CESNUR Paper: Bahai Dissent by Bei Dawei

On the heels of the conference in Canada, Intellectual Othering & the Baha’i Question in Iran, Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) held its international conference in Taipei, Taiwan.

Among the papers presented was “Baha’i and Subud dissent: Developments in the 2000′s” by Bei Dawei. The paper compares and contrasts the recent dissident community developments among the two distinct religious traditions. Since I’m ignorant of the Subud community and theology, I’ll highlight the Baha’i relevant sections:

Baha’i dissent in the 2000′s can be read as a continuation of the “internet wars” of the late 1990′s. At this time, the Baha’i administration either pressured to resign, or actively disenrolled, a number of Baha’i intellectuals associated with the online Talisman discussion list, for disagreeing with the received line on certain controversial issues. These included the faith’s opposition to homosexuality (and the strained scriptural interpretation upon which the policy is based); the exclusion of women from the Universal House of Justice (the same observation applies here); the shunning of “covenant-breakers”; the requirement that any proposed publications on the faith be submitted to regional censorship boards (“Baha’i review”); and an electoral system which favors incumbents. All of these touch on more fundamental issues of infallibility and institutional authority—against which the dissidents invoke the equally core Baha’i values of the independent investigation of truth, the elimination of all kinds of prejudice, the equality of men and women, and interreligious harmony. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex web of alliances and animosities, the rift between reforming liberals (many of them academics) and pro-administration conservatives widened, amidst mutual accusations of betrayal. In 1999 the Universal House of Justice complained of a “campaign of internal opposition to the Teachings,” and warned Baha’is not to hold their faith to the materialistic standards of secular scholarship.

Following are some major developments of the 21st century:

Indiana University (Bloomington) anthropologist and sometime Baha’i dissident Linda Walbridge died in 2002. She and her husband, Middle Eastern Studies professor John Walbridge (also of IUB), had both resigned during the Talisman affair, and largely abandoned the field of Baha’i Studies for other research.

University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole—the most prolific Baha’i academic during the 1990′s, who likewise resigned from the faith during the Talisman affair—turned his attention to other, arguably more important Middle Eastern topics after 9-11. Of his 29 papers in the field of Baha’i Studies, only two were published during the early 2000′s; these took on a frank and even scathing tone, now that he was no longer constrained to submit his work to Baha’i review. Besides Talisman, Cole and John Walbridge were also the organizers of H-Bahai, a now-inactive academic discussion list and online journal, the last of whose Occasional Papers in Shaykhi, Babi, and Baha’i Studies appeared in 2003.

2005 saw the publication of two significant academic works which proved unexpectedly controversial within the faith (though not, apparently, outside it): William Garlington’s The Baha’i Faith in America (Praeger), which pro-administration critics felt devoted excessive attention to Baha’i dissent (as opposed to, say, the fifty-year history of the construction of the House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois); and Sen McGlinn’s Church and State: A Postmodern Political Theology (self-published), which discusses the nature of the future global political order, i.e. whether it is to be a theocracy. McGlinn’s incidental description of himself as a “Baha’i theologian” attracted official rebuke, on the grounds that the faith has no clergy. He has since been disenrolled by the administration, for reasons which were never made public, but which seem likely to involve his published views. (Garlington had resigned during the 1980′s.) Also in 2005, the U.S. National Spiritual Assembly ordered a partial boycott of Kalimat Press (founded in Los Angeles, 1978 by Anthony Lee and Payram Afsharian), an independent publisher of Baha’i books known for its academic works, such as the Studies in the Babi and Baha’i Religions series (eighteen volumes). At issue was Kalimat’s promotion of scholarly books by Cole, Garlington, McGlinn, and Abbas Amanat.

In 2007, Moojan Momen’s article “Marginality and Apostasy in the Baha’i Faith“, for the Elsevier journal Religion (no. 37, pp. 187-209) attempted to analyze—none too charitably—the psychological motivations of seventeen unnamed (but readily identifiable) dissidents. Twelve of these display a “preoccupation with their campaign against the Baha’i community” which, according to the abstract, “brings to mind Max Scheler’s description of the apostate as ‘engaged in a continuous chain of acts of revenge against his own spiritual past’.” Momen’s article inspired a wave of online rebuttals, in addition to the four which appeared in the journal itself. At one point I contemplated writing a paper about the controversy; on reflection, however, I can hardly improve upon the various responses which have already appeared, and which also serve to convey something of the personalities involved. Suffice it to say that—like the old joke about psychologists being crazier than their patients—Momen often seems to resemble the objects of his diagnosis. His description of the apostate worldview as a “dark mirror image” of mainstream Baha’i experience, would be equally applicable to his perception of them. His suspicion of their alliances, slanders, and planned subversions ignores factional behavior on the part of the Baha’i administration, not to mention his own role as cat’s paw. He accuses his apostates of Nietzschean ressentiment, but at no point considers whether their complaints are justified—talk of apostate “narratives” and “mythology” obscures the important question of whether the dissidents have their facts right. By contrast, many of his apostates have been models of fair-minded critique, and have pointedly sought out common ground. Finally, having gone to so much trouble to achieve academic publication, Momen complains that dissident views have found their way into scholarly presses and journals, where they now risk confusing non-expert readers into thinking of the Baha’i religion as a cult. All this calls to mind another psychological term: projection.

Outside of academia, discussion involving dissidents is especially likely to found on Yahoo groups (especially Talisman9, begun in 1999 as a successor to Talisman), Usenet / Google groups (e.g., talk.religion.bahai), and the message boards at Beliefnet.com. During the 2000′s, Baha’i dissidents have created a number of personal blogs and websites; of these, only Sen McGlinn’s (from 2004) compares with those of Cole and the Walbridges in term of academic quality. Karen Bacquet (Karen’s Thoughts, from 2004) and Alison Marshall (Meditations on Baha’u’llah, from 2007) emphasize devotional reflections, though each has posted material more directly critical of the administrative order. (Bacquet has also published two academic journal articles in this vein.) Baha’i Rants (from 2005), by an anonymous writer called “Baquia” (not to be confused with Bacquet), is relatively strident—recent articles have questioned financial statements made by the Canadian National Spiritual Assembly, and the administrative favor accorded to Dr. Hossain Danesh, a Canadian psychiatrist earlier forced to abandon his medical practice due to accusations of sexual misconduct. Blogposts by all these writers regularly feature on Baha’is Online (created by Steve Marshall in 2004), a Baha’i news aggregator which often links to material from dissident sites, or of interest to dissidents. These sites—along with several others run by non-believing ex-Baha’is (e.g. Dan Jensen’s Idol Chatter, Priscilla Gillman’s Baha’i the Way) — can be understood as mutually reinforcing, judging from their mutual links and comments.

Overall, the paper is accurate regarding the Baha’i community. The only criticism I would offer is that it is merely descriptive and fails to add value by providing any significant insight into the trend we’ve seen so far or to project it into the future to venture a hypothesis or prediction.

For those interested, the complete paper can be read here.

  • Freeraylive

    Isn’t the author of this paper the self confessed Baha’i who actively worked for Wikipedia dissolving articles of people who produced works outside of the Haifa construct? If so, what is the real purpose of this paper? 

  • Burns-randy

    The whole paper is well worth reading if one has the time.
     
    Randy

  • Steve

    Check the article’s footnotes. He’s a self-confessed non-Bahai:

    “If anyone is interested, I am not—nor have I ever been—a member of either group (or any related ones). My essentially skeptical orientation leads me to doubteven the most basic claims made on behalf of Baha’u’llah or the latihan.”

  • Freeraylive

    Thanks Steve, it should read ‘non’-Baha’i who was part of taking down
    Baha’i articles that didn’t pander to the Haifan construct on Wikipedia.
    I guess a lot of non-baha’is do that for various reasons. I was just
    curious why the paper came into being in the first place. 

  • Steve

    You’ve asked a question about Bei Dawei, linking him to some underhand work as a Wikipedian, but you’ve offered no evidence at all that the link exists. The least you could do is name the Wikipedian and show how he might be linked with Bei Dawei.

  • Steve

    Bei Dawei says his “specialties include Western esotericism, New Religious Movements, globalization, artificial languages, and meta-ethics” . I’m guessing he saw an opportunity to compare and contrast his favourite NRMs. You could always ask him directly.

  • Steve
  • Freeraylive

    I have personal experience Steve (long before his posts explaining his link to Wikipedia were explained on Talisman9 and how Baha’i personnel and Wikipedia *bully-expunge-edit* informed and unfolding information mercilessly):

    “No: 22314 Talisman9

    Funny you should ask. Awhile back, when I was an active
    Wikipedian, I
    put up a page on “Subud and religion” (Subudians don’t consider
    themselves to be one):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subud_and_religion

    At the end there’s a link to a letter from the UHJ about Subud.

