The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


From:  "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Sun Feb 16, 2003  2:30 pm
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] Re: Horselovers observation's,

Peter Khan and Martin Douglas kept promising the Baha'is that if only they
took away their children's toy money and kept meeting in their living rooms
instead of buying local Baha'i centers--and sent the money instead to Haifa
for building the Arc, then world peace would suddenly arrive and the Baha'i
faith would emerge from obscurity.

I will let the talismanians decide whether the $300 million invested in
wood panelled offices for Khan and Martin have actually contributed to the
outbreak of world peace. I doubt it could be shown that the Baha'i faith,
which has lost loads of LSAs in the past decade in the West, is any less
obscure than it was before our children had to start playing with hubcaps
and sharp sticks.

And, of course, anyone who objected to the boatloads of money being carted
off to Haifa and the starvation of local communities of needed funds for
essential activities, was branded "prideful" and "seeking leadership" and
contravening "the new culture." The new culture, however, looks a lot like
medieval Roman Catholicism or Shiite Islam. The Princes of the Church,
ensconced in marble palaces, give the orders, and smear anyone who doesn't
kowtow to them.

cheers Juan

From:  "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Tue Feb 18, 2003  2:24 pm
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] The Self

The Encyclopedia of Islam entry on "nafs" or self has the following
comments about the Koran's uses of the term:

"I. The Qur'anic uses.

A. Nafs and its plurals anfus and nufus have five uses:

1. In most cases they mean the human self or person, e.g. III, 54: "Let us
call ... ourselves and
yourselves"; also XII, 54; LI, 20, 21. 

2. In six verses nafs refers to Allah: V, 116b, "Thou [Allah] dost know
what is in myself [says [Jesus]], but I do not know what is in Thyself
(nafsika)"; also III, 27, 28; VI, 12, 54
and XX, 43. 

3. One reference, XXV, 4 (cf. XIII, 17), is to gods: "They [aliha] do not
possess for
themselves (anfusihim) any harm or benefit at all!" 

4. in VI, 130 the plural is used twice to refer to the
company of men and jinn: "We have witnessed against ourselves (anfusina)". 

5. It means the human soul:
VI, 93: "While the angels stretch forth their hands [saying,]. Send forth
your souls (anfus)"; also L, 15;
LXIV, 16; LXXIX, 40, etc. This soul has three characteristics: 

a. It is ammara bi 'l su'", commanding to evil
(XII, 53). Like the Hebrew nefesh, the basic idea is "the physical
appetite", in Pauline usage psyche, and in
the English New Testament "flesh". It whispers (L, 15), and is associated
with al-hawa, which, in the
sense of "desire", is always evil. It must be restrained (LIXXIX, 40) and
made patient (XVIII, 27) and its
greed must be feared (LIX, 9b). 

b. The nafs is lawwama, i.e. it upbraids (LXXV, 2); the souls (anfus) of
deserters are straitened (IX, 119). 

c. The soul is addressed as mutma'inna, tranquil (LXXXIX, 27). These
three terms form the basis of much of the later Muslim ethics and
psychology. It is noteworthy that nafs is
not used in connection with the angels.

(E.E. Calverley)
(I.R. Netton)

Extract from the Encyclopaedia of Islam CD-ROM Edition v. 1.0
© 1999
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands"

All of these five uses of "self" are present in the Baha'i writings as
well. The "self" that is condemned is 5 a., the self that commands to
evil, or nafs wa hawa, self and passion--which the authors identify with
the Hebrew nefesh of the Bible.

The idea that "self" in the sense of taking an ethical stand based on
sincere conscience would ever be bad would be laughed at both by the Koran
and by the Baha'i holy figures. `Abdul-Baha consistently praises
conscience (vujdan, damir) and goes so far as to say that the Baha'i
institutions have no right to impose sanctions on persons for politely
expressing their conscientiously held views. Sanctions can only be imposed
for behavior, such as having an adulterous affair, etc.

`Abdul-Baha's careful distinctions in this regard are, of course, ignored
by the power-hungry leaders now in power, who actually secretly do not like
`Abdul-Baha very much because they see him as too liberal.

cheers Juan

From:  "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Thu Feb 20, 2003  6:52 pm
Subject:  "new culture"

We've been having a discussion on another list of the House of Justice's
recent letter calling for a "new culture." This just seems to me warmed
over Maoism. They say they are egalitarian and against local leaders
emerging in a 'traditional' way. This sounds good because who likes
leaders? But what is not said is that this is an easy way of getting rid
of anyone you don't like in the local community. Thus, someone like
Alison, who dares to post email messages, can be accused of 'seeking
leadership' in the 'old' way and so said to be doing something wrong. 

And, of course, the people really seeking leadership are the Auxiliary
Board Members and Counselors clawing their way up to Haifa, who don't want
any competitors for their authority. And they are the members of the
elected institutions, who mostly like being reelected every year and enjoy
it better when there are no competitors and when local communities are
obedient because they lack local leaders. Dictators like Mao and Saddam
also pretend that they are against "traditional" ways of doing things that
throw up local "leaders," who are evil. But it turns out that this sort of
rhetoric usually is just a prop for a one-party state and totalitarian

cheers Juan

Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2003 23:52:35 -0500
Subject: FW: A Change of Culture

From: "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...>
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2003 01:57:02 -0500
Subject: Re: A Change of Culture

One really cannot speak of Shoghi Effendi's ideas on administration being
implemented in the US under Horace Holley. The US NSA very frequently
ignored Shoghi Effendi's advice. Indeed, they were so embarrassed by this
behavior that to this day they have never published much of his
correspondence with them. It would make the disjuncture too painfully
apparent. One really has to speak of a Holley style of administration in
1924-1957. Note that long-serving NSA member Alfred Lunt strongly opposed
the idea of having a full-time secretary of the NSA; I have a sense that
Holley needed the job at that point. Holley won.

With regard to the impact on Baha'i numbers of the Holley approach to
administration in the US, I doubt there is any evidence of a decline in the
number of committed Baha'is in the early 1920s in the US. But I suspect
that the Holley approach to administration in the US, which was far more
controlling than anything Shoghi Effendi recommended, represented a
long-term *opportunity* cost.

Old-time Baha'is remember Holley trying to pick their friends for them and
interfering in private affairs. Holley threw a fit over the establishment
of George Ronald as a private Baha'i press, which he did not think should
be allowed. Shoghi Effendi sent GR a personal contribution. It is clear
from the Remey letters that he dared not so much as do travel teaching in
the US without Holley's explicit permission.

A less authoritarian approach than Holley's would almost certainly have
resulted in far greater growth than was achieved in the US. Basically, one
started in 1920 with about 1800 and ended in 1960 with about 8000 Baha'is
on the rolls. It is only about a net increase of 150 per year in that
period, which is nothing to write home about.

When Holley was called to Haifa in 1960 you had a series of moderate to
liberal NSA secretaries--Wolcott, Ruhe, early Mitchell, 1960-1978, and
voila, the community grew from that 8,000 or so to around 48,000 (if one
excludes mail returns, etc.).

On the other hand, with more authoritarian and controlling policies of the
1980s through the present, growth slowed to almost nothing in the US if one
excludes the influx of Iranian immigrants. That is, the period of the
greatest crackdowns on individual initiative coincides with the period of
greatest numerical stagnation in growth through conversion. In contrast,
the period of greatest intellectual freedom (especially under Ruhe and with
the influence of Dan Jordan) saw the ANISA project, the reestablishment of
World Order, and Mitchell's own writings on race come to the fore, along
with a big expansion in numbers.

I *do* think that the Iranian National Spiritual Assembly's style of
administration caused a signficant decline in the number of Baha'is over
time. The Bahiyyih Khanum census of the early 1920s is said to have
returned a million Baha'is in Iran. I can only think that 4/5s of those
counted were actually what we would now call sympathizers. Even so, there
must have been 200,000 committed Baha'is in Iran at that point, at least.
By 1978 there were only about 90,000 registered Baha'is in Iran. So I
would guess that 1925-1978 the number of Iranian Baha'is was halved by the
institution of an authoritarian form of administration, and the great
triumphs of `Abdul-Baha in attracting a million Iranians to the faith in
one way or another was squandered.

