutes and all the lowly and despised, was more of a threat than armed revolutionaries.

Why did the Arabs make war on the Prophet Muhammad — peace be upon him — and force him into exile?  Again, he threatened the established order and all its arrangements of power and privilege.  The Messenger of God and his followers exposed the decadence into which the Arabs had fallen.  That made him a threat to many.

Likewise, when The Bab arose in Persia in the 19th century and preached a new revelation, he threatened the power and privilege of the mullahs, and endangered the social order.  He was imprisoned and eventually shot by firing squad (of that incident I’ll have more to say in a future post).

The Bab announced the advent of Bahá’u’lláh.  He, too, was persecuted: tortured, robbed of his considerable wealth, and exiled repeatedly.  That mild-mannered, slight man was a threat to both the Persian and Ottoman empires.  Thousands of his followers were tortured and murdered.  That persecution continues today in Iran.  Baha’u’llah was dangerous.  Those who followed him believed such dangerous things as harmony of science and relgion, indepdendent inquiry into truth, equality of men and women, the oneness of God, religion and humanity — and a new revelation from God.

And so, next January 15 or April 4, or whenever the matter comes up, don’t bore me with more clichès about a pretty dream and a benevolent legacy.  Excite me, stir me up, agitate me — threaten me, with tales of the dangerous man who demanded that Christians be Christians and that America live up to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  On Easter and Christmas or any other day, tighten my guts with stories of that dangerous, yet meek, Jewish man who scared the mightiest empire on earth — and eventually conquered it.

I am a Bahá’í.  I follow a dangerous man, Bahá’u’lláh, who came to unite humanity, who came to drag us from the dungeons of our materialism, who hauls us kicking and screaming from the passions and divisions of our beloved politics.  He brings a world in which “none may exalt himself over another.”  He promises a future in which “these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars, shall pass away and the Most Great Peace shall come.”  He gives a global society: “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”  If nationalism is in your soul, and you don’t have time for the duties of citizenship, then that’s a dangerous thing.

I’m working to bring about these dangerous things.  But I come, as my Lord and Master Bahá’u’lláh commands me,  in love, with open arms.

 

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Obama’s ‘Trip’ Over and Around the Color Line

Who, or what, is Barack Obama?

Although people ask this question about all presidential candidates, I see it raised much more frequently concerning U.S. Senator Barack Obama.  Shelby Steele (author of “The Content of our Character”) argues in his new book, “A Bound Man”that Obama can’t win the presidency because he doesn’t know who he is.  Obama’s quest for his identity is the theme of his autobiography “Dreams From my Father,” which was written before he found the national limelight.  In that book, he gives one answer: “A black man with a mixed heritage”.

Accurate enough, but that’s an answer virtually every black person in America could give — and probably more white people could give an equivalent answer if they knew enough about their own past.

Barack Obama, as most of us know by now, had a black African father and a white American mother, and he has a half-Indonesian half-sister.  Multiracial people such as Obama wrestle with two fundamental questions:

“Who am I?”

“Who (or what) are you?”

The first is a personal, internal question, and the answer must satisfy the individual.  The second is an external question, for public consumption, but some answers will not easily please the public.

Roosevelt University professor Heather Dalmage, herself interracially married, summarizes the struggle with the first question in this way:

Because they do not quite fit into the istorically created, officially named, and socially recognized categories, members of multiracial families are constantly fighting to identify themselves for themselves. A difficulty they face is the lack of language available to address their experiences.

This quote is from Dalmage’s book, Tripping on the Color Line: Black-White Multiracial Families in a Racially Divided World.”

In a world in which half-black, half-white Barack Obama is “the first serious black contender for the presidency,” the language with which to call yourself something else is hard to come by.

 Dvora Yanow of Vrije Universiteit, in Holland, brings out the struggle multiracial people face in answering the “who are you” question thus:

Individuals who cannot find their identity in available categories become invisible, in a sense: without a label, without a vocabulary, their stories are untellable and they themselves are unnarratable.

This is from Yanow’s 2003 book,  Constructing ‘Race’ and ‘Ethnicity’ in America: Category-making in Public Policy and Administration.”

In my masters thesis, I added:

 

Because of the state’s historical and continuing role in racial politics, Americans often address government in narratives that begin, “I am a (fill in the blank) American,” but the federal government only makes available some categories of hyphenated-American for people to use in telling their stories (Yanow, 2003). “Being unable to do so calls into question one’s membership in American society,” (Yanow, 2003, p. 194). The unsuccessful attempt to place a “multiracial” category in the 2000 U.S. Census was, Yanow (2003) asserts, just such a contested claim for membership.

Thus it is that someone like Barack Obama could, early in the campaign, be seen as “not black enough” because he didn’t bear enough markers of race, while to others he “transcends race” due to the same lack of racial markers.  But all this revolves around what other people think or say about Obama.

Is it possible for a multiple answer to both questions?  I.e., “I am black here, white there, ‘mulatto’ in a third context and God knows what elsewhere.”  As the parent/uncle of multiracial children, I believe such an answer is not only possible, but a fundamental right.  More on that in a post coming soon.

