Wednesday, February 09, 2005

What "Going Through Channels" Means

I was struck by a chord of familiarity when I read this story by a young woman blogger arrested in Iran. When she asked about the charges, she was told :

That you have written things in your Web log that go against the Islamic system and that encourage people to topple the system," he said. "You are inviting corrupt American liberalism to rule Iran."

When she was asked about how she and her fellow bloggers were organized, she said:

"We are not organized against the state," I said. "I write because I want to criticize the system. There are some things in our state that should be corrected."

"Why don't you write an e-mail directly to the supreme leader's office?" he asked. "The supreme leader considers all criticisms and takes corrective actions."

This is absolutely spooky in its parallels to how fundamentalists think the Baha'i system ought to work. Again and again, I and other Baha'i liberals have been told that if only we went through channels, all would be well. Some of these people get really mad about it, saying that if we were "sincere", we wouldn't be airing our grievances publicly, but would confine them to internal venues. Especially common is the suggestion that we should write to the UHJ, although such letters were a factor in at least three cases where Baha'i liberals were threatened or sanctioned. More often, writing to the House is simply used as an occasion to defend the status quo.

Here's one re-statement of the official position on this:

  1. Central to your perception of the statements made by the believers about whom you are concerned are their assertions that they are entirely obedient to the spirit of the Covenant and the institutions of the Faith; that they are merely voicing their disagreement with certain decisions and policies made by these institutions; are protesting against what they perceive to be unjust or improper actions by some people who occupy prominent administrative positions; and are suggesting modifications to Baha'i procedures to prevent such perceived abuses of authority. These assertions, however, overlook certain important Baha'i principles which provide the methods and channels for the voicing of such grievances or disagreements, and which are designed to lead to resolution of problems while preserving the unity of the community.

  2. Over many years, a few believers in the United States, instead of confining their protests against what they saw as abuses of authority by Baha'i bodies to the channels and agencies which are plentifully provided for such a purpose, have been publicly and privily assailing the institutions of the Cause and generalizing specific accusations of injustice to such an extent as to accuse the entire system of corruption, not only in practice, but also in form and theory.
As I pointed out in an earlier posting here , this notion of "going through channels", far from being an "important Baha'i principle" is nowhere found in the Writings and is something that has simply evolved in Baha'i culture.

This young Iranian dissident knows that this idea is total bullshit, and so do Baha'i dissidents. The only difference between both of these authoritarian systems is that one controls a state, and therefore has the power to arrest people, and the other controls a religion and can only get rid of critics by pushing them out of the community. Both systems even share a disdainful attitude towards "American liberalism", which is regarded as a corrupting factor. The difference narrows even further when you consider that fundamentalist Baha'is don't regard their administration simply as a way of running their religion, but a system that will evolve into being a civil government as well as a religious authority. They want to turn the whole world into Iran.

And the worse thing is that it has nothing to do with anything Baha'u'llah ever taught; he admired democracy, as did 'Abdu'l-Baha'.


Marco Oliveira said...

Concerning baha’i administation:
One of the most common mistakes amongst baha'is is to mix the Baha'i Administrative Order with the New World Order.
Baha'í Administrative Order should grow to become a true World Religious Organization; it should be different from other religious organizations and its principles and objectives are on our writings. The New World Order is a world political system, more balanced and just to all peoples of the world. It was envisaged by Baha'u'lláh and some aspects of the Baha'í system may influence it, but it is a totally different system.
We believe in separation between state and religion, right?

Concerning the letter from the letters from "Baha'i liberals" who "were threatened or sanctioned":
It is hard to believe such thing. Are those letters available on-line? And the answers to?
(Sorry for my ignorance on this issue)

Karen said...

Dear Marco,

Yes, indeed, Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha' taught separation of church and state, but many Baha'is believe that the administration is destined to become a world-wide theocracy, and the administration supports this viewpoint. For more on this controversy, put "theocracy" or "church and state" into a search at

The three occasions where communication with the UHJ contributed to Baha'i liberals beings sanctioned are:

1. The 1988 letters from Steve Scholl and David Langness, appealing to the UHJ about the NSAs treatment of the *Dialogue* magazine editors. These letters were openly read, without the writers' permission, on the floor of the 1988 National Convention here in the U.S. I was present on that occasion. I also have the respsonding letter from the UHJ, which accused the editors of "inordinate criticism"; since this did not take place in the magazine, it has to be the letters that are being referred to here. Information on the *Dialogue* crackdown are several places on the web, and it has been extensively discussed online. I suggest you put "dialogue + magazine + search" into Google. Or you can also put Steve Scholl and/or David Langness' names into a search.

