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Constructive resilience

July 25, 2011

There are both spiritual and material dimensions to human nature. The human soul develops within a matrix of mutually interacting spiritual and material forces that affect both our inner and outer lives (Karlberg 2010-04.” ).

“We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions (Shoghi Effendi).”

Baha´’ı´s therefore believe that strategies for achieving lasting social change—including strategies for overcoming violent oppression—must pay attention to both the material and spiritual dimensions of change, including the transformation of hearts among both the oppressors and the oppressed. In this regard, oppositional strategies that pit one group against another, whether violently or non-violently, are not considered conducive to spiritual transformation and lasting change. Baha´’ı´s thus refrain from all divisive forms of social action, including involvement in partisan political organizing and opposition (Karlberg 2010-04.” ).

“The theory supporting life history narration proposes that the nature of retelling, particularly the retelling of traumatic experiences, is important in raising the consciousness of society surrounding injustice. Similarly, life histories are significant as an effective way to elicit the compassion and action of those who hear the story. Moreover, the retelling of one’s story can serve as a key step in the healing of the individual who has experienced trauma. Thus the method of life history interviews is significant for the individuals who retell their experience, for those who hear the retelling, and eventually for the larger society which receives this testimony. Through a process of individual and collective transformation, each of the women displayed resistance in opposition to the injustice of their imprisonment. This resistance resulted from mental engagement with, and physical demonstration of, their beliefs. After they were released from prison, the process of retelling their stories, and activism related to what had befallen them, became another form of resistance (Hakimian 2009-06).”

‘Life in Evin wasn’t all ugliness, mind you. It also included friendships so beautiful and pure that they were enough to keep you going amidst the utmost inhumanity. Sacrificing a piece of bread, giving up sleeping space to a sick friend and sitting up all night to watch over her, sharing clothes, washing the clothes of a cellmate with tortured feet who couldn’t walk, massaging someone’s bruised feet, listening to a mother incessantly talk about the child from whom she’d been separated, carving a stone for a friend’s birthday- there were times when we could easily forget where we were, when we could laugh and tell jokes, sing, or make up plays and then act them out. We could imagine families for ourselves, have mothers and sisters who were not our own, fall in love and create bonds so tight that years and death could not cut or damage them. Among these lessons I learned during my five years in Evin, this was the only one that was beautiful. In prison, I made the best friends of my life, and not only that, met the best people I could ever imagine. I also met the worst people of my life in Evin, but no one said it was going to be all roses. If true friendship is what I got out of those five years, I believe it’s a good price for my youth, my health, and for growing old too soon’ (Agah, Mehr & Parsi 2007:164 cited in Hakimian 2009-06“).

“The theory surrounding the importance of memoirs can be found in the fields of both psychology and literature. Helen M. Buss (2002) writes, ‘In historical narratives, only public events happen. In traditional fiction, such public events act as a background for the personal story. In memoir, real lives happen in all their daily richness in parallel and in connection with public life’ (Buss, 2002, p. 128). Elie Wiesel, the famous Holocaust historian, notes that this generation can be noted for the creation of a ‘new literature,’ namely testimony (Buss, 2002, p. 121). One element that gives this genre social and academic significance is the potential of the memoir to disseminate formerly unknown information to a wide range of people. While a highly sophisticated historical narrative is often presented, it still remains accessible to a large audience. While the process of articulation and organization is never formulaic, research has been carried out which indicates that the very process of retelling can be an important component of the resolution of the trauma (Victor Frankel, 2000). Buss expounds on this idea from a literary perspective, ‘this moment of reflection allows the self-reflexive narrator to carry out one of the most important tasks of the memoir: understanding the past for the purpose of changing the present’ (Buss, 2002, p. 130). It is in this process of understanding that the witness moves away from the fragmentation and repression of the experience towards a holistic externalization of the trauma (Hakimian 2009-06).”

“The process of retelling is evident in the memoir genre and psychological evidence to support the necessity of retelling has been outlined by Judith Herman, among others. In Trauma and Recovery, Herman (1997) notes that the process of narrative reconstruction is one of the five central elements of healing. She explicitly states, ‘this work of reconstruction actually transforms the traumatic memory, so that it can be integrated into the survivor’s life story.’ (Herman, 1997:175). She postulates three interrelated elements of this witnessing are the attribution of meaning to the event, the engagement with a supportive community, therapist, or close confidant, and finally the action that the victim takes following the atrocity. According to Herman’s hypothesis, ‘The traumatic event challenges an ordinary person to become a theologian, philosopher, and a jurist.’ (Herman 1997:178 cited in Hakimian 2009-06).”