Since the "new culture" began being promoted in the late 1980s, growth of
the Baha'i faith worldwide has ground to a halt. In circa 1987-1996 fewer
declaration cards were signed worldwide than the number of persons who died
or withdrew in that decade. The idea that this is a temporary period of
retrenchment similar to what allegedly occurred when Shoghi Effendi took
over depends on a misreading of history and most probably a misreading of
the present and the future, as well.

Authoritarianism combined with numerical growth is perfectly possible, as
the Mormons have demonstrated. But for some reason the Holley/Furutan
tradition of administrative overkill, now being repackaged as a "new
culture," seems to produce stagnation in numbers. It goes without saying
that both the Mormon and the fundamentalist Baha'i styles of
authoritarianism are deadly to a vibrant cultural life. For this reason,
the most interesting Baha'i thinking I've seen in recent years is not in
the Journal of Baha'i Studies but on the
discussion list.


Juan Cole
U of Michigan 

From:  "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Fri Feb 21, 2003  3:26 pm
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] Re: "new culture"

Tom, actually it is even more complicated.

You *can* march in peace marches, as Tom Cole. But you cannot identify
yourself as doing it on behalf of the Baha'i faith or its principles.

And, you are actually fairly free to express your political opinions, just
not to other Baha'is! There have been Baha'is in good standing who were
very politically active. Kazemzadeh used to write against the Soviet Union
for Freedom House. It is just that you have to separate out the two. 

Of course you cannot actually join a political party, or at least make it
known in the community. A friend of mine's wife was once almost
investigated by a couple of Auxiliary Board Members for being involved
tangentially in a Democratic Party fundraiser. Belonging to a political
party gets you *investigated*.

I personally think we Baha'is should just put our feet down about this
nonsense (which comes out of 1920s Iran when Reza Pahlavi was turning it
into a dictatorship, of which the Iranian Baha'is initially approved). 

Baha'u'llah, in contrast, denounced Ottoman and Qajar tyranny with
specifics and even upbraided European countries for anti-Semitism. He was
very political. He told the Shah he should give up absolute monarchy and
institute a parliament. That would be like telling Saddam today to give up
one-party rule!

Baha'is have become more and more weird and cultish, and look less and less
like Baha'u'llah's "new race of men." The only way to stop this march to
marginality and irrelevance is just to refuse to cooperate with it.

And, with regard to not being told what to think, boy are *we* in the wrong
religion. In 1996, the gang in Haifa actually sent this goombah
"counselor" Stephen Birkland to my house to interrogate me, write a report
on the deviations in my views (including theological ones), which I was
never allowed to see, and then threaten me with being declared a CB if I
didn't fall silent. All because I posted some messages to talisman-1. It
was like the Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons or some damn thing. If they
think they are going to succeed in telling American university professors
what they can and cannot say, boy do they have another think coming.

cheers Juan 

From:   "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Tue Mar 11, 2003  1:30 pm
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] number of bahais

Baha'i officials routinely lie about or distort Baha'i statistics, so it is
not possible to have an accurate count. For instance, the last Indian
census showed 5,000 persons claiming to be Baha'is in India, but the Baha'i
administration claims a million or two million. 

In part this discrepancy derives from "declaration fraud," in which
"teachers of the faith" distribute large numbers of membership cards to be
signed at public gatherings by people who have no idea what they are
signing and no intention of following up. Indians like to join things.

In part this discrepancy comes about because Indian Hindus do not think in
terms of belonging to a religion the way Protestant Americans do. Most
"converts" to the Baha'i faith in India are just Hindus willing to put
another guru or avatar on their mantle. I've seen Abdul-Baha's picture
next to that of Sai Baba and Krishna. So if the census taker asked them,
they would say they are Hindus, but if the Baha'is called a meeting they
might go to it (having gone to the Sai Baba meeting the previous evening).
Indians like to join things. 

Since the administration is largely authoritarian and corrupt, it pushes
the phony numbers, both in a bid to make the Baha'is happy about the growth
of their community and in a bid to convince the outside world that the
Baha'i administration is important.

So everyone will tell you that India is the largest Baha'i community in the
world, but maybe it isn't. Maybe the approximately 150,000 committed
Baha'is left in Iran or maybe the approximately 60,000 committed Baha'is in
the US are worth more than the fabled tens of thousands in India. 

Typically in the industrialized West, Baha'i administrations claim about
twice as many members as they actually have. In Latin America, Asia and
Africa they often claim ten times what they actually have, or even more.

I'd be surprised if there were actually more than about 1.5 million Baha'is
in the world.

The first UHJ is reported in The Baha'i World and consisted of 

Ali Nakhjavani (a former vegetable wholesaler in Iran and missionary in
Uganda who developed delusions of grandeur and closely held the keys to
Shoghi Effendi's papers)

Hushmand Fatheazam (a professor of Persian in India and member of the
Indian NSA)

Charles Wolcott (musical director of Disney in LA)

Amoz Gibson (African-American/ Native American educator and missionary in
the US Southwest)

Lutfu'llah Hakim - a physician from a Jewish Baha'i Iranian background

Ian Semple - a young British actor with Oxford MAs in French and German who
became more and more dotty as time went on

David Hofman - a British publisher who became more and more dotty as time
went on

Hugh Chance - An American; I once knew but cannot remember now his background

H. Borrah Kavelin - an American real estate investor of Russian Jewish

Several of these persons had dangerous theocratic dreams of ruling the
world with an iron fist and stamping out that pesky freedom of speech and
the press that infects democratic societies (even though Baha'u'llah and
Abdul-Baha praised this very freedom!)

You would never, ever, get a clear accounting of finances from any Baha'i
body, in part because the administration is corrupt and transparency would
quickly make this clear, and in part because of authoritarianism.
Knowledge of finances becomes power inside the community, which the
administrators hold close. All of this is especially true at the level of
the so-called universal house of justice.

cheers Juan Cole

From:   "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Thu Mar 13, 2003  2:19 pm
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] not more poems

There are virtually no Baha'is in Europe.

The UK claims 5,000 but the real number is 2500. There are a couple of
thousand in France and likewise in Germany. Less in Spain, I think.
Daniela can tell us the number in Italy, but I suspect the 2000 range is
true there, as well. A lot of countries, like Holland or Denmark, just
have a few hundred. So there is an NSA and so forth but it is really more
like a family reunion than a national community. The real situation in
Eastern Europe is likely to be similar, though via declaration fraud the
numbers may look larger in a place like Albania, where there was a supposed
influx a few years ago but then the community collapsed back to small numbers.

In short, I'd be surprised if you had more than about 20,000 of Baha'is in
all of Europe (which has a population of about 500 million). The science
fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who started a ridiculous religion in 1950,
probably has more followers in Europe (where Scientology is widely
disliked) than does the Baha'i faith.

The reasons for the small number of Baha'is in Europe are various, but I
personally believe that Europeans were sensitized to the dangers of
authoritarianism by Nazism and Communism, and do not like the
authoritarianism they perceive in the fundamentalist version of the Baha'i
faith proffered to them by hardline Baha'i missionaries. I think the US,
which has been democratic for over 200 years, is more fertile ground for
authoritarian movements because they remain largely "private" and do not
appear to threaten public liberties, which are taken for granted. That is,
in a free society some people want more structure. In Europe, where public
freedom has been imperilled more than once in the past 70 years, people are
more touchy about anything that sounds fascistic.

cheers Juan 

>I very much doubt that the bahai faith will grow substantially in
industrialzed countries over the next 5 to 10 years. I dont know how many
real bahais there are in europe (where i live) but assuming there are
300,000, it is most unlikely this figure will
>double in the next 20 to 30 years. I may be wrong of course and it wont be
the first time!

