The United Nations’ 50th
anniversary in 1995 coincides with a turning point in the life of our
planet. The ongoing debate about its future role calls for serious
rethinking of the ways the international organization deals with the
issues of development, peace and security. The 50th anniversary is
therefore a time not only for reflection on the achievements and difficult
lessons of the past, but also for charting a course for the next century.
‘The resolution of these problems — crushing poverty amidst vast
sections of the developing world, oppression of women and minority groups,
intractable political, religious, and ethnic conflicts; and disruption of
the global ecosystem, among others — will require unprecedented levels
of cooperation and coordination that surpass anything in humanity’s
collective experience’,1 and which must go beyond the present
adversarial system of conflict resolution. Our present-day system is too
costly, too painful, too destructive and too inefficient for a truly
‘From the remotest times
men have told tales of golden societies — a submerged Atlantis somewhere
off the African coast, a lost Lemuria in the depths of the Pacific, an
immortal Shangri-la in the heights of the Himalayas, a vanished Eden in
the region of four great rivers. . . . This is conjecture, to be sure,
conjecture is not useless, for it leads to search. Search leads to
knowledge and knowledge in turn breaks down false barriers which the
ignorance of former generations has erected.’2 Indeed, ‘an onrushing
wind is blowing through the archaic structures of the old Order, felling
mighty pillars and clearing the ground for new conceptions of social
organization. The call for unity, for a new World Order, is audible from
many directions. The change in world society is characterized by a
phenomenal speed. A feature of this change is a suddenness, or
precipitateness, which appears to be the consequence of some mysterious
rampant force. The positive aspects of this change reveal an unaccustomed
openness to global concepts, movements towards international and regional
collaboration, an inclination of warring parties to opt for peaceful
solutions, a search for spiritual values.’3
Baha’is understand many
of the complex problems of society to be inevitable features of a
historical process that Baha’u’llah, Founder-Prophet of the Baha’i
faith, foresaw would come to dominate the twentieth century. His vision of
the eventual integration of humankind and the emergence of a global
society in which unity in diversity would be the principal characteristic
has been confirmed by the events of this century — accelerating as we
near its close. Many of our most acute problems can be resolved if we
become conscious of this historical process and respond in ways that take
proper account of the oneness of humanity — the principle of social
organization for the age now dawning in human history. Failure to
understand and make the necessary adjustments in how human affairs are
administered on this planet only intensifies the degree of suffering that
is penetrating communities in virtually every country and region on earth.
Baha’is view the current
phase of rapidly changing world conditions in a hopeful way, aware of the
anguish created by current chaotic social dislocations but seeing them as
part of a long-term process of adjustment, the pain of which can best be
alleviated if we become conscious of its nature and direction. The current
period of human history is one of these axial periods understood best
perhaps in the phrase ‘the coming of age of humanity’.4 The period of
relative isolation of various peoples of the world has ended. We have now
collectively entered a new world where boundaries, if they exist at all
any more, are no longer impenetrable. The interdependence of humanity with
all its diversity of cultures, nations, and peoples will continue to
increase. Exclusive sovereignties are no longer possible.
From our study of world
trends and the forecast of the future of humanity as presented in Baha’i
writings over a century5 ago we can discern the following requirements on
the part of present-day society for the establishment of a new World Order
and permanent peace on earth.
Unity of nations
resulting in the outlawing of war before the turn of the century. This
will be a crucial achievement, marking a new phase in the sphere of
international relations in the twenty-first century. The term used in
the Baha’i Writings to describe this process is the ‘Lesser Peace’.
Unity in the political
realm with respect to the system of governance based upon the
foundations of true justice.
Unity of thought in
world undertakings such as exploration of outer space, sharing of
scientific knowledge, combating global problems such as terrorism,
rampant drug abuse, international crime, etc.
Unity of freedom, i.e.
concentration of forces for social reform, especially a judicial
system guaranteeing equal political, economic and social opportunity
to every man and woman, to every nation and to every race.
Unity of religion and
adoption by the majority of humankind of a world religion, thus
fulfilling the prophecies enshrined in the utterances of the founders
of extant religions.
Unity of races, i.e.
all humankind will be regarded as one race. Truly, racism is one of
the worst parts of the social malaise afflicting present-day humanity.
Unity of language,
i.e., the selection of an auxiliary world language and script — one
of the signs of the maturity of the human race.
