The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


From: Juan R. I. Cole <>
To: <>
Subject: criticism and attacks
Date: Tuesday, February 10, 1998 12:16 AM

Alas, Susan is falling into the typical stance of the Baha'i Right.  First
of all, any criticism of any policy of any Baha'i institution is branded a
scurrilous "attack" and "slander" and so forth.  It is ruled out of court
that these institutions might ever be naughty and in need of being
criticized so that they can improve their performance.  There is a
difference between "attacks and slander" and criticism.  And this difference
is what makes liberty possible, what makes it possible for human beings to
be more than slaves to their rulers, whether civil or ecclesiastical.

For instance, if I say, "X is ugly and smells bad," that is an attack.  If I
say, "Bob Henderson falsely accused the editors of Dialogue magazine of
"negative campaigning" and Firuz Kazemzadeh violated their rights to privacy
by reading their private correspondence out on the floor of the National
Convention," then that is not an "attack."  It is a criticism.  They
certainly  performed the actions indicated, and these actions certainly rode
roughshod over the rights of the editors.  That doesn't mean they are
unredeemable.  It means they overstepped their authority and acted badly.
My point in making the criticism is to attempt to persuade them to stop
acting like that, not merely to have the satisfaction of condemning them.

And if I say that when the editors appealed to the universal house of
justice, the latter body, instead of making a fair and equitable decision,
sided in a knee-jerk fashion with Kazemzadeh and Henderson and unjustly
punished the editors for a crime it was never proven they committed, then
that is also a criticism of the uhj, not an attack.  An attack on the uhj
would take the form of saying, e.g., "the Baha'i universal house of justice
always does evil things and one hopes it will be abolished."  But the
universal house of justice has done many wonderful things.  At the height of
the Reagan cold war, its members courageously issued the beautiful Peace
Statement.  The uhj has promoted community development in the 3rd world.  It
cooperated in the campaign, which Firuz Kazemzadeh spearheaded, finally to
pass the anti-Genocide bill in the U.S. Congress.  So it has done many
positive things, and hundreds of thousands if not millions of people look to
its members for spiritual guidance.  I think it generally does an ok job at
leading the religion.  But it really did egregiously wrong the Dialogue
editors, and it has a history of having some kind of hang-up with Western
Baha'i intellectuals, and its members obviously really dislike open
discourse, especially liberal Baha'i discourse.  So I think there is a blind
spot here, an area of performance that needs working on.  And I think public
criticism is the best way to work on the blind spots, and this is something
`Abdul-Baha implicitly endorses in the Secret of Divine Civilization when
he says that the whole point of having elected officials is that they might
be deterred by the threat of being unelected from acting unjustly.  When
elected officials declare themselves infallible in all their doings and
above criticism, and try to make criticism impossible, they remove that
bulwark against tyranny that `Abdul-Baha thought so crucial.

So if all that is an "attack" and makes me an "enemy," so be it.  I'm
already an "enemy" to most of the ayatollahs in Iran because I "attacked"
them over their treatment of the Iranian Baha'is.  "Attacking" (i.e.
criticizing) the ayatollahs is also frowned upon over there.  So I can be
the "enemy" of all religions, "attacking" tyranny, injustice, and the abuse
of basic human rights wherever any religious leadership commits those
things.  But I actually think those religions will be better off for having
been "attacked."

Susan's way, of personal love and devotion even to people who occasionally
act like tyrants toward others, is the way of medieval nuns toward the Pope.
That's fine if it works for her, and even admirable in a way.  But it is
also an acquiescence in slavery and an abdication of personal conscience and
autonomy.  It is not a way I would wish on the whole world; in fact, it is a
way that I would fight bitterly against if anyone attempted to impose it on
me.  Moreover, despite what she keeps implying, it is not the way of
Baha'u'llah, who rather had nasty things to say about tyrants.