With this edition of the newsletter, the LA class seems to go into uncharted territory. Where before they boldly broached taboo subjects, now they have hit the mother of all taboo subjects: a direct critique of an institution. Its interesting to note that the editorial which sparks this whole discussion (about the failure to reach goals) could be written right now in any number of Baha´i communities. This critique of the NSA is also telling as years later (much later), the UHJ itself was noticeably upset with the NSA of the US and wrote them a scathing letter, in the hopes that the Baha´i community of the US would get the message and clean up its own house.
The resulting uncomfortable reaction that such criticism creates is also familiar. Most Baha´is defend the institutions (no matter what wrong they have done) by saying that they are in their embryonic form and therefore we must simply endure until they mature and develop. But if we accept this child to adult analogy, then its corollary must be that a child needs interaction; to be nourished, sheltered, educated, etc. Not isolated in a bubble, separate from the world at large. So unless those who propose this analogy are implying that we should leave babies to their own devices, it then follows that it is our responsability to interact with the institutions. And yes, some of these interactions will take the form of critiques to let them know that we believe what they are doing or have done is incorrect. To do otherwise would be to isolate them from the very community which they are shephearding.
Finally there is some good natured and light-hearted banter about persecutions. But unknown to the class members at that time, it eerily foreshadows the great upheaval that took place but a few years from the time of this class and led, again, to the persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.
On with the 70´s class . . .
March 19, 1977
Dear Baha’i Friends:
Well, hello again, folks! Before we get started, you will note that an extra page has been added to the end of this report. It is an agenda for the Baha’i Studies Seminar which is to be held at the University of Lancaster in England from April 16th to 17th. It’s still not too late to buy a ticket and fly over. We are hoping to get copies of the papers presented at this seminar for the class.
Correction Department: Some errors cropped up in the last letter which summarized Mr. Kazemzadeh’s presentation on the Baha’i Community of Ishqabad. Altho[ugh] they are minor points, the corrections are listed here in the interest of historical accuracy. It was the Czarist government, not Czar Alexander III himself, who sent the military tribunal to Ishqabad to try the Muslim slayers of Muhammad Rida (Rida is pronounced as if it were “Reza” with the “d” sound as in the word Ridvan). While the trial proved an important milestone for the Baha’is, it was hardly the kind of thing to command the Czar’s personal attention.
Also, the Muhammad Rida who was assasinated by the Muslim fanatics was not the same Muhammad Rida, a cousin of the Bab, who first suggested to Baha’u’llah that Baha’is emigrate from Persia to Ishqabad. Both men, however, did have the same name, hence the confusion. There were two Muhammad Rida’s, the first who proposed the colonization of Ishqabad by Baha’is, and the second, a prominent resident of the city, who was martyred. You got all that, right?
And, during the course of the trial, the Muslims accused of the murder, justified their actions on the grounds that Muhammd Rida was a Baha’i and had insulted the Imams, testifying on the assumption that they would not be convicted of killing an infidel. There was never any doubt about who committed the act, the only question at issue was the criminality of it.
The spelling of the Czarist governor-general of the Turkistan area was given as Krupatkin (which is how Shoghi Effendi spelled it in God Passes By). However, “Kuropotkin” was cited as a possible correct spelling. You take your choice. (Don’t bother to pay.)
And . . . on page 3 of the notes it states that until the Russian Revolution broke out, Baha’is were forbidden (under the law) to teach their Faith to Ishqabad’s “native” Russian population. Before its conquest in the 1800′s, Ishqabad was a Persian village. When the Russians took over, many Russians and others moved in and built a large city. So, technically there was no “native” Russian population in the city of Ishqabad. (Bob Ballanger, who made those mistakes, has been exiled to Siberia, for a five-year term of hard labor, teaching Muslim fanatics.)
Due to circumstances beyond our control (as they say on television when things go a bit wack-o) our class scheduled on the Calamity had to be postponed at the last minute. It has been rescheduled for May 15th (assuming the real thing doesn’t happen before then). The cancellation of our class presentation put us in a large, deep hole. After fumbling around for a while, we stumbled into a protracted and, for many people in the class, uncomfortable discussion of the implications of an editorial entitled, “Gentlemen, the Verdict Please” which appeared in the January, 1977, issue of the American Baha’i [Ed. the national official Baha'i magazine]. If you have that issue, you are advised to read the editorial before proceeding further here. If not, we’ll do the best we can to explain it.
Essentially, the editorial pointed out that if the Baha’is were put on trial for pursuing the goals of the Five Year Plan, they could avoid conviction by having their defense councel argue that so little progress has been made toward the goals of the Plan that there is no case. The Baha’is it could be argued, are not really serious about the plan and so pose no threat to society. By inference, the commentary (which identified no cause of the problem, and proposed no solution) blamed the American Baha’i Community as a whole for the large-scale failure to achieve these goals. That stand raised the hackles of a few class members who had, on their own, written some vigorous dissents and mailed them off to Wilmette. In class, this faction asserted that the editorial wrongly attempts to make the American Baha’i feel guilty for what is happening (or rather, not happening). Instead of pointing the finger at the body of American believers, it was suggested that the real problem with an unresponsive and inept national leadership. Those who took this point of view argued that it is impossible for a situation to exist where the administrative institutions are doing everything right, but the plan is somehow failing miserably. So instead of blaming the American Baha’i Community for the lamentable state of the goals of the plan, we ought to be looking for what is wrong with our leadership. It was suggested that the editorial missed the point by focusing on a symptom and ignoring the disease.