    No: 22286

    You have to realize that whatever you put on the Wikipedia
    will (a)
    get edited, distorted beyond recognition, deleted, etc., and (b) become
    the property of Wikipedia forever. (Does that qualify as an “Oh
    drat!”
    moment?)

    If you love the material that you have, as it is, then give it its own website. Don’t submit it to Wikipedia.

     

    Re: Wikipedia April 16, 2006 No:
    22248 Talisman9

     

    Many of the Wikipedia pages you
    suggested are already out there.

    I participated in the Wikipedia for awhile, then dropped out. (My handle was “XXXXX”.)

    The Baha’i boards are a perfect example of why I think the Wikipedia will never be reliable. The Baha’i-related entries are crawling with Baha’is who are not too happy to see things that make their religion look bad. Every time I tried to enter information that Baha’is found embarrassing, I found myself having to fight and argue for its conclusion, compromise half to death, and then somebody would
    STILL edit it out later.

    The only way the system could be made to work is if the Baha’i editors could somehow be outnumbered in an edit-war, which is not how I want to spend my time (or how to produce a quality article, IMHO).

    But the Baha’i pages are beautiful compared to (say) the entry for “Jesus”. Seems EVERYBODY has an opinion about the J-man..”.  That’s enough.

  • Freeraylive

     Actually I find the Subud practice of aligning with the Divine almost identical to that of the Secret Key (Intuitive knowledge being the highest practice for an individual) that Tahirih advocated.

    I don’t think that Baha’u’llah abrogated that teaching entirely, thus the letter re Subud from the International Teaching Committee on behalf of the UHJ that is on the Subud Wikipedia page – shows an ignorance of basic foundations of religion and spirituality imo. This is especially true if what Bei Dawei says, that Subud is not a religion. So at the end of the day I would thank Bei Dawei for bringing out some of the points he has in his paper.

  • Steve

    Yes, but what evidence do you have that the Wikipedia user, Dawud, was “part of taking down Baha’i articles that didn’t pander to the Haifan construct on Wikipedia.” There are no complaints to that effect on his talk page – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Dawud

    Here’s a list of Dawud’s contributions to Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/Dawud – perhaps you can tell us which ones you’re referring to.

  • Fubar

    There is a glaring part missing in the typical narrative of the downfall of bahai-left dissent movement (talisman, etc.)

    Side note: before getting to my main point (below), please note that the impact of large numbers of persian refugees was ALSO not generally been recognized as a force contributing to the increasing popularity of deep conservatism that displaced liberal/ progressive bahai belief in the USA.

    The unvarnished reality is that both rich and poor iranian bahai refugees tended to revert to models of social behavior that they had seen in operation in society: first the authoritarianism of the western-puppet shah, then the authoritarian fundamentalism of the mullas that took over after the revolution. iranian bahai refugees (generally) did not have ready psychosocial access to a  model of democratized political, social or religious institutions.

    The humongous impediment was never openly recognized by the bahai left, persumably because of the fetishized “minority” status of iranian bahais persecuted by (non-bahai) iranian religious and political elites.

    While the natural sense of compassion and tragedy about the persecution of iranian bahais is understandable, the reality is that there was NEVER an honest discussion of the problems that refugee culture would create.

    (I attended an anti-racism conference in San Diego in the 90s during which a large number of persian-american high school and college students started screaming at their immigrant parents and grandparents for being racists and/or snobs. This was in a room of at least 500 people, perhaps 1,000. This was at about the same time that the NSA shut down a national “Race Unity” committee that was dominantly left-academic and had some noted anti-establishment leadership.)

    The radioactive toxicity that was introduced into an otherwise weakly progressive/ liberal american bahai culture by the refugee culture was fatal to the prospects of healthy, sustainable bahai dissent.

    —main point—

    I could not access the article, but based on the excerpts, it fails to explain why progressive/liberal views became discredited and conservative/ fundamentalist views become dominant (within haifan bahai culture as well as in american culture in general).
    This follows the pattern of most progressive/liberal bahai thought, which generally was/is hostile to analyzing its own failures and shortcomings, or is unreceptive to understanding how cognitive-linguistic “framing” (George Lakoff) by conservatives effectively discredits liberal/left/progressive ideology in the mass media and culture/lifeworld.

    The reality is that from the time (1970s) of the LA Study group (which preceded Dialogue Magazine and Talisman), the typical forms of postmodern groupthink and left wing infighting seen amongst leftist movements, in academia, etc. was a significant factor in why the bahai left was unable to gain widespread credibility as a dissident movement that could offer legitimate “authentic” organizational alternatives to the haifan bahai mainstream.

    Due to left wing groupthink and infighting (and related dysfunctionalities), there was always local skepticism about the purity of the motives of people in the “inner circle” of the bahai-left dissident movement. This skepticism presumably reflected the general distrust of the failures of leftism in the late 60s to cause deep social change from the dominant forms of modernist “materialism” criticized by the left/liberal counterculture, and so forth.

    The ugly reality is that the bahai-left was just as human and just as susceptible to academic snobbery and other off-putting and dysfunctional behaviors as should have been expected of any group of liberal intellectuals. In many cases, the bahai left created a climate in which deliberate flaunting of bahai social conventions was encouraged, presumably to p*ss off more traditional and conservative bahais (many of whom had their own appalling personality defects and stupid beliefs and superstitions).

    This is characteristic of what is referred to in integral theory as a “first tier” paradigm that is in a state of conflict with alternative perspectives.

    The bahai left was just as enmeshed in a hostile  death grip with the bahai right as would be expected from any other “tier-1″ group in society.

    The left feeds on hostility to the right, and vice versa.

    Feeding on hostility and conflict is not something that can sustain a spiritual dissident movement. It is toxic, and leads to corruption (it provides the social context in which dysfunctional personalities gain dominance/ leadership).

    For all their academic brilliance, the leaders of the bahai left (generally) failed to transcend their own narrow idologies and experiences. They attacked and marginalized people that pointed such out (same as was happening during the “culture wars” of the 80s/90s in academia when hostility and extremism, such as thought policing and political correctness took root in postmodern culture).

    What remains in the wake of the failures of the bahai-left dissident movement is a rigidly entrenched ultra-conservative haifan bahai leadership that is radioactively toxic and unable to adapt or innovate, or contribute in an authentic manner to creation of a transformational spiritual culture, or an “integrative paradigm”.

    My personal opinion is that ANY form of dissident bahai movement would have been viciously attacked and squashed by the ascending forces of fundamentalism and conservatism within haifan bahaism in the 80s/90s. 

    This all mirrored the rise of toxic neocon politics in american society, which again, depended on a carefully crafted ideological framing of emotional “hot buttons” that were culturally wired into the manner in which the left had become discredited as a legitimate force for social transformation toward a more progressive social ethos. (reference: Rabbi Michael Lerner “Surplus Powerlessness”, http://www.tikkun.com,  )

    (Bahais were content to stay in their insularized bubble of rhetoric about “the old world order” while the forces of neocon plutocracy destroyed the last remnants of american democracy.)

    However, if that dissident movement had been more “integral”, it would have left something far more valuable in its wake than did the “talisman” experience, which was ultimately more of a reflection of the postmodern narcissism-nihilism (academic snobbery and elitism) of the bahai-left leadership than the desire to create a sustainable. dissident movement that had broad popular appeal.

    Contrast this with the idea of spiritual and psychic healing that has become popular in the integral movement and dharma communities, such as “shadow work”.

    Bahaism long ago became a soul-less bureaucracy, and the bahai dissident movement has been more about esoteric intellectual and theological argumentation and posturing than about bringing authentic spiritual healing and transformation to all people.

    Both the bahai mainstream and bahai dissident movements have tended to be  predictably dishonest about their inabilities to engage in profound self-examination. Of course this is probably more obvious and institutionalized in mainstream bahai culture, but it doesn’t take much examination to find it under the surface in the bahai-left dissident movement.

    Feedback of any kind is welcome, but I may not be able to respond until later due to family obligations.

  • Freeraylive

    Re your question Steve: Basically, by virtue of being involved with Wikipedia while it was taking down pages that recorded historical information for no ‘authentic’ reason there is involvement by default. However, the post from Dawud on Talisman9 says that he did not want to be part of injustices taking place with Wikipedia Baha’i editing and had better things to do with his time than be in editing wars.  An honorable decision. But there are victims who have been unfairly crucified during the period that he was involved with Baha’i articles that were being presented on Wikipedia – and that is why I wondered why ‘Baha’i Dissent’ is coming up again. That is all. I rather focus on the positive outcomes from the paper at this juncture.

