Thursday, February 24, 2005

Canadian Baha'i Threatened with Disenrollment

A friend of mine, Larry Rowe, is being threatened with the removal of his membership. From the letter the Canadian NSA sent him, it appears that his "crime" is objecting to the disenrollments of Michael McKenny and Alison Marshall. It's amazing that they should go after Larry, who is one of the nicest, non-confrontational posters out there. One of his favorite sayings is "There is no 'them'; there is only 'us'." But, as in the cases of the earlier disenrollments, the "fundamental Baha'i teaching" at issue is the infallibility of the UHJ -- Larry's eloquent defense of the even more fundamental teaching of the oneness of mankind counts for nothing in their eyes.

Here's the letter:

Dear Mr. Rowe,

The National Spiritual Assembly regrets that the pressure of other work has prevented an earlier response to your letters of 28 and 30 May 2004. The issues you have raised about two individuals who are no longer members of the Baha'i community, are familiar to us. The National Assembly had hoped that in asking Dr. Mohsen Enayat to visit you and discuss your perspectives in light of the related Baha'i principles, you might finds new ways of viewing the matter that were more in harmony with fundamental Baha'i beliefs. It appears that despite Dr. Enayat's efforts in person and in follow-up correspondence with you, the views you have held for several years remain unchanged.

The challenge before you remains one of accepting and upholding the divinely-conferred authority of the Universal House of Justice to take whatever decisions it finds necessary and timely. This is a fundamental principle of Baha'i belief and is an essential safeguard to the unity of the community. Should a person find that he can no longer accept the system of belief Baha'u'llah teaches, for whatever reason, he cannot be compelled by anyone else to do so or be prevented from making the decision to renounce it - nor would any discredit be associated with such a decision. What is not acceptable is to proclaim oneself a believer but persistently behave in a way that blatantly rejects fundamental teachings and risks undermining the unity of the community. Your insistence on your view of errors you allege the House of Justice has made, and your continued discussion of this matter with others, will leave the National Spiritual Assembly no alternative but to reconsider your membership status.

We hope the issue you face is clear and assure you of the National Spiritual Assembly's ardent prayers.

With loving Baha'i greetings,



It makes a person want to cry, or throw up, or something. The meeting mentioned with Dr. Enayat was represented to him as being an unofficial, friendly chat. I've heard this time and time again -- the Inquisition never announces itself as being an inquisition; they want you to pour out your heart so they can stomp on it. But what is so pathetic is that this lover of Baha'u'llah is considered "not a Baha'i" precisely *because* he believes in the unity of humankind, and is disturbed by the blatant injustices the House has committed against some of his fellow-believers.

Disenrollment is now the preferred way of dealing with dissidence over the Internet. Normal religions, you know, don't deprive people of membership for disagreeing with a decision or policy made by the leadership. I looked and looked for religions that did this, and those that do are at the cult-like end of the scale: Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, Eckankar, etc. The Baha'i Faith holds itself up as the hope of the world, yet it is busily throwing people out just like a minor cult. Even the very conservative Mormons are more tolerant of dissent that Baha'is are.

Some people have told me that there were disenrollments before Michael McKenny's in 1997, but this only came out after they started disenrolling Internet posters -- and I have not seen documentation to this effect, just stories. Earlier disenrollees were supposed to be largely people who got too involved in secular politics, particularly in Iran. But, for most of us, we spent years in the Faith believing that the only way a Baha'i got off the rolls was to explicitly renounce Baha'u'llah. Even resignation letters that still affirmed belief in Baha'u'llah were not accepted and the individual remained on the rolls. With the Internet, everything changed. Here are the Internet posters who have been disenrolled to date:

July 1997: Canadian fantasy writer Michael McKenny was a polite poster, who was deeply concerned about the issues of women's exclusion from the UHJ and censorship within the Faith. He met with his ABM, who encouraged him to write to the UHJ. A few months later, he was informed that his name had been removed from the rolls, after 25 years of membership.