2. David Langness was one of those investigated during the administration's crackdown on the email list *Talisman* in 1996. He was accused of "making statements contrary to the Covenant." When he asked for an archive of the offensive postings, the Counsellor told him that his letters to the UHJ were sufficient proof. I have these letters on my computer, but they are not on the web; they are appeals to the UHJ David made when the US NSA threatened to remove his administrative rights for a posting he made to Talisman. He retracted, but the NSA sanctioned him anyway.

3. Michael McKenny both corresponded and met personally with an ABM in Canada, who recommended that he take his concerns to the UHJ. A few months later, he was simply removed from the membership rolls, on order of the House. Documents pertaining to his case, including his letter to the UHJ, can be found at

All of these issues have been extensively discussed on various Baha'i forums, and there is material on the web. I have links to a great deal of it on my website:

Baquia said...

Spooky is the right word, Karen.

Jeebus! It really disturbs me to see such a comparison. It somehow reminds me of the end of "Animal Farm".

How can something so beautiful become something so ugly?

Karen said...

Hi Baquia!

Animal Farm, indeed, where the leaders of the oppressed end up making themselves into exact replicas of their oppressors.

I don't know if it ever would have struck me so hard, if I hadn't been in countless Internet debates, where the issue of "going through channels" is endlessly repeated by administration-defenders like some sort of mantra. This is supposed to be one of the big sins of virtually all those who got into trouble with the administration over their Internet postings.

On the surface, it sounds so reasonable -- just work within the system, go the the institutions, and things will work out. But some of these people "worked within the system" for years -- getting nowhere.

But the same thing, said to a blogger in Iran really brings home exactly what kind of system that is. If you are only allowed to take complaints "through channels", what it really means is that you can be safely ignored, and authorities can be sure that no grassroots movement towards reform ever develops. It keeps critics isolated and alienated. You are given the choice of a futile "consultation" with Baha'i authorities, or being condemned for breaking their invented "fundamental Baha'i principle."

Both the Baha'i administration, and the Iranian government, seek to inculcate religious values that render them completely immune from criticism. This is what theocracy looks like, folks.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeh, right, like a Catholic is going to get all the injustices in the Catholic system corrected by sending an email to the Pope! ;-P

The concept of "theocracy" is scary, whether it comes from the ayatollahs of Iran or the Christian fundamentalists of the USA (and their agenda is avowedly as "theocratic" as the Iranians', according to one recently leaked video!) ;-P

The most beautiful always becomes the most ugly in its institutional forms... no surprises there! The Nazi party started out as the "German National SOCIALIST Workers' Party", remember? ;-P

Anonymous said...

"The most beautiful ALWAYS becomes the most ugly in it's institutional form."

This is a very, very profound insight!

There is an ocean of truth it it. There is a recent documentary I want to see that says all business corporations conduct themselves as psychopaths!

No individual person could conduct themselves this way without facing criminal charges.

This is why a court system within the Faith is needed. But it will NEVER come because the Baha'i Faith now is a system of entrenched cowardice.

Those "proper channels" are filled with incredibly lazy and cowardly people. No honorable person would ever fill those positions as they currently are at our current abysmal level of functioning. It is completely embarrassing. We just don't have competent people in the Baha'i Administrative Order.

But our worse problem is that we don't have any truly spiritual people in it. That is even worse. We only have entrenched neurotics who are using the Faith as a cover for their mental and emotional problems in life.

Yes. It could work if we grew to the point where we could get normal people into the ranks. I once believed we could. But now it looks like we really are on the death spiral. I am hoping for a miracle. But I don't see anything on the horizon. Just more of the same as the Faith is run completely into the ground.

We must establish term limits at every level and do it yesterday! Otherwise, every day that goes by is another nail in the coffin.

As of now, the Administrative Otder just does not have the caliber of open souls needed. We just don't. The entire system is sick and no one will speak up.

The Faith is now going to collapse and the quickening power of the World Age is going to go to other communities of souls. There are communities of thought and belief on the Internet that are much more vitally engaged with Baha'u'llah's ideas than us. One of those groups is going to get the card from the Universe to play and clean our clock. So sad. Because it was once ours to do! But we ran everything we touched and every opportunity completely into the ground.