  • Fubar

    re:  “(Bahais were content to stay in their insularized bubble of rhetoric about “the old world order” while the forces of neocon plutocracy destroyed the last remnants of american democracy.)”

    additional background:
    http://fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/26538/

    excerpts:

    Origins of what may become the 3rd American Republic (a plutocracy)

    8 April 2011

    tags: constitution, david runciman

    by Fabius Maximus

    Summary:  The article excerpted here provides a powerful explanation for
    the evolution of our political system during the past 35 years to favor the
    super-rich, becoming in effect a plutocracy.  It even provides an excuse for us,
    the citizens.  If you consider ignorance and apathy to be excuses.
    Review by David Runciman (teaches politics at Cambridge) in
    the London Review of Books, 14 April 2011 — It’s open to
    non-subscribers, and well-worth reading in full.  If you don’t subscribe, I
    recommend doing so!
    Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who
    Stole the World by Nicholas Shaxson
    Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made
    the Rich Richer – and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class by Jacob Hacker
    and Paul Pierson—… It is easy to assume that if the rich have been winning in recent decades,
    the process must have started with the election of the pro-big business,
    anti-big government Ronald Reagan in 1980 (and concomitantly, Margaret Thatcher
    in Britain in 1979).  But Hacker and Pierson argue that the real turning point
    came in 1978, during the presidency of Jimmy Carter.  …. legislation was passed that reduced the tax burden on
    corporations and increased the burden on their employees (through a hike in the
    payroll tax, a regressive measure).  All this happened because the politicians
    followed the path of least resistance – as elected politicians invariably do –
    and the better organised and better-funded resistance came from the
    representatives of big business, not organised labour.
    What took place in the 1980s was therefore an extension of the Carter years,
    not a reversal of them.  The process of deregulation and redistribution up the
    chain accelerated under Reagan, who was broadly sympathetic to these goals.  Yet
    it happened not because he was sympathetic to them, but because his sympathies
    were allowed free rein in a political environment where the opposition was muted
    and the expected coalition of interests opposed to the changes never
    materialised.  …It was only during the Carter years – and to some extent the Callaghan years
    in Britain – that this pressure turned out to be weaker than anyone thought.
     The politicians of the Reagan/ Thatcher revolution did what they did not
    because they were committed ideologues, determined to stick to their
    principles.  They did it because they found they could get away with it.
    [->] So where did the resistance go?  This is the real puzzle … Hacker and
    Pierson’s argument is really a return to a much longer-standing critique of
    democracy, one that flourished during the 1920s and 1930s but was supplanted in
    the postwar period by expectations of rational behaviour on the part of voters.
     This traditional critique does not see the weakness of democracy as a matter of
    the voters wanting the wrong things, or not really knowing what they want.  They
    know what they want but they don’t know how to get it. It’s because they don’t
    understand the world they live in that democracy isn’t working.  People aren’t
    stupid, but when it comes to politics they are ignorant, lazy and easily
    satisfied with pat answers to difficult questions….http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n08/david-runciman/didnt-they-noticeexcerpt:People aren’t stupid, but when it comes to politics they are ignorant, lazy and
    easily satisfied with pat answers to difficult questions. Hacker and Pierson
    recognise that it has become bad manners to point this out even in serious
    political discourse. But it remains the truth. ‘Most citizens pay very little
    attention to politics, and it shows. To call their knowledge of even the most
    elementary facts about the political system shaky would be generous.’ The
    traditional solution to this problem was to supplement the ignorance of the
    voters with guidance from experts, who would reform the system in the voters’
    best interests. The difficulty is that the more the experts take charge, the
    less incentive there is for the voters to inform themselves about what’s going
    on. This is what Hacker and Pierson call the catch-22 of democratic politics: in
    order to combat what’s taking place under the voters’ radar it’s necessary to
    continue the fight under the voters’ radar. The best hope is that eventually the
    public might wake up to what is going on and join in. But that will take time.
    As Hacker and Pierson admit, ‘Political reformers will need to mobilise for the
    long haul.’
    Yet time may be one of the things that the reformers do not have on their
    side….[pragmatic problems of globalization solutions... vs. nationalistic solutions....]

  • Fubar

    I’m not familiar with the details of what was evident on talisman9, but…

    There was an incident in which Bahai Wiki Censors (BWC) viciously attacked an article about unitarian bahais (Stetson’s group), and had it removed on technicalities that are (apparently) rarely applied to pro-haifan bahai wiki content.
    The important thing for UU bahais to do is to get a few books and hardcopy articles published in mainstream publications. Then those hardcopy publications will have to accepted as “legitimate” sources by Wiki editors, which would then provide the foundation for “allowed” wiki content about UU bahais.

    I would highly encourage anyone opposed to Bahai Wiki Censors to support the hardcopy publication of UU (unitarian) bahai material.

    It seems amazing that a religion that “supposedly” has as one of its more important “principles”, the “independent investigation of truth”, would have produced a culture in which narrowminded “loyalists” somehow end up forming a vigorous, at least semi-organized, Bahai Internet Censorship movement.

    The existence of a Bahai Internet/Wiki Censorship movement in itself should presumably be worth publishing hardcopy articles about. Are there any hardcopy publications left in the world that do actual investigative journalism of this kind?

    Doesn’t the existence of a Bahai Wiki Censorship movement prove that bahai culture is deeply dysfunctional and dishonest?

    I imagine that the topic of the UU/unitarian bahai movement as a “CB” group will come up since the BWC relied partly on Sen McGlinn’s “scholarly” attacks on unitarian bahais, and Mcglinn’s material raises the usual questions about covenant and nasty conflicts over authority in early bahai history. Oddly, McGlinn, even as a “dissident” thrown out of haifan bahaism for failing to conform to authoritarian leadership, uses traditional partisan “CB” type arguments against unitarian bahais!

    It may have delighted the BWC to see such infighting and factionalizing amongst bahai dissidents.

  • Fubar

    This is a critical point. Real spiritual liberation is available outside the rigid orthodoxy and bureaucracy of all religious organizations, and has been for a very long time (at least 8,000 years).

    All religious bureaucracies come to hate and oppose real spiritual liberation.

    This politics of this are obvious: if the elites that rule a given religious bureaucracy can no longer control access to spiritual liberation, then they have almost no power to psychologically coerce people into conform to their silly definitions and rules of the universe (by which they stay in power, exercise absurd privileges, etc.).

    As Ken Wilber pointed out, this is why the oil industry doesn’t like solar power – solar power allows an individual to directly access a source of energy, independently of the entrenched, ruling elites.

    The problem of the world isnt the cliched “materialsm” of bahai rhetoric, it is more basic to human nature: greed and the need for ego gratification.

    There is nothing different from how the haifan bahai bureaucracy works than any other religious group whose ruling elites are motivated by the need for ego gratification and power (and/or greed).

  • Steve

    Those are good points about the Bahai Faith from the 70s through to the 90s. However, the material is outside the  scope of Bei Dawei’s paper, since he concerns himself with “Developments in the 2000′s”

  • Fubar

    Thanks for the feedback.

    I was able to eventually get the paper to come up and I skimmed through all of it.

    Adherence to a strict linear timeline-based-analysis seems doomed to me, but I tend to think in terms of Jungian archetypes and similar images of recurring, emergent paradigms (Jean Gebser’s “Ever Present Origin” – Ursprung und Gegenwart) that convey deeper meaning and authenticity (from a consciousness studies perspective).

    Dawei is clearly referencing a continuity with the history of bahai dissent back to the 90s and earlier by mentioning bahaism’s shi’a origins, talisman, Momen’s absurd attack on dissidents, etc.

    Dawei’s analysis is in the context of the bahai dissent movement that primarily originated in the late 70s (but that is tied into older bahai dissent, such as the race unity street activists and working class bahai movements in north america that were marginalized by snob/racist bahai leadership from the 1930s on).

    The lack of attention in Dawei’s (otherwise excellent and very useful) article to underlying psychosocial factors that created important dynamics in the failure of the bahai left indicates a somewhat superficial (conventional academic) understanding the issues involved, IMO.

    I’m imagining that if Dawei was presenting his material to a group of Cultural Creatives at the Esalen Institute, or the Integral Theory conference, I’m guessing that it would be fairly boring to most of the audience (spiritually oriented social theorists and consciousness studies people from counterculture/alternative backgrounds and/or new age variants of the Dharma traditions).

