The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


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

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

Juan Cole - Menu

From: Juan R. I. Cole <>
To: Rhonda Wittorf <>; <>; <>
Cc: <>; <>
Subject: Re: Re[2]: anonymous remailers
Date: Wednesday, December 03, 1997 1:56 PM

Look, my dear friends, I didn't send my message to Irfan about anonymous
remailers in order to provoke a witch hunt against the people forwarding the
messages.  I have much more respect for the people who declined to sign on
to Irfan because they knew they would feel an impulsion to pass "offending"
messages over to the Baha'i administration.  But it has long been obvious
that a number of persons were signed on to Irfan under false pretences, as,
essentially, spies.  While I think this makes them "not Baha'is" since
Shoghi Effendi strictly forbade lying, I think we can all understand the
immature sense of "ethics" that drives them to do this.  They are between 3
and 4 on the Kohlberg scale.  They don't know how to reconcile their loyalty
to the faith with their ethical obligations to other irfanis (stage 3); and
they are willing to sacrifice their personal integrity for the sake of a
group ideology (an odd mixture of stage 2 and stage 4).  All totalitarian
organizations and one-party states produce such people, and the Baha'i
community is riddled with more informers per square inch than was the old
Soviet Union or the Shah's Iran.

The reason I sent my message was simply to acknowledge that my expectation
that the Baha'i *institutions* would not be so dishonorable as to act on
information supplied unethically was incorrect.  They appear entirely
willing to snoop through informants' reports from private lists for signs of
heresy and then to initiate proceedings against the poster.

In this situation, and given what has happened to devoted Baha'is who
sacrificed so much of their lives for the good of the Baha'i faith and for
service to humankind and universal ideals, such as Linda Walbridge, Steve
Scholl, David Langness, Michael McKenny and a number of other persons who
have been silenced behind the scenes, it appears to me that the only viable
way to continue to function as a real Baha'i (as opposed to a fundamentalist
cultist masquerading as a Baha'i) in cyberspace is to become anonymous.  I
have forwarded some information about relatively secure anonymous remailers.
I personally think that one of the things that drives the ongoing
inquisition is concern about cyberspace visibility translating into
electability, so anonymity might be enough to induce the authorities to lay off.

The point is that the Baha'i institutions have developed a mixture of
totalitarian and fundamentalist ideology that disallows academic scholarship
(thus the silencing of Fadil Mazandarani, the expulsion of Abbas Amanat, and
the charging of Linda Walbridge and me), disallows independent Baha'i media
not controlled by the institutions, and disallows the public expression of
individual faith commitments at variance with the
totalitarian/fundamentalist orthodoxy.  In a very clever set of reversals,
these authoritarian policies are actually attributed to Baha'u'llah,
`Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, despite the clear evidence that they did
not and would not have approved of any such thing.  The various repressive
strategies adopted by this one-party Baha'i state, including informing,
surveillance, blackballing, threats, administrative sanctions, and
ultimately shunning, have been remarkably effective in stultifying Baha'i
intellectual and spiritual life and keeping the religion a tiny cult in the
industrialized world.  (Most Baha'is have no idea how tiny the religion
really is--only a few hundred in most European countries, e.g.).

The *only* way for the faith to break out of this gridlock and develop and
flourish in the West is for the Baha'is to develop civil society.  There
have to be *public* institutional spaces wherein the failed policies that
have caused such stagnation here and elsewhere can be critiqued, wherein
critical thinking can be pursued in common, and an alternative to
totalitarian fundamentalism developed.  The hard-line, old-style Baha'is in
the mold of Holley and Furutan are attempting to prevent this healthy
development by targeting thinking Baha'is and chasing them out or dropping
them off the rolls or silencing them.  They think they are defending the
faith even though they are wreaking enormous harm to it.  Just as Brezhnev
thought he was defending socialism in invading Czechoslavakia or
Afghanistan, but was in fact digging its grave.

If anonymity in email is necessary to go forward with genuine Baha'i
thinking, which is to say, with universal love, service to humankind, the
unity of science and religion (and therefore of reason and faith), the equal
rights of all, freedom of conscience and speech, and other principles we all
thought we were endorsing when we joined the Baha'i faith (but the opposite
of which are secretly held by the cult "administrative order")--then let
there be anonymity.

cheers Juan