Hossain B. Danesh Seminar on Baha’i Marriage and Family

It is deeply troubling to see the National Assembly of Canada continue to promote Hossain B. Danesh. He is provided with official Baha’i venues, promoted through official channels and presented as a leading figure to the community in the very field from which he was expelled because of sexual misconduct towards his patients.

Hossain DaneshTo those unfamiliar with the history, Hossain Danesh was a psychiatrist practicing in Canada as well as a long time member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada from the 1980′s to early 1990′s. He was Secretary General of the NSA for many of those years.

Multiple patients brought charges of sexual misconduct against Hossain Banadaki Danesh. The result of the investigation and procedure was that in 1994 the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons along with Hossain Danesh and the victims came to an out of court agreement. This agreement resulted in Danesh being stripped of his membership in that organization as well as losing his legal rights to practice as a psychiatrist and the forfeiting of any future application for re-entry into same. As well, Danesh agreed to pay $10,000 towards the costs of therapy for the three former patients. Danesh did not admit to any of the charges as part of the out of court settlement, which is normal for these sorts of things.

Throughout the process Danesh was allowed to maintain his membership in the NSA and he only resigned his membership because he had been gifted a new cushy job as head of the newly established Baha’i university, Landegg Academy, in Switzerland. Danesh was shipped off across the ocean, away from the scandal and safely nestled into this new job. Unfortunately the gig didn’t last long as Danesh’s management and leadership sank Landegg into a sea of debt.

Now that Hossein Danesh is back in Canada, the ‘old boy’ network, of which he was a ranking member, has continued to promote him in the very field in which he disgraced himself. In the past few years he has been repeatedly promoted by the institutions for seminars such as “Healthy Marriage and Family Life” and “Shaping our Destiny: An Open Forum for Youth and Young Adults”. The latest will be April 15th at the Toronto Baha’i Center:

Reflections on the Baha’i Concept of Suffering

The talk will address suffering as often encountered in marriages and families these days and is suitable for both Baha’is and any interested friends. There will be time for questions and answers that permit exploring the many dimensions and experiences that frequently come up in relation to this topic. We are looking into making arrangements for simultaneous translation into Persian.

For those who may not know him, Dr. Danesh is an author, international lecturer and consultant, with more than thirty five years of academic and clinical experience as a psychiatrist and peace educator.

If someone is going to give a seminar on weight loss, you would balk if they waddled onto the stage, wheezing from the exertion of having to cart their massively obese form around. It is as ludicrous to have a man who was disgraced and thrown out of his profession for sexual misconduct to give a seminar on relationships.

Why is Danesh given the star treatment? why are seminars arranged for him? why are these community events promoted heavily by the NSA in Baha’i communities through official Baha’i channels? why is the truth about his past hidden? why is he referred to as a “psychiatrist” when he does not have the legal right to use that title?

To be clear this issue is not a personal one with Hossain Danesh. Rather it is about the nature of the community that we wish to develop and the values which we want to uphold and present to the world at large. It is wrong for the NSA of Canada to promote Danesh to a position of trust within the community for topics like family, relationships, and marriage simply because he was the quintessential insider. By doing so they are communicating that they are more aligned with personal ‘network’ connections and less so with the animating spirit and values of the Baha’i Faith. They are demonstrating that they value “Danesh’s” prestige more than they value the community itself.

Peter Khan Passes Away

Previous member of the Universal House of Justice Peter Khan has passed away today. Over the years we’ve discussed Khan’s extremist viewpoints more than a few times. He was also a key player in Alison Marshall’s expulsion as well as the UHJ member with the portfolio of Asia sent to pummel into submission the New Zealand Baha’i community when they balked at her treatment by the institutions.