February 1999: Frederick Glaysher, owner of the site Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience was quietly dropped from the rolls. He was a fairly strident poster, but deserves credit for having the largest collection of documents about administrative injustices on the web. Glaysher was never informed of his disenrollment, and the knowledge only became public when someone checked out his status in Willmette. Up until his recent attempt to start a Baha'i splinter group, Fred continually insisted that he was a "Baha'i in Good Standing" since the administration never informed him otherwise.

March 2000: Alison Marshall, a New Zealand mystic and poet, was removed from the rolls, most likely because of her lack of belief in UHJ infallibility, although her stance on women's exclusion was also mentioned in the records. Details of her story can be found on her website. Alison maintains her faith as an unenrolled Baha'i, and as I pointed out recently, she is still teaching the Faith. She had been a member of the Baha'i Faith for 20 years.

Besides these, there are several posters on liberal groups that have been investigated and/or threatened with punitive action.

'Abdu'l-Baha' prohibited the very similar Muslim practice of "takfir", where a Muslim is declared an unbeliever. (The main difference is, of course, that in Islam, this carries the death penalty.) The practice is actually controversial in Islam, precisely for the same reason 'Abdu'l-Baha' objected to it: it is divisive. What the Baha'i administration has done is create a situation where there are Baha'is on the inside, and Baha'is on the outside. They no longer define "Baha'i" as "a believer in Baha'u'llah", but as "a believer in the infallibility of the UHJ" -- something that Baha'u'llah never even taught! (The issue of infallibility, of course, could make up an essay in itself. In fact, here is one such essay.)

The second thing that's wrong is that the UHJ has no scriptural authority to interpret the Teachings, yet they are throwing Baha'is off the membership rolls for disagreeing with their interpretations.

Finally, in some of these case, there was no warning whatsoever that any kind of sanction was being considered against them. Michael, being the first, certainly had no reason to expect this would happen to him. Fred wasn't even notified when he was removed, much less given any warning that it would happen. Alison was specifically told that the "internal opposition" on the Internet was not a problem in New Zealand, so she was lulled into a false sense of security. Larry appears to be the first one who was specifically warned that his membership is in danger.

Finally, there is no way to defend one's self against this kind of attack. They say "You don't accept fundamental Baha'i teaching". The accused says "But, here this is, right in the Writings of Baha'u'llah!" They say "Tough. You don't see it our way, you're out." So, who cares about what Baha'u'llah said; it's what the UHJ says that matters, right?

I can't see how anybody can look at what Alison or Larry has written and say with a straight face that they aren't Baha'is.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Yes, We All Inhaled

I guess I've been in the mood lately for lighter stories, and as I've told all my friends, I don't do anything on this blog I'm not in the mood for, since I'm not really actively cultivating an audience.

And this flap over George W. talking about smoking dope in his riotous youth fits in the "light" category. C'mon, the guy was a partier back then -- did anybody seriously think for a moment he *didn't* smoke marijuana? It wouldn't surprise me a bit to find out that he dabbled in more serious drugs.

Just about everybody I know that is now between the ages of 40 and 60 smoked marijuana at one time or another; it was part of the culture at the time. Even cocaine wasn't a big deal (outside of it being expensive and the "rich man's high"); in my drug education as a kid, I was told that it wasn't addictive. I never tried it, but I might have if I'd had the opportunity. I was never really into partying that much -- there were other things I wanted to do with my life, but like most people who were teenagers in the 70s, I did dabble a bit.

Now, that all of us are grown up and have kids of our own, we have collective amnesia. Somewhere around 1985, everything flip-flopped and the world turned Puritan. Sex was dangerous because of AIDS, and we earnestly warn our kids about "gateway drugs", which is just an updated version of the "if you smoke marijuana, you'll end up addicted to heroin" argument we used to laugh at when we were young. And, unlike our own parents, we include tobacco and alcohol in the mix. And, unlike ourselves, our own kids listen to the message.

Is this hypocritical? Yeah, just a bit. But even though this amuses me, as a parent I understand it. My own kids seem incredibly naive compared to my friends and I at the same age -- and I'm glad that they are. I don't want them doing what I did, because some of the things I did were really stupid and it's only by sheer luck that I didn't end up in trouble -- and all of those in our age group knew people that did. So, that's what I emphasize when I talk to my kids. My son has no interest in partying, being a pretty straight, rule-following kind of kid generally. My daughter has more curiosity, which usually takes the form of "What would you do if I did that?", and my answers are far more strict than I would have received at the same age.

