The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


[All five parts included in this file]

-----Original Message-----
From: Juan Cole <>
To: Dean Betts <>
Cc: <>; <>;
Date: Saturday, November 14, 1998 5:19 AM
Subject: [bahai-faith] Re: [bahai-apologetics] Cole part 1

I can only reply briefly to Mr. Terry's comments, many of which seem to me
polemical (rather than apologetic :-)  and which contain serious
misreadings of the article as well as displaying a dismaying lack of
knowledge about the history and texts of the Baha'i faith, both in English
and in Arabic and Persian.  In many instances, moreover, Mr. Terry simply
says at greater length what I said in my article, giving further credence
to my points.
>>>Dr. Cole begins his article by refering to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and to
>>>Scientology by way of introducing what he calls "social control
>>>in the American Baha'i community."
The point of the references was stated as being that some US religious
groups existed for a fair amount of time before social scientists took an
interest in them, and so remained relatively little known in the
literature.  It is not a matter of 'grouping' the US Baha'i community,
which is quite diverse, with anything.
>>Dr. Cole has not demonstrated, in the entire course of this article, that
>>>the Baha'i Faith has any of the attributes of a modern "cult," and
>>>Dr. Udo Schaefer has carefully studied this question, and come to the
>>>conclusion that the Baha'i Faith cannot be considered a "cult" except
>>>according to the once general definition, namely "a system of religious
>>>beliefs and ritual."
This is because Dr. Cole did not set out to demonstrate that the Baha'i
faith is a "cult" tout court.  There are, however, some cult-like elements
in its governance:  shunning, threats of shunning, prohibition on publicly
criticizing leaders, prepublication censorship, surveillance and informing
on adherents by others.  But these are "nested," and not necessarily spread
uniformly throughout the community. (Most Baha'is are not writers, e.g.,
and so are relatively unaffected by censorship practices.)
>>>  First of all, virtually all of the regulations to which Dr.
>>>Cole refers were enjoined by the Founder of the Baha'i Faith, and
>>>by His successors-- 'Abdul-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House
>>>Justice--in their turns as worldwide leaders of the religion.
Actually, almost none of these control mechanisms existed in the time of
Baha'u'llah, nor are they mentioned in his writings, and very few existed
in the time of `Abdul-Baha.  However, since my article simply explained
the "regulations" and cited the textual evidence and social practices
involved, I don't actually see what the objection is.
>>>What Dr.
>>>Cole calls "mandatory prepublication censorship of everything Baha'is
>>>publish about their religion" is a policy which seems to have originated
>>>with Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith, Who personally
>>>at least two historical works compiled and written by adherents prior to
>>>their publication.
This is ridiculous.  Baha'is published freely in Baha'ullah's time and
there is no evidence to the contrary.  That Baha'u'llah agreed to look at a
couple of books was his favor to the author, not a kind of censorship;
there is no evidence whatsoever that he even so much as commented on what
he read. "Literature review" was vastly expanded by the UHJ in 1972.  I say
explicitly that prepublication censorship has been a Baha'i practice for
almost a century, and note that while it is called "temporary" by Baha'i
leaders, it appears to be being extended and widened, and to be envisaged
as continuing for centuries.
>>>It might be noted that prepublication
>>>review is required by publishers and editors everywhere, and that the
>>>criteria which govern academic review are much more rigorous and
>>>than those which characterize Baha'i literature review.
Mr. Terry, this is a simple falsehood.  Baha'i prepublication censorship is
demanded of Baha'i authors who publish at non-Baha'i publishers.  Random
House only vets my work if I publish with Random House.  If Random House
turns me down I can go to Knopf.  If I am a Baha'i and the Baha'i censors
turn me down, I simply cannot publish anywhere.  There is no comparison
between an editorial process of a publisher and a system of prepublication
censorship.  Moreover, academic presses have in fact published articles
about the Baha'i faith that would not have been allowed to appear by the
Baha'i authorities, so your second statement is also false.
>>>Dr. Cole alleges that "blackballing" is one of the "social control
>>>mechanisms" employed in the American Baha'i community.  He does not
>>>this term, but we understand it to refer to boycott, ostracism, and the
>>>exclusion from membership by casting a negative vote.  There are no
>>>cases of such behavior in the American Baha'i community.
Persons whom the Baha'i administration do not like are not invited to speak
at major Baha'i venues.  They are not appointed to the 'Institution of the
Learned.'  They are often harassed by the administration with threats of
sanctions.  I have a number of documented such cases.  There are no
"reported" cases of such behavior because the censorship apparatus does not
allow the cases to be reported.
>>>Dr. Cole has
>>>alleged that the American Baha'i community has adopted certain behaviors
>>>which effect nominations and which resemble campaigning.  If this is the
>>>case, then these behaviors are patently inconsistent with the
>>>Baha'i principles pertaining to this process.  In other words, if such
>>>behaviors exist, they represent abberations and transgressions rather
>>>realizations and establishments of Baha'i principles.