From:   "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Sat Mar 15, 2003  1:07 pm
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] Re: bahaullah picture

The photograph of Baha'u'llah under discussion was taken by the Ottoman
authorities for passport purposes, I think in connection with plans to
exile Baha'u'llah from Edirne (a nice little city) to Akka (then a
fortress-prison malaria-ridden dump). Baha'u'llah was not happy about
being manhandled by the Ottomans or about plans to get rid of him (which
was what the exile amounted to). Initially they even had planned not to
send his family and friends with him, so it would have been solitary

So, this is a picture of a prisoner of conscience glaring at his jailers.
In that sense it would be a wonderful poster for Amnesty International
(which everyone here should join and support). The Beloved of the World
was also a prisoner of conscience, punished merely for speaking and
thinking the "wrong" words, by the dictators of his day. I am infinitely
proud of that glower, that frown of supreme disapproval. It is a standing
condemnation of the tyranny of sultans and religious leaders who toy with
the conscience of human beings.

cheers Juan Cole


From:   "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Sun Mar 16, 2003  3:15 pm
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] Re: statistics

The money for grandiose building projects in Haifa (if that is what you
mean) mostly does not come from rank and file Baha'is, though many did make
sacrifices to give. The gardens and buildings are estimated to have cost
$300 mn. The US national budget in the 1990s was only on the order of $20
mn. per year, and about $3 mn. was sent to Haifa (a pretty heavy tax on a
small community of 60,000 or so). I very much doubt that India provided
any significant proportion of the total. The European communities are tiny
and could not possibly have come up with that sort of money, as you note. 

The bulk of the money came from petrodollars, contributed by very wealthy
Iranian expatriate Baha'is, who either had made their pile under the Shah
and managed to get their funds out in 1977-78, or who settled in the oil
countries of the Middle East and became wealthy there. Hozhabr Yazdani, a
billionnaire under the Shah and head of Bank Saderat, e.g., is said to have
contributed tens of millions. (This is sometimes denied, but when I was
living in the Middle East it was common knowledge among Baha'is there).
Yazdani's administrative rights were briefly removed in the 1980s because
he tried to buy an election in Costa Rica and take over that country, but
then his rights were restored (one would not want permantently to turn off
the gravy train). Baha'is in the Gulf also gave a very great deal.

The Baha'i faith is distorted by these petrodollars, just as Middle Eastern
countries are. Saddam can be a dictator because of his control of the oil
money. Ditto the Saudi royal family. The vast sums contributed by a small
Baha'i bourgeoisie have essentially bought the Universal House of Justice
and its policies. A lot of the authoritarianism and crackdowns on
intellectual activities in the West are pushed behind the scenes by wealthy
Iranian families who have an essentially Shiite Iranian outlook on
theology. If someone willing to give you $50 million wanted you to be a
fundamentalist, and all you had to do was stab some penniless California
graduate students in the back, could you easily resist that temptation?

(I hasten to add that most expatriate Iranian Baha'is are poor or middle
class and many of them are sweet open-minded people; it is a very wealthy
and very fascist-minded few of whom I am speaking).

See e.g.: :

"Over time, Bahais regained their influence, and although the ones
mentioned below exceeded the limits of mutual help, it is important to cite
them as examples of people's irritants. Ayadi was given exclusive rights
for Persian Gulf shrimp fishing, was a shareholder in numerous companies,
and used his position to help other Bahais.16 Another example is that of
Huzhabr Yazdani, who had started out as little more than a shepherd in
Sangsar. Allegedly through the use of coercion and protection from high in
the government, he achieved immense wealth and power. Allegedly, when he
was investigated by the Imperial Inspectorate Organization (IIO), its head,
Gen. Husayn Fardust, was told by Ayadi that he had intervened with the Shah
and Fardust should drop the issue."

Likewise, the recent flurry of letters from Baha'i authorities discouraging
Baha'is from joining even as individuals in anti-war protests are probably
sent in the interests of the wealthy Persian Baha'is. The policy of the
Baha'i administration has been since the civil rights movement that Baha'i
individuals are free to march in things like peace rallies as long as they
are legal and do not identify themselves as Baha'is; so this is a reversal. 

My educated guess is this: They calculate that if the war in Iraq goes
well, the Bushies might just target the ayatollahs in Iran next. If the
Iranian government were overthrown and the Americans imposed a US-style
regime there, perhaps putting Reza Shah II on the throne, the Iranian
Baha'i bourgeoisie is convinced it could get the ear of the new shah and
regain the favored position it held under Muhammad Reza Pahlevi in the
1960s and 1970s when Sabet, Yazdani, and Ayadi were among the wealthiest
men in the country. Thus, my guess is that the bankrollers of the corrupt
members of the Universal House of Justice do *not* want namby pamby
American Baha'is out in the streets peacefully protesting Bush's Iraq war.
They want that war, and they want the next one, on the ayatollahs in Iran.
They have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

cheers Juan

At 10:57 PM 3/15/03 -0000, you wrote:
>If there are so few Bahais, where does the money for building the 
>Temples come from? 

From:   "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Wed Mar 19, 2003  1:45 pm
Subject:  quashing of dissent

With regard to Baha'u'llah's and `Abdul-Baha's statements praising
parliamentary democracy and freedom of the press and freedom of speech,
please see my book, *Modernity and the Millennium*, which quotes most of
the relevant passages and puts them in context. (The book is in
inexpensive paperback and is also widely available in libraries).

Allegations by an ordinary rank and file Baha'i of financial corruption on
the NSA, no matter how well founded, would almost always result in the NSA
viciously attacking and smearing the individual, and moving to remove his
administrative rights quickly so as to isolate him from the rest of the
community. This happened in the early '90s, and a Baha'i travel agent
pointed out serious irregularities in the official travel packages offered
via the NSA's official travel agency (which later went bankrupt when
charged with massive fraud). The NSA immediately reported the individual
to the "universal house of justice" for 'backbiting' the NSA. The UHJ
replied that the individual's actions were 'outrageous.' And the NSA
members called up the man's Baha'i friends, interrogated them, and framed
him as having "libelled" the NSA in private conversation. They removed his
administrative rights and published the fact in the American Baha'i,
humiliating him (he was an Iranian-American). The individual's allegations
were very well founded; I have the documents in a file. I think he
eventually, after the passage of many years, got back his administrative
rights, in part because he send out information on his case to hundreds of
prominent Baha'is, much to the rage of the NSA.

Basically, the current interpretation of the "administrative order" by the
more cultist members of it is that it is a warrant for them to do anything
they please and to enrich themselves, and a basis on which any criticism of
anything they do can be squelched heavy-handedly. They do not use violence
to my knowledge, but short of that they will go to any lengths to smear and
marginalize any critic. The other members of the AO support them in all
this. It is an Old Boy system for the administrators. Baha'i loyalists
will defend all these proceedings, invoking strictures against
"backbiting." The world they want to erect is one in which Americans could
be put in jail for criticizing George W. Bush for his Texas-era business

cheers Juan

From:   "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Wed Apr 2, 2003  2:42 pm
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] Re: questions / for Bahá'í minded  people   

Actually, the questions about elections to the Universal House of Justice
and Peter Khan dovetail. The fact is that national communities like the US
and India are shortchanged, because little dinky Baha'i communities like
Guinea Bissau have as many votes for the UHJ as they do. Since
fundamentalist Baha'is are more likely to 'pioneer' or go abroad to do
missionary work, they predominate on the NSAs of Africa, Asia and Latin
America. They therefore increasingly have voted for fundamentalist
Counselors at the International Teaching Center in Haifa, who in turn are
appointed by their fundamentalist buddies on the House of Justice. The
entire system has now therefore become circular, ratcheting toward ever
more extreme fundamentalism--verging on cultism--and increasingly excluding
normal people. It used to be that the secretaries-general of the US, UK
and Indian communities had a shot at UHJ membership, but such *elected*
officials are now shunted aside by the appointed ones in an informal
'nomination' process for the UHJ.

There are two seats open on the UHJ this April, and I confidently predict
that they will go to fundamentalists on the International Teaching Center,
of the sort who came after talisman-1, Alison, and others with threats of
shunning and tactics of coercion. The fundamentalists are sort of like a
religious mafia, not using violence (for the most part) but using taboos,
whispering campaigns, summary expulsions, and threats of shunning to
control people. And that is the situation out of which Peter Khan got
elected to the UHJ; his election was a harbinger of very bad things to come.

