The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


For Dr. Linda Walbridge, a prominent anthropologist of Islam, an authority on Shi`ite Islam, and former associate director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, also see the following links

"Critics chafe at Baha'i conservatism" By IRA RIFKIN
February 27, 1997, Religion News Service Obituary 2002 by Juan Cole

Juan Cole - Menu

From: <>
Subject: Re: Baha'i Schools of Thought
Date: Tuesday, February 16, 1999 1:03 AM

Dear Roger:
You are perfectly correct that the house of justice decided as far back as
1995 that it was simply impractical to attempt to control what email lists
*exist*. After the very bad publicity the faith received when trb was voted
down the first time (the 'no' votes came in some instances from National
Spiritual Assemblies!), the house of justice took the stance that Baha'i
institutions should not interfere directly in the establishment of discussion
However, they shifted their strategy from attempting to control the *medium*
(as they do when they demand that print literature be subjected to
prepublication censorship) to attempting to control the *posters*.  You don't
hear so much about it because even the victims hush it up, but dozens of
Baha'is have been pulled aside by ABMs and cautioned for their email
messages, and several prominent Baha'i intellectuals have received such
horrible threats from Haifa that they have either fallen silent in public
cyberspace or have left the faith with broken hearts.  In one instance, a
*couple* was targeted and threatened, in part because they were the
listowners and attacking them behind the scenes was a deniable way to close
down the list.	The Baha'i faith is a very small community with relatively
few members who are highly educated in the humanities and the social
sciences, fields that tend to produce thinkers of a non-fundamentalist bent. 
These Baha'is, who speak too plainly, are targeted and silenced with threats
of shunning.  It is therefore possible to intervene surgically to affect the
tone and substance of Baha'i cyberspace, opening up spaces like SRB purely
for more fundamentalist comment, and ensuring that although TRB exists, no
Baha'i intellectual in good standing dares consistently post publicly here in
a liberal vein.
As I have said before, however, I think that the bad publicity the Baha'i
officials have received as a result of this strategy (which they apparently
initially thought could be kept relatively quiet) may have caused them to
back off.  After all, nothing is now easier than to spread widely on the Net
news of religious persecution, and no one who is Wired thinks well of a
religious leadership that persecutes over email messages.  I am not aware of
anyone having been threatened or punished for their email for about a year
now, and none of the earlier threats appears to have been followed through
on, though the very act of making them broke a number of hearts and destroyed
the faith of among the foremost Baha'i thinkers of this generation, including
Linda Walbridge.
cheers    Juan

In article <>, wrote:
> On Mon, 15 Feb 1999 04:47:37 GMT, wrote:
> >
> >The UHJ and its agents have attempted since 1996 to erect dogmas to which it
> >demands assent, to control the discourse of Baha'is in cyberspace by behind
> >the scenes nasty letters and phone calls and threats, and have attempted to
> >make the beautiful, tolerant and universalist Baha'i religion into a narrow,
> >dogmatic and intolerant sect.
> I don't agree with your contention that the House is trying "to
> control the discourse of Baha'is in cyberspace."  Two years ago, I
> wrote to the House asking for some guidance about the 2nd election for
> t.r.b.  Contained in their response to me (dated Oct. 14, 1997) was
> this paragraph:
> "In general, the House of Justice has no objection to Baha'is'
> participating in public, unmoderated discussions about the Faith,
> whether those discussions take place in person or through some form of
> electronic communication.  The wisdom of participating in particular
> discussions, must, of necessity, depend upon circumstances prevailing
> at the time.  When, through such discussions, the Faith is attacked or
> erroneous information about it is disseminated, it may become
> necessary for individual Baha'is to actively defend it.  In some
> circumstances, however, to avoid participating in argumentative
> exchanges, attracting attention to enemies of the Faith, or engaging
> Covenant-breakers, it will be more appropriate to withdraw from the
> discussion.  While the institutions of the Faith may, on occasion,
> find it necessary to offer the friends guidance related to their
> participation in particular discussions, generally this, too, is a
> matter left to the individual."
> The first sentence is key here:  "In general, the House of Justice has
> no objection to Baha'is participating in public, unmoderated
> discussions about the Faith, whether those discussions take place in
> person or through some form of electronic communication."  If the
> House had thought that participating in open newsgroups like a.r.b and
> t.r.b was a bad idea for Baha'is, it could have instructed us not to
> participate.  It did not.
> Roger (
Juan Cole
History, U of Michigan
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