    That said, some of the younger figures in the current bahai dissident movement, like Eric Stetson (who admits to having had paleo-libertarian influences earlier in his life), are less deeply rooted in the failures of academic and counterculture leftism-postmodernism than were many of the major players in the 70s/80s/90s bahai dissent movement.

    Making that distinction would have actually reinforced the paper by highlighting how some of the “new” perspectives within bahai dissent started to change from 2000 on.

    It would also have been helpful if the recent, appalling censorship fiasco involving Ishmael Velasco’s bahai scholarship blog had been mentioned.

    The Velasco incident makes clear that the current corrupt BWC leadership intends to strike a poisoned dagger deep into the heart of any form of intellectual activity that creates even the most minor opening toward even the perception that independent, critical bahai scholarship will ever by considered legitimate by the ruling bahai elites (backward fundamentalist autocrat goons).

    Dawei’s paper seems to hint at the impossibility of ever reforming schismatic religious movements that originated in islamic culture (such as bahaism) as they confront modernist and postmodernist cultures, and periods of acceptance by “hippy” counterculture types.

    It seems ironic that elements of mainstream muslim culture (the “Arab Spring”) may end up being more open to reform than were early schismatic reform movements such as bahaism.

  • Freeraylive

    “Feedback of any kind is welcome”  – OK.

    The Baha’i Westernized Left was purposefully constructed to colonize, while still having all the fundamental control buttons built in for a time when the expansion began.

    As a consequence the Left, as you call those attracted to the cake icing, were already infected with control mechanisms under the banner of ‘goodness’ causing a self destruction or a move into the toxic atmosphere of the war when the action began.

    It all was a bait and switch process. Blaming the people who took the bait for the right motives before and during the power battle doesn’t tell the real/full story; but pointing out that sometimes their actions mirrored the infection is a valid point imo. Remember there have been trouble-makers without and within (entryism) for as long as the religion existed.

    On the other hand, if those who held high ideals had pulled off purifying the cake and made the icing shine with the Light of the Greater Plan then there would have been the real possibility that that the fundamental control groups would have gone puff and vanished into non-existence. 

    Baha’i has played its part in this changing world (good, bad, ugly).  

    As Momma Cass used to say ‘there’s a new world coming’, and I would add, it has the potential to align with the Will of the Divine. Time will tell.

  • Fubar

    re: “On the other hand, if those who held high ideals had pulled off purifying the cake and made the icing shine with the Light of the Greater Plan …”

    This actually happened on a small scale in Omaha. But, the success that the Omaha people had in finding higher realization just fueled a deeper level of hate from the fundamentalists and autocrats elements in bahai administration, who proceeded to self-destruct by launching an open and vicious attack on those that had the higher realization.

    But, despite the intervention of good people at the top in haifa, deep damage was done, and I personally believe that that was probably the closest thing to an “exact moment” (in the theatre of public opinion) when the belief that any real spiritual reform could happen within bahai administration WAS STOPPED AND CRUSHED.

    As you know there are many theories about why traditionalists fear the expression of spirituality at a higher level of development. It is hard to understand. It causes a sense of loss or order and stability. It isn’t profitable. It brings into question the need for conflict and hostility, which are always part of the mix of fundamentalism.

    The Omaha people tried to incorporate a sense of compassion toward the valid aspects of conservative and traditional spirituality into their higher realization of bahai ideals. Perhaps it wasn’t enough. Perhaps it could never be enough no matter what.

    So, that is the central, unresolved issue in bahai culture. Until a coherent answer is provided, the downward spiral will continue.

    One thing is for sure, the bahai wiki censors do not have the answer.

    My guess is that they probably do not want anyone else to find it either.

  • Fubar

    Interesting. Dawei has a degree from CIIS, which was founded by followers of Sri Aurobindo, and is linked to the Esalen Institute, one of the leading centers of east-west research in the USA (and a notorious center of counterculture happenings).

    http://www.ciis.edu/
    -
    http://www.esalenctr.org/

    The forward to Garlington’s book was written by Jeffrey Kripal, a scholar that just happens to be the leading historian of Esalen.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=E4r4PAAACAAJ

    excerpt:

    Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion

    University of Chicago Press, 2008 – 594 pagesJeffrey Kripal here recounts the spectacular history of Esalen, the institute that has long been a world leader in alternative and experiential education and stands today at the center of the human potential movement. Forged in the literary and mythical leanings of the Beat Generation, inspired in the lecture halls of Stanford by radical scholars of comparative religion, the institute was the remarkable brainchild of Michael Murphy and Richard Price.  Set against the heady backdrop of California during the revolutionary 1960s, Esalen recounts in fascinating detail how these two maverick thinkers sought to fuse the spiritual revelations of the East with the scientific revolutions of the West, or to combine the very best elements of Zen Buddhism, Western psychology, and Indian yoga into a decidedly utopian vision that rejected the dogmas of conventional religion. In their religion of no religion, the natural world was just as crucial as the spiritual one, science and faith not only commingled but became staunch allies, and the enlightenment of the body could lead to the full realization of our development as human beings.

  • Fubar

    wow -  the wiki edit process seems byzantine, but the following (like the material from talisman9) seems to clearly indicate that “Dawud” is a critic of the bahai mainstream tendency to censor alternative/dissident viewpoints:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:Conflict_of_interest/Noticeboard&diff=108756414&oldid=108732585

    excerpt:

    The Baha’i religion is small Middle Eastern sect which is one of the topics of my research. The wikipedia articles on it (and the related topic of Babism) are in my opinion unsalvageable due to the preponderance of Baha’i editors (and corresponding dearth of outsiders), who delete items that make their religion look bad, and otherwise change things to reflect their view of history. (A telltale sign is that all proper names are spelled using their “house” style of accent marks.) I have since learned that the Baha’i leadership has made its presentation in wikipedia a major PR priority.

    Not sure if anything can be done about this, short of expelling most of the Baha’is. One issue that has come up is that of “reliable sources.” Baha’i critics tend to be found on internet sites, while the Baha’is themselves publish things on paper as well. They claim that wikipedia has a policy against the former medium and in favor of the latter. Another issue that has come up is the “noteability” policy–so if their leadership censors some dissidents, Baha’i supporters will say that the number of dissidents is small and therefore not notable.

    Another, related issue is that Baha’is have been trying to promote their religion on unrelated boards.
    I personally decline to get involved anymore, but put this out there for you guys to deal with as best you can. Dawud

    broken URL:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?
    title=Wikipedia:Conflict_of_interest/
    Noticeboard&diff=108756414&oldid=108732585

  • Baquia

    Fubar, I enjoyed your inclusion of the cultural element. However, there have always been forces of fundamentalism and traditionalism within the Baha’i Faith in the West. For a prominent example, look at the influence of Horace Holley on the Canadian and US communities.

  • Freeraylive

     One culture impacting another certainly is evident through the Baha’i expansion processes, much like it’s parent religion (as Shoghi Effendi terms Islam in relation to Baha’i):
    “- all proclaim, in no
    uncertain terms, the true attitude of the Bahá’í Faith towards its parent
    religion.”

     
    ‘The mission of the American Bahá’ís is, no doubt to
    eventually establish the truth of Islam in the West.’

    - Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, #1665. 
    http://www.bcca.org/islam-bahai/BahaisIslam.htm

     

    It’s in the current news that a 31 year old man who had recently became a Muslim found 4 bearded men in his room giving him 40 lashes for breaking Sharia Law by drinking beer in a public place. He has move away from his apartment but still says Islam is a beautiful religion and he hopes this experience won’t negatively impact people’s perception of it. However, there still is some resistance to embracing Sharia.
    http://tvnz.co.nz/world-news/man-bail-after-home-invasion-whipping-4313860

    *It could become more attractive to Westerner’s because it doesn’t charge interest on loans :)

  • Fubar

    B-

    Thanks for the feedback, you are 1000% correct, as usual.

    Louis Gregory’s case (of mistreatment) is a good example of the grip of traditionalism, classism/snobbery, and racism on north american bahai leadership from early on. Racially segregated meetings were held in some american bahai communities for many decades (prior to the 60s).

    Since I became a bahai as a result of listening to Stanwood Cobb, who was an eccentric/mystic type, it took me a while to realize what the real history of american bahai leadership and culture really was.

    And, in the early 70s, it was popular to try to convert young people to bahaism by selecting the more liberal/ reformist ideas in the bahai writings to appealing to their liberal tendencies. It took such converts a while to understand the real story.

    Presumably there was concern amongst the older bahai power elites over the manner in which the younger, more reform oriented “new” bahais would rise in prominence, and attempt to exert their influence.