That is for you to decide.  I am simply reporting what I see as the actual
situation.  The article begins by saying I am not reporting ideals or
essences, only what actually happens.
>>>Perhaps the most alarming of the "social control mechanisms" alleged by
>>>Cole to be employed in the governance of the American Baha'i community
>>>"administrative expulsion...shunning, and threats of shunning."  It must
>>>noted once more that Dr. Cole does not employ the vocabulary used by
>>>to delineate particular policies and regulations.  Virtually every
>>>has requirements for membership.
But not all communities have a system of shunning.  That is, someone is
declared socially dead and no member may be in contact with the one
shunned, and if anyone does contact him or her, that person is then also
shunned.  Among US religions this is rare.  The Jehovah's Witnesses do it
and the Old Order Amish do it, maybe some very conservative Mennonites.
 Baha'u'llah called for the excommunication of Covenant-breakers
>>>(English translation of the Arabic "naqazin"), and indicated that
>>>Covenant-breaking is a spiritual disease.
Baha'u'llah never did any such thing.  Baha'is were in contact with Azalis
all through their history, and in fact is is well known in Iran that there
have been Baha'i-Azali marriages.  The practice of shunning did not begin
until `Abdul-Baha's time, and then it was used in only two cases:
schismatics and persons guilty of peculation from the Baha'is.  In recent
years it has been extended as a threat at least to simple disagreement with
the Baha'i administration's party line.
cheers    Juan Cole

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From: FG <>
Subject: fw Juan Cole  [bahai-apologetics] Cole part 2
Date: Sunday, November 15, 1998 7:44 PM
-----Original Message-----
From: Juan Cole <>
To: Dean Betts <>
Cc: <>; <>;
Date: Saturday, November 14, 1998 1:21 PM
Subject: [bahai-faith] Re: [bahai-apologetics] Cole part 2

>>>Furthermore, the excommunication of Covenant-breakers is not a temporary
>>>policy carried out by rogue Baha'i administrators, as Dr. Cole seems to
I don't imply any such thing.  However, it is not the case that the
practice of shunning goes back to Baha'u'llah in its current form, and the
uses to which it has been put have in fact changed over time.  It has
certainly become more widely used and more Draconian, at least as a threat,
in the 1990s.
>>>excommunication is in
>>>the Book, and hence it is entirely beyond the mandate of the Universal
>>>of Justice to alter this law.
You could not prove it was "in the Book" to save your life.  It isn't.
>>>Furthermore, he has misrepresented those regulations through
>>>his use of misleading terminology and his citation of unreliable sources.
"Excommunication" does not mean "shunning" to most English speakers;
"review" does not mean prepublication censorship.  My terminology is clear
and is *not* misleading.  I cited *Lights of Guidance,* and other Baha'i
texts as well as the best academic scholarship.  To say that I cited
"unreliable" sources is simply an falsehood.
>>>If he does not approve of these regulations then he should state his
>>>objections openly; his affirmation, that "the movement's scriptures are
>>>liberal in their orientation" and his implication that these particular
>>>regulations--which he conceives to be illiberal--derive from
>>>Baha'i leaders" rather than from Baha'u'llah, 'Abdul-Baha and Shoghi
>>>Effendi is simply incorrect.
Mr. Terry simply does not know much about the evolution of his own
religion, the various and differing policies of its leaders, and the
changes that have occurred over time, nor about the differing policies of
national Baha'i leaderships.  He therefore wishes to construct a seamless
whole out of something that is disparate.  He is simply mistaken.  None of
the control mechanisms I discussed existed in the time of Baha'u'llah.
None.  Besides, I don't know why he speaks in terms of "objecting."  I
simply described the situation, and Mr. Terry has affirmed the truth of my
description, simply providing more details.
>>>It has been demonstrated that all of the
>>>regulations referred to by Dr. Cole were established by Baha'u'llah and
>>>appointed interpreters.
You haven't established any such thing.
>>>While Dr. Cole states that many of his "remarks
>>>cannot be generalized to other national communities, and concern mainly
>>>United States" the regulations discussed in this article are enforced
>>>throughout the worldwide Baha'i community.
Many Baha'i academics who read the article objected that some practices in
the US seemed more corrupt and Draconian than was true in their own
>>>Shoghi Effendi and the
>>>Universal House of Justice have affirmed that the liberal and
>>>points of view have nothing to do with the Baha'i Faith.
This may be good doctrine but it is sociological nonsense.  A
liberal-conservative divide is obvious in all major American denominations
and religions and it is present in the Baha'i community as well.  Denying
it won't make it disappear, and attempting to prevent social scientists
from discussing it is just obscurantism.