Below is the message from the UHJ:

We grieve at the sudden passing of our dearly loved former colleague Peter J. Khan, whose many years of service in the Holy Land, concluded so recently, are still fresh in our memories. By any measure, his was a remarkable life, one of earnest striving, of unbending resolve, of unflinching dedication to principle, and of constancy of effort. Discovering the Faith in his early youth, he had an unbroken record of outstanding service that included membership of the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia, of the Auxiliary Board for Propagation in North America, of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Australasia, and of the International Teaching Centre and that culminated in his election to the Universal House of Justice on which body he served for twenty-three years. His considerable intellectual gifts manifested themselves in every aspect of his service to the Cause of God: in his stalwart defence of the Covenant, in the exemplary manner in which he discharged his manifold administrative duties, in his acquainting generations of youth with the transforming vision of Shoghi Effendi, in his championing the advancement of women, in his diligent attention to the stewardship of the Faith’s material resources, and in his presentations of the verities of the Cause with uncommon eloquence and endearing humour to unnumbered audiences–lifting hearts, stimulating minds, galvanizing spirits. The Faith of God has lost a distinguished servant.

Our condolences are extended to his beloved wife Janet, his collaborator and devoted companion. We shall offer ardent prayers at the Sacred Threshold that his illumined soul may be joyously received in the Abha Kingdom and immersed in the ocean of divine grace. We call upon the friends to hold befitting memorial gatherings in his honour throughout the Baha’i community, including in all the Houses of Worship.

The Universal House of Justice

Peter Khan was a member of the UHJ from 1987 to 2009 (when he retired):

Canadian NSA Election – 2011

The delegates at the National Convention in Canada re-elected every single previous member of their National Spiritual Assembly. These included the two new members that were the result of the 20 December 2010 by-election (Simon Grandy and Dr. Mehran Anvari).

Canada NSA members 2011

The members of the Canadian NSA are:

Karen McKye
Deloria Bighorn
Enayat Rawhani
Simon Grandy
Judy Filson
Elizabeth Wright
Mehran Anvari
Gordon Naylor
Susanne Tamas

So once again, yet another confirmation of the death-grip that incumbency has on Baha’i elections. The longest continuous members are: Judy Filson (+16 years), Enayat Rohani (+16 years), Karen McKye (+14 years) and Susanne Tamas (+14 years). The average consecutive years in office is 9 – meaning that the average member of the NSA of Canada has been a member for 9 years non-stop.

A few weeks before the National Convention and the Canadian federal elections, the Canadian Baha’i News agency (a body of the Canadian NSA) featured a commentary comparing the Baha’i elections and the upcoming secular ones in Canada titled “Innovative electoral model employed by Baha’is“.

The article contrasted the Baha’i election process (devoid of campaigning) with the partisan nature of the political election taking place with its usual mud-slinging. But the article also had an unmistakeable whiff of self-aggrandizement:

Although the Canadian political system reflects well fundamental democratic reforms that have served to advance humanity’s ability to govern itself, it is not without its challenges. Cynicism and apathy about the Canadian electoral system seem to have reached a new high, especially among younger voters. Some political scientists have attributed this apathy to a general decline in interest in institutional democracy.

What happened to humility being the watchword?

Of course, there are very real differences between Baha’i elections and the federal elections. Each one is different in nature and for a different purpose. This does not mean that one is inherently “better” than the other or that one method or process should be adopted in lieu of the other.

The difference that I see between the two goes beyond the superficial ones that the Canadian Baha’i News article mentioned. Whereas Baha’is never discuss or question their own election process or how to improve it, the federal election process is very much discussed. Especially since the recent one resulted in a majority government that did not gain the popular vote. Many Canadians are rightfully asking if they need electoral reform to align the democratic will of the citizenry more precisely with the outcome of elections.

This is open engagement and willingness to both acknowledge shortcomings and to address them is completely lacking in the Baha’i community right now. Instead we are complacent and unwilling to acknowledge the real challenges and deficiencies of Baha’i elections.

The problem of incumbency is probably the most glaring. The very thing which Baha’is are proud of is in fact a cause of this weakness. Because Baha’i elections do not allow campaigning, the current members of the NSA gain a defacto advantage because they are known to the community and their names are often marked with an asterisk or other identifier on the document sent along with ballots that lists the community members eligible for election. The result of the phenomena is evident at all levels of Baha’i election, from the local to the international.