    I heard one anecdote about how a accomplished young african american bahai (originally from california, but at the living in S. Carolina as a “homefront pioneer”) was asked to make a stage appearance at national convention in support of the existing NSA (which had basically shut down the mass teaching in S. Carolina). The “deal” that was being offered to the young man was that by offering him a place on stage, he could thereby start attracting votes from conventional delegates if he spoke in favor of the status quo. Ironically, there was a racist element to the whole episode. By elevating an accomplished, charismatic, well spoken “west coast” african american into the national administrative elites, the goal was to stop ever larger numbers of “uneducated” and “poor” african americans from overwhelming the community numerically and voting out many of the white snobs that had been on the NSA for a long time. Most african americans people at the time had a very find tuned sense of white hypocrisy, and they would not have tolerated the anti-reformist (snob/racist) attitudes of the “old guard” on the NSA and at the National Center.

    So, there seemed to have been a nasty convergence of two tendencies toward traditionalism and conservatism in the american bahai community that worked against dissidents, nonconformists, reformers and critics.

    (1)
    The first was the growing influence of conservatism in american culture in the wake of leftism (early postmodernism) being discredited in the 70s. I think that how this translated was that the bahai elites did not want to see growing leftist/ progressive influences (such as Kalimat, Dialogue, etc.) in the bahai community just as leftism was increasingly being seen as discredited by the non-bahai social elites (who were appalled by “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll”).  There was a notorious incident at a bahai youth conference in Reno in the late 60s or early 70s when the many “hippy” bahais that had been experimenting with magic mushrooms, peyote and other shamnistic spiritual practices were finally told that

    As the right strengthened in american culture and politics during the “culture wars” in the 80s (in reaction to radical feminism, etc.), and as evangelical christianty was growing rapidly during that same time, the bahai elites probably didn’t want to seem “out of tune” with the cultural mainstream by allowing any kind of radical sounding left/progressive stuff develop widely in the bahai community. My understanding is that The Canadian NSA was tasked with taking over the apparatus of the bahai scholarship association in north america at almost precisely the time that Juan Cole, Tony Lee and the other heavy intellectuals associated with the LA Study Group, Dialogue Magazine and Kalimat Press were poised to significantly expand their influence and support in the mid/ late 80s.

    It may have been that the bahai establishment also wanted to send a chill in the direction of some rising bahai leaders that were starting to promote “alternative” spiritual practices and grow in popularity by helping guide people toward new age spirituality, healing, and so forth.
    (I actually heard stories of some “hippy” bahais who were doing yoga exercises being attacked by conservative bahai leaders for practising “occult” methods!)

    By the late 90s, when the “Talisman Mysticism” conferences were being held, there was fine-tuned, if not highly organized, opposition to exploration of ideas like “The Divine Maiden”.

    (2)
    That said, I do think that there is a special reverence for persian stuff by non-persian bahais. Persians are generally expected by non-persians to convey a particular cultural authenticity that is deeply connected to the mystic appeal of the bahai religion to non-persians converts.

    Thus, when conformism and conservatism started leaking into the community from the large numbers in the iranian bahai refugee population, it had a particularly devastating influence on the possibility that “liberal” reforms would become spread and more popular.

    Not only were the reformist leaders faced with opposition by the american supporters of the status quo, the popularity and appeal of reformist ideas was also opposed by many immigrant bahais.

    Some moderate american bahais in leadership began to feel pressure, or were actively marginalized if they didn’t support anti-reformists.

    Keep in mind that most of the american bahai converts from the 60s/70s did not have bahai families. Indeed, there was a widespread feeling of almost an communal counterculture amongst many young american bahai converts that may have been partly a replacement for a missing religious family.

    I heard many stories from american bahais who were told by persian bahai parents that they (the americans) were “not good enough” to marry into persian families. And then for those that somehow managed to do so, anything that went wrong in the family was seen as being because of the “dirty” american spouse.

    It doesn’t take too many of those stories to circulate amongst the younger generation before the message became clear that any kind of liberal/ progressive/ populist reforms in the bahai community were not going to be received happily by immigrants (or those that sought to rise as leaders) seeking to move up the ladder in american society by going along with the status quo.

    And what that kind of climate does is to encourage opportunists to advance themselves within the bahai community by appealing to anti-reform sentiments. So, by the late 80s, most of the “moderate” people in the Auxiliary Board were being replaced by more charismatic and energetic conservatives (who usually had conservative/ evangelical christian backgrounds). In places like california, what this meant was that as reforms were blocked, and protest and dissent over the low tactics and abuses of authority by anti-reform forces erupted, the authoritarian “strict daddy” tendencies of the conservative Ax. Boards came into play, and things went into a downward spiral.

    For instance, the infamous “Individual Rights and Responsibilities” letter from the Bahai World Center (UHJ) was used to marginalize reformism by mischaracterizing the reform movement. In reality the people at the BWC may not have actually had an accurate picture of what was going on (being fed info by the Ax. Bored), but even if they had received the right information, they may not have been able to interpret it in an objective manner.

    (of course such opportunists paid lip service to the bahai prohibition on “factionalizing” at the same time actually engaging in it.)

    Thanks again for providing the opportunity to respond on your excellent blog.

  • Wahid Azal

    “This actually happened on a small scale in Omaha. But, the success that
    the Omaha people had in finding higher realization just fueled a deeper
    level of hate from the fundamentalists and autocrats elements in bahai
    administration, who proceeded to self-destruct by launching an open and
    vicious attack on those that had the higher realization.”

    That is a rather one-sided, revisionist and wishful thinking take on things. Those referred to in Omaha as having the “higher realization” simply caved in under pressure and sold out publicly to the powers that be hence proving that their so called “higher realization” wasn’t so high to begin with but rather empty posturing and an egotistical “will to power” using the language and garb of “higher realization” to that end. The proof is in the pudding: http://www.fglaysher.com/bahaicensorship/Culhane.htm

    Good people in Haifa? LOL! Surely you jest.

  • Wahid Azal

    They did this to the Remeyites, the BUPC and the Bayanis as well. In fact I seem to recall that some people “Fubar” associates with were actually encouraging the wiki censors in their wackopedia censorship when we brought up the issue on TRB from 2005-2008. The archives are there for anyone wishing to looking at them.

    Eric Stetson (a career politician bar none) is simply the ‘white boy’ made into the proverbial (but empty) martyr by a group of disgruntled ‘white liberals’. Facts are, however, that the wikipedia taskforce of the Bahai Internet Agency has been committing such skulduggery to everyone the Haifan fascists deem ideological enemies without exception.

  • Wahid Azal

    “Dawei’s paper seems to hint at the impossibility of ever reforming
    schismatic religious movements that originated in islamic culture (such
    as bahaism) as they confront modernist and postmodernist cultures, and
    periods of acceptance by “hippy” counterculture types.”

    Dawei aka Dawoud (aka ?) has misspoken and revealed the Western racist ethnocentric assumptions guiding his own methodology and his lack of critical historical analysis. Bahaism NEVER in its history – whether during the period of its founder or afterwards – stood with social reform movements anywhere.  Immediately in the 1870s when the founder of Bahaism felt his position consolidated (after the murders and assassinations he perpetrated against the Bayani leadership from Baghdad to Edirne to Acre) began a rapprochement process with the Qajar dynasty and Nasiruddin Shah in particular. A state and dynasty that was progressively selling Iran and her resources out to foreign imperialist powers in the region began the object of Husayn ‘Ali Nuri’s postures and rapprochement.

    During the Constitutional Revolution Abbas Effendi first briefly supported the revolution in principle at its inception and then backflipped soon thereafter penning his Resaleh-ye Siasiye (Treatise on Politics) that sought to give legitimacy to the tyrannical Muhammad-Ali Shah Qajar (and, tacitly, British/Russian encroachment into Iran), while also forbidding Iranian Bahais from any involvement with the revolution and its aims as well. In his PERSIAN CONSTITUTIONAL REVOLUTION E.G. Browne rightfully pointed out how inimical to reform Bahaism actually was and how much Abbas Effendi’s position went against Iran’s long-term best interests to that effect.

