Today’s Global Uncertainties, Tomorrow’s New World Order

Posted by on Nov 11, 2013

Today’s Global Uncertainties, Tomorrow’s New World Order

Honourable and distinguished guests, honoured members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i’s of Swaziland, eminent members of the Auxiliary Board of the Continental Counsellors for Africa, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, I am most grateful, indeed honoured, for being invited to share some thoughts on the subject of the prevailing global uncertainties and their possible and ultimate outcome’ on this auspicious occasion.

 

As we gather here to celebrate the birth of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, it is befitting to pay homage to His message of love and unity, peace and prosperity for the entire human race. His mission is to establish a worldwide community, whose hallmark is ‘unity in diversity’. Back in the second half of the 19th Century, Baha’u’llah foretold the inevitability of the emergence of a global society, driven by the quest for the world peace, inspired by the divine vision of a united humanity imbued by spirituality, sustained by the eternal covenant, and founded upon justice and fairness.

 

At the first glance, the vision that Baha’u’llah offered  could hardly be more in contrast with the prevailing socio-economic and political circumstance in which we find ourselves, in every land on the planet. The prevailing uncertainties, the grinding poverty of so many of our fellow human beings in the midst of the opulence  and the plenty that the “other half” displays, the public and increasingly aggressive and demeaning manner in which societal issues are debated and often not resolved, the growing worldwide emergence of the extent of tyranny against children, youths, and the women, and the pervasive spread of corruption in the use of public and private resources across the international economic and financial system, all these are deeply unsettling and indeed emotionally depressing.  I am sure you have followed on the recent report about the prevalence of slavery, estimated at around 30 million in 2013! It is almost unthinkable that in this day and age, a global ‘slavery map’ highlights the fact that over 5 million slaves live on our continent of Africa, and even a larger number lives in the Indio-China sub-continent[1]. Equally disturbing is the reality that no region of the world is free of slaves! Modern slaves include women, children and men. This of course is but one of the manifestation of our prevailing moral crisis of humanity. There are many other social, emotional, and political manifestations. The upshot of them all is a rising level of despair for a considerable proportion of our fellow human beings.

 

The world is indeed in the throes of one of the most profound transitions in history. Not only do technological and economic changes have world-embracing effects, but also the prevailing socio-political dynamics has no historical precedence. This is not to say that in the past the world has not had periods of deep and game-changing transitions. For example the advent of industrialization in the 17th and 18th century culminated in the dawn of a new world order in which the West emerged as a dominant economic, military and colonial power. The ancient civilizations of India, Africa, China, Ottomans and Persians were subjugated for a few centuries to come. Yet in comparison with the contemporary transformative forces, the industrial revolution had limited reach and its impact was slow.

 

The many forces of contemporary transformation in human and social life may be broadly divided into two categories. One group tends to integrate socio-political, economic, and cultural life across regions and continents. Such integrative forces tend to narrow the gaps across communities and nations, build bridges within and across cultures, and create rising levels of social capital even in the midst of very diverse and segmented groupings.  The emergence of a global and fully integrated financial market is a case in point. Within the socio-political arena, the rise and growth of “borderless associations” such as ‘doctors without borders’, or ‘environmental activists without borders’ (Green Peace), and the like are all but part of the same dynamics.

 

The other category of forces is inherently disintegrative. Whether in socio-political arena, or within the religious, cultural or economic sphere, such forces are inherently disruptive and conducive to the spread of mistrust within human communities. More often than not, such forces are driven by historic and failed ideologies of narrow self-protection and deep-rooted fear of “otherness”- I call this “otherphobia”.

 

At present, the integrative and disintegrative forces are at play in every land simultaneously. Interestingly, modern communication technologies and social media platforms have facilitated the spread of both these forces and processes. Access to the worldwide web in real time across the globe, the international availability of technology nearly in all sectors, and the rising awareness of what is possible, viable and desirable, have helped create a variety of new communities- mostly virtual. Such virtual and deeply connected communities are a real threat to the establishments across the world. Globally, financial, economic, cultural, religious, social and political establishments are vulnerable to attacks by these virtual communities.