 

 

 

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More on Romney, Religion, Tolerance & Politics

In my most recent column, I lamented Gov. Mitt Romney yielding to pressure from some religious circles to reassure them that his Mormon faith wouldn’t taint his policies as president, in his speech “Faith in America.” There are more problems with this topic.Romney made this statement in his speech: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.” This was, apparently, meant to appease those who don’t consider Mormons Christians. But in making this “clarification,” Romney legitimized the very religious test he said he was refusing to make elsewhere in his speech. People of other faiths couldn’t make this statement.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is Jewish, can’t make this statement. Muslim Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) can’t make this statement. Indeed, the Qur’an explicitly disavows this Christian tenet: “And they say, ‘The All-merciful has taken unto himself a son.’ You have indeed advanced something hideous! The heavens are wellnigh rent of it and the earth split asunder, and the mountains wellnigh fall down crashing for that they have attributed to the All-merciful a son; and it behoves not the All-merciful to take a son.” (XIX: 91-93, Arberry’s translation.)May I presume that for those who required of Gov. Romney that he declare Jesus as the Son of God, that they would under no circumstances vote for Rep. Ellison (should he run for President), regardless of his policy proposals and evidence of his character and abilities? And likewise, would they under any circumstances vote for a Hindu, a Sikh, a Zoroastrian, a Buddhist, a pagan, or, for that matter, an agnostic or an atheist? Although the Constitution bars a relgious test for office, voters are under no obligation to follow suit, as is evident in the Romney case.

“What, vote for an atheist? Impossible! Only religion guarantees the proper character necessary to hold public office! And only Christianity specifically!” This is the criterion that Romney supported in his speech, even if indirectly. Yet, if we examine the issue closely, we can see that this test doesn’t actually provide evidence of anything useful. If we were to survey every elected official in the United States, from local boards of education to the White House, wouldn’t most of them affirm what Romney affirmed? So why does, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind” qualify anyone for public office? The most exemplary public servants, as well as those thrown in jail or expelled from office for various misdeeds — almost all make the same claim. So what does it tell us? By itself, nothing. I have met many people who believe Jesus is the Son of God and the savior of mankind. They’re a very diverse bunch; some I get along with very well, some I’d rather not deal with. Therefore, making the above declaration means nothing by itself. Indeed, some of the most Christian people I’ve met rarely make statements about their faith. “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” (Matt. 7:16) and I do.

I have also met people of other faiths, and no faith at all, and I’ve never found their declarations of faith — if they made any — to tell me anything about their character or my ability to get along with them. “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:20) So don’t tell me things that mean nothing by themselves. I’ll vote for you based on your policies, your proven abilities and whatever I can see of your character. Those things tell me what I need to know about what you believe.

 

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The Post Daniel Era

I haven’t been able to reach School Superintendent Tommy Daniel to find out why he asked the board to buy out his contract. He said nothing newsworthy in The Telegraph, so I assume he is A) A class act who doesn’t like to bad mouth people and B) Keeping things clean for his next job.

So we’re left with the obvious question: Why would a schools superintendent leave in the middle of a school year, when the system had been showing some signs of progress under his direction? It’s hard not to speculate that the current turmoil between BOE factions and the fowl up with the new schools made working conditions unpleasant. It ain’t easy being a superintendent these days, what with No Child Left Behind breathing down your neck and limited resources. Being stuck in the middle of a feud couldn’t have made the situation happier.

What’s next? Who, given a good look at the current Montague-Capulet situation, would take the job as Peach County Superintendent of Schools? Yet someone will come forward. The money’s good and some bold soul will get it into his or her head that the challenges are stimulating, rather than daunting. All I can say to the candidates is: God be with you, and rent, don’t buy a home.

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What’s Wrong With Political Reporting & Blogs

In my first bloggish post, I take a pot shot at blogs and the sorry state of reporting on politics. As readers have no way of avoiding, there’s a presidential campaign on. I can barely read most of the coverage. Today, my negative example is the hubbub over whether Hillary Rodham Clinton tipped an Iowa waitress, first reported by National Public Radio. Seems Anita Esterday, a waitress in a Toledo, Iowa restaurant, mentioned not getting a tip after Mrs. Clinton and her entourage ate there. Now, people lacking refined journalism sense (insert tongue in cheek) might suppose that either the candidate or some member of her crew meant to tip the lady, but some error on somebody’s part deprived the hard-working single mom of her well-earned tip, end of story. But not in NewsLand!

No, the Tale of the Missing Tip morphed into the millionth tempest in a teapot of an already too-long campaign. The blogosphere, always ready to apply nuclear heat to the teapot, cooked up The Hillary the Cheapskate and Hillary The Exploiter mini-scandal. For instance, look at Propeller, or that pillar of journalistic integrity, The Drudge Report, which dredged up another example of Mrs. Clinton’s alleged chintziness. The Big Dog offers a long list of other stories/blogs on this story.

But Esterday herself had the best take on this idiocy, as reported in the New York Times: ““You people are really nuts,” she told a reporter during a phone interview. “There’s kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now — there’s better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn’t get a tip.”

I’m now soliciting donations to establish the Anita Esterday School of Journalism at whichever university wishes to host it.

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