Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Two UHJ Members Resign

The news has just been released that Ian Semple and Doug Martin have resigned from the Universal House of Justice. Semple had been a member since the first election back in 1963, and he really was past due for retirement. Martin's resignation comes as something of a surprise, though, and cyberspace being what it is, that's already a matter for some speculation.

These two gentlemen are not well thought of among the Baha'i intellectual crowd, since they both played a pivotal role in trying to suppress academic views of the Baha'i Faith. Ian Semple was one of the two UHJ members who grilled Denis MacEoin (or, as he put it, played "good cop, bad cop") about his academic writing -- pressure which ultimately led to his withdrawal from the Baha'i Faith in 1980. Semple is also said to have played a role in the Talisman crackdown of 1996, and to be a strong proponent of theocracy.

Juan Cole has written some stuff on the history of Doug Martin, who apparently was calling Juan a covenant-breaker as early as the 1980s.

It is very difficult to verify all but the most basic information on members of the UHJ; most of the information I have about individual members' views ultimately comes back-channel, or from the talks they sometimes give. Before I came onto the Internet, I probably couldn't have named three members of that body. Some Baha'is actually pride themselves on this kind of ignorance, insisting that the actual composition of the House doesn't matter, since it only acts as a body, and its decisions are infallible. However, it is just magical thinking to believe that the attitudes and views of the men serving there don't have any influence on the course the Baha'i Faith takes, or that the House just acts as a kind divine conduit where personalities suddenly cease to exist once consultation begins. I have actually heard this view, though -- I recall a poster saying that it wouldn't matter if the House consisted of nine Westerners or nine Eskimos, the decisions would be the same because they all come from God.

Anyway, the Baha'i World now has the opportunity to choose some better men for the job. One frequently-mentioned area of concern is that, since 1993, all of the members of the UHJ have come from the International Teaching Center -- that is, Counsellors from the appointed wing of the Faith, who very often have a strong "protection" mindset, since that's their job. Before this, members where usually elected from the National Spiritual Assemblies of the larger Baha'i communities. So, a kind of incestuous relationship has been set up, where the UHJ appoints the ITC members, which provides the candidate pool for the UHJ. It amounts to the UHJ members appointing their own successors. Since this issue has been frequently and openly discussed over the past several years on the Internet, I'm hoping that some of the NSA members will reconsider, and break this pattern. We did, in the US, elect some more moderate people to the NSA in recent years, and I'm hoping the same can be done at the international level.


Anonymous said...

you talk a load of rubbish - all hearsay and nastiness - stop getting so political it does no one any good. Don't bother writing back as I won't be wasting my time reading your verbal garbage

Anonymous said...

Thanks for insightful blog!