>>>To begin with,
>>>Dr. Cole alleges that the Baha'i Faith was founded in 1863 by
>>>According to authoritative Baha'i sources, Baha'u'llah made His first
>>>declaration of prophethood (to a few individuals) in the year 1863.
>>>However, according to those same sources, the Baha'i Faith did not begin
>>>1863 but in 1844, and its first Central Figure was not Mirza Husayn 'Ali
>>>Nuri Baha'u'llah (1817-1892), but rather, Siyyid 'Ali Muhammad Shirazi
>>>Bab (1819-1850).
Mr. Terry should go learn Arabic and Persian and read widely in the
contemporary mid-nineteenth century primary sources and then come back and
nitpick with me about these matters.  He is just wrong in almost every
particular here.
>>>However, the only source he cites in support of his
>>>allegations is fragmentary and anonymous hearsay, and this does make for
>>>credible argument.
The Baha'i administration's archival documentation is not available to
researchers for the period after 1960.  Historians of the later period
therefore must rely on interviews with principals and oral history.  I have
collected such oral eye-witness accounts for many years.  I believe that
they are valuable and reliable.
>>>Neither Dr. Robert Stockman nor Mr. Richard Hollinger, perhaps
>>>the two best informed historians of the American Baha'i community, has
>>>published a detailed analysis of these phenomena.
Well, I hope they will write something about all this.  I don't think they
will find anything different than I did, which is that a process of mass
conversion was started in the field in South Carolina, and was stopped by
the NSA.
>>>On the other hand, Baha'u'llah
>>>counselled adherents to nurture their families, to serve their secular
>>>spiritual communities, to be of service to humanity as a whole.  How are
>>>these admonitions consistent with the isolation alleged by Dr. Cole?
The isolation spoken of had to do with thickness of ties to society.  Most
Americans belong to multiple organizations in civil society.  They are
members of a political party and of activist organizations such as Amnesty
International or Greepeace; of a union; and so forth.  Many such
memberships are denied Baha'is, which leaves them with 'thin' social ties
to US society and much more dependent on their Baha'i community and
identity.  As for service to humanity, I am unaware to discern much US
Baha'i activity that could be so characterized.  Many Baha'i communities
are essentially fundraising-and-proselytizing organizations.
>>>Baha'u'llah insisted that Baha'is not identify themselves with political
>>>rivalries, a
Could you please cite for me where Baha'u'llah says this?  He doesn't.  The
ban on belonging to political parties doesn't get unambiguously established
until Shoghi Effendi.
>>>that they not attempt to alter the political status quo;
Which is why Baha'u'llah agitated for a move from absolute monarchy to
constitutional monarchy in the 19th century Middle East?  What a crock.
>>>Dr. Cole alleges that U.S. Baha'is are "anti-liberal"--because they do
>>>reflect what he considers to be a contemporary "liberal" stance.
No, if you would bother to read the books I cite you would see that I am
using the word 'liberal' to refer to a general political philosophy that
favors parliamentary democracy and open debate in society.  It is not a
reference to the contemporary pop meaning of liberal.  Conservative Baha'is
have in common with early 20th century fascists a contempt for
parliamentary elections, debate and deliberation, a contempt for the free
press, and a generally authoritarian conception of the proper functioning
of political authority.  This is precisely the opposite of the attitude of
Baha'u'llah toward these phenomena.
cheers   Juan Cole

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From: FG <>
Subject: fw Juan Cole : [bahai-apologetics] Cole part 3
Date: Sunday, November 15, 1998 7:45 PM
-----Original Message-----
From: Juan Cole <>
To: Dean Betts <>
Cc: <>; <>;
Date: Saturday, November 14, 1998 5:37 AM
Subject: [bahai-faith] Re: [bahai-apologetics] Cole part 3
>>>  He alleges that many American adherents
>>>believe in "an apocalyptic event or set of events that will radically
>>>American society and lay the foundation for the mass adoption" of the
>>>Faith.  Dr. Cole offers no objective and credible data to demonstrate how
>>>widespread these views are among American believers.
Since Baha'i authorities do not allow the taking of polls among Baha'is, it
is impossible to gather such quantitative data.  However, belief in the
Calamity is quite widespread in my opinion, and I have lived in a number of
Baha'i communities and met people from all over the country.  It is also
reported in such academic writing as Richard Hollinger's edited book on
Baha'i Community histories.
>>> However, he
>>>has not found that American Baha'is focus upon the disparagement of
>>>institutions and values, but rather that most are oriented towards the
>>>affirmation and realization of Baha'i institutions and values.
You've never heard Baha'is condemn the Old World Order???!!  We had a
former ABM condemn the Bill of Rights in the summer of 1996 on the grounds
that it was Old World Order.
