Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Are Baha'is Wimps?

Watching news from the U.S.A. at some distance from Puerto Rico (1972-1989) and from the Commonwealth of Dominica (1993-present), sorry to say, Americans seemed to have become helpless wimps. However, recent news including the Tea Party activities, has caused me to wonder if Americans may have some guts, some back-bone after all. A recent comment by Baquia in the Peak Fundamentalism article now raises the question: Are Baha'is wimps? Baquia wrote, with a full description here:
...to the discussion at hand, which I believe is the question of whether the UHJ is 'fundamentalist' or not, may I present to you what happened at the 2007 US national convention as 'Exhibit A'?

If you missed the proceedings, the US NSA presented their annual report as they normally do but did so in 2 parts. The second part was a shockingly honest portrayal of the state of the US Baha'i community.

The UHJ sent a representative from the ITC - basically an enforcer - to force the NSA to nix this report and instead to supplement a letter from the UHJ in which they basically tell the US Baha'is to stay the (Ruhi) course.
I "missed the proceedings", being a member of the Dominica community. Also, thus far, I have considered the Fundamentalism Bubble Burst as a reflection of changing NSA voter preferences, but not much yet in terms of how increased fundamentalism among Universal House of Justice (UHJ) members, which peaked 1993-1999, has affected, if at all, UHJ statements or policies.

Now, Baquia's comment above takes discussion in that direction. May I descend from the lofty heights of the top unit in the Baha'i Administration (UHJ) and land with bare feet on mother earth at the level of ordinary Baha'is and their delegates. Are they all wimps?

Clearly, many are not, as exemplified by Baquia himself (or if it is "herself", then let's talk about getting married). The summary is "Yes, many Baha'is are wimps; but maybe they should stand up and be counted." But first, let us define wimp: weak, cowering, good-for-nothing, whimpering, gutless persons -- at least that is the technical definition (smile).

Let's walk through this. According to Baquia's time-line, the delegates already had in their possession
(1) a US NSA Feast Letter (Jalal/Glory), April 8th 2007, which contains the (in)famous 50% decline statistic,
(2) the US NSA Annual Report, April 12th 2007, and then received
(3) UHJ Letter to US NSA in response to US annual report, April 19th 2007, described as
A rebuke to the US NSA Annual Report: presented to delegates of US convention on April 27th, 2007 as a substitute to the US NSA’s Annual Report. Ms. Penny Walker ITC counsellor sent to US convention to supervise this change of focus.
Presumably a competent person chaired the convention and at some early point in the proceedings, Ms. Walker addressed the convention, reportedly to urge the delegates to focus on item #3, the so-called "rebuke", and not on items #1 and #2 from their own NSA.

As far as I know (which is not very far), appointed officials such as Counselors and Board Members do not participate in Assembly consultation, period. I shall assume that this is true for delegate consultation as well.

Regardless of which other institution an appointed person might or might not be representing (say, e.g., the UHJ), they are greeted, allowed to speak, respond to any questions, and then they are excused from the Assembly meeting, so the Assembly can consult in private on matters brought by the guest and other business. Having served on both LSA and NSA levels, this has been the procedure that I have known.

Having attended national conventions in the U.S., I recall that non-delegates could not participate in the consultation by delegates. If this is correct, then after Ms. Walker's presentation, I would think that she would be excused or perhaps allowed to observe, but not to participate in any of the the convention consultation.

If she was allowed to participate in the actual consultation periods, could it be that U.S. conventions need better, more informed chair-persons?

As to her mission to answer questions from the delegates, in her initial presentation of item #3 above, we might suppose she might have entertained some questions. However, during the consultation, if allowed to observe, one would think the chair-person could rule that questions to Ms. Walker in that period could be noted and deferred, so as to avoid the appearance of her direct participation in the consultation by way of answering questions during it. Further, one might suppose that there might be no questions to her by delegates during the consultation, if indeed, it was proper for her to be present at all as an observer. Again, I think I can safely assume that nobody had any deadly weapons forcing delegates to direct questions to Ms. Walker.

