A Zarathushtrian's Perspective
by Friyana Gordieh
"Often one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter."1 History shows us at times that certain clerical interpretations tend to justify unrest or violence in the name of religion or God. It is frequently disparity and isolationism that lead to ignorance causing political unrest and finally violence. The majority of the Zarathushtis come from regions that currently witness strife i.e. the Middle East, Pakistan, and India. Could we honestly serve as ambassadors and provide insight to this conflict? Zarathushtrianism provides us with a core, critical thinking. From this we can find new avenues for progress, especially in such times of contention.
To terrorize is to instill fear, make afraid or make tremble. Terrorism is the systematic violence committed by groups to intimidate a population or government into granting demands.7 The September 11 series of attacks certainly qualifies as acts of terrorism.
In more recent history, killing innocent people in war has been less acceptable as compared to earlier history where the innocent were targets. Many Americans seeking justice have argued that violence, as a response, is not the answer. More innocent lives lost will not solve anything. For example in response to terrorism in 1993, the president noted that military action should not be an automatic response. Perpetrators should be brought to justice by means of law enforcement, economic sanctions or by other legal measures before resorting to military action.1 However after September 11, the US felt the need for military action to protect its people from future threats.
Disparity and isolationism fuel unrest
Such organized acts of violence can be caused by unrest fueled from disparity-social, economic and political, isolationism and ignorance. In the 20th century social and economic disparity was marked 80 to 1, in favor of the West. Today it is 300 or 400 to 1. This perpetuates poverty and suffering for which ultimately our global society is responsible.5 We can begin to alleviate suffering within our own borders as charity begins at home. Beyond monetary donations, this includes teaching or mentoring, listening or serving in any way, a broadened definition of charity. Charity has been part of the Zarathushti community’s glorious history, but in more recent times we only observe exceptional individuals.
Another potential prerequisite of terrorism is isolationism. The US is rather insular at times, partly attributed to putting our national goals over global needs. While this is necessary and does not discount the large donations that the US has contributed worldwide, on a daily basis we rarely focus outside our own borders. CNN covers World News in 1 minute, yet focuses on the US's involvement overseas and has limited coverage of other important global issues. To better ourselves as a nation and neighbor, we need to take a more objective and critical look at the credence we give to foreign events. Only recently have we begun to understand how Americans are viewed overseas.
Misconceptions become perceived reality
Having the opportunity to travel outside the US has been better than any education. We take for granted most of what we have, since we do not truly know any other way. Leaving our borders brings about a better understanding of our own culture, country, and values. In addition, we gain a glimpse at another culture or country. In our own neighborhoods, we seldom understand the other cultures around us.
From my experience abroad, many countries perceive the U.S. as rich, morally loose or hypocritical, and power hungry. This is not difficult to fathom, when seeing the US from the other country’s perspective. We do not realize that our exports in thoughts, ideas, media and consumerism convey a distinct message about our values and culture.
What we export to other countries are TV shows such as the Bold and the Beautiful, Melrose Place, and Bay Watch, cigarettes, consumer icons like sneakers, alcohol and infant formula. This leads many to believe that this is our general lifestyle. In fact, if we examine the picture portrayed overseas, it may not be unrealistic for other countries to have the beliefs they do about the US. In the same manner, recent media confirms that we too have a limited view of life and culture in the Middle East. In fact few of us even understand what a life of poverty is like within our own borders.
Ignorance begins in our own backyard. Varied forms of terror are not new to the inner-city, to battered women, or to those who work for the child protection agencies or women’s health clinics. They deal with racism, abuse, threats, bombs, and death on a routine basis. Overseas there is continued bloodshed in Northern Ireland, the Gaza strip, Kashmir, and Sierra Leone just to name a few places. For many people this is not an uncommon existence, but this was not our existence. After September 11, fear hit not just some of us, but all of us.6 Our knowledge about the ways and values of other cultures is incomplete and consequently over time such misconceptions become a perceived reality.
What Zarathushtrianism has to offer
Yet, what can we learn from this as Zarathushtis and what can we offer to such a situation? The Dalai Lama recounts that history has shown that Zarathushtis adapt well. Moving to India, they acculturated to new territories deeply penetrated by Hinduism and Buddhism. Our traditions were obliged to adopt new vocabulary and ideas. This is very common as no species can place themselves outside the world.5 In the same way, other religions have incorporated Zarathushti tenets. "The importance of Zarathushtrianism lies not in the number of those who profess it, but rather in the influence it has exercised on other religions." 2
Evil is not in one’s nature, but a choice
In other religions, evil is evil by its very nature. This is fundamentally different in Zarathushtrianism where evil is not created, but rather a choice. We are tasked by Zarathushtra to discriminate between Good and Evil (Yasna 30.3) after all, we have free will to choose. 2
[Zarathushtra teaches us that we are continually confronted with choices. We learn from successes and failures by either advancing the truth, or retarding it, depending on our decisions. "Even failing to choose, is a choice. We should listen to what others have to say, reflect with a clear mind on the matter, and make an independent judgment – each person for him/herself." It is through our decision making of both good and the bad that helps us to evolve and become enlightened as individuals (Yasna 30.2)].
"Zarathushtra’s teaching is founded on individual choice, individual judgment, and individual responsibility. He also teaches that none of us can make it completely on our own. Each of us, to make it, must both give and receive help."4
Use your good mind to follow righteousness
Zarathushtrianism’s very foundation is that of Vohu Mana or using our Good Mind to follow the path of Asha or Righteousness. We should exercise that right by informing ourselves. Mary Boyce notes that Zarathushtis "seek by the best purpose, vahishta manah" (Yasna 31) 3. Additionally, in "actions and teachings, one may exercise one's convictions at one's free-will; then lift up your voice the false speaker or the true speaker, he that knows or he that knows not, (each) according to his own heart and mind." While Zarathushtra leaves us no exact prescription, we are taught that our best weapons are our minds. Critical thinking is our root to good thoughts, words, and good deeds. Thus Zarathushtra teaches us that learning from our series of good and bad choices aids our progress.
We learn from our religion that we can choose on our own to:
I leave you with these last two thoughts, "freedom bestowed on humanity by God is an awesome thing, and its misuse only leads to eternal woe (Yasna 43.5)."2 As a nonagenarian friend always reminds me, lead by example.
1 The Terrorism Research Center. http://www.terrorism.com/analysis/index.shtml. 12/04/02.
2 Zaehner, R.C. Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions. Barnes and Nobles Books. September 1997.
3 AVESTA: YASNA - Ahunavaiti Gatha http://www.avesta.org/yasna/y28to34b.htm. 01/27/02.
4 McIntyre, Dina G. For Love of Wisdom. http://www.vohuman.org/Articles/For Love of Wisdom.htm. 1/30/02.
5 Dalai Lama and Carriere, Jean-Claude. Violence and Compassion. March 2001.
6 Gillespie, Marcia. Turning Point. www.msmagazine.com/dec01/edspage.html.1/30/02.
7 Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Productions, Inc. Massachusetts, 1984.
This page was last updated on Friday, March 15, 2002.