 

Fairness and transparency, accountability and value-consistency appear to be the watchwords of the majority of these emerging virtual movements worldwide.  Increasingly, to them the national boundaries and the conventional sovereignty considerations are of little importance.

 

In these days of deepening crisis in the fortunes of humanity; in days when a tempest is sweeping across the global community, and the wave of despair is rising, it is indeed apt to ask “where will it all end?”  When all other explanations fail, it is logical to explore “what forces are at work?”  The past few years have been exceptionally painful for human communities all over the world.  We have witnessed hopelessly how mighty institutions of finance and capital have crumbled before our eyes. We have experienced how powerful governments and resourceful states have proven helpless and bewildered in coping with the tidal wave of financial, economic and institutional collapse.  Communities and nations have watched in disbelief how their prosperity has vanished with breathtaking speed, how vastly the pensions of the elderly have been destroyed and how quickly the prospects of the young have changed dramatically. Global youth unemployment has reached an all-time high. According to a recent report by the ILO, there is an estimated 200 million jobs are needed worldwide if we are going to make a dent at the prevailing levels of youth unemployment. Meanwhile, the global economy is under-performing and is not expected to grow anywhere close to its potential. This places an entire generation of youth at risk. Over 90% of these youths live in the developing regions of the world where stable and quality employment is lacking. Even the EU region has countries where youth unemployment exceeds 25%! Greece and Spain are but two cases in point. North Africa and Middle East are other regions where youth unemployment has reached explosive and troubling levels. Whilst such socio-economic problems have risen sharply, the ability and credibility of governments in the meantime have suffered considerably. In many lands, the very legitimacy of those in power has been questioned which in turn limits the ability of the state to deal with these rising social and human sufferings.

 

The dark clouds of uncertainty, vulnerability, bankruptcy, rising unemployment and deepening poverty have rapidly encircled the global community of mankind. The speed with which these developments have unfolded has left experts and novices alike breathless. For the first time in the history of modern societies no section of the earth is spared, no part of humanity is exempted and no segment of the society is sheltered against the prevailing blizzard that has engulfed us all.

 

Bach in the 19th Century, Baha’u’llah observed the deep rooted moral, socio-political and economic problems that the world of humanity faced. Yet, He was clear in His message that the emergence of a new world order was inevitable and He prophesied the challenges that humanity would face in its journey towards this ultimate destination. On the face of it, the barriers are many, opposing forces are numerous and appear insurmountable. Even today, when we talk of a united humanity, a fair and just socio-economic order and a clean and trustworthy governance system, scores of eyebrows rise, so much more back in the 19th Century!

 

The historic reality is that never before have we had a situation where the fortunes of the human societies irrespective of their location, their cultural, religious and ideological orientations are so closely interrelated and made equally hopelessly vulnerable.

 

Lest you think I am another doomsday social analyst and before you become even more pessimistic about the prospects for humanity, let me say upfront that I am optimistic, indeed far more than that, I am convinced beyond any doubt that the future is bright, the horizon, beyond the current valley of uncertainty and turbulence, is profoundly exciting, and delightfully promising.

 

To explore this theme, I invite you to join me on a short but swift journey back to the second half of the 19th Century. As we ponder the theme of “beyond the prevailing uncertainties”, I like to share with you along this journey some key and critical principles that can offer practical alternatives to the manifestly defective prevailing socio-economic order. Based on these principles, I would suggest that we are well placed to anticipate an eventual outcome arising from the current challenges. It is important to stress that in this journey I will draw from the Writings of Baha’u’llah which offers a rich mix of moral, spiritual, and socio-economic guidelines.

 

Back in the late 19th Century (1863-1892), Baha’u’llah identified the following requirements as the necessary conditions for the attainment of human unity, and its consequential prosperity:

  1. the recognition of the spiritual nature of human beings;
  2. the need for the abolition of all kinds of prejudice,
  3. the establishment of the equality of the rights of men and women;
  4. the necessity of the establishment of institutions for global governance,
  5. the institutionalisation of universal education;
  6. the need for the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty, and
  7. the harmony between  science and religion.