Now the kicker. My reading of the UHJ letter (item #3 above) does not reveal any restriction at all on what a delegate may or may not say in the consultation period. Rather I find UHJ commentary on current events and guidance toward consideration of specific items, but not to the exclusion of other concerns. At least, wording to that effect was not apparent or maybe I missed it.

Finally, for this distant observer, if Ms. Walker succeeded in suppressing concerns of delegates in the consultation, if that was even her intention, one might say that this is the delegates' own fault. That is, the delegates chose to be wimps. They could have consulted on anything they wanted to, without disobedience of any kind to the content of the UHJ letter. And if a fellow delegate questioned another delegate in this regard, there is always the "everything relates to everything" response.

I might reconsider if there are verifiable reports that not only was Ms. Walker present during consultation (which probably would itself be an irregularity), but that she actually grabbed and twisted the arms of delegates causing so much physical pain that they were forced to ask her a question or change their expressed thoughts. Otherwise, I must assume that the delegates chose on their own accord to suppress their own thoughts.

One might conclude from this episode that if people including Baha'is voluntarily give up their own thoughts, their own concerns, their freedom, maybe they just don't have what it takes to be free. Maybe they prefer being cattle led around by their noses.

To the extent that many such UHJ letters are guidance, I ask how many Baha'is and how many of those 2007 convention delegates can truly say they have always done something for every bit of such guidance from the UHJ since 1963 or since they entered the Baha'i Faith? I happen to know the answer to that one -- zero, none of them. Some much more than others, but none in the perfect category.

So was there mass hysteria at that 2007 convention, that all the delegates without exception suddenly became perfect re UHJ guidance? I think not.

Thus far in this episode, I see nothing which would have prevented the delegates to carry on consultation on their true concerns, except the fact that they may be spineless, weak, good-for-nothing wimps. Should I apologize for harsh language?

In this context, blaming the UHJ and Ms. Walker might be just an excuse for the delegates to do what they really want to do -- which was nothing. If the delegates wanted to speak their mind, based on the NSA documents #1 and #2 above, there is nothing in the UHJ letter preventing them from doing so. Or did I miss that text? But then again, that requires commitment to Baha'i ideals, some courage, some enthusiasm, which may have been scarce commodities among the 2007 convention delegates. O ye Baha'is, take note when you elect your delegates. Don't send wimps to the convention.

In short, the model presented -- to wit, delegates could not express their true concerns because that would be disobedient to the UHJ, might appear to be a straw man, a diversion of attention from (1) delegate preference to be spineless toward (2) an unwarranted casting of blame on the UHJ. This model can be tiring, "I will sacrifice my freedom, and it's all the fault of the UHJ."

Where did this idea of the UHJ letter being a "rebuke" come from? Where did the idea that Ms. Walker was some sort of "enforcer" come from? What could she possibly enforce? A Counselor has no formal place during official consultation sessions. If proper procedure, as I know it anyway, was followed, there was not much at all that Ms. Walker could have done, except use up a bit of time to make her pitch.

Yes, she would be graciously welcomed to the convention, thanked for her comments and delivering an important UHJ letter, and so forth, perhaps entertained on a tour of the Chicago Loop or something like that during the delegate consultation, and that would be that.

My scenario above may be more fiction than fact. For those who were there, please share what really happened as a direct witness. And I can't wait to see Baquia's Exhibit B.

Alternate model: Baha'is need to say their true concerns, especially at conventions, so the UHJ will know that when they are really needed, when the tests come, there are Baha'is out there who can be depended upon, who have conviction, faith, and guts.

This little scenario is not to criticize my beloved fellow Baha'is, but hopes to present an alternate perspective. Nor to dismiss the many credible stories where Baha'is have been presured to drop their freedoms.
Also, congratulations and thanks to Baquia for revealing how appointed persons and committees seem to be replacing elected officials -- very insightful, useful analysis in the Bahairants post cited above.
© 2010 James J Keene