Today several million
people from virtually every race, culture, class and nation on earth are
unitedly working for the speedy realization of the above objectives, the
most important of which is the establishment of the oneness and wholeness
of the human race. ‘A new life,’ Baha’u’llah proclaims, ‘is in
this age, stirring within all the peoples of the earth; and yet none hath
discovered its cause, or perceived its motive. . . . The well-being of
mankind,’ He declares, ‘its peace and security are unattainable unless
and until its unity is firmly established.’ ‘So powerful is the light
of unity,’ is His further testimony, ‘that it can illuminate the whole
earth. . . . This goal excelleth every other goal, and this aspiration is
the monarch of all aspirations.’6
In recent years much
progress has been made in conflict resolution and management. I would like
to cite the following examples given by Judge Dorothy W. Nelson of the
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She writes:
In  in ‘Acca,
Israel, I attended a hearing conducted by three Greek Orthodox priests
in long black robes and long white beards. Court was conducted in a
quonset hut with paint peeling from the walls, furnished only with a
plain wooden table and chairs. A wife was suing her husband for divorce.
As her lawyer rose to his feet holding a handful of papers from which to
plead her case, he was waved gently aside by the presiding priest, who
turned to the wife and asked her to tell her own story. She explained
that for five years of marriage she had shared a house with her
mother-in-law. The older woman, too old to climb stairs, occupied the
ground floor, and the wife lived upstairs. Since there was only one
entrance to the house she had to enter through her mother-in-law’s
living quarters to get to her own, and her mother-in-law continually
questioned her about her activities and offered unsolicited advice. She
loved her husband, she said, but the situation was intolerable.
The wife sat down and the
presiding priest, waving aside the husband’s lawyer as he had the wife’s,
asked to hear the husband’s side of the case. The husband said that he
loved his wife but also his mother. As a Christian he felt
responsibility for both, but he was a poor man and could not afford two
The three priests retired
by stepping into the dusty street outside and returned five minutes
later with their judgment. The husband was to build a ladder. When the
wife wanted to avoid her mother-in-law, she could climb the ladder
directly to her second floor window.
The practice of conflict
resolution is as old as human civilization. From the Biblical story of
Cain and Abel, to Homer’s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad,
to Thucydides’ historical analysis of the war between Athens and
Sparta, accounts of conflict across time have captured the interest of
poets and scholars. We have moved from a primitive system of a clash of
strength, brute force against brute force, to a clash of wills in an
adversary system where vested interest is pitted against vested
interest. Like the primitive system, the conflict continues until there
is a winner and a loser.
A second example given by
Judge Nelson is that of ‘the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty blocked out
at Camp David in 1978. Israel had occupied the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula
since the Six-Day War of 1967. When Egypt and Israel began to negotiate a
peace, they had incompatible positions: Israel wanted some part of the
Sinai for security reasons, and Egypt, on the other hand, insisted that
every inch of the Sinai be returned to Egypt which had enjoyed sovereignty
over it since the time of the Pharaohs. Looking to their interests instead
of their positions, it was possible to develop a solution. The plan agreed
upon was to return the Sinai to complete Egyptian sovereignty but to
demilitarize large areas of the Sinai, thus assuring Israeli security. By
looking behind opposed positions for the motivating interests, an
alternative position was found which met the interests of both Egypt and
Going one step further, the
late Professor Edward Azar, former Director of the Centre for
International Development and Conflict Management, made an important
contribution to conflict studies by suggesting that it is
"needs" not "interests" which are at the heart of
protracted social conflict.8
Professor Jerold S.
Auerbach explains other drawbacks of the adversary system now prevalent
almost everywhere in the world in his book, Justice Without Law,
when he describes it as
a chilling, Hobbesian
version of human nature. It accentuates hostility, not trust.
Selfishness supplants generosity. Truth is shaded by dissembling. Once
an adversarial framework is in place, it supports competitive aggression
to the exclusion of reciprocity and empathy.9
A report from the
Department of Justice, Government of the United States, adds:
The search for new ways
of managing our differences can be seen as signalling a shift in public
values. With increasing awareness that "we are all in this world
together," traditional win-lose, adversarial processes may be
personally and socially less satisfactory than more participative,
collaborative problem solving that reconciles the interests of all
There is a height of
human experience where the instinct for combat sinks back into the inner
spirit and finds rest. That height is our human future, if we take the
mysterious step of conscious faith. The test is that of sincerity. The
Baha’i Faith provides a comprehensive synthesis for bringing about a
new cycle of human progress and endurance. What Baha’u’llah, its
founder, has sought to accomplish is [to provide] the means for bringing
about the promised Golden Age of humanity. Without the motivation of
purpose to give meaning and usefulness to our experiences of life, we
are bereft of hope and happiness.
nijaparoveti gananam laghuchetasam
It is the small-minded
who trivialize this world by their preoccupation with many kinds of
divisions and demarcations which separate the peoples of the world.
