A Framework for
Sustainable Peace and Prosperity in Iran

Dr Iraj Abedian,
Johannesburg, South Africa, July 2015
Preamble:

It is a fact that the Iranian society has been and remains resilient, its economy resourceful, its geo-political space critical and its prospects bright and promising. Yet, a complex blend of forces at present has brought about a prevailing outcome which is neither conducive to individual happiness nor social welfare. Worse still, it is no exaggeration to suggest that the contemporary Iranian society manifests the worrying symptoms of deep-rooted individual and communal moral and ethical decay. The country’s advancement is stalled as a result. This is an avoidable outcome. To put the country on a different path- a path conducive to individual progress and social prosperity- different and divergent groups need to join forces to construct a platform for sustainable peace and prosperity. To this end, a transformation in the foundational structures of the individual conduct as well as the social institutions are needed.

It is evident to all the citizens that today’s Iran is fractured across its underlying value system, destructive in its political operations, and corrupt in its institutional functioning. This need not be the case. In fact, it is safe to suggest that a predominant majority of the citizens yearn for living in an environment that truthfulness prevails, integrity reigns, and trustworthiness is a lived daily experience. Irrespective of religious, tribal, or regional allegiances, Iranians, much like any other people, hope for a society in which moral values are upheld, children are safe, and families are honoured. These aspirations are feasible to fulfil. Achieving this outcome requires a critical and effective rethink of some key fundamentals.

Defining a Peaceful and Prosperous Modern Society
A successful modern society may be defined in terms of two characteristics: one is the systemic pursuit of a just society, and the other is the promotion of a meaningful life for individual members.

a. Pursuit of a Just Society:

The substance of social justice is complex, its operational requirements are made of both tangibles and intangibles. And, importantly, the implications are not merely theoretical and academic. A societal pursuit of justice has wide and deep ramifications for nearly all aspects of the social order. Within a dynamic framework, the future trajectory of society’s developmental path is largely defined by the depth of our understanding of, and commitment to, intra-generational and intergenerational equity. The operational intricacies of distributive justice multiply when we intersect the principle of trans-generational morality with the intra-generational mal-distribution of resources.
Economists and moral philosophers have grappled with these interrelated issues for centuries. In practice, the assumptions we make about the nature of human beings matter most. Modern scientific research in psychology, economics, anthropology and game theory has highlighted serious flaws in the simplistic assumptions historically made by the Left and the Right ideologues about human nature. Recent scientific empirical research conducted within a multi-disciplinary framework and tested in a variety of socio-economic, racial, tribal and developmental regions, suggest that human beings are neither altruistic nor selfish. They are better defined as “conditional co-operators” and “altruistic punishers”. In effect, human behavior reflects signs of “strong reciprocity” demonstrating a predisposition to cooperate with others, and to punish (even at personal cost if necessary) those who violate the norms of cooperation.

Whilst in the context of the social evolution, the definition of “conditional co-operator and altruistic punisher” may best capture the revealed behaviour of many human beings, across a number of nations, it does not necessarily prove or reveal much about the essence or the nature of human beings. The Bahai scriptures, as all other religious writings, point to the nobility of human nature. However, the educational paradigm and the operational social environment need to be conducive for this nobility to manifest itself in action.
In this context, the pursuit of social justice assumes a multi-dimensional complexity which is dynamic. Put differently, no just society can remain so over time. As individual members develop and associate with an evolving conception of justice, the society in turn deepens and redefines it route to social justice. This is a core systemic feature of social progress which in turn redefines the contours of social justice over time.

b. Promotion of Meaningful Individual Life:

“The fruits of the tree of man have ever been and are goodly deeds and a praiseworthy character.” Baha’u’llah (ESOW).
In nearly all spheres of human activity the dominance of the materialistic approach has caused systemic distortions with deep social, political and economic impact. The most fundamental of these distortions is about the concept of human nature. Underlying all these practices is the assumption that human nature is essentially selfish, competitive and exclusionary. This basic assumption needs to be challenged. The Universal House of Justice observes that
“it is in the glorification of material pursuits, at once the progenitor and common feature of all such ideologies, that we find the roots which nourish the falsehood that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive. It is here that the ground must be cleared for the building of a new world fit for our descendants.
The importance of the promotion of a meaningful life in all spheres of socio-economic activity, especially in the promotion of peace and unity, cannot be over-emphasized as regards the sustainability of peaceful co-existence.

