Friday, July 2, 2010

Purge Cover-up

A recent major schism, probably the largest ever in the 166 year history of the Baha'i Faith, has received scant attention from scholars, journalists and Baha'i authorities alike. This massive historic division of Baha'is happened mostly during two decades (1985-2005) including the "Peak Fundamentalism" period (1993-1999) and featured a purge to remove perceived undesirables or potential competitors to extremist usurpers seeking control of the Baha'i community. Confusion may remain in the aftermath of this historic purge. The present report considers (1) the apparent paucity of typical post-crisis remedial activities in the context of (2) a continuing purge cover-up which would tend to delay post-traumatic healing.

SCHISM. WHAT SCHISM?

Baha'i writings support the idea that a schism of the Baha'i Faith is unlikely since the Covenant, where believers agree to recognize the authority of the center of the Faith, would work to prevent division. While this idea may be commended for its optimism, it may have led to a state of denial regarding perhaps the most important historical events of the current generation in the Baha'i community.

In this most recent schism, the question of the center of the Faith was at best a peripheral or secondary issue. Instead, a working hypothesis is that the main story-line was that an extremist minority systematically purged their competition.

An astute observer wrote (personal communication, 2010) [emphasis mine]:
...thousands of people have left the Baha'i Faith in the last couple of decades, and [sic] tens of thousands. ...we are talking about a very serious problem. ...eventually, we are going to have to face our problems and resolve them.

...the present system of Baha'i Administration is based in the writings. But the actual functioning of that system is often flawed and oppressive. However, that is an issue that can be resolved within the current system, although it will require a change of attitude and orientation on the part of Baha'i administrators. At least, I hope that it can resolved within the system, because the Baha'i Faith does not have much of a future if it can't be. Obviously, no educated or thinking person who is aware of these problems would become a Baha'i, or if they did, they would sooner or later leave the Faith. This has happened thousands of times, and it continues to happen.
And on a more pessimistic note,
...Baha'is are nowhere near being able to act on these misguided ideas, nor will we be for a hundred years or more.
Ouch. Most Baha'is would no doubt prefer more expedient action rather than waiting to the beginning of the 22nd century to read from official Baha'i sources 100 years later that the biggest division in the Baha'i Faith occurred in the last years of the 20th century.

During this period, the center of the Baha'i Faith has been The Universal House of Justice (UHJ), which is therefore known as the "center of the Covenant". The most recent, "most great" schism was perhaps novel because the authority of the UHJ was at best a peripheral issue or used as a propaganda item to mis-direct attention. Instead, this schism arose from a group of persons consolidating personal power by setting up an almost automated system for eliminating competition -- the classic purge strategy.

Baha'i authors have covered the techniques used by extremist usurpers (e.g., Cole and Bacquet) and to some extent, how Baha'i loyalists -- often called liberals and moderate conservatives -- might protect themselves (e.g., Clean-up, Mop-up Operations). However, looking forward, the fact of this huge schism remains as an essentially taboo topic; and volumes remain to be written on many aspects of needed post-schism remedial actions.

POST-SCHISM AGENDA ITEMS

1. Is it safe in the Baha'i community? In the absence of official acknowledgment and accounting of the purge, much uncertainty may remain. Is it safe to exercise freedom of speech, conscience and initiative? Or are there still insurgents lurking among appointed Counsellors and their appointees, acting as spies recording, tracking and keeping files on individual Baha'is? And if so, why are these divisive persons allowed to continue to operate undermining security in the Baha'i community?

2. "We will do everything so a tragedy like this can never happen again". Where are the "never-happen-again" statements from elected and appointed Baha'i institutions? Has this historic purge been officially studied, perhaps with public hearings, and detailed results and conclusions published? Answer: Not yet. Yes, volumes remain to be written.

How can innocent Baha'is be secure that all Baha'i institutions -- and there are hundreds of them on all continents, are now under firm control by Baha'i loyalists? How many of these institutions were actually taken by fundamentalist insurgents and then were subsequently recaptured? How many taken, but not yet recaptured?

In any particular locality, without proper accounting, can parents be sure that their children will not fall into the hands of fanatic extremists posing as Baha'is? This is not a trivial question, since, as the record shows, the usurpers were ready to sacrifice basic Baha'i teachings to achieve cult-like control.

3. Policies to prevent future division. Study of the recent record-breaking schism will no doubt reveal inadequate guidance, accountability and quality controls, which now need to be developed and publicized to prevent future division.