Those who are generous of spirit and have a larger vision regard the
whole world as one family.’ (Trans. by Dr L.M. Singhvi)
‘The earth is but one
country and mankind its citizens,’ Baha’u’llah declared over a
A statement of the Baha’i
International Community entitled Turning Point for All Nations,
released on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations,
states: ‘As the twin processes of collapse and renewal carry the world
toward some sort of culmination, the 50th anniversary of the United
Nations offers a timely opportunity to pause and reflect on how humanity
may collectively face its future’.12 The statement continues to outline
three basic guidelines:
First, discussions about
the future of the United Nations need to take place within the broad
context of the evolution of the international order and its direction.
The United Nations has co-evolved with other great institutions of the
late twentieth century. It is in the aggregate that these institutions
will define — and themselves be shaped by — the evolution of the
international order. Therefore, the mission, role, operating principles
and even activities of the United Nations should be examined only in the
light of how they fit within the broader objective of the international
Second, since the body of
humankind is one and indivisible, each member of the human race is born
into the world as a trust of the whole. This relationship between the
individual and the collective constitutes the moral foundation of the
human rights which the instruments of the United Nations are attempting
to define. It also serves to define an overriding purpose for the
international order in establishing and preserving the rights of the
Third, the discussions
about the future of the international order must involve and excite the
generality of humankind. This discussion is so important that it cannot
be confined to leaders — be they in government, business, the academic
community, religion, or organizations of civil society. On the contrary,
this conversation must engage women and men at the grassroots level.
Broad participation will make the process self-reinforcing by raising
awareness of world citizenship and increase support for an expanded
As part of its contribution
to the ongoing discussion on the restructuring of the United Nations, the
statement among other things proposes the appointment of a commission to
study borders and frontiers; to limit the use of the veto power in the UN
Security Council to a limited number of issues; to investigate the
possibility of adopting a single international currency; to explore the
possibility of introducing a universal auxiliary language and a common
script; and to create an International Force. There is also a call for a
convocation of world leaders before the end of the twentieth century ‘to
consider how the international order might be redefined and restructured
to meet the challenges facing the world’.
1. Unity and
Consultation: Foundations of Sustainable Development, a statement of
the Baha’i International Community, New York, 1994, p.1.
2. Marsella, Elena Maria, The
Quest for Eden, Philosophical Library, New York, N.Y. 10016, 1966, p.1
3. ‘Ridvan Message 1992’,
a statement of the Universal House of Justice, The Baha’i World
1992-93, Baha’i World Centre, Haifa, 1993, p. 26.
4. Baha’u’llah, The
Kitab-i-Aqdas — The Most Holy Book, Baha’i Publishing Trust, New
Delhi, 1993, para 189, p. 88.
5. Khursheed, Anjam, The
Seven Candles of Unity, Baha’i Publishing Trust, London, U.K., 1991,
6. Baha’u’llah, quoted
in Call to the Nations, a selection from the writings of Shoghi
Effendi, Baha’i World Centre, Haifa, 1977, p. 53.
7. Nelson, W. Dorothy, Alternative
Forms of Conflict Resolution — A Pathway to Peace. The Second Annual
Baha’i Lecture, the Baha’i Chair for World Peace, University of
Maryland, 1996, pp.10-11 and pp.15-16.
8. Azar, Edward E., ‘Peace
Amidst Development’, International Interactions, 6, No. 2, 1974.
9. Auerbach, Jerold S., Justice
Without Law?, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1983, p.1.
10. U.S.Department of
Justice, Paths to Justice: Major Public Policy Issues of Dispute
Resolution, Report of the Ad Hoc Panel on Dispute Resolution and
Public Policy, January 1984, pp.7-8.
11. I have been unable to
locate the exact reference to context of this ancient Indian tradition. My
source is Sambhuti — My Quest in the Fulfilment of Hinduism, by
S.P. Raman, Baha’i Publishing Trust, New Delhi, 1986, p.1.
12. Turning Point for
All Nations, a statement of the Baha’i International Community
issued on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations, New