Key Requirements:

۱٫ The importance of institutions ; Societal progress is an ever-advancing process, based in part on some prior foundational principles and in part informed by the evolution of learning and collective wisdom. Social theoreticians refer to this as an “adaptive evolutionary dynamic process”. In such processes, institutions play a pivotal role in shaping the character of the society. Some of the most important of these institutions are briefly discussed below.

a. The Role of Education

In broad terms, education may be regarded as the chief instrument of progress within the process of an ever advancing civilization. Yet, the education system, much like religion, may be used as a means of sullying the minds and spreading half-truths. As such, both the content and the pedagogical aspects of education are vital for defining a system of education that is conducive to the promotion of human progress, social development and the establishment of a peaceful and dynamic social order.
b. The pivotal role of family life

The key and unique building block of the social edifice is family. For nearly all dimensions of individual and social progress, family life plays a pivotal role. It acts as the functional portal for inter-generational discourse, for the cementing of culture and for the primary infusion of spiritual, emotional, intellectual and cultural impulses into the very soil of human existence. The family environment is the birth place of “trust” as a critical ingredient of emotional progress and the cultivation of reciprocity.

Over time, family dynamics have been influenced by an array of religious, cultural, socio-economic and political forces. Such influences have had mixed blessings for the functioning of the family as a unit of social order. Nowadays, there is a growing body of theoretical and empirical evidence, from across a vast range of societies, to underscore the significant role family plays in personal and social peaceful existence. Peaceful and prosperous co-existence begins at home!

c. The role of governance structures

The epicentre of social progress and sustainability is the structure of social governance. It pertains to a vast array of issues. The form and the substance, as well as the motives underlying the organisation of governance within the society are the critical issues. The rise of political order, and the onset of political decay, (borrowing from Francis Fukuyama!), revolves around the structuring of governance within the growing complexity of the social order.

d. The establishment of a fair economic system

A pivotal component of the aforementioned social system is its economic sub-system. It is common knowledge that disparities of wealth and income are the lead causes of social instability and risks. Ever since the mid-19th century, the matter of ‘economic fairness’ has been at the centre stage of socio-political discourse and experimentations. Over a century of materialistic developmental approaches has had deep systemic consequences. All modalities of social governance, i.e. capitalism, socialism and communism, defined progress and the ultimate goals of socio-economic development in terms of material indicators alone. These socio-economic systems differed only in terms of the means of delivery; that is, some relied on the machinery of the state to achieve developmental goals whilst others propagated a mixed economy made of both state and market structures. In effect,
development defined in terms of certain patterns of “modernization,” however, seems to refer exactly to those processes, which promote the domination of people’s material ambitions over their spiritual goals. While the search of a scientific and technologically modern society is a central goal of human development, it must base its educational, economic, political, and cultural structures on the concept of the spiritual nature of the human being and not only on his or her material needs.

However, the sidelining of religion in the definition of developmental objectives reduced the developmental challenge to a purely materialistic enterprise. [this is also very relevant and important to above, “role of religion” and could be elaborated on there. It not only refers to economics but to most of the other problems identified above] This, in turn, has led to a gradual but systemic dilution of ethical conduct over the period. Issues of economic fairness in terms of access to resources and the equitability of outcomes have worsened over time. As such peaceful co-existence has become under threat.

A total re-definition of the concepts of fairness, the role of the players, and the objective function of the system is needed if we hope to achieve a social order conducive to peaceful coexistence.

e. The need for balancing national and international interest of the nation.

Sustainability of peaceful coexistence has a critical inter-national dimension, particularly in the age of growing globalisation and inter-dependence of nations. Not only are the economic and material, but also the socio-political, stability of nations increasingly interwoven. The pursuit of win-win outcomes in international economic and political relations is a rising necessity. Such are important as much for the regional/international wellbeing as for the national prosperity.

f. Socio-environmental Sustainability Issues

The maintenance of a peaceful co-existence within a society necessitates careful attention to matters of socio-environmental sustainability. When the very living environment and the livelihood of some communities are made vulnerable or unstable, it is hard to maintain peace and stability of the social order. The quality of air, water, and the integrity of the communal assets (be they in the urban or rural settings) play an existential role in the sustainability of social order.

As importantly, the status of the social system and its functional integrity either enhances or undermines peaceful co-existence. The issues of human rights, with all its sub-categories (women, children, elderly, etc.), assume special significance in this regard.

g. Civil Society Institutions: such as social rights institutions, cultural groupings, social networks, and civil society organs.
Sustainable co-existence has systemic requirements. Whereas the individual’s education, family structure, and many other personal ingredients

are needed, there are also societal and organisational requirements. Such secondary instruments of cultivating peaceful and prosperous social order are integral to a social system that not only accommodates but also celebrates diversity of intellectual, cultural, and social groupings. The role of such institutions, more often than not, is to act as an instrument of safeguarding developments from domination by any particular group or a given individual. [One major factor is transparency and taking responsibility by those institutions/their members.]

۲٫ Diversity and Sustainable Peaceful Coexistence

The hallmark of modern societies is diversity. It may be argued that Iran, given its history of military adventures and counter attacks, has been a diverse society for centuries. The outcome is a melting pot of ethnicities, languages, as well as spiritual, cultural and intellectual traditions. Much like all other modern societies, Iran is grappling with the management of diversity as a social force. Yet, peaceful social development is sustainable only if diversity is perceived, first and foremost, and managed as a wellspring of intellectual and social development. Put differently, for as long as monolithic views are cultivated and enforced, the social progress is bound to stall, and more importantly, peaceful co-existence is made dysfunctional. Operationally, the socio-political environment requires independent media and freedom of press, freedom to gather and demonstrate, freedom of opinion, ending of privileges for certain religious or ethnic groups, and more broadly all types of hegemonic practices.