This is a controversial stand and its presentation split calss members into three camps. There were those who, as outlined above, argued the problem is not one of a lack of religious devotion, but of poor leadership. That approach visibly upset some members of the class, one of whom wondered out loud if it could be considered back-biting. This group said that the complaints raised by the first group were harmful in themselves, adding that, instead of solving any problems, they were only making things worse.
That provoked the rebuttal that the idea that one cannot discuss such a topic is an example of the stifling atmosphere which exists within the Baha’i Community today. There is, it was argued, a subtle intimidation which makes it difficult, if not impossible, even to raise the possibility that there might be problems with the way Baha’i institutions are handling the Five Year Plan. This unspoken rule sometimes drives Baha’is into becoming inactive because they see this as the only alternative to risking a confrontation with an administrative body. This causes a feeling of alienation to exist in the Baha’i Community. Individual believers, instead of being cowed silence, ought to be encouraged to express their feelings and offer their ideas. It is up to the local and national administrative institutions to encourage candid comments since they must earn the respect and affection of those they represent.
But those who rejected this line of argument said that the institutions ought to be respected because they come from God through Baha’u’llah, and are divine in nature. It was suggested that those Baha’is who criticise the national leadership are over-reacting to things they do not understand partly because the collapse of the existing order prevents them from having accurage judgement in this case. Because the Baha’i Cause is still largely embrionic, that is all the more reason for patience on the part of the believers who should not over-react to things which they do not understand. These class members said that they had experienced no lack of good leadership in the Baha’i community and that those who had were only relating personal experiences which were not shared by most of the American Community.
A third faction then surfaced. It was composed of those who sat impatiently while the first two groups spoke. Members of the third camp said the discussion was entirely too personal and unstructured, ading that, if there was a legitimate topic at hand, it ought to be taken up within the research confines imposed on all presentations. “It is not worth it to just come here and toss around ideas,” as one person put it. “If this is a class, it ought to operate on a specific topic.” Continuing along that line, it was argued that we were just having a gripe session which was a waste of time, since we could take no action as a group on the problem. Whereupon some countered that the class did not exist to pour knowledge into empty vessels, but to spark new insights and discuss new approaches and points of view. The Baha’i Community should provide an important atmosphere in which all points of view can be aired and the individual’s right of self-expression is not abridged, they said.
FUTURE CLASSES: Back by popular demand, Mr. Kazemzadeh will address the class at 2pm on Sunday, April 3rd at Tony Lee’s apartment [Ed. home address follows]. He will discuss the persecution of Baha’is in Iran, especially a case in which he was personally involved some years ago when the entire Local Spiritual Assembly of Yazd was arrested and charged with murder. We will also ask him about the more recent persecutions which took place in 1955. So we will have the benefit of first person recollections ofboth of these events.
Since it is passover that night, one of the Baha’is from a Jewish background will lead us in a secular Seder (Passover Service). This will be followed by dinner. (Are you ready for all this, folks?) (Anyone who converts to Judaism during the service will be executed as a heretic.)
April 17th, at 2 pm (a Sunday) Dr. Banani will address the class on the nature of the classification of religious scripture in the Baha’i Faith and other religions. Both Anthony Lee and Denis MacEoin have proposed categorizations of Baha’i Scripture in these pages. They were only poorely understood by most (who are still partial to Pilgrim’s Notes) . We look forward to Dr. Banani to tie this all together.
Saturday, April 30th will be “A Baha’i Theory of Personality”, Bonnie Barnes long-awaited presentation on how the Faith affects the lives and outlook of its followers. The time and place of this event will be announced.
Run and grab your crash helmets, compose your will, kiss your loved ones good-bye and pay back any outstanding debts: at 2 pm, Sunday, May 15th, the Calamity (at long last) will be upon us. Greg Wahlstrom, who has been uttering a string of evil-sounding cackles as he compiled his research, will let us know what the Writings say about the Calamity. The class will be held at the Wahlstrom’s home [Ed. personal home address and phone number follows].
AND THERE IS MORE . . . In direct response to the outbursts of our last class, Susan Berkman will discuss the relationship between the Local Assembly and the individual at 2 pm on Sunday, May 29th. Time and location to be announced later.
NASTY REMINDER DEPT.: All right, gang, as we’ve written before these class summaries are no longer free and haven’t been since January. Duplication and mailing costs are considerable. The cost for each subscription is $1.00 per month. Send you moolah to Tony Lee [Ed. personal address follows]. Failure to pay has already got some people off the mailing list. Don’t be next.
[Ed. the following is the schedule and itinerary for the Baha'i Studies Seminar which was held at the University of Lancaster in England from April 16-17th 1977]
All sessions will be held in the Chaplaincy Centre (Quiet Room).
Saturday, 16th April
2:00 – 3:15 Denis MacEoin (Cambridge) “The late 18th Century reformation in Shi’ism: its background and influence”
3:15 – 3:45 Tea
3:45 – 5:00 Johanna de Groot (York) “The Shaykism of Kerman”
5:00 – 6:00 Shaykhism – general discussion
Sunday, 17th April
10:00 – 11:15 Moojan Momen “Some problems connected with the Yazd episode of 1850″
11:15 – 11:45 Coffee
11:45 – 1:00 Peter Smith (Lancaster) “The routinization of charisma”. Some comments on Peter L. Serger’s Motif messianique et processus social dans le Bahaism.
1:00 – 2:30 Lunch
2:30 – 3:45 Kent Beveridge (Vienna) “Social aspects of the Guardianship”.
3:45 – 4:15 Tea
4:15 – 5:30 Discussion of the last three papers.
5:30 – 6:30 “Baha’i Studies” – general discussion
Further copies of the programme and registration forms can be obtained from the seminar convener:
Department of Sociology,
University of Lancaster,
to whom any queries concerning the seminar should be referred.
The original scanned documents can be found here.