“This is a particularly apt analogy for the participants in this research. The subject of their belief, their adherence to the Bahá’í faith, was continuously drawn upon as a source of reliance and thought. It could even become a life-like companion. The history of this faith, its founders, and its central teachings, underwent a sort of intense personalization for the women. They would speak to me as though, at the most intense moment of persecution, particularly important figures would intervene and powerfully reinforce both their emotional and physical strength. Janet Khan looks to theories of the psychiatrist, Abdu’l Missagh Ghadirian, which echo this idea Hakimian 2009-06).”

Janet Khan explained,

‘While there is a tendency in the West to equate suffering and martyrdom with defeat and failure, psychiatrist Abdu’l Missagh Ghadirian suggests that they might alternatively be characterized as “the victory of the soul”. He calls attention to the fact that a person’s faith in God is a dynamic force rather than a static state of mind. He states, “As a one’s faith grows, so will one’s ability to endure trials and tribulations that test one’s sincerity and love of the divine reality’ (Khan 2005:248 cited in Hakimian 2009-06).”

“Thus, it was a combination of the women’s beliefs and individual effort and action in securing mental strength which enabled them to persevere in prison and during interrogation and torture. Herman (1997) also points to the simultaneous private and public dimensions of remembering. ‘Testimony has both a private dimension, which is confessional and spiritual, and a public aspect, which is political and judicial.’ (Herman, 1997, p. 181). What the medium of memoir offers is the synthesis of the public and private dimensions of the trauma, which results in both a literary and judicial commentary on the event Hakimian 2009-06).”

“Both the memoirs and the interviews serve as important sources of data. Buss (2002) comments on the genre of memoir: ‘Concerned with the self as living in, and as a product, of its communities, it is a facilitating form for the reenactment of personal and collective trauma, the witnessing to its reality and the process of its healing.’ (Buss, 2002, p. 138). Likewise the narratives the women have provided should be valued as a political testimony, attesting to their inventiveness and resilience during their imprisonment. The narratives told and retold in both memoir and interview form to provide a unique insight into the ways Bahá’í women dealt with the experiences of imprisonment in Iran Hakimian 2009-06).”

“Central to the theory of post-traumatic growth is the fact that thriving exists simultaneously with suffering and the negative impacts that trauma produces. This suffering can often continue until a positive space is created, in which the trauma is fundamentally addressed and given meaning. A primary example of a negative impact of trauma is a loss of meaning in life, and heightened levels of stress. Therefore, the initial concern of those close to the traumatized individual is to create a safe and healthy environment to facilitate the processing of events (Herman, 1997, p. 53). Herman describes these responses to trauma:

‘To the chronically traumatized person, any action has potentially dire consequences. There is no room for mistakes. Rosencof describes his constant expectation of punishment, “I’m in a perpetual cringe. I’m constantly stopping to let whoever is behind me pass: my body keeps expecting a blow’ (Herman 1997:91 cited in Hakimian 2009-06).”

This reality must be remembered when assessing the impacts political systems have upon individual lives.

“By the end of the twentieth century, a large body of literature had emerged exploring the theory and practice of non-violent resistance to
oppression. This literature was derived from the writings and actions of influential figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, the movements they led and inspired, and the deeper ethical and spiritual traditions from which they drew their inspiration. Against the backdrop of these dramatic twentieth-century struggles, the Baha´’ı´ community in Iran was pursuing a distinctively non-adversarial response to violent oppression that has received comparatively little attention—despite being ‘‘one of the few documented cases of a minority that has managed to resist peacefully’’ a sustained and systematic campaign of genocidal intent (Karlberg 2010-04.” )

Karlberg, Michael. 2010-04. “Constructive Resilience: The Baha´’ı´ Response to Oppression.” Peace and Change. 35:2. Peace History Society and Peace and Justice Studies Association.

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Frankel, V. (2000) Man’s Searching for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press.

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Morland, L., Butler, L., and Leskin, G. (2008). ‘Resilience and Thriving in a Time of Terrorism’. In Joseph, S. and Linley, P. (eds). Trauma, Recovery, and Growth.. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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Wako, S. (1985). Question of the Violation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in any part of the World, with Particular Reference to Colonial and (their dependant) countries and territories: E/CN.4/1985/17. New York: United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Hakimian, Donna. 2010-03-04. “Resistance, Resilience and the Role of Narrative: Lessons from the Experiences of Iranian Bahá’í Women Prisoners.” Hakimian, Donna. 2009-06. “The Value of Retelling: Survival and Resistance Through Words.” “Resistance, Resilience and the Role of Narrative: Lessons from the Experiences of Iranian Bahá’í Women Prisoners.” Enquire. Issue 3. Women and Gender Studies. Institute University of Toronto. Hakimian 2009-06)

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