    Contrast this to the active involvement of the Iranian Bayani community who were in the front lines of the Constitutional Revolution, served in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Constitutional era parliaments, and fought valiantly against both Qajar absolutism as well as Western colonialist interference. Quote from note of a paper by me:

    “Both
    Shaykh Aḥmad Rúḥí (d. 1896) and Mírzá Aghá Khán Kirmání (d. 1896), the
    veritable godfathers of the Constitutional Revolution, the latter also being
    the author of the Bayání apologia Hasht Behesht (The Eight
    Heavens), were sons-in-law of Ṣubḥ-i-Azal. Notable Bayánís included the
    pro-Constitutionalist revolutionaries and parliamentarians Siyyid Jamáluddín Vá’iz
    Isfáháni, Malek al-Motekallemín,
    Mírzá Jahangír Khán Shírází and
    the entire Dowlatábádí
    clan, especially the brother and sister activists Yaḥyá (d. 1939) and Ṣadíqih
    (d. 1962); see Janet Afary, The Iranian Constitutional Revolution,
    1906-1911: Grassroots Democracy, Social Democracy, and the Origins of Feminism
    (Columbia University Press: New York, 1996), esp. p.45 & p. 341.  Ṣadíqih was Iran’s first modern feminist and
    the first woman who emerged on to the streets of Tehrán unveiled in modern
    times. She also directed the first modern all girl’s school in Isfáhán. Yaḥyá,
    for his part, being one of the two appointed temporal (not spiritual)
    successors to Ṣubḥ-i-Azal,
    was the modern architect of the (secular) Iranian education system under Rezá Sháh.
    Notable literary figure ‘Allámih Muḥammad Ghazvíní (d. 1949) (a
    long-time collaborator of E.G. Browne’s) was a Bayání. Likewise ‘Alí-Akbar
    Dehkhodá (d. 1959), the author of the most comprehensive Persian lexiographical
    encyclopedia-dictionary ever written, has been rumoured to have been a Bayání –
    and there is very strong implied evidence to this effect further corroborating
    his association given the nature of the entries on Bábism in his Loghat-Námeh.
    Muhammad-‘Alí Forúghí (d. 1942), a leading statesman and politician, a three
    time prime minister and the premier of Irán at the Allied invasion in 1941 -
    the man who facilitated the accession of Muḥammad-Rezá Pahlaví to the throne
    upon his father’s abdication – is widely known to have been a Bayání …”

  • Fubar

    Hey Nima,

    Thanks for the awesome link, it was interesting reading that 1999 letter again. Also, thanks for the feedback.

    What I got out of the 1999 letter was a deep, caring sensitivity to the delicate politics of community (based on a sense of universal humanity, not narrow bahai groupthink). It may be that that care was somewhat misplaced, but I personally do not think that the sensitivity to how issues of “hope” play out in bahai communities should be underplayed.

    There was a deeply human, and intimate, element to the letter that is rare.

    I personally disagreed at the time about how much “hope” it was reasonable to place in bahai community/institutions. I guess my “spiritual capacity” was probably not considered to be sufficient to the task of maintaining “loyalty” and discipline at the levels required. :)
    (I think I was far more interested in trying to fiqure out why so many things in bahaism make little or no sense.)

     I am too cynical now to have any personal interest in emotionally investing in an attempt to construct such “hope”. I was somewhat less cynical in 1999, but still far more than the Omaha people. By 1999, I had seen some dreadful abuses of authority by local and regional hardline conservatives in bahai administration. These were a pattern, not isolated incidents. I aso didn’t think that the dissident movement was perfect, far from it. One of the things that was happening in Omaha was an atempt to avoid getting distracted by other people’s ideological agendas and conflicts. I think it was hoped at the time that this would provide an alternative model of reform based less on classic confrontational forms of leftism than on transcendence, communal bonds, hope, care, love, and avoidance of polarizing clique protest culture.

    Here is what I take from the events in question: a very caring, respectful and deeply thought out “alternative” theology was developed that was sensitive to community politics. It attempted to preserve respect for traditional and conservative perspectives (where such respect was considered valid), and gain some kind of legitimacy from the ruling bahai elites that taking baby steps toward mashriq culture were “acceptable” as an experiment.

    The question of ideology and dissent is complex. The Omaha reformers never advertised what they were doing as opening a new front in the “liberal vs. conservative” culture wars swirling around the history of the LA Study Group. The folks in Omaha are midwestern, and less interested in futile confrontations characteristic of PC/left politics and ideology. Anyone familiar to the history of Prairie Populism knows that small, independent farmers and their local communities were crushed into oblivion by the forces of State Capitalism (big banks, railroads and agcorps, etc.). The Omaha people were certainly more similar to catholic dissidents that had to hone their skill at skating up to the very nuanced edge of what alternative theology was “acceptable” to the religious establishment.

    The people in Haifa that defended the Omaha experiment were “good” in the sense that in this case, they (partially) sided with reformers and against gross abusers of authority in local /regional bahai administration.

    The people in Haifa were not “good” about the deeper issues of course, so I completely agree with your contempt for them in that context.

    The deeper issue was about bringing authentic mysticism and devotional life back to local bahai communities. Any reform in that direction would have tended to detract from the historical power matrix that had evolved in bahai culture to give life to bahai administration as we know it.

    My cynical viewpoint is that the folks in Omaha were essentially being played. It was known that one plank in the dissident platform was about the greivances of people that felt that bahai administration was incapable of addressing people’s need for devotional belonging and healing. Any move toward satisfying the need for devotional healing would have been interpreted as an implicit critique of the unsatisfying status quo that had been maintained by bahai administration for many decades (the conventional view was that anything like art, mysticism or devotions had to be “instruments” of missionary work and subsumed under the the “flatland” of meaning around missionary work). So, yes, an authentic devotional healing movement, if independent, healthy and growing, would have probably tended to undermine the legitimacy of the people maintaining the status quo - regardless of how “good” it would potentially been for the rank and file whose need for mysticism and devotions had been starved for so long.

    People like Susan Maneck and Mark Foster saw the events in Omaha as one possible way of redeeming liberal bahaism in the face of overwhelming forces of opposition, and so they brought the issue to the BWC’s attention, hoping that the local fundies would be called off.
    And, that happened.

    My guess is that by then the psychic damage was too deep, and the folks in Omaha never recuperated. Just guessing, as I have had no contact with them for years.

    Anyway, my main point was that hardline conservatives/fundies can probably never be satisfied that any liberal/ progressive reforms will ever be acceptable, or at least not without the liberal reforms being slowed to a excrutatingly slow, glacial pace.

    This leads to another question: if meaningful reforms are basically near impossible within the bahai system (because they threaten the rigid power structure), why should people continue to emotionally invest in it? At some point people begin to realize that there are alternative spiritual movements that can provide the context for them to take personal responsibility for their spiritual growth and intellectual interests. No slavish devotion to bahai administrators is needed, just a willingness to follow the same path that has been there for 10,000+ years toward spiritual liberation, building community, exploring deeper meaning in life, and the discovery of a universe full of awe and wonder.

    bye

  • Fubar

    re: “…committing such skulduggery to everyone the Haifan fascists deem ideological enemies without exception.”

    Yes, that certainly seems to be that case.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

    The haifan bahais involved in the bahai wiki censorship are disgusting, but competent at their hideous task.

    I never paid much attention to TRB, and don’t recall having any knowledge of anyone I was in communication with during 05-08 about bahai issues being involved in Wiki censorship. I can’t recall having any other knowledge of Wiki censorship issues.

    If Bei Dawei / Dawud / … actually published his paper on bahai dissent i hardcopy, that will be ironic because it will remove at least one of the reasons that the bahai wiki censors have for deleting UBA/UU bahai wiki pages.

    I did discover that Dawei/ Dawud not only claims to have studied at CIIS, a new age think tank in San Francisco, he also says he studied at Thunderbird (an elite private foreign policy grad school built on a former military base). Not sure what to make of that. The school apparently has the reputation of teaching people to “think outside the box” about foreign policy. It was originally founded to advance innovative, interdiscplinary methods in foreign policy R&D.

    (Don’t know about any connection between that and “Black propaganda”, NED, or any links to the CIA/etc., or Steve Marshall!)

    I have a hard time seeing how the Dawei/ Dawud CESNUR paper is part of any nefarious conspiracy, but I guess I’m naive. (?)

    Plenty of people have “political” personalities, and their talents are  worth studying. I find Stetson’s views open and refreshing (in my experience, rare for people of his generation). I have not personally met Stetson, but would like to at some point. I just don’t have occasion to travel to the east coast. I’ll probably be attending a family service at the Arlington National Cemetery in the next few years, so maybe I’ll be able to catch up with Stetson at that point if I have any extra days there after the ceremony. I also have some old BIGS friends from high school that I’ll be seeing in the DC area (they know I withdrew).

    Stetson’s work in unearthing historical artifacts from bahaullah’s grandaughter seems like a worthy effort, especially if the material eventually enters the public domain, or is otherwise available to independent scholars.

    The UBA/UU bahai thing is a work in progress, and I’m not sure if it will ever gain much momentum. At least the folks involved are far more open minded than haifan bahais typically are.

