Bahai News - Vigil for HUMAN RIGHTS


Reporter's Notebook

Rhiannon Erbach-Gruber
Music Desk Writer

Springtime in the Northwestern hemisphere is a season of resurrection, metamorphosis - the celebration of new life. The diversity of the biosphere and the fragile balance of its seasons exist because of the unique distance between the earth and the sun, and the uneven elipse around our small star. Religions and mythologies worldwide celebrate the equinox, the season of restored light, the return of peace, prosperity, and abundant harvest.

But this spring, the rising temperatures seem to be stimulating all but sentiments of tranquility. NATO bombings increase and retaliation to the atrocity of "ethnic cleansing" is upheld as a necessary defense of human rights. Refugee death tolls rise, enraged passions fly with questions and unrest surrounding the nations involvement and intent. Clinton requests more military funds and the release of reserve troops, while only this morning on CNN, Tony Blair declared the nations of NATO will not back down until Milosevic puts an end to his inhumane policies. No quick end to this nascent war is apparent.

As the last of Monday evening's light began to fade, the steps of McHenry Library were still and silent. The only exceptions were gentle showers of drifting cherry blossom petals and a few quiet souls poised with white candles in the twilight. The gathering was sparse, the message simple, and the cause of universal proportion, but those in attendance were not disenheartened by the small numbers. For some, it was the first time they had taken the liberty to speak openly of such atrocities abroad.

"In a nation this priviledged, it's sometimes impossible for people to imagine the denial of rights we take for granted - basic human rights such as education, equality, and freedom of expression," Sima Cockshut said. Native to Iran, Cockshut tends the organic gardens at the Bosch Baha'i School and retreat center. Every Tuesday for months, the Baha'i Association of Santa Cruz has been setting up an informational table in front of McHenry to educate those interested about the persecution of Baha'is in Iran by the fundamentalist Muslim regime that took power under Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. A virtually infantile faith at the age of 156 years, Baha'is are targeted for advocating such principles as the equality of women and men and the unity of all faiths and prophets. Principles unacceptable in a nation where women must veil their faces and all declare loyalty to the clerical regime.

Officially granted a seat upon the University's Interfaith Religious Council last Thursday, the vigil was sponsored by the Baha'is. But the ceremony was held in honor of all martyrs and refugees, "to commemorate the lives of those in Kosovo, Iran, or elsewhere who are afflicted because they have tried to uphold their humanness," in the words of Marsha Gilpatrick.

The vigil began with one woman asking that everyone circle around the infant child of the head of the campus Christian Ministry. After the candles were lit, specific prayers were said for the refugees in the Baltics, followed by the oration of a story of one extraordinary Baha'i woman martyred for her faith. The group was reminded of the fact that April 19 marked the day of the Oklahoma City bombing and the Waco Texas Massacre. As the small circle huddled around the child, fighting to block the wind and keep their flames ignited, faces alternated between a gracious warmth and deep sorrow. The turnout may have been small, but the people present were visibly moved by the words and prayers spoken and by the unity of this interwoven gathering.

Cockshut illustrated the choice of attitude with a metaphor, and a call to action. "There are two bells ringing right now in the world - that tolling of our end, of our destruction, and that chiming of our future, of the awakening. Why is it that so many only hear one and not the other? The truth is for us to determine."

©Copyright 1999, Slugwire

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