A zero-tolerance policy for the religious intolerance that was practiced so widely during the insurgency might be considered. For example, the idea that institutional statements and policies cannot be questioned or debated has to be definitively laid to rest. The usurpers widely promoted the patently false idea that consultation, which involves questions, debate and even the clash of opinions, undermines the authority of Baha'i institutions. In retrospect, their propaganda may be seen as nothing more than a cheap, shameless abuse of cherished Baha'i principles of consultation and the Covenant

Starting with the International Teaching Centre down through the appointed ranks across continents, operational guidelines might be amended or supplemented including this zero-tolerance policy as well as specific mandates to protect those expressing minority views in the Baha'i community, even where they vary from official positions. In particular, Baha'i intellectuals, writers, scholars and professionals need protection.

Elected officials on Assemblies might need specific guidance as well, concerning exactly which Baha'i laws should be observed and what sanctions, if any for certain laws, might be applied.

In short, for both appointed and elected officials, the firm message might be: "It's the Baha'is, stupid". It is creative chaos; almost everything will be questioned. Forget about any hope of conformity. Baha'is believe in consultation and that involves debate as in clash of opinions; learn to live with it. Debate involves raising questions including questions of who has what authority to do what; get used to it. All this and more are simple corollaries of the "It's the Baha'is, stupid" principle.

4. Perp Walks. Elected or appointed Baha'i officials who can't take the heat of being in the kitchen can, of course, resign. Or, yes, be demoted or fired. A few such figurative "perp walks" (a slang referring to video coverage of a hand-cuffed suspect being escorted by authorities) might actually be a shot in the arm for a demoralized community, previously subject to persecution of the religious intolerance kind.

5. Damage assessment. The largest schism in Baha'i history is bound to have caused terrible damage both to innocents caught in the almost indiscriminate fire from fundamentalist insurgents and to the Baha'i community in terms of reduced size and lost growth prospects.

The schism engineered by the insurgents might best be characterized as a purge since the ever-present, common factor appears to be that the targets for persecution and removal from the community were their most likely competitors for authority in elected or appointed positions. This observation suggests that the only rule for the fundamentalists was purge the competition, which trumped any consideration of religious belief or principle. That is, any justification that might sound plausible to the Baha'i public was acceptable, as long as the competition was removed by the usurpers.

Probably after attaining control of at least several key Baha'i institutions (which hopefully have been recaptured by loyalists), the insurgents achieved a degree of automation of their program of religious intolerance against their preferred targets, as described by many authors including our astute observer cited above.

The resulting damage to the Baha'i Faith, once fully assessed, may greatly exceed any present casual estimates. The persecution targets, as the legitimate, natural competition to the extremists, were almost all current leaders in the Baha'i community, persons most active in teaching, most likely to pioneer and establish new communities, persons with creative thinking skills, special talents, energy and devotion to Baha'i goals, including scholars, academics, intellectuals, writers -- in general, the cream of the crop. This recent schism will no doubt be judged as the mother of all purges.

6. Reparations. According to the Free Dictionary, reparations are:
1. The act or process of repairing...
2. The act or process of making amends; expiation.
3. Something done or paid to compensate or make amends.
The "Shock and Awe" events suggested by the author might be in this category.

Aside from efforts to cope with the experience of being purged by victims of the insurgents, has any reparation happened? Can there be any doubt that reparation is needed? Have apologies been written? Have any of the insurgents expressed any sorrow at all regarding their actions? The back-biting campaigns? The absurd charges they leveled labelling innocents as "covenant-breakers"? The shunning, and resulting misery and grief caused?

Among the elected and appointed Baha'i institutions, have there been private efforts to make amends? If so, none seem to have surfaced. Indeed, should public apologies be issued, as part of a healing process? To pick random examples, have the authors of "The Modest Proposal" -- David Langness et al -- in 1987 ever received a letter of apology from Stehpen Birkland and Firuz Kazemzadeh? Has Denis MacEoin ever received a letter of apology from Firuz Kazemzadeh?

In summary, decisive actions by official Baha'i institutions on these and other post-purge agenda items might be given very high priority. At present, this historic purge is well-known in the Baha'i community. That it appears to be unknown to Baha'i officialdom is an untenable position and can only delay much-needed reforms.

PURGE COVER-UP

The ultimate cover-up may be denial of the schism. However, given the extensive documentation of the schism, it would seem to be impossible for Baha'i authorities to deny its existence or to pretend lack of awareness.