I have chosen only seven principles to make sure that our journey is short. For us, now in year 2013 it is relatively easy to accept some, if not all, of these principles as obvious and readily acceptable. But back then, nearly 160 years ago, many ridiculed the concept of the equality of the rights of men and women,  never mind seeing it and accepting it as an inevitable component of the future. As you can well imagine, back then powerful governments, individuals, leaders of thought, clergymen and military strongmen readily fought against the concept. And, before you think that it was then that the dark ages prevailed, and nasty men abused the rights of women, let me remind you that even now, the majority of women worldwide do not enjoy equal social rights. The plights of women in India, China, almost in most of Asia, and the Middle East as well as in Africa and Americas remain a loud reminder that we have still a long way to travel! Yet, intellectually there is little resistance. Back in the 1800s, Baha’u’llah was adamant that women and men are like the two wings of a bird, their harmony is a precondition for the bird’s ability to fly.

 

The abolition of all kinds of prejudice, Baha’u’llah asserted was a prerequisite for peace and tranquillity, welfare and prosperity of human societies. It is abundantly clear that “it is racial, tribal, patriotic, religious and class prejudice, that has been the cause of so much destruction of Humanity. (Abdul-Baha)  We may have excused our fellow humans back in 150 years ago for not being able to discern and not having had the wisdom to see that ‘prejudice is destructive’. But how do we explain the prevalence of all kinds of prejudices in our modern societies from East to the West, from North to the South? For the Bahai community, lack of prejudice leads to not only tolerance of diversity, but more than that, indeed the celebration of diversity of thoughts, cultures, ideologies, social and tribal backgrounds. The celebration of diversity is the hallmark of the global Bahai community made of millions of human beings in over 265 countries and territories. Consider the flowers of a garden,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has written, “though differing in kind, color, form, and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty”

 

Baha’u’llah declared that all forms of prejudice among mankind must be abandoned and that until existing prejudices are entirely removed, the world of humanity will not and cannot attain peace, prosperity and composure.

 

Parallel with the elimination of prejudice is the need for the promotion of unity within the society. Love and unity are the needs of the body politic today.  Without these there can be no progress or prosperity attained. (`Abdu’l-Baha:  Promulgation of Universal Peace*, Page: 171)

The establishment of a set of global institutions of governance back in late 19th century was a laughable concept! Neither political nor social or military imperatives were obvious at all. Yet Baha’u’llah spoke of the future where global governance would become an indispensable requirement for the welfare and prosperity of humanity. In 1867, Baha’u’llah wrote to the most influential kings and emperors, rulers and religious leaders of the time to invite them to consider the wellbeing of humanity , and sub-ordinate their nationalistic zeal to that of the wellbeing of the global community. He wrote personalised tablets to Napoleon III the emperor of France, Tsar of Russia, The Pope of Vatican, the King of Persia, the Ottoman (Turkish) rulers, the Queen of England, the president of the USA and the Austro-Prussian leaders of the time.  Baha’u’llah predicted that blind patriotism and partisan pursuit of sovereign interest are harmful to the welfare of mankind. For us in 2013, it is a matter of historic records that what Baha’u’llah had warned the leaders and rulers came to pass, and it did so with the devastating effects that the First and the Second World Wars had on the human societies. As a result, the need for global governance became abundantly clear. By early-1940s, the need that Baha’u’llah had identified became manifest even to the most unwilling leaders of the time. The future that He had foreseen came to unfold. Global institutions such the UN, its numerous agencies, the World Bank, the IMF, and the like were born on the alter of the global society’s needs and imperatives. That was phase one!