Actually, the best way to fight this creeping Falwellization of the Baha'i
faith is to be active in posting on talisman9 and to contribute to the
recovering of the original Baha'i faith as preached by the Holy Figures, as
well as harmonizing it with contemporary society. Fundamentalism is
opposed to such a Baha'i culture, grounded in Baha'u'llah's actual
principles and in rational thinking about our world. It substitutes a set
of false and supposedly literalist understandings for the former, and
substitutes authoritarian ('soft fascist') techniques for the latter.
Baha'i fundamentalism is about blind obedience and surface religiosity, not
about the independent investigation of reality and true spirituality. The
UHJ is dominated by the former, talisman9 by the latter. And that, Warren,
is why Peter Khan is not such a good source of information about the real
Baha'i Faith.

cheers Juan


From:   "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Thu Apr 3, 2003  2:10 pm
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] Re: questions / for Bahá'í minded  people 

Dear Paul:

Yes, of course, why go to the trouble? The Faith of Baha'u'llah, for which
he sacrificed his liberty and suffered painful imprisonment and perilous
exile in delivering his beautiful spiritual message, has been hijacked by
narrow-minded little martinets who have perverted his teachings and attempt
to use his religion as a vehicle for their own aggrandizement. Tut tut.
These things happen. Let's just walk away. Doesn't matter anyway.

I should clarify that my experiment with Unitarian Universalism was short
lived. I was deeply hurt and bewildered in 1996 when it became clear that
the members of the House of Justice were trying to strong-arm me behind the
scenes by sending "counsellor" Stevie Birkland to harass me with late-night
phone-calls and sombre intimations that I was about to be declared a
covenant breaker. But I found that having become a Baha'i at 19, and
having spent thirty years with Baha'u'llah, he is my teacher. I had been
brainwashed by the fundamentalists into thinking I could only be a Baha'i
if I let them stab me in the back whenever they liked, so I left for a
while. But the brainwashing quickly wore off and I began to see how things
really were. Then I saw the cult-like things done to people like Alison,
the double-speak, the arbitrariness.

I have decided that the reason the Baha'i faith is in the horrible
condition it is in is because tyrants like Peter Khan have skilfully set
things up so that they cannot be criticized from within the community. If
anyone does criticize them, they arrange for him to be made taboo in some
way. And what Peter Khan would like you to believe is that he has won
definitively and for all time, and his warped vision of the Faith is
identical to the Faith and no one can do anything about it. He has buried
Baha'u'llah beneath a granite tomb of fundamentalism and now it is only
that tomb that can be worshipped.

But once the scales fall from one's eyes, it is obvious that *of course*
this Falwellization of the Baha'i Faith can be fought. All you have to do
is critique it publicly. Then the question is only how effective the
critique is. I have been trying to write academic sorts of critique that
have been published in peer-review journals and are on the Web as well. I
find that most Baha'is are injured by the heavy handed fundamentalism in
the community *but don't even know its name*! They don't realize that it
is fundamentalism that has injured them. They are confused. They often
blame themselves, or think it was an isolated incident. I can demonstrate
that it is not, that it is systematic. And once they see what is going on,
they often are able to recover their faith.

For instance, Baha'u'llah taught the separation of religion and state.
Peter Khan stands for using his religion to impose a dictatorial theocracy.
Some Baha'is have left the Faith when they have finally understood the
latter. But what about the former? Has Khan abrogated *Baha'u'llah*?

As for schism, well, of course fear of schism is one of the control
mechanisms of the fundamentalists. They can say, 'You may not disagree
with us or you have broken the unity of the Faith of God.' But the tables
could be turned; they are the true schismatics, after all, departing in
many essentials from Baha'u'llah's teachings. And we can query the
premise, that difference equals schism. In actual fact all religions
consist of varied subcultures (do you really think "Christians" in
Zimbabwe are like "Christians" in Toronto?). Religions are umbrellas over
diverse communities. Developing a true Baha'i subculture based on
*Baha'u'llah* is not a schism. It is simply a group of Baha'is (of
whatever administrative status) recovering their roots. Of course, Peter
Khan has denounced 'back to Baha'u'llah' because he doesn't actually care
for Baha'u'llah very much. 'Way too liberal for him.

As for Warren's points, many are well taken. But note that in the Aqdas
Baha'u'llah says of the Learned in Baha: 173 "Happy are ye, O ye the
learned ones in Bahá. By the Lord! Ye are the billows of the Most Mighty
Ocean, the stars of the firmament of Glory, the standards of triumph waving
betwixt earth and heaven. Ye are the manifestations of steadfastness amidst
men and the daysprings of Divine Utterance to all that dwell on earth. Well
is it with him that turneth unto you, and woe betide the froward."

The idea that he is here talking about some used car dealer magically
transformed into a "counselor" by mere appointment is absurd. He is
talking about Baha'is who have immersed themselves in the Baha'i scriptures
so as to recover Baha'u'llah's message. Baha'u'llah knew that the written
word is ambiguous, and that barriers of time and place and culture and
vocabulary interfere with understanding. The learned are the ones who
specialize in recovering as far as possible the original meaning.
Baha'u'llah is anti-clerical only in the sense of condemning the learned
who use their position to reinforce conventional, bigotted understandings
(i.e. do what the members of the House of Justice typically do). On
talisman9, we all try to become Learned in Baha.

As for your analogy of the ark and the Titanic, it is cute, but it is just
a figure of speech. The way I read the story of the ark, expert carpenters
constructed it. Anyway, a lot of counter examples could be given. Would
you rather fly in a jet (and risk your family's life in one) that had been
designed by high-powered, experienced engineers, or in one designed by high
school drop-outs?

By the way, I declare Peter Khan to be "froward."

cheers Juan

From:   "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Sun Apr 6, 2003  6:06 pm
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] RE: questions

There is nothing in Baha'i scripture that forbids a multi-party political
system or forbids individual Baha'is to belong to political parties.
Indeed, Baha'u'llah's endorsement of Britain's parliamentary system of
government shows that he approved of both things. And `Abdul-Baha's
insistence that Baha'is in liberal republics have a duty to be good
citizens implies not only that they should vote but also that they should
uphold the central institutions of civil society, including parties.
During `Abdul-Baha's lifetime, American Baha'is freely belonged to
political parties and Baha'is often held political office. 

So what you are talking about is not Baha'i principle. It is temporary

Religious leaders sometimes adopt extra-scriptural policies for particular
goals. The Roman Catholic Church forbade Italian Catholics from
participating in Italian politics in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Most Catholics just ignored them, and the Church eventually stopped being
so opposed to democracy (though its earlier opposition surely was wrought
up in some way with the rise of fascism). There is also nothing in the
Christian scriptures against multi-party democracy or participating in it.

The Baha'i scriptures are committed to multi-party democracy and to the
separation of religion and state. Only a weird, obviously phony
fundamentalist reading of these scriptures could produce a commitment to
dismantle democratic government and replace it by theocratic soviets.

P.S. You cannot belong to both the Republican and the Democratic parties
in the US, but it is true that "party discipline" is weak in the US. The
main punishment for voting too often against one's national party would be
being denied campaign contributions and fund-raising visits by the high
party leaders. When these are popular it matters; when they are not, it
does not. Democratic representatives often criticized President Clinton.
The fundamentalist Baha'i conviction that the odd way things are now done
in the Baha'i community, where no leader can be criticized and criticism
causes the member to be ostracized, comes from a lack of experience with
the real world and from looking at the world through authoritarian lenses.