  • Wahid Azal

    “This leads to another question: if meaningful reforms are basically near
    impossible within the bahai system (because they threaten the rigid
    power structure), why should people continue to emotionally invest in
    it?”

    They shouldn’t. Bahaism in all its various facets and permutations is a *cult* and a 5th columnist colonialist tool, what is to the Mid East and Iran what Scientology or the Jehovah’s Witnesses are to North America and Europe. A movement that from its inception founded itself upon a bloody schism it perpetrated (and which in its growth was then promoted by Anglo-European colonialist interests in the region) cannot produce anything good – and the proof is precisely in what has been experienced thus far. The only investment I have in it is to expose its pernicious and sinister lies, warn well meaning people against it and generally to halt any possible influence it may attempt to exert inside my motherland – especially in any future attempts by it to carve power and influence for itself in a post-IRI situation when the present regime does finally collapse (which it will).

    “What I got out of the 1999 letter was a deep, caring sensitivity to the
    delicate politics of community (based on a sense of universal humanity,
    not narrow bahai groupthink)…”

    I beg to differ as did a whole host others at the time. The letter by Culhane and his subsequent behaviour was of someone who clearly had caved in to pressure, and like in a Soviet style show trial he was  clearly “denouncing” former associates to ingratiate himself with the system. There is nothing deep or caring about Culhane’s letter whatsoever and nothing delicately political other than attempts by Culhane to save his own hide and reputation publicly with the Stalinist Bahai administrators with such disingenuous mea culpas as this. Fred Glaysher’s called it correctly. If the man (Culhane) had any backbone, which he doesn’t, he would never have resorted to such a shameful public spectacle as this. Maneck and Foster were merely acting at the time in their personal self-interest and primarily as hacks to the system. Period. Any other reading of this letter is just pure poppycock and attempts at justifying cycles of abuse and skulduggery by the cult machinery of the Haifan Bahai organization with its evil and twisted modus operandi.

  • Fubar

    Hey Nima,

    Thanks against for the brilliant and fascinating insights.

    My understanding is that at the time of the Bab, most of the Iranian elites didn’t fully understand the threat of western colonialism/imperialism. People in the south or Iran, in coastal areas, that had had close contact with British trading ships and the Royal Navy, such as Shiraz, were trying to fashion a new way of thinking about Iran’s geopolitical future.

    The Bab’s family were merchants, so they presumably had more access to knowledge about westerners, and the threats and opportunities that westerners presented.

    (The British interest was in preserving freedom of the sea lanes and middle east trade routes for the lucrative silk and tea/spice trade. The Russian interest was in disrupting British trade by pressuring from the north.)

    Was there a dormant revolutionary paradigm/meme in muslim youth culture that could be brought to life by referencing “return” of archetypal figures in an “end” time when the traditional universe was falling apart due to the rising influence/power of westerners?

    Several decades later, the facts on the ground had become more settled. Similar the the 1960s, where counterculture youth grew up and became part of the establishment they had rebelled against, the remaining Babi revolutionaries may not have been in step. Bahaullah presumably knew that accommodation of the west by the ruling elites was inevitable.

    Your information about the Babis being fully engaged in political/ constitutional reforms, whereas Bahais were flip flopping, was particularly interesting.

  • Fubar

    re: “I beg to differ as did a whole host others at the time. The letter by Culhane and his subsequent behaviour was of someone who clearly had caved in to pressure, and like in a Soviet style show trial he was  clearly “denouncing” former associates to ingratiate himself with the system. There is nothing deep or caring about Culhane’s letter whatsoever and nothing delicately political other than attempts by Culhane to save his own hide and reputation publicly with the Stalinist Bahai administrators with such disingenuous mea culpas as this. Fred Glaysher’s called it correctly. If the man (Culhane) had any backbone, which he doesn’t, he would never have resorted to such a shameful public spectacle as this. Maneck and Foster were merely acting at the time in their personal self-interest and primarily as hacks to the system. Period. Any other reading of this letter is just pure poppycock and attempts at justifying cycles of abuse and skulduggery by the cult machinery of the Haifan Bahai organization with its evil and twisted modus operandi. ”

    Nima,

    Thanks for the interesting insights.

    Agrarian communities are conservative and communal (traditionally, people in rural communities helped neighbors with harvests, etc.). Even the more progressive elements in something like the bahai community in a place like Omaha are influenced by agrarian conservatism. Not being sensitive to the ethos of such a community probably wouldn’t make much sense.

    I do understand that as a Babi, you would have a more revolutionary stance toward the establishment. It seem unlikely that a revolutionary ethos would appeal to people (whether iranian or american, or anything else) in a place like Omaha.

    I don’t know what former associates were “denounced” (at the time of the events referenced in the letter). Perhaps you are referring to later events? If so, I’m not familiar with those events/denouncements.

    There was a critique of the PC/left elements, particularly the more radical/extremist elements, of the bahai dissident movement and associated groupthink.  Such a critique was inherent in the argument that integral theory was a better alternative than the prevailing academic/left perspective.

    To be clear, there were not two, but three perspectives:

    1) the bahai mainstream and its conservative apologists (some radical),
    2) the PC/left/academic dissidents,
    3) integralists and a few other independents/moderates

    The PC/left/academic types amost always confuse anyone that does not agree with them with conservatives.

    By critiquing traditional PC/left ideology (particularly radical/extremist versions), integralists are not agreeing with conservatives.

    Put another way, the problem with PC/left groupthink is that it tends to locate any disagreement with its premises in conservative ideological territory.

    For instance, I usually describe myself to liberals/leftists as an “anarcho-libertarian” to convey my lack of simpatico with neocon politics and State Capitalism (including the “military-industrial complex”).

    As you may know, there was a mass conversion project going on in northern california around the same time as the Omaha incident. The principle in that conversion project was an advocate of integral theory (having studied at Noetic Institute, a new age think tank founded by an Apollo astronaut), and was involved in detailed consultation with the Omaha people.

    The new age conversion project eventually went into a tailspin, but before that, there were additional considerations about the sensitive nature of relationships between integralist leaders and bahai administration.

    It certainly would not have been uncharacteristic of integralists to distance themselves from radical/extremist (or PC/left) elements of bahai dissent movement in such circumstances. The priority was presumably on negotating compromises with bahai administration that would have allowed for integral models/experiments to be tried within the bahai mainstream.

    I personally do not think there is only one “right” perspective, and everything else is “wrong”. A particular paradigm that may fit the particular circumstances of a given community’s needs at a point in time may not be good somewhere else.

    That said, in hindsight it is more clear that very little real innovation would have ever been allowed by bahai administration that didn’t serve their needs and purposes. My sense was that the new age conversion project largely failed because of the “cognitive dissonance” that bahai administration placed on the leaders of the conversion project. As I said earlier, something like the Mashriq movement was always going to be seen by the bahai establishment as an “instrument” of the bahai missionary paradigm, not because it had inherent value as mysticism itself. So, the relationship between the bahai mainstream and the new age folks was one of bahai cultural imperialists attempting to colonize the new age community in ways that were completely incoherent and self-destructive to the long term prospects of community expansion and maturation.

    At some point it probably became clear to the new age folk that their culture was not going to be sustainable in the bahai community, and that they faced the choice of either:

     (1) being assimilated into something (the bahai mainstream) that would diminish their values and life purposes, or
     (2) to rebel/depart.

    In either case, I’m not aware of anyone surviving those events that became a known figure in bahai dissent. Most of the people probably just went on with their lives (the area where the events took place is an ex-urbanite community and has many figures such as Gary Snyder of “beatnik” counterculture fame, Jack Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums”). A few of the converts may have stayed in the bahai community, but I don’t think any of them would have continued to try to influence the bahai mainstream with integralism, at least not formally.

    I hope that what this all conveys is that contrary to the public image that bahaism attempts to convey that “celebrates diversity”, in reality it is internally hostile to deep engagement with nonconformant perspectives that are critical of the dominant paradigm that operates within haifan bahai culture.

    Bahaism has developed sure-fire methods of marginalizing nonconforming and dissident perspectives and making them wither away from lack of support. Any dissent, protest or criticism of that is not well received. (as Momen’s article on bahai dissent shows clearly)

    Any corrections or other feedback are welcome and greatly appreciated.

  • Darian

    This all sounds like intellectual narcissism.  The simple truth is, that the Baha’i electoral process and teachings on profitsharing are the most radically beneficial  socio-economic changes that the world has ever seen. Our culture is in desparate need of our model.   If these well learned men who are obsessed with dissent would actually help the revolution we would make progress much faster.  Sure there are differences of opinion, and the faith allows for that ‘clash of differing opinion’.
    However, the “Great Spirit” of humility and unity sees the end goal as more important than our current individual perspectives, however limited they may be. 