>>>Dr. Cole has alleged that many American Baha'is do not believe that the
>>>First Amendment freedoms--"Congress shall make no law respecting an
>>>establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or
>>>abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; of the right of the
>>>peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for the redress of
>>>grievances"--are approved of in the Baha'i Writings, he does not provide
>>>reliable evidence in support of these allegations.  Baha'u'llah and His
>>>authoritative interpreters have affirmed all of the above human rights,
>>>Universal House of Justice has publically supported the Universal
>>>Declaration of Human Rights, and Baha'i law guarrantees these freedoms
>>>within the Baha'i community as well.
Contemporary Baha'i authorities condemn the separation of religion and
state and work toward a Baha'i theocracy; they severely circumscribe
freedom of speech and inquiry; they disallow petitions to the Baha'i
>>>Baha'is believe in equal rights for women;
This is untrue.  Baha'i women do not have equal rights with men and cannot
serve on the highest Baha'i administrative body.
>>>Paralleling its commitment to the
>>>protection of individual human rights, the Baha'i Faith also champions
>>>social rights--the rights of humanity as a whole, which include the
right to
>>>live in peace, to live in a sustainable balance with nature, and to live
>>>a stable and equitable political and economic system.
This is why the Baha'i leadership is ruining the ecology of Mt. Carmel and
Haifa Bay?
>>> Secondly, it is clear,
>>>based upon Dr. Cole's papers and recent book as well as this article,
>>>he opposes theocracy and espouses the separation of religion and state,
>>>believes that the espousal of such values by certain Baha'is respresents
>>>distortion of the teachings of Baha'u'llah and 'Abdul-Baha.
This is true.  And . . ?
 Thirdly, by
>>>not discussing this subject in a larger context, he invites the reader to
>>>fill in the gaps for himself; in view of the recent publicity given to
>>>so-called "far right" evangelical Christian and Muslim militants, the
>>>may be inclined to view those Baha'is who seem to espouse theocratic
>>>as belonging to the same extremist fringe.
Those rightwing Baha'is who espouse Baha'i theocracy seem to me to be very
similar to the right wing of the Southern Baptist Convention (most of whom
are also politically quietist but want a Christian theocracy in the US)>
>>>Dr. Cole compares Baha'is to the followers of the late Ayatollah
Khomeini, a
>>>comparison which is odious to Baha'is and Iranian Muslims alike.  He
>>>have his readers believe that the Baha'i administration, and the
>>>House of Justice in particular are dictatorial in nature, and hence the
>>>comparison with the late Ayatollah.
All I know is that the US government allows professors to publish on any
subject without prepublication censorship and without threatening to have
them shunned.  The Universal House of Justice, on the contrary, insists on
censorship and uses threats of shunning to coerce consciences and speech.
>>>  Furthermore, one of the most cherished Baha'i principles is the
>>>"independent investigation of truth" which resembles "American
>>>individualism" in some ways: Baha'is insist upon the primacy of the
>>>individual's experience rather than upon the over-riding value of the
>>>collective consciousness.
Except that when an individual Baha'i's independent investigation of the
truth leads him to conclusions, such as those of Michael McKenny, he is
summarily dropped from the rolls or threatened with being shunned.  Many
rightwing Baha'is maintain that the independent investigation of reality
must cease when one becomes a Baha'i.
>>>Baha'u'llah makes a distinction between criticism expressed privately to
>>>individual or institution with which one has a disagreement, and public
>>>expression of criticism, that is, expression of criticism to any
>>>or institutions which are not directly concerned.
Baha'u'llah never said any such thing!!
Indeed, Baha'is are
>>>permitted and even encouraged to question and formally appeal
>>>decisions with which they disagree--not just decisions arrived at the
>>>level by LSAs or at the regional level by RBCs, but also decisions made
>>>the national level by NSAs.
In private conversation or a letter to the institution, which may then
ignore them.  This has the effect of forestalling the formation of a public
opinion on an issue and atomizing individuals, making it easy to control or
ignore them.
cheers   Juan Cole

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From: FG <>
Subject: fw Juan Cole  [bahai-apologetics] Cole part 4
Date: Sunday, November 15, 1998 7:46 PM
-----Original Message-----
From: Juan Cole <>
To: Dean Betts <>
Cc: <>; <>;
Date: Saturday, November 14, 1998 11:03 AM
Subject: [bahai-faith] Re: [bahai-apologetics] Cole part 4

[Cole reply to Peter Terry, pt. 4].
>>>Public criticism is forbidden by Baha'u'llah for various reasons.
Public criticism is not forbidden by Baha'u'llah, and both he and
`Abdul-Baha engaged in it.
>>>Baha'u'llah has written that backbiting (slander) and gossip are harmful
>>>the spiritual health of those who speak them, those who hear them, and
>>>to which they refer.
There is a difference between backbiting/slander and critiquing the status
quo in society.  The latter is the obligation of all thinking persons.
>>>Baha'u'llah has
>>>indicated, as a matter of spiritual principle, that no soul is to be
Which is why Baha'is have their administrative rights taken away
essentially on political grounds by the NSA (Sobhani, Akhtarekhavari,
Langness), which then humiliates them by announcing the fact in the
American Baha'i?