Juan Cole

From:   Juan R Cole <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Mon Apr 7, 2003  3:05 am
Subject:  RE: [talisman9] questions

Dear Fred:

Shoghi Effendi changed `Abdul-Baha's policies radically, that's all. The
change is so drastic that most Baha'is can't even imagine what the Faith
was really like in the teens. `Abdul-Baha called on the Baha'is to elect
Baha'i members of the Iranian parliament (could that really be
accomplished with no relationship to the existing political parties?).
Baha'is like Ali Kuli Khan served on the Regency Council of the child king
Ahmad Shah. Baha'is in the US were members of the Republican and other
parties. Some were socialists. This was never forbidden by `Abdul-Baha
to my knowledge. He did get nervous about Baha'is becoming involved in
*radical* politics, but that is a different matter.

Shoghi Effendi in the 1920s seems to have absorbed the distaste for
democracy that was common in the British upper crust at places like
Oxford. He talked about the "prevailing weakness" of the democratic
system. He ordered Iranian Baha'is to avoid the "foul stench" of the
parties of the West. He just really disliked democracy as far as I can
tell. Although he condemned Hitler for racism and hyper-nationalism, he
even seems to have admired the National Socialists' emphasis on one-party
rejuvenation of Germany; he seems to have been actually happy about the
Anschluss when Hitler annexed Austria. Unification of German speakers and
all that. I mean, it is quite appalling, but if you look at what Arnold
Toybee and other upper crust British were saying in the 1930s it was often
quite similar.

I don't question that Shoghi Effendi had the prerogative of making policy
on these matters during his ministry, though I disagree with the choices
he made. But where his policies contradicted Baha'i scripture, they have
to be seen as temporary and as pertaining to his lifetime. In a
post-Guardian world what we've got left is Baha'u'llah's writings and
`Abdul-Baha's interpretations and example, and we now have to go back to
that. The 20th century was horrible, but it is over. It is time to open
the Baha'i faith back out and to become normal people with a real impact
on a real world. The good Lord knows it needs that.

cheers Juan 

From:   "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Tue Apr 8, 2003  2:18 am
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] Re: questions

My cites for Shoghi Effendi's dislike of democracy are from his letters, in
English and in Persian. They are quite striking in the ways in which they
depart starkly from the attitudes of Baha'u'llah and `Abdul-Baha on the
issue. But mind you, no extensive study has been done of all this and his
position may be nuanced or temporary or something. 

cheers Juan

From:   "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Wed Apr 9, 2003  1:39 am
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] Re: questions / for Bahá'í minded people

Dear Paul:

Let me suggest a different way of looking at it all.

Let's take Roman Catholicism, which has a single institutional structure
but is actually very diverse (with a billion adherents). There are far
rightwing fascist-like Opus Dei members. There are leftist Liberation
Theologians. There are neoconservatives who favor the free market. They
often have their own organizations within the over-all umbrella of the
church. Occasionally Rome tries to intervene to stamp out a movement or
favor it (Opus Dei has been favored by JP II, Liberation Theology has been
punished). But the Vatican cannot actually control things on the ground,
all it can do is boost its favorites and make its betes noires fight with
one hand tied behind its back.

In the mid-19th century the Pope condemned almost everything about
modernity as a heresy and tried to keep Catholics feudal. In the 20th
century a lot of brave Catholic thinkers took the subsequent Popes on about
this policy, and sometimes got excommunicated for their trouble. But as a
result of their thinking and publishing and suffering, the Vatican II
Council was held that incorporated many liberal principles. It did not end
the culture wars inside Catholicism, and Opus Dei is trying to gut it. But
a major advance did occur as a result of discourse.

So you ask what I want and how it will be achieved. I want a Baha'i
Vatican II. And I believe it will be achieved by thinking, researchering,
communicating, and discussion--i.e. by consultation. Also by being
brutally honest and by kvetching. Solzhenitsyn was amazed by how spunky
Americans standing in line were when they felt they were being treated
unjustly. He said that if Soviet people had complained that loudly about
everything, Stalin could never have gotten away with killing millions.

I did not "walk away" from the Baha'i Faith. I was temporarily pushed out
by cult-like techniques of coercion and manipulation. I came back after a
couple years, as far as I was concerned, and will be here the rest of my life.

Peter Khan is only one person, of course. But the 9 only one persons on
the House have enormous power to shape the religion, just as the Vatican
helps shape Catholicism. Khan can have Alison kicked out of her own
religion, can have my book suppressed at Baha'i bookstores, can have my
friends in the faith threatened with being declared covenant breakers or
with having their faithful Baha'i spouses divorce them, etc., etc. It is
like saying (on a non-violent but still coercive religious level) that John
Gotti was "only one person" in organized crime.

If you are saying that working for a Baha'i Vatican II could get a person
excommunicated, that is obvious. I don't care. John Courtney Murray, the
most important American Catholic theologian, who contributed vitally to
Vatican II, was an one point silenced by the heirs of the Inquisition. Or
read up on the life of Spinoza a little bit. The rabbis excommunicated him
nearly 500 years ago; he is now the favorite philosopher in Israel. The
excommunications of the narrow-minded don't always amount to anything under
the gaze of History.

cheers Juan


From:   "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Wed Apr 9, 2003  1:47 pm
Subject:  a Baha'i Vatican II is needed

yeah, yeah, yeah. Ultramontane Catholic priests used to make the same
arguments, before Vatican II, that Jesus Christ does not permit any change
to what he set forth in his writings.

I am not arguing for a change in Baha'i doctrine or law in the sense of
Baha'u'llah's vision of those things. I am arguing for a change in
contemporary Baha'i procedures and fundamentalist mindset, which have
nothing to do with Baha'u'llah. The reactionaries in any religion always
substitute their hidebound misinterpretation of the religion for the real
thing, and then claim it is the real thing, and then claim that no one can
change it because it is the real thing. The whole bit is a shell game for

As for the argument that only the Universal House of Justice can change 
current procedure, and only by cozying up to them 
and convincing them nicely could you hope to influence them, 
the same thing could have been said of the popes. It is a silly 
argument, because the popes had a dictatorial attitude and most of 
them couldn't be influenced by niceness or criticism. They ruthlessly 
silenced or excommunicated anyone who spoke for a Catholic modernism. 
What the example of those brave Catholic thinkers shows is that even 
a highly authoritarian institution can be changed, and it can be 
changed by *criticism* and by *new thinking*. The tyrants on the 
current UHJ won't be there forever, and their ability to clone 
themselves forever is never secure. And, if a majority of Baha'is 
begins to know that they are by their actions contradicting 
explicit Baha'i law, they will eventually be shamed into backing off 
their indecency. 

For example: `Abdul-Baha was implored by the hardline Baha'is of his 
day (what Shoghi Effendi later called the dangerous "extreme orthodox") 
to declare Mirza Muhammad `Ali and his group infidels, i.e. "not Baha'is."

`Abdul-Baha replied that he could not do this because in the Baha'i 
faith, unlike in Islam, there was to be no expulsion of believers 
for immorality or wrong beliefs. If someone says he or she is a Baha'i, 
the Baha'is are stuck with them. The most you could do to someone 
disapproved by Baha'i authorities is to not hang out with them. But 
you can't say "so and so isn't really a Baha'i because he believes X." 
This is the Baha'i Supreme Exemplar speaking, the appointed Interpreter 
of the Baha'i scriptures. `Abdul-Bahaexplicitly said that *He Himself* 
could not declare the Mirza Muhammad `Ali people "not Baha'is" because 
it would be contrary to Baha'i principle (see the Kitab-i Aqdas).

The present so-called Universal House of Justice, in contrast, declared our
dear Alison "not a Baha'i." They issued a fatwa of takfir against her,
declaring her an infidel, i.e., a non-believer. They broke Baha'i law in
so doing. When they were challenged on this by Ron House, they wrote back
that individual Baha'is couldn't declare people non-Baha'is, but that the
UHJ had that prerogative. They have a prerogative that *`Abdul-Baha* did
not? They think they are better than He is? That they have powers *He*
did not have? That they can contradict his explicit instructions in an ad
hoc and arbitrary manner, *at will*? And then it is pretended that they
are upholding the *real* Baha'i faith, which no one can change! If you
believe that, well, P.T. Barnum said a sucker was born every minute.