  • Fubar

    Sorry for the delayed response, I was on vacation.

    The bahai electoral process is dysfunctional and manipulated by those in power.

    As far as I know, the bahai profit sharing scheme has never been implemented, even as a modest experiment in bahai collectivism in the real world, in a sustainable manner. As such, it is theory. Please correct me if wrong.

    State Capitalism (globalist plutocracy) is generally opposed to any form of economic organization that threatens the premises of its corrupt central banking schemes (which provide subsidies to various corporate and state entities that rarely benefit the working classes).

    Serious attempts at sustainable collectivist banking have been made impractical or illegal by the mechanisms of state capitalism.

    (A “true” free market system would allow collectivist banks to either succeed or fail on their own merits.)

    One exception that proves the rule is JAK Bank.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JAK_members_bank

    Even if collectivist banks, or similar forms of economic organization, are a spiritual “cure” for corrupt crony capitalism (plutocracy, etc.), then there has to be a “bahai” method, or theory, of how such economic organization could survive the hostility that the “establishment” would direct toward them.

    I am not aware of any such political theory.

    if bahais revert to the idea that they will take over after a grand apocalypse, then they will get nowhere in the real world.

    You comments on dissent are typically incoherent.

    The purpose of dissent is to bring about open, diverse, rational discussion in the public sphere (there is a requirement for “democracy” that involves additional complexities regarding the role of faith, reason, etc.). Honesty is required, as is scepticism of abuses of power. The goal is to reform bad policies and/or ideas via the legitimization of “values” via shared societal assent that are required for power/money to be exercised in a manner that respects “lifeworld” and authenticity  (Habermas).

    Here is a paper that examines the problems of democracy and the public sphere:

    http://www.well.com/~hlr/vcbook/vcbook10.html

    (see the section titled “The Selling of Democracy: Commodification and the Public Sphere”)

    The bahai establishment claims that bahai scripture has a different method of accomodating what outsiders call “reforms”. In reality it is a system that is hostile to many forms of legitimate complaint, and as such, simply reinforces the very dysfunctional tendencies that are in need of reform in the first place!

    The origins of the problem involve a Jungian “shadow” artifact of the culture that bahaism arose from, namely a purity myth that is deeply intertwined with the culturally limited circumstances and spiritual traditions that bahaism was drawn from.

    In this purity myth, the perspective of the “outsider” is considered to be inherently “inferior” due to some spiritual flaw.

    (So, when an “outside” idea calls the legitimacy of the dominant myth structure into question, it is rejected as “impure” or “materialistic”, whereas many other “outside” memes, usually bad,  are imported without question as long as they *promote* the core of the dominant “internal” stucture.)

    Such purity myths are part of the system of imperialism that is at the root of the cultures and religious traditions that bahaism arose from, as is the idea that believers are “slaves” need to be “spiritually submissive” to a symbol of a religious “overlord” (manifestation) that barters access to Spirit (transcendence) via conformance to social rules/roles.

    The problem with the “unity” theme in bahaism is that it is easily corrupted into false unity and conformism, which lead to paradigmn regression (backward thinking).

    If healthy forms of dissent and nonconformance were allowed in the bahai scheme (which they aren’t – see the demise of Ishmael Velasco’s scholarship blog for one recent example) then there would at least be a possibility that the slide toward regression, backwardness and fundamentalism could be halted.

    Indeed, it seems obvious that the real reason that open criticisms of administration, and the related orms of dissent, nonconformance and protest are so reviled in bahai culture is precisely because the fundamentalists-autocrats want to silence and marginalize the possibility of reforms that would alter the status quo and possibly remove them from power.

    And of course the hard liners that claim to “believe” in the fundie version of bahai administration also claim to be “on God’s side”, in opposition to “materialistic” “ungodly” scholars and free thinkers (dissidents).

    The entire contruct is a giant crock of poddles and is obvious to everyone — except most bahais.

    It is, by definition, what a “corrupt” form of religion is all about: a group of privileged people that take false claims of divine authority upon themselves to perpetuate a system that exploits “converts”.

    have a nice day.

  • Desir0101

    Darian said,

    ”Sure there are differences of opinion, and the faith allows for that ‘clash of differing opinion’.”

    You are completely wrong.

    The quote below is from  third part and last line of the WILL AND TESTAMENT of Abdulbaha.

    ”To none is given the right
    to put forth his own opinion or express his particular conviction.
    All must seek guidance and turn unto the Center of the Cause
    and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whatsoever
    else is indeed in grievous error.”

  • Fubar

    In theory, “differing opinions” (during “consultation”) are ok at lower levels of power in the bahai community that do not involve challenges to high authority or core theology.

    So, in reality LSAs have long discussions about the color of paper cups to be used to serve refreshments at “devotional” meetings, or similar inane blather.

    In reality, bahai culture is highly conformist in most important ways.

    People that stay in the haifan bahai mainstream have not received any meaningful “messages” that real diversity of perspective will be allowed or valued for a very long time.

    On the contrary, whenever creative reforms have been proposed, the bahai establishment usually attacks them, or misappropriates them.

    When complaints about the dysfunctional system are made, the person making the complaint is told that they are somehow “spiritually” inferior and flawed. If they persist in their complaints, they are marginalized and then attacked.

    bahai culture is awash in Groupthink and backward ideas.

    There is nothing spiritually “healthy” about most of what goes on in  bahai culture.

    most of bahai administration is “soul killing”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/danjjensen Dan Jensen

    {Yawn} It’s good to see all the dissident activity and institutional blundering documented, but as Baquia points out, this one’s descriptive to a fault. I do appreciate being mentioned, but without being vilified or demonized or marginalized there just isn’t much fun in it.

  • Craig Parke

    Wow! Is this some kind of NEW Ruhi Course? You have to get fit or you are out of the Faith by an uncertified first class letter? Total reformation to  a now UHJ required lean body mass indicator reading or you will be told “you never were a Baha’i” even after 40 years of service on an LSA. But this might be actually useful in the Faith! It’s the New Plan. It’s only five months after the passing of Peter Khan and they are really cracking down. Get fit or get out. NOW. Out of shape Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses had better take note, baby! It’s the new AO Plan of God for required washboard abs for everyone or you are out on the street. Effective immediately.

  • STFU

    EAT LOTSA SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAMWICHES AND GET FAT FAT FAT BRATBRITCHES. YUUUUMY TUMMY. OINK. PIGMEAT.

  • Fubar

    follow up:

    Denis MacEoin complains that his response to Momen is not being read.

    http://bahaicatholic.wordpress.com/2007/12/17/moojan-momen-is-right/#comment-24389

    Denis MacEoin, on August 31, 2011 at 12:47 pm said:

    I’ve just found this, obviously several years too late. I don’t plan
    to take part in the debate, but I do wonder why no-one has referred to
    my response to Moojan that followed the online article. I mention it
    because it takes up a serious point, and one that does need to be
    discussed: what were Moojan’s motives in writing an article like that?
    Academic or a semi-formal Baha’i put-down of individuals the Baha’is
    find hard to endure? Some others wrote pieces as well, and I think they
    are all on the internet somewhere. Perhaps the great mistake being made
    by both Moojan and many of the commentators here is to see the Baha’i
    community as a single, coherent collectivity, whether the people of God
    or a giant cult. When we realize it’s neither the one nor the other, we
    can gain a more sober and objective view of it.

    The actual original response is interesting:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/3550026/Responses-to-Apostacy
     
    MacEoin actually uses statements from prominent bahais to demonstrate that Momen is full of cr*p:

    excerpt:

    According to Baha’i historian Robert Stockman (one of Momen’s advisors):

    the American Baha’i community has been heavily, but by no means completely, insulated from the intellectual trends in
    American society by the consistent focus of the Baha’i on their scriptures and their obedience to their elected Baha’i
    institutions. Finally, the Baha’i religion has elaborate rules of discourse that strongly direct and sharply limit the nature of
    discourse among Baha’is’. (Stockman, 1995)

    —end Momen quote—

    What MacEoin fails to do, or remember, is to contrast Stockman’s appalling, but accurate, description of bahai conformism with the bahai ideals articulated by its own leadership several generations previously!

    http://bahai-library.com/suggs_common_threads

    “It is hoped that all Bahá’í students will.. Be led to
    investigate and analyze the principles of the Faith and to correlate them with
    the modern aspects of philosophy and science. Every intelligent and thoughtful
    young Bahá’í should always approach the Cause in this way, for there in lies
    the very essence of the principle of independent investigation of the
    Truth.”

           Aug. 6, 1933 Shoghi Effendi
    to an individual believer.