While it seems prudent to be on the strict side when it comes to our kids, it seems just a little silly to act shocked about what any of our peers did before the world went Puritan.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Is Nothing Sacred?

I never thought in a million years I'd have a reason to link to Jonah Goldberg, but there are some issues that transcend politics. Warner Bros. is making a stupid, new, futuristic Bugs Bunny.

Many's the Saturday morning, before our kids were born, when Jim and I would watch Bugs over coffee -- the mere mention that *The Rabbit of Seville* was playing was enough to get my late-sleeping husband to jump out of bed. I happen to think that *What's Opera, Doc?* aka *Kill the Wabbit* is the best cartoon ever made. We catch each others' eyes and break up laughing when we hear Wagner, because we are picturing Bugs Bunny in drag, on that goofy, fat, white horse, singing "Retoin my Love". We giggle every time Jacques Chiraq is mentioned on the news, because we are thinking of Blacque Jacques Shellaq, from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. This isn't childhood nostalgia -- they are messing with memories that are downright romantic!

I reported this outrage to Jim, who said he couldn't bear to look, and sadly commented on how some people will do anything for a buck.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Introductory Website on Baha'u'llah

My friend,Alison Marshall has just put up a brand-new website with an introduction to Baha'u'llah and Baha'i teaching. For those of you not in the know, Alison is a Baha'i mystic who was thrown off the Baha'i membership rolls in March 2000 because the administration didn't like her internet postings. She has gradually become less engaged with Baha'i email lists, focusing on her own spiritual endeavors. To me, it's just amazing that she can continue to focus on teaching the Faith, something that most Baha'is who have been treated badly by the system have a tough time with, even if they retain belief in Baha'u'llah.

There really isn't anything that is overtly unorthodox about this new site; I don't think anyone would guess at her background, if they weren't already aware of it. She isn't spending space in this website for criticisms of the current state of the Baha'i community. However, it does differ in the style of presentation from most introductory material about the Baha'i Faith. There is more emphasis on Baha'u'llah, and the spiritual aspects of his teaching, and less on the social teachings. The familiar list of "Baha'i principles" is missing; instead she refers to Baha'u'llah's writings that deal with social issues. Her history page stops at Baha'u'llah, and does not go into the accounts of the ministries of 'Abdu'l-Baha', Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice that one would usually find in a Baha'i introduction. She also links to academic material and unofficial translations that would be unlikely to show up in a more conventional Baha'i website.

Anyway, I think she's done a good job here. I have always said that the only way to "win" the Baha'i Wars between liberals and fundamentalists is to "out-Baha'i" the opposition i.e. to be better Baha'is than they are. I can't think of anyone who demonstrates that better than Alison.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Conservative Victimhood

Just a quickie for today -- I particularly liked the end of the article:

Still, I find the attention to campus politics charming. The only ones who take universities as seriously as universities take themselves are activists on the right.

When Harvey Mansfield, a Harvard University conservative, was asked about the difficulty conservatives had getting tenure, he sighed ironically, "Well, I guess they'll have to go to Washington and run the country."

Want to talk real power? If the faculty clubs are blue, corporate management offices are red. In the name of diversity, let's trade some liberal sociologists for conservative oil executives.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Those Liberal College Professors

I haven't been following the whole Ward Churchill flap closely -- to me, it's a pretty routine thing that I've seen from conservatives for the last couple of decades: Radical college professor says some outrageous thing, and folks are all upset that this person is paid to indoctrinate our vulnerable young people in such anti-American ideas -- yada, yada, yada.

However, I did happen to catch Churchill's defense of himself on C-span last night. It is generally my opinion that any person has a constitutional right to make as much of an ass of himself as he likes, and that includes college professors, and so I was actually prepared for much worse than I saw. The guy's a good speaker; one could almost say charismatic, and the actual content of his defense was pretty much as I expected i.e. that by supporting our corrupt and capitalistic system which profits by the deaths of the poor, the terrorists were justified in blowing these people up. Now, that's a pretty extreme statement, and I think trying to justify the deaths of innocents anywhere is a pretty terrible thing to do. (In fact, I'm repelled by the bloodthirsty delight of people who relish the prospect of the deaths of those not-so-innocent.) However, I heard more radical professors say similar things when I was in college -- one of them justified the Iranian takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and the taking of the hostages there, because the whole thing was about the oil companies. But it is the outrageous and offensive political speech that most needs protection; that's what freedom of expression is all about.