 

As we gather here today, the heads of the states of the top 20 countries, i.e. G20, the structures within the United Nations, and many ‘think tanks’ around the globe ponder over the next phase of the global governance structures. There is full agreement that the prevailing global governance structures are inadequate and out of line with the socio-political needs of our time. Many thinkers and philosophers speak of the “new world order”, although they all have their own definition of what they regard as “new”! They do so under the immeasurable pressures of the potential instability, even collapse, of the world financial and economic order. The despair that has emerged due to the lack of global leadership, the gloomy prospects that have been inflicted upon humanity have forced a group of unwilling political and ideological leaders to gather in search of solutions.  This is yet another defining moment in the course of the history of human civilisation on earth. N

 

Increasingly, the welfare of nations is becoming inter-dependent. This has been a process over centuries, culminating in today’s evolving world order in which the powerful and the weak, the poor and the rich nations have become organically interrelated. However, the process of socio-economic globalisation has highlighted some major fault lines in the existing socio-economic order- which is rapidly degenerating into a global ‘disorder’.

 

Despite this evident inter-dependence, the substantial proportion of global society suffers from grinding poverty at the same time that humanity’s capacity to generate wealth has reached its all time heights. As a matter of fact, humanity has never in its history been able to generate wealth at a rate that we witness it being created nowadays.  In essence, “a sophisticated, globalized, increasingly affluent world currently co-exists with a marginalized global underclass”. (Commission on Global Governance, 1996, p. 139) This has in turn given rise to critical public policy issues related to the environment, global trade, health, human rights and other social issues. The transnationalisation of socio-economic life at the same time has accelerated the flows of people, services, information, and technologies that have the potential to improve social welfare of human communities, and particularly that of the poor.

 

What is needed, the Baha’i literature suggests, is nothing short of a fundamental restructuring of the global governance institutions guided by the principles of equity, celebration of cultural diversity, and the establishment of collective and transnational security and prosperity. To this end, special attention would have to be paid to issues related to law enforcement, dispute resolution, and sustainable global development.

 

Salient in the teachings of the Baha’i Faith is the need for the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty as a prerequisite for a social environment that is compatible with sustainable prosperity. In this regard the Baha’i’ Writings state:

 

This readjustment of the social economy is of the greatest importance inasmuch as it ensures the stability of the world of humanity; and until it is effected, happiness and prosperity are impossible.  (`Abdu’l-Baha:  Promulgation of Universal Peace*, Pages: 181-182)

 

The Baha’i’ socio-economic order is based on equity, but not equality. This distinction is critical for the structuring of incentives within the society. The promotion of equality essentially contradicts the principle of fairness and equity. “Social inequality is the inevitable outcome of the natural inequality of man.  Human beings are different in ability and should, therefore, be different in their social and economic standing.  Extremes of wealth and poverty should, however, be abolished..(Shoghi Effendi:  Directives of the Guardian, Page: 20) The government is then expected to play a critical role towards achieving this objective.

 

Closely interrelated with the socio-economic adjustment and the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty, is the recognition and systemic promotion of the equality of rights of women and men. This is essential given that the women globally bear the brunt of abject poverty nearly in all societies. The notion of prosperity in a societal context thus assumes meaning only if the systemic inequality against women is eliminated.

 

Last but not least requirement for social prosperity is compulsory education. Nowadays, it is hardly in dispute that education has both individual as well as societal attributes. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, “It is inconceivable that any nation should achieve prosperity and success unless this paramount, this fundamental concern is carried forward.”

 

It is outside the patience of our limited time to review each and every of the issues associated with the divine framework that Baha’u’llah has set in motion since 1863.  The purpose of my short journey is this: back in the second half of 1800s Baha’u’llah wrote of a future that came to pass despite all apparent difficulties and even some improbabilities. Yet, nowadays human intellectuals, commentators, policy leaders and most importantly the masses of population aspire to bring about such elements as human development indicators and sustainable environment, societies without gender prejudice, access to universal education and lack of excessive disparities of wealth and income.  Clearly, the spirit of the age changed from 1863 when Baha’u’llah foretold the coming of a ‘new spring ‘ in the cycle of the revival of civilisation on earth. His prophetic statements came to assume meaning one by one, step by step His divine vision unfolded before the very eyes of a sceptical humanity. The march of history since 1863 has been nothing but a systematic roll out of Baha’u’llah’s prophetic statement when He said:

“The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System — the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 136)

And, then He proclaimed:

“Beseech ye the one true God to grant that all men may be graciously assisted to fulfil that which is acceptable in Our sight. Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead. Verily, thy Lord speaketh the truth, and is the Knower of things unseen. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 7)

We may ponder: That was Then, but What of the Future?