Nonetheless, the official U.S. Baha'i site states [emphasis mine]:
Explicit teachings on the institutional framework of the Faith and a clear line of succession of leadership have protected the Baha'i Faith from schism.
A comparison to secular purge campaigns might illustrate the point. It is as if hundreds and even thousands of Baha'is each took a walk on some sunny day. By pure coincidence, each arrived at the same spot. And purely by accident, each fell into a big hole which was so deep that the fall was fatal. Later this "mass grave" is found and the villagers marvel that all these people mysteriously arrived at the same place, not to mention that each somehow fell in without a single survivor. All those bodies in the hole got there by pure chance at one-in-a-billion odds.

Clear revisionist efforts to rewrite history continue to surface. These clear cover-up efforts suggest a sort of active denial, which in turn may suggest a conscious decision that Baha'i institutions are not yet willing or able to directly address this recent phase of their history. Of course, the final result would be a profound sense of worry and unease in the Baha'i community.

As a random example of a recent purge cover-up, language student Nicholas Bridgewater wrote:
Trained in Western academia, Baha'í scholars now began the process of viewing the Faith objectively, through the lens of the modern academic. Some scholars, prejudiced with the world-view they inherited from a defective, secular educational system, left the Faith when their conclusions disagreed with the Bahá’í teachings. Denis MacEoin and Juan Cole are notable among these individuals.
This is an excellent example of concealment of truth -- a standard cover-up objective. Consider that MacEoin and Cole are both widely acknowledged by reputable authorities for significant achievements in the very field our student writer is just entering, and as such are academic superiors to Bridgewater.

The present point is that the cover-up myth above is probably something that Bridgewater heard or read somewhere, since no evidence is presented to support it.

First, scholars MacEoin and Cole are said to be "prejudiced" -- a rather damning charge for academics and scholars with well-established intellectual integrity. Thus, Bridgewater's reader is immediately alerted to the intended cover-up spin.

Second, how MacEoin and Cole are supposed to have "left the Faith" is very misleading, if not a malicious falsehood. The facts show that both were (1) subjected to systematic and severe religious persecution by Baha'is who should have known better and (2) driven from the Faith by sustained back-biting and attacks from fellow Baha'is including at least one Counsellor. Further, contrary to Bridgewater, their "conclusions" agreed with the Baha'i teachings -- namely, that religious persecution was inimical to the best interests of the Baha'i Faith.

That Bridgewater reaches all the way back to the 1980 (MacEoin) and 1986 (Cole) resigations from Baha'i membership may show just how unfounded and shaky these purge cover-up myths are. It is remarkable that anybody would reach back a quarter century to find targets for mud-throwing and revisionist cover-up efforts.

As MacEoin's own writings available on the internet indicate, the persecution campaign against him was international. On a personal note, in the mid-1980s, I visited New York city to promote "The Dawn-Breakers" film. In that trip, I paid a courtesy call to the Baha'i International Community office near the UN, not to ask anything of Baha'is, but to let them know what I was doing and to answer any questions. Within seconds of meeting Doug Martin, and apparently out of context, he asked, "Do you know Denis MacEoin?" "I don't recognize that name", I innocently replied, "should I know him?" "Well, he is an enemy of the Baha'i Faith", Martin snapped back instantly. Frankly, I was shocked that such an assertion would be interjected in a meeting on a different subject. Very awkward. Turned out the meeting was fairly brief. After all, what can one accomplish with Doug Martin in some sort of la-la-land, engaging in back-biting and apparently unable to conduct a coherent conversation?

In summary, the purge cover-up is probably destined to fail as an attempt to conceal evidence of wrong-doing, error, incompetence or other embarrassing events.
© 2010 James J Keene

11 comments:

  1. I don't think that those expelled or subject to character assassination were in fact potential rivals to leadership. In my case, I've never had the least interest in it. It's not hard for those interested in administrative service in the Bahai community to climb the career ladder: in my day it was service on the LSA and national committees, and becoming a delegate to national convention. One could avoid that path by sending a postal vote to the local convention, because those not present would very seldom be elected as delegate. Nowadays the career path would go through Ruhi leadership, assistant and ABM positions. There's nothing wrong with this in principle, it just means there's a way of finding those who have an interest in administrative work and putting them in places where their talents can be used. My point is, that the great majority of those expelled or dis-welcomed had shown no interest in those positions, so one has to assume they are also people who, by character, have no desire for authority -- making them baffling creatures for people whose consciousness is all about power and authority.

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  2. First of all, this is another extremely entertaining article, and very interesting. But second, I think that Sen is right in the sense that you slipped into the trap of describing the "loyalists" not as they are but as the "insurgents" saw them. Because they're obsessed with leadership, the "insurgents" tried to put down anyone who they considered a threat. They felt that someone like Sen was merely trying to get power through the back door, by gaining a sort of scholarly authority. But then the "insurgents" were wrong about a lot of things, and they're not necessarily correct here.

