The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: Juan Cole <>
Subject: Re: Members of the Universal House of Justice
Date: Wednesday, June 30, 1999 2:33 AM

I think it is certainly true that a number of the members of the
Universal House of Justice are wonderful, spiritual people.  Some of
them have pioneered under difficult circumstances, as Hushmand Fatheazam
did in India or Ali Nakhjavani did in Kenya.  And for the most part they
have admirable values.  Look, at the height of the Cold War, when
literally tens of thousands of missiles were aimed by each side at the
other, at the power and simplicity of their Message on World Peace
(1985).  In recent times they have been encouraging community
development, and support a number of crafts-training centers in India
with a distinctly Gandhian overtone.  They stand for world peace, for
conciliation, for tolerance among the religions, for more rights for
women than are common in many societies in the world.  I don't know most
of them as people, and I doubt they got to be where they are by being
unnoticed humble wall flowers, but I'm sure in their own ways most are
decent human beings.
But when it comes to a handful of key issues, they have become
unreasonable and rigid in a way that is harming the entire Baha'i
community.  They have decided that academic scholarship undertaken on
the Baha'i faith by Baha'i academics is a form of covenant breaking,
which just makes them look utterly ridiculous.  What, are we to replay
Galileo here?  They have decided that the Baha'i faith does not after
all stand for the unity of science and religion, but only for scriptural
inerrancy.  Do they think they are Jerry Falwell?  They not only don't
want to let women serve on the House of Justice, but they don't want to
let any Baha'i so much as speculate about whether they ever will.  Is
this Communist China?  They seem to be saying that they think that
Baha'is have no human rights with regard to their own institutions,
something that would have shocked and saddened `Abdul-Baha.  I guess I
can repeat the last question.
And they have been *mean* to some Baha'is, because they are quite
frankly prejudiced against thinking people.  Look what they did to
Michael McKenny.  They summarily expelled him from the Faith. It was
*barbaric* in its lack of due process.  This is an anti-intellectualism
as ferocious as any we have seen in modern history, and truly
frightening.  And yes, anti-intellectualism is a Prejudice.  It is a way
of prejudging people.  Those writers, they are prideful; won't be
controlled by their betters.
And, moreover, they have so arranged things that there is not so subtle
electioneering going on, such that counselors at the International
Teaching Centre have a real hope of being elected to the House of
Justice.  But the House of Justice *appoints* the counselors to the ITC.
 So it is a nice little circle, with all sorts of potential for abuse.
Note, moreover, that they tend to appoint very conservative whites and
Persians.  Everyone keeps boasting about the big Indian Baha'i
community, but no *Indian* has been elected to the UHJ or even appointed
to the ITC, which is the most  likely route to election to the UHJ
nowadays.  Likewise, no African.  No Latin American.  No East Asian.
The members are all either ethnic Iranians or British Commonwealth, with
the exception of one American.  And, of course, they are all *men.*
If the members of the UHJ were as humble and nice as is being suggested,
they could fix the current problems.  They could say that they don't
much care for academic scholarship, but if Baha'is want to pursue it,
that is their business.  They could apologize for what they did to
people like Linda Walbridge and Steve Scholl and David Langness in 1996
over quite innocent email messages posted to Talisman I.  They could say
that they can't see a way to legislate women on to the House of Justice,
but that the future is unknown and open to further legislative rulings
by their successors, and Baha'is are free to speculate as long as they
don't have fistfights over it.  They could abolish Literature Review
(prepublication censorship), which in any case has become a dead letter
in the age of cyberspace.
Instead, they write truly awful letters like the one dated April 7,
1999.  And I'm sorry, but no dispassionate observer could read that
letter and think to himself, "these seem to be nice people."  On the
other hand, its just a letter.  They can write other, better letters in
the future.  Maybe they will.
cheers    Juan

Juan Cole, History, U of Michigan
Buy *Modernity & Millennium: Genesis of Baha'i*
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