So before we start throwing stones around, let’s first be cognizant that our own dwelling is primarily built out of glass. And let’s start to have a serious and intelligent discussion about how we can improve Baha’i elections. Exhortations of the kind that we’ve seen from the Universal House of Justice simply are not enough to solve deep structural deficiencies. One idea is both simple and effective: term limits. There are others of course. The important thing is to engage in an open and honest dialogue.

Did someone mention cynicism and apathy?

The other challenge facing Baha’i elections is extremely low participation rates. Baha’is may be surprised to learn that the participation rates at this federal election far outnumber the participation rates of Baha’i elections. This has also been the case historically. Talk about cynicism and apathy! Baha’is are not engaged with the election process because they do not believe that their vote counts. The same people are re-elected year in and year out.

So again, before you throw stones…

A brilliant example of the dichotomy between the two approaches is that today, UK voters are going to the polls to vote on a referendum about their voting system. Say what you will about “partisan politics”. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the fact that it was held shows an admirable willingness to be flexible and attempt to change and improve. As a Baha’i, I wish these were characteristics that were evident from Baha’i communities with regards to elections (and other community matters).

It is also important to note that the Baha’i election, in contrast to the myth believed by most Baha’is, is not “set in stone” but can be adapted and improved upon. The current election process that we employ at Baha’i communities around the world is markedly different from that first put in practice at the time of Baha’u’lah or Abdu’l-Baha. They of course share certain principles, such as secret ballot and no campaigning, but many other things are different.

So it is not true to argue that we are unable to make modifications (such as term limits or changes like the UK proposed AV+ voting system). Personally, I don’t have a single solution that I’m advocating per se. The more important idea is that we should consider these ideas seriously and once informing ourselves, begin to engage in a meaningful conversation about it in true Baha’i consultation.

In case you’re curious, there are literally dozens of method we can use for elections. Here is a simple list and description, each with advantages and disadvantages. For more information on the proposed AV+ system being voted on today in the UK, see this.

Here’s a video that explains it quite concisely:

United States NSA Election – 2011

The delegates of the 103rd Baha’i National Convention in the United States have elected the new members of the National Spiritual Assembly (in descending order of votes):

Kenneth E. Bowers
Jacqueline Left Hand Bull
David F. Young
Muin Afnani
S. Valerie Dana
Erica Toussaint-Brock
Robert C. Henderson
Juana C. Conrad
Fariba Aghdasi

The new member is Dr. Fariba Aghdasi (elected with the least number of votes among the nine) who replaced William L.H. Roberts (acting as Treasurer last year) who also had the lowest votes among the previous NSA members. All other members of the NSA were re-elected as we’ve come to expect from the effect of incumbency.

For why such tiny incremental changes in membership really amount to no changes at all, please see the “Fable of the 5 Monkeys”.

I couldn’t find much information about the new NSA member except this short biography from a Baha’i site:

Dr. Fariba Aghdasi has served as the Deputy Secretary of the Regional Bah??’? Council of the Southwestern States since the formation of that institution. She is also the Director of the Regional Teaching Office, an office of the Regional Bah??’? Council serving the advancement of the clusters in the region. She has been a long term pioneer to South Africa and to Zimbabwe and has served on its National Spiritual Assembly. She has also served as the Regional Coordinator for the Regional Training Institute in the Western States in its formative years. She is a professional engineer holding a doctoral degree in Mechanical Engineering and was previously professor and head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in Zimbabwe. She is married with two children and currently lives in Central California.

Here is a short video of Dr. Fariba Aghdasi speaking at the Grand Canyon conference held during the Christmas holidays last year in Arizona. Taking part in such a high profile event just months before voting couldn’t have hurt her chances to be elected to the NSA.

Universal House of Justice: Ridvan Message 2011

Here is this year’s Ridvan message from the Universal House of Justice.

The House starts by acknowledging the culmination of the renovation of the Shrine of the Bab and the centenary of Abdu’l-Baha’is visit to the United States. The recent political turmoil in the Middle East is cast as the expression of the twin processes at play on the world stage; the first, the disintegration of the old order and the second, the constructive maturation of the Baha’i Faith. The UHJ asks Baha’is to be inspired by the example of Abdu’l-Baha as they share their Faith with others.