>>>He has stated that the confession of sins to another save God
>>>is forbidden, inasmuch as this is a humiliating act, and God does not
>>>any soul to be humiliated.
Then why did the NSA demand that David Langness confess his sins to it?
>>> 'Abdul-Baha counselled Baha'is
>>>to say nothing which would sadden another, to avoid hurting other
>>>feelings at all costs.
Which is why rightwing Baha'is routinely accuse other Baha'is of being
covenant breakers.
>>>Public criticism is one of the ingredients of Covenant-breaking, for it
>>>challenges the authority of the Prophet, and the obligation of the
>>>to follow His ordinances.
This is a vast extension of the meaning of covenant breaking that would not
have been recognizable to Baha'is in previous periods of history, and is
evidence of a ratcheting of Baha'i culture to the cult-like Far Right.
>>>Baha'u'llah declared Mirza Yahya and his
>>>followers Covenant-breakers ("naqazin").  This was not because they did
>>>recognize Him as the prophetic fulfillment promised in the Writings of
>>>Bab and denominated "Him Whom God shall manifest"--for there were other
>>>Babis who did not become Baha'is but who were not declared
>>>Covenant-breakers.  Rather, the Azalis were declared Covenant-breakers
>>>because of their implacable opposition to, criticism of and machinations
>>>against Baha'u'llah.
And yet Azalis were not shunned.
>>>Dr. Cole alleges that the Baha'i administrative system "denies the need
>>>checks and balances."  However, it should be noted that Baha'u'llah and
>>>'Abdul-Baha indicated that the Universal House of Justice was assured at
>>>all times of infallible divine guidance, and that it would not abrogate a
>>>single provision of the Baha'i Scriptures.
So whatever the leaders do is ipso facto correct and there is no external
standard of judgment by which their actions could ever be criticized.  This
sort of thinking is typical of cult members.
>>>Finally, Dr. Cole alleges that the current membership of the NSA has
>>>its incumbency in a variety of ways, and that without nominations and
>>>campaigning it is a challenge for electors to recognize qualified
>>>individuals other than the incumbents.  While it is certain that
>>>such prospective members for the NSA has been and continues to be
>>>for the American Baha'i electorate, Dr. Cole's allegations are based upon
>>>hearsay, and seem to be bent upon undermining the credibility of the NSA
>>>rather than discerning the truth.
The American Baha'i community at some point developed a system whereby the
NSA nominates candidates to the delegates by various subtle or not so
subtle signals, and Baha'i culture is so oriented toward unquestioning
obedience that the delegates appear to be quite happy to have the NSA
essentially choose those who will fill vacancies on that body.  Not only
have a number of old-time Baha'is talked about these mechanisms privately,
including the practice whereby presence or non-presence on the stage before
elections at the National Convention is decisive, but the electoral
*results* point unambiguously to the conclusion that the elections are
manipulated.  The Nelsons are husband and wife.  Dorothy Nelson, elected in
1970, is said to have arranged in behind the scenes ways for Jim to join
her on that body in 1971.  Bill Davis is Dorothy Nelson's former employee.
Juana Conrad is Jim Nelson's former employee.  Bob Henderson succeeded his
mother, Wilma Ellis, on the NSA, and his mother married NSA member Firuz
Kazemzadeh.  African-American Alberta Deas was succeeded by
African-American Bill Roberts.  The Locke family has been filling the
'Native American' seat.   That these results could possibly be the result
of free and fair *national* elections is absolutely impossible.  The US NSA
is riven with cronyism and nepotism, and stands as incontrovertible proof
of the corruption of the Baha'i electoral system in the US.
>>> For example, he alleges that
>>>"the most widespread approach in the American Baha'i community to
>>>exegesis is literalism, as in fundamentalist Protestantism."  Inasmuch as
>>>Baha'u'llah and 'Abdul-Baha both affirmed that much of scripture is
>>>allegorical, symbolic, and spiritual in nature, not capable of being
>>>properly understood through a literalistic approach, this
>>>of the American Baha'i community seems puzzling indeed.  In fact,
>>>Baha'is study Baha'i scripture (and other scriptures) from a very broad
>>>range of perspectives, some academic, some intuitive, some scientific,
>>>pragmatic, others mystical.
Yes, but the most *wide-spread* approach in the US community is scriptural
literalism.  All you have to do to test this assertion is go on
Soc.Religion.Bahai and say you are a Baha'i who believes in Darwinian
evolution.  You will receive large numbers of replies stating that
evolution is wrong because a literal reading of Baha'i scripture says so.
Among the 'verbal covenant-breaking' charges launched at Professor John
Walbridge by Counselor Stephen Birkland and his masters was that Walbridge
denied that Socrates met with the prophets of the children of Israel,
contrary to what `Abdul-Baha said in Secret of Divine Civilization.  Not
only is literalism the most widespread approach, it is increasingly
*imposed* on pain of shunning.