This is what Vatican II says:

"The Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to
religious freedom. Freedom of this kind means that all men should be immune
from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human
power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his
conscience in religious matters, nor impeded from acting in accordance with
it, in private or in public, alone or in association with others. The
Council further declares that the right to religious freedom is based on
the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of
God and by reason itself."

This is what one commentator wrote about the situation before Vatican II:

"Both Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos (1832)2 and Pius IX in Quanta Cura (1864)3
condemned the demand for “liberty of conscience” as “insanity”
(deliramentum). The latter pontiff also condemned, in the Syllabus
accompanying Quanta Cura, the proposition that, “In the present day it is
no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only
religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.” His
successor Leo XIII insisted that “lying opinions . . . should be diligently
repressed by public authority, lest they insidiously work the ruin of the
State.” "

This is the sort of situation the Baha'is are in now, the situation of Pius
IX and Leo XIII. "Lying opinions" according to the Haifa authorities
should not be tolerated. Hushmand Fatheazam, a UHJ member, told me that in
future when Baha'is control the government, they would just jail
dissidents. What is the difference between that point of view and the
ideas of the 19th century popes, or indeed, of present-day Iranian
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Jurisprudent?

In contrast, the Baha'i scriptures stand for freedom of conscience and
freedom of expression, *even within the Baha'i Faith*. This freedom has
been quashed by the Saddam Husseins in Haifa, and the reign of tyranny
everywhere is now coming to an end.

cheers Juan

From:   "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date:  Wed Apr 9, 2003  6:45 pm
Subject:  Re: [talisman9] a Baha'i Vatican II is needed

Well, Paul, if someone acts like a tyrant then it is legitimate to compare
them to tyrants. If they don't like it, they shouldn't behave that way.

Baha'u'llah did not establish a House of Justice as a *dictator*. He hated
dictators, and especially hated religious dictators. He established it as
a vehicle for consultation, as an institution that would work for the
welfare and benefit of the Baha'is. They aren't doing that. They are
building marble edifices for themselves, twisting the arms of NSAs for
millions of extra dollars, and then going around at the local level and
attempting to intimidate in the most monstrous way devoted Baha'is who are
actually working for the welfare of the Faith.

If the members are not behaving the way Baha'u'llah wanted, they are not
the divine body he hoped for. They are just more corrupt and dictatorial
ayatollahs and popes of the sort the world has seen before. Period. 

I don't know why that should discourage us about Baha'u'llah. He isn't
responsible for the sins of Peter Khan or Ian Semple or Farzam Arbab. How
many people blame Jesus of Nazareth for the popes sleeping around and
embezzling? It doesn't make any sense.

cheers Juan

>I can see how comparing the UHJ to Saddam's reign of terror does not exactly
>win you the dearest of friends among those who move within the orbit of the
>former. But tell me this: doesn't accepting the founder of the Baha'i Faith
>and the validity of its institutions also mean that the Universal House of
>Justice must be accepted for the divine body it is supposed to be, within
>that very framework?


From: "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...>
Date: Wed Apr 30, 2003 1:40 pm
Subject: Re: [talisman9] Grossman and Jahaveri

While I wish Hartmut Grossman and Faridun Javaheri well, I don't want
something to pass without comment. "Counselor" Stevie Birkland of
Minneapolis called me up in April of 1996 and informed me that the "ITC"
had found some my "statements" on talisman-1 to be "contrary to the
covenant." "I am very sorry, Juan," he said. "I had always liked you."
(He did the same thing to John and Linda Walbridge, Steve Scholl, and
several other dedicated, long-time Baha'is).

That is, Birkland, at least, blamed the Inquisition of 1996 on the
International Teaching Center. This was a gross misuse of the Baha'i
Covenant as a means of intimidating thinking people into silence or of
forcing them from the faith. And, both Grossman and Javaheri were members
of the ITC at that time. So these are Inquisitors who have been involved
in the serial murder of the spirit among Baha'i thinkers. They helped
drive me from the faith I loved because my vision of it differed from their
narrow-minded power fantasies.

It is, moreover, *highly* objectionable that the National Spiritual
Assembly members around the world have *abdicated* their responsibility to
prayerfully elect persons in whom they have confidence, and have instead
accepted some sort of behind the scenes Diktat that they must put male ITC
members on the House at every election.

Look at the elections since 1987 (an off-year election because of a death):
Hooper Dunbar, Peter Khan, Farzam Arbab, Kiser Barnes, Hartmut Grossman
and Faridun Javaheri are all male ITC members and all have gone from there
to the UHJ. In all this time, only Adib Taherzadeh (a continental
counselor and popular author) and Doug Martin (called to Haifa as the UHJ's
publicist) were not from the ITC. *All* of these electees had been
appointees of the sitting UHJ. It is completely circular, as though future
Presidents of the United States had to come from George W. Bush's cabinet.

The "counselors" at the International Teaching Center in Haifa have often
made their bones as Inquisitors chasing people out of the faith. They run
the ABM snitches. They are often, in short, cultists. They are, moreover,
appointed by the sitting members of the Universal House of Justice. The
current procedure violates Shoghi Effendi's prohibition on nomination.
Appointment to the ITC now functions as a nomination. And, worse, the
nomination is being made by sitting members, of people they agree with. So
the UHJ is becoming more and more rightwing, more and more narrow-minded,
and more and more dictatorial. Hartmut Grossman and Faridun Javaheri have
been part and parcel of these violations of Baha'i law and of the Baha'i

It is no accident that since this shell game began in 1987, the Baha'i
faith has ceased growing world-wide, and fallen into a profound stagnation.
Now the big news is of intellectual regimentation of people through the
mind-numbing "Ruhi Institutes" (an Arbab favorite). Birkland boasted to me
of how many "institute" members had been trained, and predicted, hollowly,
that entry by troops was around the corner. They are killing the faith
with this cultism.

Grossman and Javaheri have harmed individual Baha'is, and they have
profoundly harmed the Baha'i faith as a community, helping destroy its
intellectual and spiritual life. Maybe they can redeem themselves. But
they begin as criminals--guilty of electioneering and of conducting
un-Baha'i Inquisitions--and have a lot of work to do.


Juan Cole

From: "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...>
Date: Thu May 1, 2003 1:25 pm
Subject: Re: [talisman9] Re: Grossman and Jahaveri

Hi, John. You blokes must call it something else.

A shell game is one of those street corner scams where the mark is invited
to guess under which shell a small object is, and then the prestidigitator
moves the shells around rapidly and distractingly. And the mark loses
sight of the original shell and is confused.

My point was only that ITC counselors are being cycled into the UHJ in such
a way as to make Baha'is think there is a genuine free and fair election
going on here, when in fact it is just a matter of moving cronies up. It
is a very corrupt system, and you had better believe we are the marks.

Since the major injured party here is the NSAs, whose secretaries lose
their previous opportunity to be elected to the House, and who are
permanently subordinated to the "counselors" (not even a group Baha'u'llah
or `Abdul-Baha mentions!), the NSA members are shooting themselves in the
feet by going along with these fixed elections.

Well, they say people get the government they deserve.

cheers Juan

From: "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...>
Date: Thu May 1, 2003 2:20 pm
Subject: new members of UHJ & corruption

More on the new members of the UHJ.

Grossman is presumably the son of Hermann Grossman, who became a Baha'i in
Leipzig in 1920 and was appointed a Hand of the Cause in 1951. The Baha'i
biographies depict him as a victim of the Nazis, and it is true that they
came after his sister, other Baha'is and himself for being members of a
'pacifist' organization. What they do not stress is that Grossman defended
his sister in Nazi courts on the grounds that she was held harmless from
having her property taken by the state because she was a German citizen
(code for "Aryan.") This legal tactic succeeded. And, the German Baha'i
community kept writing these pitiful letters to Hitler saying they had been
misunderstood by the regime and were loyal German citizens. I've always
wondered if Shoghi Effendi was the one who instructed them to do this. I
suspect that to the outside world some of the Grossmans' actions in the 40s
would not look too good nowadays (especially in Israel). Baha'i obituaries
are extremely opaque, so I don't even know what Hermann did for a living.

