Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Khan Trial

Forecasts of events in the Baha'i community were followed up with a pilot study -- "Fundamentalism Bubble Burst" -- with the perhaps surprising results of "Peak Fundamentalism" from 1993-1999, followed by a "Collapse of Fundamentalism", starting with The Universal House of Justice (UHJ) election in 2000. A social scientist may not have the opportunity to test a hypothesis in the real world. However, after the April 20, 2010, publication of the pilot study and the April 26, 2010, "Peak Fundamentalism" article, within days, Dr. Peter Khan was to give a speech to the U.S. Baha'i convention which may have launched a dramatic real-world test of the fundamentalism collapse hypothesis.

Fundamentalism Collapse Hypothesis
The pilot study defined terms and started with a simple analysis of how much fundamentalism might have existed over time among UHJ members. Further thought lead to the idea that the observed rise, peak and fall of fundamentalism was tracking changing preferences among NSA members who elect the UHJ.

The collapse hypothesis is that the influence of fundamentalism crashed by some 73 percent from the 1993-1999 peak to 2010. More concretely, the number of fundamentalists in high elected (UHJ members) or appointed (Counsellors) positions is thought to have dropped. Indeed, in the references cited above and in the Moojan Moment analysis, it might be fair to say that leading fundamentalists were decisively disgraced, to the extent that damage and conflict caused by their activities came to be more widely recognized in the Baha'i community.

The significance of these reported results and the collapse period in particular may lie in its relative lack of recognition by what might be called the liberals among Baha'is. This may be due to (1) the long duration of relative fundamentalist dominance -- several decades, and (2) the continuing incidence of anti-intellectual activities during the collapse period, both of which would tend to obscure that a major shift in the Baha'i world community was in fact in progress.

Naturally, the collapse hypothesis arising from the pilot study could be false -- namely, that fundamentalists remain in firm control from top to bottom and damage related to their "culling" the Baha'i community of various persons deemed to be undesirables remains at full strength. This report presents a one-trial, real-world test of the hypothesis for consideration.

The Khan Trial
Our test thus far has one subject, former UHJ member Dr. Peter Khan. Perhaps ironically, according to the pilot study data, Dr. Khan was a leading fundamentalist. Of course, Dr. Khan can speak for himself regarding his previous and current views. In his talk to the U.S. Baha'i convention, about one week after the publication of my reports, he says, as summarized by Sen McGlinn:
...the Cause will adopt different strategies and approaches as it deals with a variety of circumstances appropriate to the growth of world order. Some of these will be similar to strategies described by Shoghi Effendi and some of them will be different and some of them will be radically different. And believers who confuse constancy with change will be worried that we are forsaking the interpretations of Shoghi Effendi when in fact all we are doing is changing some of the strategies of that master strategist that was Shoghi Effendi.

...The strategic applications of Shoghi Effendi are quite different to the enduring interpretations of Shoghi Effendi which remain valid for the entire course of the dispensation.
Further context for this speech may be found in my "Gaming the Baha'i Writings" article.

In brief, a Baha'i, Dr. Khan, addresses no less than a major Baha'i convention, speculating that Shoghi Effendi's writings may be parsed into two categories -- (A) "stategic applications" or (B) "enduring interpretations". It seems that any statement whatsoever that Shoghi Effendi wrote could be classed as either A or B. In short, this opens the door for a wide and profound set of possible changes, based on what may be essentially arbitary decisions on writings previously widely viewed as authorized interpretations of Baha'i scripture.

He further implies that he and some unknown others -- "we" -- will do this new classification of statements by the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi. On the other hand, by "we", he might have just meant the collective of the Baha'i community.

At one extreme, most might say, "He's a former UHJ member and a good guy; so let him say whatever he wants." Such might not be an extreme position at all, and probably represents what most delegates at the convention thought. At the other extreme, that of the fundamentalists, Dr. Khan's statements might be seen to approach or actually cross into the territory of some sort of Mason Remey, a Hand of the Cause (appointee of Shoghi Effendi) who turned covenant-breaker, or similar situation. Which is it? You decide.

After days of thought on these statements and listening to the actual audio track of Dr. Khan's speech, my tentative conclusion is that these remarks set the stage for "The Khan Trial", which we may define as a one-trial test of the collapse hypothesis.

If the hypothesis is true, then extremists are no longer in control and more moderate policies and events will occur. If false, extreme fundamentalists would be expected to move against Dr. Khan. This test is ongoing as we speak and its results are pending. Reader participation in the form of comments and test results is welcome.

We might quantify the reaction that Dr. Khan's remarks might elicit, in order from nothing to increased severity:
1. Positive reaction or no negative reaction at all (hypothesis confirmed).

2. Counsellor visits Dr. Khan and gives him a stern warning and explains consequences if he continues to promote his personal proposals about Shoghi Effendi's writings.

3. Dr. Khan is summarily disenrolled from the Baha'i community membership. [Note: Sen McGlinn, who wrote essentially the same thing regarding writings of Shoghi Effendi, was disenrolled.]

4. A campaign of back-biting against Dr. Khan is launched by Counsellors and Board Members with the objective that "he is probably a covenant-breaker".

5. Dr. Khan is expelled and officially declared as a covenant-breaker.
Options 2 to 5 above would be strong evidence that my collapse hypothesis is false -- that extremists still occupy controlling positions in the elected and appointed sides of the Baha'i Faith. These possible outcomes merely summarize historical actions of extreme fundamentalists which were used (1) in a few instances, to identify real enemies of the Baha'i Faith or (2) most commonly, to reduce the growth and size of the Baha'i community by driving good people out of the community.

Option 1 -- no negative reaction from Baha'i authorities, is obviously preferred by the author, since, whatever his history, I personally like Dr. Khan and it would tend to confirm my collapse result from the original pilot study.

If events in coming months confirm the collapse hypothesis -- that is, no movement by Baha'i authorities against Dr. Khan, then we might allow that the hypothesis has moved one little step toward becoming established knowledge.
© 2010 James J Keene