Saturday, February 28, 2015
“Constructive Resilience” as a Different Approach to Social Change: Some Reflections on Viewing the Film, “To Light a Candle”
Yesterday, I had an opportunity to view the film, To Light a Candle, the film that I mentioned in my earlier post below. It was shown at Western Washington University as well as sites across the globe on February 27th to highlight the campaign “Education is Not a Crime.”
The documentary by Maziar Bahari is about the denial of education for the largest religious minority in Iran: Bahá’ís. The film shows in vivid detail the oppression that the Baha’is have undergone with a focus on one of the creative responses they have made to their denial of a university education in Iran unless they are willing to renounce their religion. Their response was to create an alternative university for their children, the Bala’i Institute for Higher Education, which has begun to be recognized by universities around the world. It takes place in homes and over the internet, but has met with resistance from a governmental regime that has used ways to stop it including raiding homes and making arrests. Still it persists.
The panel that followed the showing of the film provided an interesting context in which to view the film. Not only did they place the oppression of the Baha’is in an historical context, but Michael Karlberg, a professor at Western Washington University, also placed it within a theoretical model of social change. Essentially, Professor Karlberg argues that the dominant strategies of traditional responses to oppression have not been effective or are limiting. Violence to oppression often begets more violence. Even non-violent responses by people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King have often had only limited and short successes. He points to the violent reactions that followed the British withdrawal from India as well as the persistent institutional racism despite the successes in overthrowing the Jim Crow laws. What is lacking, argues Michael, is a constructive alternative in the wake of a power vacuum that emerges. Rather than simply dismantling the systems of oppression, this approach confronts it by building an alternative. In effect, as Michael put it, we build the world we want to live in.
The creation of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education was offered by Professor Karlberg as an example of a constructive alternative to combating an oppressive regime that he calls a third approach to social change. Readers can read more about this approach in an article by Professor Karlberg in the journal, PEACE & CHANGE, Vol. 35, No. 2, April 2010, entitled, “Constructive Resilience: The Baha´’ı´ Response to Oppression.”
Watch for an upcoming interview with Professor Karlberg in a future post. Our tenth year anniversary issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy will also feature a special scholarly article on the topic.