I suspect the Grossmans are less anti-intellectual than US or Iranian
Baha'is. But Grossman was on the ITC when it came after me and other
Baha'i researchers, so he doesn't have clean hands. And, if he has a
thought in his head you couldn't tell it by this:

Javaheri I don't know, but I hear he has been taking a lot of trips to
visit NSAs in Asia during the past year, presumably to campaign for office.
He just seems another dreary Iranian Baha'i fundamentalist:

It is amazing how little there is about these guys on the Web, if they are
supposedly well known enough in the community to get elected. Presumably
they just suck up to the NSAs from the time they get on the ITC. One could
imagine a scenario where Peter Khan or Doug Martin decides to do something
nice for some set of NSAs somewhere in the Third World and chooses an ITC
counsellor he likes to deliver the goodies, thus building a voting
constituency for him. (Note all the "him's").

cheers Juan

From: "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date: Sat May 3, 2003 1:15 am
Subject: Re: [talisman9] new members of UHJ & corruption

Dear Wayne:

Most members of the UHJ before 1987 had been secretaries or prominent
members of the NSAs of the US, the UK, India or Uganda. 

The custom of circulating the voting lists with the top 13 or so candidates
existed until recently, and we may still see the list. In the mid-to-late
1990s, US NSA secretary Robert Henderson and NSA chairman James Nelson were
in the top 13 just below the counselors. Then Nelson was mysteriously
defamed and forced to resign, and the counselors now reign supreme.

Eventually there may be an NSA revolt against this dominance by the
counselors. But I suppose they may also fear reprisals from the UHJ if
they don't vote as they have been sotto voce instructed behind the scenes.

The UHJ appoints the counselors. They can be either men or women, but only
the men are eligible to be moved onto the UHJ itself. There are two kinds
of counselors, 1) the members of the Continental Board of Counselors (e.g.
North America, South America, Asia, etc.) and 2) the counselors at the
International Teaching Center in Haifa. The ones at the ITC both push
proselytizing work and also oversee efforts to maintain ideological
uniformity among the "prominent" members of the Faith.

Baha'u'llah envisaged his religion as working through consultation and
popular election, not through having a central authority essentially
appoint its cronies as successors. The religion has been corrupted by this
authoritarianism and cronyism, which is very like the problems that afflict
many civil governments in Africa and Asia. 

In essence, the international governance of the Baha'i faith looks a lot
like the hardliners' version of government in Shiite Iran. In Iran, as
well, the Guardianship Council elects the Supreme Jurisprudent, and the
Supreme Jurisprudent either appoints the people on the Guardianship Council
or appoints most of the people who decide whether someone can be on the
Guardianship Council. (Parliament is supposed to get to choose 6 of the 12
members, but the appointed Expediency Council often strikes down the names
sent over by it). The elected parliament is stymied in any democratic
moves by the hardline judiciary (appointed by the Supreme Jurisprudent) and
by censorship, heresy trials, and efforts to stygmatize potential
candidates as insufficiently loyal to the idea of the infallibility of the
Supreme Jurisprudent.

In fact, for anyone who knows Iran, it is startling how much Baha'i
governance has come to resemble Khomeinism. Far from a new race of human
beings, our leaders have become the old race of mullahs.

cheers Juan

At 04:16 PM 5/1/03 -0400, you wrote:
>i do look forward to reading your posts on this newsgroup.
>You wrote:
>Since the major injured party here is the NSAs, whose secretaries
losetheir previous opportunity to be elected to the House, and who
arepermanently subordinated to the "counselors" (not even a group
Baha'u'llah or `Abdul-Baha mentions!), the NSA members are shooting
themselves in thefeet by going along with these fixed elections
>My question is: Surely after years of this happening, the secretaries will
see thru it and rebel? also are the Secretaries of NSA's always included in
voting for members of the UHJ?
>Finally, how are the Counsellors appointed and are they mainly men?

From: "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date: Sun May 4, 2003 2:18 am
Subject: Re: [talisman9] new members of UHJ & corruption


There is a difference between being legitimate and always doing the right
thing. An institution is legitimate if people generally recognize it to
have the authority it claims to have.

Thus, the US presidency is a legitimate institution and Richard Nixon was a
legitimate president.

But, Nixon broke the law and so was forced out of office by a threatened

Reagan subverted the constitution in Iran-Contra and could in my view
easily have been impeached if the Democrats in Congress had not decided to
give him a pass.

The presidency remains legitimate, and even Reagan's incumbency remains
legitimate, even if the design of the Founders was subverted in a
particular instance.

Likewise, the UHJ is a legitimate institution. 

But, like some US presidents, its members sometimes act
"unconstitutionally" (in this case behave in a manner contradictory to the
Baha'i scriptures).

Ordinarily the rest of the UHJ members are supposed to impeach any of their
own who becomes corrupt in this way, but because of contemporary cronyism
this cannot happen.

The only way I can see to fix the problem is to recognize it, analyze it,
write about it, and spread the word that there is a problem. Anyone who
does this is a kind of whistle-blower and we all know what happens to
whistle-blowers in any organization. So it is not a cost-free approach, as
Michael McKenny, Alison Marshall and a whole roster of Baha'i heroes and
heroines can attest. But it is the only one I can think of. Obviously, it
will only have an effect in the long, not the short term.

Of course, this approach assumes that we are able to study and understand
the Baha'i scriptures themselves in the first place, and not just parrot
carefully selected phrases by rote.

cheers Juan

>Do you regard the UHJ as lacking legitimacy in the manner it was originally
>set up after Shoghi Effendi's death?
>If so, how should the Baha'i administration be currently brought into line?


From: "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date: Wed May 7, 2003 6:39 pm
Subject: Re: [talisman9] Re: Grossman and Jahaveri 

Yes, I think that the system is now working to ensure that ITC members are
elected, and I think that ITC membership for males has become a form of
nomination. I object to this system because Shoghi Effendi opposed
nomination procedures.

I can't tell you exactly how it was done, but I believe the shift from
electing NSA secretaries to electing counselors was deliberately engineered
behind the scenes by corrupt Baha'i politicians. Baha'is are naive and
depend a lot on Kitab-i Hearsay. 

You can imagine the conversation in the Haziratu'l-Quds: "Hey, Joe, I
heard that the House says Counsellors' station is higher than NSAs. I've
always wondered why that doesn't translate into counsellors getting elected
instead of NSA secretaries." Or: "I have it on excellent authority from
a friend who works in Haifa that the House thinks the Counselors should now
be given a chance to run the Faith." Or: "The House must think a lot of
that nice Mr. Javaheri, since it put him on the ITC and then it sent him
here to us in Singapore with that donation to our teaching effort."
Multiply it out by 196 and voila.

This letter the UHJ sent out saying that the station of the counselors is
higher than that of the NSAs is a heresy six ways to Sunday. First of all,
all Baha'is have the same station. None is more exalted than another as
far as we can tell in this world. Second, Baha'u'llah ordained Houses of
Justice. But he did not ordain counselors. Bureaucratic officials thought
up by some fundamentalist committee in Haifa in the 1960s cannot have a
higher station than an Institution ordained by the Found of the faith.
Third, the UHJ has been attempting to have counselors substitute in every
way for the Hands. This is a heresy because they are not Hands. They
don't have the station and cannot have the function of the Hands. They are
not appointees of a living Guardian, which the Hands were. They are just
servants of the executive branch. They even only serve 5 year terms, at
the pleasure of the UHJ, which means they can never, ever criticize the
UHJ. In contrast, the Guardian had the authority to declare that a law
passed by the UHJ was illegitimate. The Interpretive Branch was
independent. The counselors are not from that branch.

Shoghi Effendi said that the thing that kept the Baha'i faith from becoming
demagogic and dictatorial was precisely the existence of these various
branches--legislative, interpretive, etc. So, obviously, now that
protection is gone.

The UHJ declared counselors' station to be higher than that of NSAs
precisely in order to encourage all these heresies and to concentrate all
power in its hands. It is a coup. It is the farthest thing from the
system that the Holy Figures carefully constructed.