Baha’u’llah’s guidelines for the road ahead are as clear! Going forward, the ultimate destination is the emergence of a worldwide commonwealth of the nations. This is essentially a spiritual enterprise, composed of two broad elements; One element is made of human beings; the other a set of worldwide institutions.

 

“The central spiritual issue facing all people, Bahá’u’lláh says, whatever their nation, religion, or ethnic origin, is that of laying the foundations of a global society that can reflect the oneness of human nature. The unification of the earth’s inhabitants is neither a remote utopian vision nor, ultimately, a matter of choice. It constitutes the next, inescapable stage in the process of social evolution, a stage toward which all the experience of past and present is impelling us. Until this issue is acknowledged and addressed, none of the ills afflicting our planet will find solutions, because all the essential challenges of the age we have entered are global and universal, not particular or regional.”  In this context , the acid test of the current meeting of the G20 heads of state is clear. Their success will rely on the degree to which they acknowledge and take on board the global and universal nature of the problem at hand.” (Who writes the Future Statement)

 

The second element in the unfolding divine system enunciated by Baha’u’llah is a global network of institutions that span the local, national and international spheres of social life on the planet. Its ultimate goal is the creation of a New World Order, radically transforming the personal and communal life of humanity. The international Bahai Community is hard at work to establish these institutions in every corner of the earth, linking all human communities in a systematic and effective manner. At the same time, the international Bahai Community is involved in all existing global institutions affiliated with the United Nations structures as well as others to offer its services in brining about peace and social welfare. The guiding principles in such endeavours are this:

 

‘We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations — that all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that all bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease and differences of race be annulled — and so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away and the most great peace shall come. Is not this that which Christ foretold? Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.’       (Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 10)

To conclude,

In the context of what I have shared with you, I am convinced that the tumultuous period we are going through, the uncertainties we face, are much like the darkness before the dawn- its intensity heralds the imminent daybreak! The viciousness of social tensions, the severity of financial and economic hardship, and the rising socio-political concerns the world over all herald the dawn of a new day. As members of the worldwide Baha’i’ community, we remain actively involved in the building of a new world order as defined and foretold by Baha’u’llah.  We remain convinced, in fact excited and rejuvenated, by the vista that is now opening to humanity’s social life. We see the surge of technological breakthroughs, the communication advancements, and the convergence of thoughts in all corners of the globe to fast track the march of history towards the establishment of an unprecedented worldwide community of human beings- at once united in their spiritual pursuits and organically interdependent in their socio-economic existence.

 

Let us admit that in the current state of global society, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the extent of human suffering, the prevalence of grinding poverty, and the mounting uncertainties. As individuals we are each subject to ‘integrative forces within the society’ as well as those forces that tend to cause ‘disintegration within our communities’. Over time, however, the net effects of these forces lead to maturing of humanity and collective wisdom. The eventual outcome is the convergence towards a total restructuring of the ethical and moral foundation of the social infrastructure, based on a richer and more robust individual understanding. A social order founded on the twin pillars of moral and material advancement is the only sustainable form of prosperity. In the coming decades, this remains our collective task and challenge. As we proceed, our vision should remain ‘universal’, our actions and solutions however need to focus on local solutions.

 

Our immediate preoccupation should be with joining forces with like-minded fellow human-beings to build new communities, to rejuvenate our neighbourhoods, to create a new environment defined by a balanced blend of spiritual and material dimensions. Our focus should remain on the youths and the younger generations. Across generations our common denominator is our spiritual nature. Our quest for turning today’s uncertainties to tomorrow’s new world order has a divine origin, and our creativity and the growing consciousness will sustain our initiatives in this tough but rewarding journey.

 

I am convinced that we will achieve the objective, hard as no doubt it will be. Baha’u’llah’s hand has sketched the edifice called “the future”, defined as a New World Order, you and I need to help construct its structures as a service to humanity.

 

I thank you for your kind attention.