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  3. Sen wrote: "I don't think that those expelled or subject to character assassination were in fact potential rivals to leadership." If "in fact" refers to self-perception, I agree. If it refers to how "insurgents" viewed them, then I humbly beg to differ. E.g., in your case, with your well-known abilities you might well be seen as a rival.

    The vast majority of the schism -- the "thousands" who "left" -- were voluntary withdrawals and drop-outs, hundreds of which are in evidence in several Yahoo! forums (e.g., unenrolled Baha'is) and better known prototypes might include Karen Bacquet and the 2006 Dann May and Phyllis Bernard case.

    A very small part of the schism explicitly involved Covenant issues (e.g., those forming competing groups not recognizing a particular center of the Covenant).

    Lastly, the smallest part is "those expelled or subject to character assassination", such as the disenrollments of Sen and others like Alison Marshall.

    My minimual definition of Baha'i "leader" is simply capable and active persons. In full agreement with Sen, none of those in the Baha'i leader category were seekers of authority in the community. But that is even more threatening to usurpers, since humility is a strong favorable quality.

    In this article, Baha'i "loyalist" refers to those who may have more recently achieved some success in limiting the extremists. Aside from that operational definition, loyalists consist of "liberals and moderate conservatives".

    The purge "automation" needs better definition, although it was referenced. In the bulk of the schism, authoritarianism such as monitoring members and censorship policies, is probably the main mechanism.
    --continued--

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  4. --continued--
    Given the special place of America in the writings, there seems to be a huge disconnect here. This schism might have been completely avoided if Baha'i authorities had contemplated these writings in a bit more depth -- to wit, America stands out as a free speech center. Did the authorities not connect the dots between the writings (American's leadership role) and America (and other English-speaking locales), where free speech is a constitutional right?

    In retrospect, one marvels that America as leader in the writings and America as a freedom center were not better reconciled.

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  5. What an unusual attack on my blog post. The point of my post is not to talk about this so-called "schism" (where's the resulting Baha'i sect? There has never been a Baha'i schism and never will), but to point out how scholarship can go wrong. MacEoin and Cole are good examples of scholarship gone wrong. Their writings are a testament to their misguided views and misconceptions (on both the Babi and Baha'i Faiths).

    This blog post is very negative about the Baha'i Community. What is needed are more positive blog posts, defending the Faith and the Baha'i Community, in my opinion. Such a post as this could lead individuals to think that there actually has been a Baha'i schism (which is of course not the case). Any objective observer would know this is not the case. You write: "this historic purge is well-known in the Baha'i community". On the contrary, I am certain that the vast majority of the Baha'i community is aware of no such purge. Why you think MacEoin and others should receive apologies is beyond me. The Faith is strengthened when negative elements are removed from the fold. This is a divine process that has been going on from the very beginning of the Faith. Opposing elements always arise and end up leaving the Faith either through defection, disenrolment or expulsion. The scale of this, however, is usually very small.

    I repeat, there is no such thing as a massive historic division of Baha'is referred to in this article.

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  6. Dear Nicholas, A schism is a division or split and thousands of persons in North America and Europe is a significant phenomena. Considering Yahoo groups alone, "ex-Bahai" (591 members) and "unenrolledbahai" (247 members) are 838 persons with internet access and some remaining interest in the Baha'i Faith. This is probably the tip of the iceburg by at least an order of magnitude. So that is an estimated, mininal loss of 8,380 Baha'i members. Is that significant? Percentage-wise, this appears to be a noteworthy schism.

    [The numbers above exclude Yahoo groups of competing sects, which as stated, involve much smaller numbers.]

    Your point that such a division or split did not occur appears contrary to fact, although it was presented already in my article with the quote from the U.S. Baha'i NSA site. To merely repeat that point does not add to the topic. Scholarship is needed -- facts, logical discussion, etc.

    Same goes for the Cole and McEion material. Scholarship means showing by data and rational argument that one or both had mistaken facts, were lying or whatever, regarding their persecution, which your comment merely continues without any substantiation. Which item of this alleged persecution is false? Have you even read the material? If the persecution events can be refuted, then no apology would be due.

    If Baha'is are unaware of a "purge", all the more reason to write about it. And how would this be "very negative about the Baha'i community"? Which part of the article is not constructive? Ignorance of history is not thought to be helpful. Thanks for reading.

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  7. To use the word schism is misleading in a Baha'i context, as Baha'is do not accept the possibility of a division of the Community. So yes, no schism can have occurred, because the community remains united. In any case, 8,000 Baha'is is hardly significant in the context of the entire Baha'i community. There are always going to be people who leave the Faith because they do not understand the significance of the Covenant or the Administration.