I should clarify and say that the list I was talking about was the list of
the top 13 or so candidates who emerged from the voting in Haifa. It was
not sent around before the election, but after. It gave their vote totals,
so you could see who was in the running. Typically just below the ITC
counselors were members of the US NSA. 

cheers Juan


From: "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...> 
Date: Sat May 10, 2003 7:05 pm
Subject: Re: [talisman9] No Amnesty International ?

A question like, "does anyone know if a Baha'i has been sanctioned for x"
is a trick question. The Baha'i administration, having cult-like aspects,
does not operate with standards of transparency and consistency.
Information is deliberately hidden from the public about what threats are
made to whom and how and why. So there is never a public record that can
be cited.

The administration does not like to rock the boat. So if an average Joe
Baha'i joined Amnesty, probably nothing would happen to him. But if he
became "prominent" in the community and openly admitted he disagreed with a
policy of the House, then he would be threatened with sanctions. Such
threats are usually enough to silence such controversies.

Thus, Rob Stockman used to say that no one had been sanctioned for refusing
to have his or her writings about the faith subjected to "literature
review" [i.e. prepublication censorship]. But then I heard from Steve
Scholl that Firuz Kazemzadeh had once threatened him with having his
administrative rights removed precisely on those grounds. Since Steve did
not publish the fact, there was no way to know it had happened. And, when
the administration didn't like some of the posters on talisman-9, they sent
around a sleazy 'counselor' to interrogate them and then threaten them with
being shunned if they did not shut up. This was the threat of a sanction,
not the application of one, but it was so corrupt and outrageous that it
had the same effect, of marginalizing those so threatened.

As for membership in another religious organization, around 1995 Nima
Hazini was threatened with losing his administrative rights by his LSA for
joining a Sufi order. He went to the Sufi leader and explained, and asked
to be released from membership. The Sufi leader laughed and said there was
no such thing in Sufism. Nima just didn't go to the meetings and so was
all right for a while, until the crackdown on talisman9, when he (like a
number of others) just resigned in disgust.

There are many such stories of behind-the-scenes threats and pressure, most
of which can never be known. If they succeed and the Baha'i is whipped
into shape, he or she doesn't talk about the incident. If they don't
succeed, and the person leaves the Faith rather than be bullied, the
individual stops associating with the Baha'is and so no one in the
community ever knows the real story.

One way to fight this lack of a paper trail is to do oral histories. I
have by now collected large numbers of these, from both long-time Baha'is
and from ex-Baha'is. In the case of the ex-Baha'is, there is usually some
point at which an Auxiliary Board Member steps onto the scene, bullies the
Baha'i over some rigid policy, and fades back into the shadows, watching
with satisfaction as the "trouble maker" fades from the Baha'i scene. It
is a secretive enforcement mechanism that has, amazingly, managed to retain
its anonymity.

cheers Juan

>However, what would be an appropriate question would be whether or not
>membership concurrently in another religious community has actually led to
>the loss of voting rights or outright expulsion of individual Baha'is.
>Does anyone know if this has actually occurred? 


From: "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...>
Date: Thu Aug 14, 2003 2:35 pm
Subject: Re: [talisman9] Baha'i influence

Dear Paul:

I am not a fundamentalist, so I don't read Baha'u'llah literally. At his
best, he was a manifestation of the highest attributes of the human
character, even though he was also a fallible human being with many
foibles. Seeing the best in Baha'u'llah is always a great pleasure, for
anyone who aspires to be better than they are, to realize their full
potential as a human being. Baha'u'llah is that sort of exemplar for us.
We become better, both as individuals and as a civilization, by hanging
around with him.

Baha'u'llah's vision of the Ultimate Truth was the unknowable Essence, the
`Ama' or Supreme Darkness or Cloud of Unknowing. Human beings clothe this
reality in human attributes and call it "God," but Baha'u'llah forthrightly
says that this is an inadequate approach to knowing Reality and that It
will in fact always remain ultimately unknowable by humans. All we can get
is an intimation of its beauty and its truth, its meaning, and we get that
intimation by seeing the best character attributes in the most ethical and
high-minded human beings, the manifestations of God among us. (Nor are
Prophets the only ones who can show forth those attributes to us; we are
surrounded by part-time saints and even some who are closer to full time).

Baha'u'llah says in an untranslated Persian tablet that he did not much
change the laws of the Bayan when he wrote the Most Holy Book because he
wasn't sent primarily as a law-maker. He was sent to exalt the spiritual
character of human beings. That is, his mission was primarily ethical and
mystical. A lot of Baha'i used flimflam men have tried to turn him into a
high-priced lawyer authorizing the fleecing of the rest of us. It wasn't
what he was about.

Baha'u'llah stretched out his robed arm toward the sky and pointed his
finger at the star of truth shining there. Fundamentalist Baha'is busy
themselves with counting the wrinkles on his finger, examining the cuticle,
admiring the shape, and hating all who do not worship that Finger. They do
not understand that the finger's whole purpose is to point to a
transcendent beyond; they never let their gaze follow the finger to the
Star twinkling in the firmament of meaning. And if a Baha'i should do so,
they start attacking her and muttering about covenant breaking and
materialism. The Finger is what is important. And it is what they want to
give to us. :-)

All Baha'is read the first passage in Gleanings, which Shoghi Effendi put
first for a reason. But few seem to understand its real implications. See

cheers Juan

1 Lauded and glorified art Thou, O Lord, my God! How can I make mention of
Thee, assured as I am that no tongue, however deep its wisdom, can
befittingly magnify Thy name, nor can the bird of the human heart, however
great its longing, ever hope to ascend into the heaven of Thy majesty and

2 If I describe Thee, O my God, as Him Who is the All-Perceiving, I find
myself compelled to admit that They Who are the highest Embodiments of
perception have been created by virtue of Thy behest. And if I extol Thee
as Him Who is the All-Wise, I, likewise, am forced to recognize that the
Well Springs of wisdom have themselves been generated through the operation
of Thy Will. And if I proclaim Thee as the Incomparable One, I soon
discover that they Who are the inmost essence of oneness have been sent
down by Thee and are but the evidences of Thine handiwork. And if I acclaim
Thee as the Knower of all things, I must confess that they Who are the
Quintessence of knowledge are but the creation and instruments of Thy

3 Exalted, immeasurably exalted, art Thou above the strivings of mortal man
to unravel Thy mystery, to describe Thy glory, or even to hint at the
nature of Thine Essence. For whatever such strivings may accomplish, they
never can hope to transcend the limitations imposed upon Thy creatures,
inasmuch as these efforts are actuated by Thy decree, and are begotten of
Thine invention. The loftiest sentiments which the holiest of saints can
express in praise of Thee, and the deepest wisdom which the most learned of
men can utter in their attempts to comprehend Thy nature, all revolve
around that Center Which is wholly subjected to Thy sovereignty, Which
adoreth Thy Beauty, and is propelled through the movement of Thy Pen.

4 Nay, forbid it, O my God, that I should have uttered such words as must
of necessity imply the existence of any direct relationship between the Pen
of Thy Revelation and the essence of all created things. Far, far are They
Who are related to Thee above the conception of such relationship! All
comparisons and likenesses fail to do justice to the Tree of Thy
Revelation, and every way is barred to the comprehension of the
Manifestation of Thy Self and the Day Spring of Thy Beauty.

5 Far, far from Thy glory be what mortal man can affirm of Thee, or
attribute unto Thee, or the praise with which he can glorify Thee! Whatever
duty Thou hast prescribed unto Thy servants of extolling to the utmost Thy
majesty and glory is but a token of Thy grace unto them, that they may be
enabled to ascend unto the station conferred upon their own inmost being,
the station of the knowledge of their own selves.

6 No one else besides Thee hath, at any time, been able to fathom Thy
mystery, or befittingly to extol Thy greatness. Unsearchable and high above
the praise of men wilt Thou remain for ever. There is none other God but
Thee, the Inaccessible, the Omnipotent, the Omniscient, the Holy of Holies.