In such an environment, and through the dynamic clash of divergent views and practices, a new national identity is bound to be borne. This has been the pattern of historic evolution in nearly all countries and regions where tribes and clans fused into bigger social grouping with an emergent identity as a symbolic unifying agent. The major difference with the past is this: whereas in the past the social fusion was catalysed by war and the violent clashes of tribal and regional nature, in today’s world the process of social fusion is best achieved through the agency of intellectual debates, socio-political discourses, and cultural exchanges. The hallmark of successful modern societies is inclusivity not exclusivity, consultation and not confrontation, empathy and not animosity.

All cultures and societies are subject to a dynamic and continuous evolution. As such change in cultures is inescapable, its pace may vary from time to time, but over time no culture stands still. Within a rapidly integrating human community, however, a new phenomenon is emerging, namely, the process of “change in culture” is evolving into a “culture of change”. This rising pace of cultural adaptability, driven by unprecedented access to information and interactions, in turn influences perceptions of identity among diverse groupings within the nations and across the globe.

The evolution of national identity then is a process that over time transcends narrow tribal, ethnic and regional interests. This, however, is not a linear and continuous process. There are at times bouts of diversion and even regression in the process. Over time, however, people learn to give allegiance to more encompassing principles, and rally around causes that pertain to the welfare and wellbeing of a wider and larger groupings within the society. Sustainable peaceful co-existence, therefore, evolves over time by initially accommodating, and then celebrating diversity.

۳٫ Preservation of Cultural Heritage & Cultural Progress

Social progress is a dynamic evolutionary process. As such it requires a mix of continuity and change over time. Its dynamic attribute suggests the need for the preservation of culture and its historic heritage. Meanwhile its evolutionary nature necessitates change, disruption and transformation, and yet seldom transmutation.
Within diverse societies, the respect for culture and the promotion of cultural diversity, is an important indicator of the sustainability of social progress.

۴٫ Elimination of Obstacles such as: institutionalised oppression, prejudice, etc, is another significant requirement of a social order conducive to sustainable peaceful coexistence. Operationally, these matters need to permeate the system at a number of entry points such as within the family, in the education system, within the work environment, and so on. In practice, the elimination of such “obstacles” takes effect only over generations. It is easier to talk about these issues than to get the society to internalize their full impact. Much consistency across the various portals of spiritual, intellectual, cultural, legal and social structures is needed to transform the inner and outer foundations of these social ills.

۵٫ The Role of Religion: “…..the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men.” Baha’u’llah (ESOW).

It is an undeniable historical truth that religions have been manipulated and used for the realization of narrow and partisan ends. Not only in bygone ages, but also at present, in many parts of the world, religions are used as an instrument of oppression, social abuse of women in particular, human rights violations in general, and political domination. Many wars have been fought in the name of religion and against the resurgence of religious sentiments. Much socio-economic destruction and widespread disillusionment against religion and institutionalized religious establishments have emerged accordingly and justifiably.

At present, in the Middle East a war is raging based on religion- engulfing not only intra-Islamic denominations, but spreading its “religious ideology” worldwide. Similar tensions and battles are at play in West and East Africa, invoking religious sentiments to instigate murder, ideological attacks, and crass destruction of socio-institutional infrastructure.

Bahá’u’lláh highlighted a key factor for the process of social development, saying:

“…… Religion is the chief foundation of love and unity and the cause of oneness. If a religion become the cause of hatred and disharmony, it would be better that it should not exist. To be without such a religion is better than to be with it.
A Concluding Note:

The forgoing analysis, albeit brief, illustrates that a number of concepts and systemic institutions associated with modern societies are interrelated. This is to be expected given that complex organs, in general, are made up of organically interwoven sub-systems. What is more interesting is the fact that in some important instances the “means” and the “ends” have existential causality. For example, modern societies are commonly diverse. Diversity raises the question of ‘unity’, as but one modality for peaceful and prosperous co-existence. Alternatives to unity are all sub-optimal modalities that embody varying degrees of domination, exploitation, or suppression within the society- all conducive to welfare loss. So, whilst unity may be a strategic objective within a diverse society, the growing diversity facilitates progress towards unification. Unity in turn is the pre-requisite for the society’s ability to covert national wealth to people’s welfare. To maximize people’s welfare, and to ensure that widespread prosperity is obtained across the society, the process of converting ‘wealth to welfare’ needs to be fair, open, and accountable. -End –

[۱] Universal House of Justice (1985), The Promise of World Peace, Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, p. 7

[۱] Ibid.

[۱] Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 28