>>>On the other hand, the only binding, that is,
>>>authoritative interpretations of scripture--Baha'i or otherwise--are,
>>>according to 'Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, those found in their own
>>>writings and in the works of Baha'u'llah.
In fact, both the counselors and the Universal House of Justice are now de
facto claiming the prerogative of engaging in authoritative interpretation
of scripture.  They simply put some interpretations that they don't like
into the category of 'verbal covenant-breaking,' thus in effect
anathematizing those views and ensuring that interpretations they favor are
the only ones that can be heard.  When covenant breaking was only a matter
of schism or rebellion, this was not the case.  But when you invent a
thought crime such as 'making statements contrary to the covenant' then you
are asserting the prerogative of authoritative interpretation, which is
what the UHJ has done, quite in contradiction to basic Baha'i texts and
>>>According to Dr. Cole, the Baha'i community is rife with informers, with
>>>spies, with thought police, and he implicitly compares this to allegedly
>>>Islamic norms by noting that this "system of using rank-and-file
>>>has a venerable history in the Middle East."  The present writer is not
>>>enough informed about Middle Eastern history to know whether or not Dr.
>>>has slandered one or two religions here.
Haven't slandered anyone.  Sultan Abdulhamid II, who had `Abdul-Baha
investigated, used to encourage neighbors to report on neighbors in his
empire, and enjoyed reading the reports before he went to bed each night.
Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlevi (r. 1941-1979) employed an army of secret police
informers, who infiltrated classrooms and cultural clubs and reported on
the discussions there.  Imam Ruhollah Khomeini boasted that whereas the
Shah only had a limited number of SAVAK domestic spies, in his regime all
Iranians stood ready to report on one another to the state; even children
were told to report on their parents;  Khomeini said he had 36 million
spies (i.e. the whole population of Iran then).  A similar commitment to
'reporting' fellow Baha'is exists among very large numbers of American
>>> It is required by law that
>>>witnesses report what they suspect to be illegal acts to the police.
So if I criticize President Clinton to a fellow American, it would only be
right for that person to call up the FBI and tell them I am a dangerous
radical and should be watched?
>>> individual Baha'is may report behavior which appears to
>>>break the Baha'i Covenant to one of the branches of Baha'i
>>>and this may result in representatives of one of those institutions
>>>contacting the individual in question, and seeking to ascertain the
facts in
>>>the case, or to advise the individual of the possible consequences of his
In other words, my observation in this regard was perfectly correct.
>>> certainly, Dr. Cole has
>>>been the subject of many reports to Baha'i institutions, because of his
>>>unusual interpretations of Baha'i history and doctrine, and his outspoken
>>>public criticism of various Baha'i institutions and regulations.
>>>the present writer's personal experience and conversations with many
>>>adherents suggest that most Baha'is with whom he is acquainted have never
>>>felt that they were "under constant surveillance" by fellow believers.
Obviously, one is not 'reported' if there is nothing to report.  However,
if Cole were reported on because of idiosyncratic views, then wouldn't we
expect everyone with idiosyncratic views to be reported?  And what if
rightwing Baha'is define everyone else in the community as 'idiosyncratic'?
 My files are bulging with instances of Baha'is who were 'reported,' by the
way; it is very common and no writer I know of in the community has avoided
it.   (By the way, I was not when I was a Baha'i an outspoken critic.)
>>>The policy of prepublication review was discussed in the Introduction,
>>>here Dr. Cole makes some unsupported allegations which call for
>>>He indicates that "Baha'i authors have been prevented from publishing on
>>>controversies of contemporary Baha'i history" and implies that "the
>>>of the community since about 1950 has not been written about in any
>>>because of the mandatory prepublication review of all papers, articles
>>>books by Baha'i writers.  The actual fact is that very few historians
>>>taken up the study of American Baha'i history, and that the two
>>>who have done so in recent years, Dr. Robert Stockman and Mr. Richard
>>>Hollinger, having begun with study of the early years of the community
>>>in graduate school, have not yet found the requisite time to study the
>>>primary sources for the second half of the twentieth century.  It is to
>>>hoped that more historians will participate in studying this period in
>>>American Baha'i history.
There are lots of potential historians of the American community.  You do
not mention R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, e.g.   In fact, privately a number
of them have told me that Baha'i censorship has made it impossible for them
to publish their work.
cheers   Juan Cole

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From: FG <>
Subject: fw Juan Cole  [bahai-apologetics] Cole part 5
Date: Sunday, November 15, 1998 7:47 PM
-----Original Message-----
From: Juan Cole <>
To: Dean Betts <>
Cc: <>; <>;
Date: Saturday, November 14, 1998 11:03 AM
Subject: [bahai-faith] Re: [bahai-apologetics] Cole part 5

[Cole reply to Peter Terry, pt. 5]
>>>As was noted earlier, Baha'u'llah and his successors do not permit
>>>to engage in public criticism of one another, of their government, of the
>>>Baha'i institutions, of authoritative statements of Baha'i doctrine.
