Where Is the Love?

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In a country
where you can get shut down for serving the homeless leftovers,
get sued for attempting CPR with an expired license, fined for feeding
a parking meter that’s not being used by you, or (ask any kindergarten
teacher) fired for hugging a child or committing other acts of “inappropriate”
touching in the classroom, I sometimes wonder why the laws of the
land sometimes make it so difficult to show love for one another. 
But for all the laws, rules and regulations that the secular world
has to tolerate, I take solace in the fact that for better or worse,
the church in America is the most unregulated institution in America,
and consequently, it has a lot of potential to be a wellspring
of love.  Many churches have been and are currently undertaking
many altruistic and effective programs that are voluntarily funded. 
In America, we can worship who we want to worship, how we want to
worship, and we don’t have to pay taxes for the privilege. 
We don’t have to get our religious doctrines approved by a state
board or get permission to host a holy day in our respective communities. 
This is not the case in many countries, where the belief in a religion
other than the state-approved ones can cost you your life or liberty.

One example that lovers of liberty are most likely not aware of
is the persecution that members of the Baha’i Faith face in Middle
Eastern countries, but particularly in Iran and Egypt.  Egypt,
however, gives the worldwide Baha’i community hope because a particular
court case has been pending that if ruled in the Baha’is’ favor
would give de facto recognition of the religion in Egypt. 
Being the cultural and academic center of Islam, a ruling like that
would positively reverberate throughout the Islamic world, giving
new hope for Baha’is throughout the Middle East, but especially
in Iran — the birthplace of the Baha’i Faith — where they not only
make up the republic’s largest religious minority, but also have
been subjected to the most severe forms of religious persecution,
namely imprisonment and death, though the latter has tapered off
in the recent years due to persistent international outrage.

People are paying attention to the current Egyptian court case since
so far the lower courts have upheld the Baha’i plea for official
recognition.  A similar case was struck down in 2006 by the
country’s highest court, so this year’s case is tantamount to Round
2.  The details of the case are as follows: like many other
Middle Eastern countries, Egypt recognizes only three religions:
Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.  Your religion must be marked
on all official documents.  You cannot leave the field
blank, nor can you mark it as "other."  Though Baha’is
are committed to following the laws of the land in which they live,
the one religious law that Baha’is will not break due to government
decree or compulsion is to deny their faith.  So Baha’is voluntarily
choose to be personae non gratae rather than to indelibly
mark their official documents with a religious orientation other
than their own.

Consequently, the life of an Egyptian Baha’i means a life without
access to schooling, healthcare, and gainful employment.  Egyptian
Baha’i children cannot even officially be born since birth certificates
too must be marked with a religious preference!  This is the
price Baha’is pay for the simple desire to acknowledge their religion.

For now, Baha’is outside of Egypt and other sympathetic voices can
only indirectly influence the officials in Egypt through human rights
organizations and diplomatic pressure.  In Iran, this method
has been marginally successful in reducing the severity of persecution,
but every time a victory is won, a new crisis begins.  Shortly
after Iran’s revolution in the 1980s, Baha’is were put to death
in droves.  In the 1990s, they were "only" imprisoned
for life.  In this decade, Baha’is can still count on being
rounded up and arrested from time to time or have their religious
sites razed and their cemeteries bulldozed.  If average Iranians
could investigate the writings of the Baha’i Faith without fear
of imprisonment, they’d wring their hands at the rulers’ attempt
to rid the country of people who adhere to a religion whose primary
tenets are rooted in love:

Love is the
secret of God’s holy Dispensation … the fountain of spiritual
outpourings. Love is heaven’s kindly light, the Holy Spirit’s
eternal breath that vivifieth the human soul. Love is the one
means that ensureth true felicity both in this world and the next.
Love is the light that guideth in darkness … that assureth the
progress of every illumined soul. Love is the most great law that
ruleth this mighty and heavenly cycle … Love revealeth with
unfailing and limitless power the mysteries latent in the universe.
Love is the spirit of life unto the adorned body of mankind, the
establisher of true civilization in this mortal world, and the
shedder of imperishable glory upon every high-aiming race and
nation.

My belief is
that even if the Baha’is win the battle to be recognized as a religion
in Egypt, the rulers and clerics there will find other ways to institutionally
discriminate against the Baha’is.  Due to the whims and vagaries
of politics, one’s rights can be rock solid one day and taken away
the next.

However, no one has asked the obvious question: why does the Egyptian
state have so much control over the basic necessities of life? 
Why are the schools, the healthcare system, the right to work, and
most importantly, one’s own religious identity, controlled by government
fiat in the first place?  Instead, I say let the free market
decide whether or not it should discriminate against Baha’is. 
Would an employer turn down a qualified candidate just because he’s
not an adherent of one of the three major religions?  Would
a teacher close the doors on a couple’s children because their parents
marked “Baha’i” on their birth certificates?  Would a doctor,
upon encountering a Baha’i dying of a curable disease, kick him
out on the street because he’s a member of the wrong religion?

Sadly, even in a free society, people are allowed to discriminate
in this manner, but I wager that the majority would see through
the nonsense of religious discrimination and take the initiative
to employ, heal, and educate their fellow Egyptians, regardless
of their religious orientation.  But ending institutionalized
bigotry would have a much greater effect, whether it's done in Egypt
or any country.  As it is, laws that allow the state to discriminate
one group from another sends the tacit message to the populace that
some groups are more equal than others.  By absconding the
laws that either discriminate or venerate a particular group, we
may actually live in a world where love has a chance. 

Without artificial
barriers in place that dictate how we should officially treat each
other, we may actually sit face to face with one of our fellow brethren
and make that decision ourselves.  I am confident that if left
to our own devices, we would choose to love to our fellow man rather
than hate him.  We would find ways to interact with him in
profitable ways and in the process get to know him on a deeper level. 
Through some of these interactions, we’d discover new truths about
ourselves and invent new ways to upraise all of humanity’s standard
of living.  We’d realize the essential unity that defines the
human race: that we were created noble and equipped with the ability
to overcome any challenges mankind faces through decentralized trial
and error, an inherent feature of the free market system.

Though on paper, most forward-thinking individuals know that one’s
superficial physical traits do not make any one of us more special
than the other, we still fall victim to the pernicious influence
from hundreds of years of state-sanctioned discriminatory institutions:
namely slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the counterproductive Civil Rights
Act.  Though state sanctions such as these are strong, the
vital bond of love is stronger as love is more powerful than the
state or any man-made institution.  Love is above any law. 
Love is here; it just needs to be unbound so mankind may be set
free.

May
1, 2008

Todd Steinberg
[send him mail] works with
his family at a wholesale
teddy bear company
in Dallas. In his spare time he is furiously
working on his cartoon, "Don't Tell My Wife I'm a Cult Leader,"
which he plans to unleash on the Internet and beyond in 2008.

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