The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


-----Original Message-----
From: Juan R. I. Cole <>
Cc: <>;
Date: Tuesday, February 03, 1998 8:23 PM
Subject: Re: Khomeinism and phenomenology

Dear [X]:

The vast majority of Iranian Baha'is do not experience discrimination
in the form of physical violence.  They experience it in the form of
being shunned by their wider society, and from facing disabilities
that come from being shunned.  I can't tell you how many Iranian
Baha'is have bitterly and at length complained to me, sometimes with
tears in their eyes, about the >social discrimination they faced in
Iran.  People wouldn't invite them over to dinner, or if they did they
considered the Baha'i guest ritually polluted and would break the
plates they ate on after they left.  I always listened to such stories
of shunning and discrimination with a great deal of sympathy, and they
continue to pull at my heart strings.  People should not be shunned
for their beliefs.  Nowadays, things are even worse.  Iranian Baha'is
may not attend university.

However, I was threatened with being shunned by the Baha'is for my
beliefs, and some of my old friends in the community now shun me, and
don't invite me over to dinner, or even answer my email greetings.
And no doubt some of them would break their plates if I ate off them.
Of course, it would be much worse if I had actually been declared a CB
instead of only being accused of "making statements contrary to the
covenant."  I would have
become a non-person to a lifetime of friends and family.  A Baha'i
intellectual who was declared a CB would not be welcome to use Baha'i
libraries or archives or to benefit from Baha'i educational
activities, in
exactly the same way as the Iranian Baha'is are excluded from Shi`ite

Moreover, to suggest that the existential hell that a believer is put
through by being "dropped from the rolls" or being accused of
contravening the covenant is trivial is to take a cruel and
instrumental view of human suffering.  The Baha'i authorities are not
welcome to treat human beings as though they are chess pieces, and as
though they have no rights.  And I predict to you that if they go on
in the direction they are going, sooner or later they will land in
legal trouble.  Already the governmental authorities in Germany, who
have a special sensitivity to fascism, have their eye on the
Baha'i faith as an organization that might be being run like a cult. 

To the extent that the Baha'i authorities (we are talking about Firuz
Kazemzadeh,Robert Henderson, Douglas Martin, Farzam Arbab and Ian
Semple among others)actually do run the religion like a cult, they
will increase the surveillance of their activities by civil
libertarians and the civil authorities in charge of protecting civil
liberties in the free world. Already last fall, plans were made to
send a German Counselor across the border to a neighboring country to
silence a Baha'i living there.  Don't the Baha'i authorities have the
slightest idea of what that would look like if it got into the
European press?

Anyway, I don't actually see the slightest difference between the way
Baha'is treat those they think should be shunned for their ideas and
the way some Shi`ites shun the Iranian Baha'is.  Nor do I see much
difference in the authoritarian style of the chief Shi`ite authorities
and that of the so-called universal house of justice and its
counselors.  The only difference is that the Baha'is don't yet have
control of the apparatus of a state, and so can't jail dissidents.
Whether they would execute them if they could remains to be seen.

cheers Juan