This is both false and ahistorical.
>>>Cole cites many examples of electronic conversations posted to public
>>>forums, and indicates that adherents were subjected to "postpublication
>>>censorship" by various "Baha'i officials."  What he does not explicitly
>>>state, but what is obvious to the reader is that all of the conversations
>>>which elicited comment from the "institution of the learned" (that is,
>>>Counsellors, Auxiliary Board Members or their Assistants) were public,
>>>all were critical of other adherents, of Baha'i institutions, and/or of
>>>authoritative statements of Baha'i doctrine.
This is not true, either.  I have gathered up a fair number of instances
where email messages sent to a small number of people on a private list
were forwarded to the authorities, and as a result of which sanctions were
threatened against the author.  In several of these cases the author was
not critical of the Baha'i institutions, but was simply saying things they
did not want to have said.  The right of women to be eligible to serve on
the universal house of justice is one such hot-button issue that produces
heresy investigations.  Non-literal scriptural interpretation (e.g. not
accepting the Virgin Birth of Christ), and a generally 'liberal'
theological outlook appear to be others.
>>> Furthermore, Dr. Cole
>>>indicates that "Dialogue" magazine and the "Talisman" list both closed
>>>as a result of active opposition from Baha'i institutions.  While
neither of
>>>these two organs of communication were compelled to cease and desist by
>>>level of Baha'i administration, it is incontestible that both were viewed
>>>with considerable concern by the NSA and the Universal House of Justice.
You can't run a magazine like Dialogue in the US Baha'i community when the
NSA is hostile to you.  The NSA's launching of false allegations against
the editors put a chill on the enterprise that essentially closed it, and
was intended to.  (Otherwise, the NSA could have pleaded with Scholl not to
close it down).  Falsely ccusing the Talisman list-owner and his wife of
verbal covenant-breaking was likewise intended to cause him to close the
list.  You can argue legalistically that these forms of discourse weren't
formally ordered closed by the Baha'i authorities.  But that would just be
>>>The reason for this concern was that "Dialogue" and "Talisman" crossed
>>>line from private--through correct channels and privileged--criticism to
>>>public criticism, thereby compromising essential Baha'i principles.
This is false.  Dialogue articles were submitted for prepublication
censorship to the NSA, and so could not possibly cross the line to public
criticism, since their publication could simply be forbidden.
As for Talisman, the Universal House of Justice lied to the members of that
list.  In May, 1995, that body authorized the continued functioning of the
list as legitimate, and characterized such email messages as private
correspondence not requiring review.  A year later the UHJ comes after
posters on the list with false and outrageous accusations that they are
verbal covenant breakers.  So which is it?
>>> In order to resign from membership in the
>>>Baha'i community an individual must publically renounce his recognition
>>>the prophetic station of Baha'u'llah, the validity of his Covenant and
>>>obligatory character of the Baha'i laws and teachings.  Anyone who takes
>>>such a drastic course of action must assume full responsibility for his
>>>behavior.  If Dr. Cole is sincere in his renunciation of Baha'i
>>>then the present writer will look forward to his transition to a new
>>>identity, one not associated with the Baha'i Faith.  However, his
>>>in this article, and his recent book on the Baha'i Faith seem to indicate
>>>that Dr. Cole wishes to remain associated with Baha'u'llah, as a
>>>and dissident, as a reinterpreter of Baha'i text, doctrine and history.
In other words, unless I write about Baha'u'llah and the Baha'i faith in
the way that Peter Terry and his ideological soul-mates like, or unless
(better yet), I fall silent, then they will organize a conspiracy to have
me and my works shunned.
How would it look if I threatened Peter Terry in this way?  'Unless he
stops saying these awful things,' I could say, 'I will throw him off all my
lists and contact all my friends and tell them to shun him; I'll see that
no one will publish him, and no one will carry his works if they are
published.'   Of course, I would never try to bully an interlocutor that
way.  I respect reasoned argument.  But rightwing Baha'is do not.  They
want to hear only the sound of their own voices, and if any other voice is
heard, they attempt to strangle it.
>>>  All of these dissidents were ultimately unsuccessful at
>>>attracting followers, either away from the Covenant of Baha'u'llah or
>>>the populace at large.
This is the most godawful slander anyone could imagine.  Please name even
*one* 'follower' of Cole.  I am an Emersonian.  I hold for self-reliance.
If anyone tries to follow me, I will give them a good kick in the chops.
They should get their own goddamn schtick.
