Conflict Transformation:
A Case Study of the Universal House of Justice Messages to the Bahá'ís in Iran

By Mahyad Zaerpoor-Rahnamaie

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #116
Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, California, USA
May 30 – June 2, 2013
(see list of papers from #116)

Next presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #118
Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
June 30 – July 4, 2013
(see list of papers from #118)

    In the Old Testament, the history of conflict is as old as human history, starting from the Genesis. This talk comprises of two parts: it will first cover the gradual developments of how humans have been dealing with conflicts both on interpersonal and community levels. There are at least five distinct but overlapping stages of facing conflicts. The two more traditional forms of "conflict eradication" and "conflict denial" use power and aggression as the basic modes of operation. The two more recent stages of "conflict management" and "conflict resolution" use modern tools of consultation rather than confrontation. After a brief review of these familiar stages, the newest stage of "Conflict Transformation" will be more fully discussed. This recent concept welcomes social conflicts as effective catalysts to foster constructive changes that reduce violence, increase justice in direct interactions and social structures, and respond to real life problems in human relationship. Clearly, most of these recent ideas have obvious counterparts and examples both in the Bahá'í Sacred Writings and its history.

    In the second part of the talk, an attempt will be made to detect components of "conflict transformation" in the contents and tone of the letters written by the UHJ to the Bahá'ís in Iran. In the past thirty some years, Bahá'ís of Iran have been subjected to horrendous human rights violation and bravely endured their ghastly conditions. The dynamics of growth and maturation within the community has been, to a great part, due to the continual guidance received from UHJ. It seems that the tone and the content of these letters have themselves gone through a gradual change and more in line with the underlying concepts of "conflict transformation." It seems that the letters from the House are more and more encouraging the Persian Bahá'ís to see the present conflicts and the adversarial role of the government as a propelling force for growth, creating positives from the difficult or negatives.

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