    There are numerous places where you can read about Cole's opinions, so there is no need for me to elaborate that they are contrary to Baha'i principles. I have made no comment on my blog about the "persecution" of either Cole or MacEoin.

    This article is negative because it, first of all, mentions a schism (which can never exist in the context of the Covenant), and secondly, is negative about Baha'i institutions. When it comes to Baha'i Administration, the decisions of Baha'i institutions must be respected, not criticised. Furthermore, the idea that there are or were Baha'i fundamentalists, I find objectionable.

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  8. Re comments by Nicholas, in view of the assignment -- further knowledge with plausible hypotheses and data to support or reject them, let us grade them as C-, for insufficient focus on the topic, unsupported opinions, etc. This blog focuses on a more disciplined, scientific, scholarly approach and its readers expect focus on a premise and its rationale.

    For example, "negative" means denial or refusal of something. So if "this article is negative" is to be understood, it might mean the article has something missing, left out or in effect, denied. This could have been a good start. What specifically was left out? Recall we have already covered that "a schism ... can never exist..." is clearly a false statement, contrary to fact, in the view of every historian known to readers here (and including Shoghi Effendi, "God Passes By").

    Example: "This article ... is negative about Baha'i institutions". Again, some fact about the institutions was denied, not recognized or left out. One would develop this premise by enumeration of the missing material with appropriate references or rationale.

    Regarding my own perception, I know of no other blog which surpasses this one in its support of Baha'i institutions. Baha'is have worked very hard for decades to build them, nurture then and yes, love them. But I digress, since that is not the topic at hand.

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  9. I do not wish to give further criticism to your blog post. However, I stand by what I have written and do not agree with your comments regarding me.

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  10. While I agree with Nicholas's point that the Baha'i Faith needs more scholarship directed at defending it or findings its strengths (analogous to the positive psychology sub-field within psychology), I have to say that Dr. Keene in this blog has done a fine job of offering a legitimate critique of a post that Nicholas made in his blog.

    Dennis and Juan did not leave the faith because they reached conclusions that conflicted with the truth, and it was unfair to present their cases as examples of such resignations from the faith.

    Many good Baha'is have dropped out or become inactive or less active in community Baha'i life due to efforts of a fundamentalist fringe to narrow this religion and force their co-religionists to conform to a very particular view of the Baha'i Faith, a particular view that does not seem to me to match closely what Baha'u'llah, 'Abdu'l-Baha, or Shoghi Effendi envisioned. I have faith that the Baha'i religion will overcome this temporary stage of growing pains, and it seems to me that Dr. Keene has offered some useful suggestions for how we might grow out of some recent errors. I therefore find this post to be very positive and hopeful.

    - Eric

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  11. About the Reform Bahai Faith
    http://www.reformbahai.org/about.html

    Abdu'l-Baha's 1912 Authentic Covenant
    http://www.reformbahai.org/Covenant.html

    An Analysis of Abdul-Baha's 1912 Authentic Covenant
    http://www.reformbahai.org/Covenant_comments.html

    Dr. C. (Charles) Ainsworth Mitchell. Report on the Writing Shown on the Photographs of the Alleged Will of Abdul-Baha. 1930. Certified Copy from the Library of Congress.
    http://www.reformbahai.org/CAMitchell_Report.html

    Jenabe Fazel Mazandarani
    http://www.reformbahai.org/Jenabe_Fazel.html

    95 Theses of the Reform Bahai Faith
    http://www.ReformBahai.org/95_Theses.html

    On Bahai Liberty
    http://www.reformbahai.org/On_Bahai_Liberty.html

    Reform Bahai Articles
    http://www.reformbahai.org/Reform_Bahai_Articles.html

    Ruth White
    http://www.reformbahai.org/Ruth_White.html

    Dr. C. (Charles) Ainsworth Mitchell. Report on the Writing Shown on the Photographs of the Alleged Will of Abdul-Baha. 1930. Certified Copy from the Library of Congress.
    http://www.reformbahai.org/CAMitchell_Report.html

    Mirza Ahmad Sohrab
    http://www.reformbahai.org/Mirza_Ahmad_Sohrab.html

    Julie Chanler
    http://www.reformbahai.org/Julie_Chanler.html

    Some Vital Bahai Principles
    http://www.reformbahai.org/Some_Vital_Bahai_Principles.html

    The Reform Bahai Press
    http://www.reformbahai.org/Reform_Bahai_Press.html


    Reform Bahai Faith
    Rochester, Michigan USA
    http://www.ReformBahai.org

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