>>>In summation, Dr. Cole has made various allegations which, taken
>>>characterize the American Baha'i community as a cult, and the American
>>>Baha'i governing institutions as authoritarian, disingenuous, and
I haven't characterized the American Baha'i community of any such thing.  I
characterized Right Wing Baha'is and some elements of the Baha'i governance
structure in this way.
>>>He infers that the members of these institutions are routinely
>>>depriving American adherents of their basic human rights under the U.S.
Rightwing Baha'i practices of shunning, threats of shunning, prepublication
censorship, removal of administrative rights for the wrong email message,
public humiliation in the American Baha'i, prohibitions on public critiques
of the status quo, and so forth, do deprive adherents of basic human rights
as outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 He states that the "N.S.A. maintains the "orthodox" ideology
>>>in power and prevents the election to that institution of dissenters
>>>identifying them and ensuring that they do not become visible in the
I can give large numbers of examples to back this statement up.
>>>When one considers that there is a very great diversity of
>>>perspectives which individual Baha'is bring to the American Baha'i
The diversity of perspectives is only allowed among the 'non-prominent,'
who are suffered so their pockets can be picked to pay for marble palaces.
>>>when one weighs the notoriety of Dr. Cole and a number of other
>>>highly visible dissidents;
I do not understand this argument.  What am I notorious for, and why should
that affect whether my arguments and evidence are sound?  This is just
slander and rhetorical fluff.
>>>when one considers that American Baha'is tend to
>>>vote for incumbents, and do not have a record of electing "dissenters" to
>>>any position of leadership
because the NSA chases out of the faith anyone who seems to be becoming
prominent of whom they don't approve, thus rather limiting the delegates'
>>>  Inasmuch as the "dissenters" are among the most visible of
>>>"believers" in this country, it is nonsensical to suggest that the NSA
>>>ensure that "they do not become visible in the community."
Their administrative rights are removed; Henderson has Janet Rubenstein
call up their LSA's and announce that their deepening talks are cancelled;
sleazeball counselors are sent to their house to interrogate them and
threaten them with shunning; they are blackballed at major Baha'i summer
schools.  There are lots of ways to prevent visibility so as to ensure
>>> Dr. Cole sums up his case, by
>>>alleging that these "control mechanisms" discourage "spiritual
>>>entrepreneurship and keeps the religion [the Baha'i Faith] from growing
>>>the West."  He seems to be convinced that the proliferation of many
>>>interpretations of Baha'u'llah's teachings would lead to an expansion in
First you say that individual interpretation is fine.  Then you see
'proliferation of many personal interpretations' as an evil.  This kind of
double-think is very common on the Baha'i Right.
If this were the case then surely such an expansion would have
>>>occured during the past few years, inasmuch as the expression of personal
>>>interpretations has exploded into prominence since the establishment of
Baha'i free expression on the internet has been severely curtailed by the
expedient of bullying the posters.  Go back and see the effervescence on
Soc.Religion.Bahai in 1995, and compare it to the pablum posted there
nowadays.  The great Inquisition of 1996 has been very successful.
>>>the contrary, it seems most likely that this often unbridled
>>>evocation of distorted and misguided opinions has led rather to the
>>>stagnation or even the shrinkage of the American Baha'i community.
The last time the Baha'i faith expanded numerically in any significant way
in the US through conversions was the 1970s.  Since then numbers have been
stagnant, despite the phoney statistics put out from Wilmette in the
desperate hope of giving some other impression.  Since the internet only
burst on the Baha'i scene as a vehicle for the expression of individual
opinion in 1994, it can hardly be blamed for the long-term stagnation that
has characterized Mr. Henderson's term in office.
>>>"Spiritual entrepreneurship" within the context of established Baha'i
>>>and institutions is both supported and encouraged, but it would be
>>>to spiritual suicide for Baha'is to operate independently of the Baha'i
Terry then quotes Baha'u'llah on liberty in an inaccurate way.  I have
explained elsewhere that the word liberty was translated by the Arabic
al-hurriyyah, which bore connotations both of libertinism and moral license
as well as political liberty.  In this passage Baha'u'llah is condemning
the former meaning, not the latter.  He says explicitly that he approves of
liberty in certain conditions, by which he means democracy, freedom of
speech, freedom of religion, and his other principles.  Again, this is a
typical Rightwing Baha'i distortion of Baha'u'llah's words.
>>> Regard men as a flock of sheep that need a shepherd for
>>> their protection.  This, verily, is the truth, the cer-
>>> We approve of liberty in certain circum-
>>> stances, and refuse to sanction it in others.  We, verily,
>>> are the All-Knowing.
>>>This is not the sort of freedom that we discuss in mainstream American
>>>society, nor in academia for that matter.
Of course it is.  Among Baha'u'llah's commandments is that an elected
parliament be established and the rights of the people be preserved and due
process be ensured.  This attempt to use Baha'u'llah to justify arbitrary
dictatorship is not only historically flawed, it is disgusting.
cheers    Juan Cole
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