Thursday, January 20, 2005

Baha'i Missionaries Arrested in Iran

I have now heard, from two different sources, that two foreign Baha'i missionaries, have been arrested and expelled for teaching the Faith in Iranian universities. The story came from the Fars News Agency, and a translation of the article appears here.

It is, of course, a blatant human rights violation, to arrest people for practicing or promoting their religion, and the rights of Iranian Baha'is have been abused terribly -- and that has been the case ever since the revolution in 1979. What is new and shocking about this story is the actions of the Baha'is themselves. I have been told, ever since I became a Baha'i in 1985, that it is absolutely forbidden for Baha'is to teach the Faith to anyone from the Middle East, even those living in the U.S., because it could be dangerous for the friends in those countries. The two arrested do not appear to be independent mavericks (a rare breed among Baha'is anyway), because the article says they are "based in London", which is where the Baha'i Office of Persian and Arab Affairs in located. This office works at the direction of the UHJ, who appoints the liason officer to countries in the Middle East. According to the article, this project has been going on for five years.

There are two rumors associated with this story -- both of which sound plausible, but which I am unable to confirm at this moment. The first is that several Iranian Baha'is have been arrested in connection with this missionary activity. This is certainly very likely; a planned teaching effort coordinated from the outside would depend on help from Iranian Baha'is, and a wider government crackdown would be the expected result.

The second rumor is that yesterday's announcement of the resignations of Ian Semple and Douglas Martin is associated with these arrests i.e. that these two UHJ members, independent of the others, arranged for this dangerous project and have been asked to resign. It is something of a Baha'i myth that decisions can only be made by institutions as a whole and that individual members have no power. UHJ members wield enormous influence, and if one of them called up a Baha'i office anywhere in the world and said "The House wants you to do this", I can't imagine anyone asking for proof that it was indeed a House decision and not just the action of an individual. NSA secretaries have similar power, and commonly act on behalf of the entire body. Anyway, the attitude of obedience that Baha'is have towards their institutions is wide open for abuse that way.

The other factor that makes this plausible is that I know that at least some members of the UHJ harbor a belief that the Baha'i Faith is destined to reform Iran; this has been recently mentioned in a letter to Iranian Baha'is discouraging them from leaving their country. This hasn't been the first statement like that; it seems the UHJ fears that the Iranian Baha'i community will shrink to nothingness, and won't be able to fulfill its prophetic "destiny". This could very well be the motivation behind covert efforts to convert Iranian youth. I know of other policies that have been guided by obscure prophetic expectation -- the impetus behind the extravagant building projects in Haifa was directly connected to a saying of Shoghi Effendi's that their completion would coincide with the Lesser Peace, which was thought to be due in the year 2000. There is nothing in Baha'i scripture that endows the Guardian with perfect prophetic insight, and other predictions of his have failed to occur.

While I may be able to get confirmation of the first rumor, it will probably be well-nigh impossible to get confirmation of the second. If Semple and Martin are resigning over this, it is almost certain that it won't be announced publicly.

The more I think about it, the more plausible this rumor seems to me: Somebody authorized these two Baha'is to coordinate teaching activity in Iran, and that "somebody" had to be at the international level.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If Semple and Martin resigned over the missionary scandal, the UHJ isn't about to tell us. That's the kind of thing that Haifa is very good at sitting on until the coast is clear.

What might give us a clue, however, is who gets elected to replace them. I imagine that NSA members will be in a better position to find out what happened, and this will be reflected in their vote. Will it be another member of the ITC, or will it be an NSA member from one of the larger countries?

My guess is that if Semple and Martin are being run out of Haifa two steps ahead of the tar and feather committee, you might see an NSA member get elected. Personally, I'm selfishly hoping we send Robert C. Henderson, if only to get him and his pompous well-dressed ass out of Wilmette. Then again, we might not want to do that to the rest of the world if we're good Baha'is.

Oh well. :-)