What pissed me off most in the speech is that a questioner brought up Churchill's efforts to get the stop the local Columbus Day parade, which he justified by some weird interpretation of the ninth amendment. He, apparently, has the right to freedom of expression, but he has no problem at all with trying to get other people to shut up. I have also heard that there are ethical problems with some of Churchill's academic work, and if that's the case, then firing him is justified -- but not because of his radical op-ed pieces.

I mostly meet the cries of conservatives about liberal college professors with yawns. I mean, come on, conservatives dominate this country, and yet right-wingers feel the need to fuss and fume about the few liberal-dominated arenas we have left. They especially seem afraid that some kid, somewhere, might grow up to be liberal. I don't know about you folks, but my thinking is a whole lot different than it was when I was 21. In my own case, I am actually *less* conservative than I was then. It doesn't hurt young people a bit to be exposed to the other side for the brief period in their lives that they are in college -- and whether they are will very much depend on what classes they take. I deliberately avoided ethnic studies when I was a kid, and fulfiled the college's "ethnic studies" requirement by taking a class on immigration, figuring I'd rather take a look at a variety of ethnic groups than dwell on the grievances of any one of them in particular. Even the most naive of 18-year-olds know what they are going to get when they sign up for certain classes, and word goes around about which professors are ideologues. Most of my economics classes were taught by conservatives. Big deal.

But what really is a big deal is that academic freedom and freedom of expression is preserved, whether it's a radical ideologue college professor, or folks that want to have a Columbus Day parade.

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'.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Round Two

The Cole vs. Goldberg thing is still going on. Maybe it's the "gentle Baha'i" in me, but I feel somewhat naughty that I'm enjoying this. It's actually more fun than the debates on Baha'i forums -- because those debates are closer to home, and there's more of a chance that I might be the one out there duking it out in the arena, which I don't actually enjoy that much. Even if I were to pontificate about matters political, Iraqi, or Middle Eastern, I doubt if anyone would pay me even enough attention to call me an idiot. Judging by the comments, the few folks that are checking in here are either Baha'is I know from email forums, and a couple that probably ran into this blog in a Baha'i search.

I suppose I should think of something profound about human nature right about now -- that it says something about us that these sorts of cat fights will get so much attention in cyberspace, whether in blogs or email forums, while attempts at more reasoned discourse are lucky to get any sort of response at all. A friend of mine is fond of saying that the doctrine of Original Sin is the only Christian belief that can be empirically proven: All you have to do is look around you at human behavior!

Yeah, right. Paul, go get me some more popcorn; I'm watching the Monday Night Fights. ;-)

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Just when I thought things were getting dull

Nothing like watching a good smackdown in cyberspace, and Juan can really do it, when he wants to. Anyway, to get the gist of the story, start here and click around on the links. Basically, what happened is that blogger Jonah Goldberg attacked Juan, and Juan squashed him flat. And the poor idiot made things worse in his response. Nobody should ever respond to a thing like "If you're so hot on this war, why aren't *you* there?" A smart person would cut their losses, but Goldberg goes on with stuff about how he's got a little daughter, and a job, and a life -- like the soldiers who are fighting over there don't have those things!

Lots of folks going back and forth about how Juan likes to flash his credentials in an argument. Yeah, he likes to do that -- always did. But he *does* have them, and the vast majority of people who like to pontificate on various subjects don't. You can't justifiably complain about a person coming off like a "know-it-all", when they actually do know quite a bit. Yes, it's irritating to find out that there's someone out there who knows more than you do, especially if they disagree with you, but grown-ups learn to deal with it.

The actual issues tend to get lost in the shuffle during a cyber-storm like this, but every once in a while I enjoy getting myself a bag of popcorn and a ringside seat.