The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

 

Scholl on the eventual impact upon his family.

Scholl re: Article in American Family Foundation's Cultic Studies Journal by Karen Bacquet

Scholl comments on this letter, "A Crisis of Faith"

Reply of Steven Scholl to Birkland Letter, 11 December 1996


From: White Cloud <sscholl@jeffnet.org>
To: Frederick Glaysher <fglaysher@hotmail.com>
Subject: Crisis of Faith, pt. 1
Date: Friday, May 15, 1998 11:42 AM

Dear Fredrick,

I am fwding my statement to the UHJ that was posted on talisman awhile
back. Hope it is of use to your site.

Best wishes,
Steve

-------

15 May 1996

To the Universal House of Justice
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States
Counselor Stephen Birkland
Talisman

Dear Friends,

Over the last few weeks Baha'is around the world have been informed about
the removal of David Langness' Baha'i rights, the denunciation of David by
Firuz Kazemzadeh and Stephen Birkland from the floor of the US National
Convention, and of the withdrawal of his Baha'i membership by Prof. Juan
Cole. As a friend and colleague of both of these loyal lovers of
Baha'u'llah, I am devastated by these sad events I can not in good
conscience remain silent in the face of such injustice.

I have known David and Juan for over 15 years. I have worked with them
professionally and have benefited from their generosity of spirit and the
brilliance of their insights and wisdom. I value their friendship and love
them as my dear brothers. With David I worked in a professional capacity as
director of publications for the Hospital Council of Southern California,
where David served with great distinction as a spokesperson on health care
issues. David also serves as a leading advocate for homeless Americans,
serving on the Board of Directors of the Homeless Healthcare Project and
with Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal on the Board of
Comic Relief. David has distinguished himself to the non-Baha'i world as a
passionate leader for social justice and political reform in America. He
also has led many missions of mercy and relief to troubled corners of the
globe. For example he spearheaded major relief efforts to the Philippines
and to El Salvador. He has been sought out by national media such as the
New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, Time magazine
and the major networks to speak as a leading authority on the crucial
issues facing the American political and social welfare system in the face
of the conservative revolution taking place in the United States.

I have learned a tremendous amount from David. Much of it of a professional
nature, but the more important lessons came from seeing how he dealt with
difficult moral and ethical issues in his professional, personal, and
Baha'i life. I have rarely seen a person more humble regarding the good
works he has accomplished in his life. I feel that I have been blessed by
our friendship.

As an example of David's character, I will share one story. After the
editors of "Dialogue" magazine were attacked by the NSA for seditious
behavior back in 1988, many of us descended into depression and "inactive
status." David was one of the few who stayed active. He continued his
personal teaching of the faith, was a popular Baha'i speaker at firesides,
the Bosch Baha'i school, and other venues. In his local community, Los
Angeles, he remained an active Baha'i and strong defender of the faith and
its institutions. He has spent long hours writing an important introduction
to the Baha'i faith, THE SEEKER'S PATH: MYTH, MATURITY, AND THE BAHA'I
TEACHINGS, which is scheduled for publication by One World this summer.
Those close to David, the members of his local community, recognized his
devotion to the faith, his maturity, and his wide experience, and elected
him to serve as a member of the Los Angeles LSA, where he served with
distinction until he and Teresa moved from Los Angeles a few years ago. I
think this speaks volumes of David's character and devotion to the Baha'i
administrative order.

I first became friends with Juan as I began my undergraduate studies in
History of Religions in the late 1970s. Juan was at that time pursuing his
graduate studies at UCLA. It was largely through his encouragement and
example that I saw the merit of pursuing my graduate studies in Islamic
philosophy and mysticism so as to prepare myself for service to the Baha'i
faith through the field of Baha'i studies. Over the years, Juan provided me
with loving support and guidance as I pursued my studies. When I began my
publishing company, Juan was the first person I signed as an author. I have
had the great fortune to work with him in an author/publisher relationship.

Juan's brilliance is a source of constant enrichment to me personally, and
his groundbreaking Baha'is studies will be a lasting treasure and resource
to future Baha'i scholars. I believe that he stands with Alessandro Bausani
as the two foremost thinkers that the Baha'i community has produced in this
century. Juan's accomplishments are many and outstanding. He has served
with distinction as Director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North
African Studies at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, one of the top
Middle East studies departments in the nation. He was a Fullbright scholar
and has served on the Board of Directors of the American Institute of
Iranian Studies and on the American Council of Learned Societies, and
Middle East Studies Association.

He is author and editor of several important academic studies including his
books COLONIALISM AND REVOLUTION IN THE MIDDLE EAST (Princeton University
Press, 1993) and ROOTS OF NORTH INDIAN SHI'ISM IN IRAN AND IRAQ (University
of California Press, 1991). He has published two books of translations of
Iranian Baha'i scholar Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani (both from Kalimat
Press) and two translations of the Arabic writings of Kahlil Gibran (White
Cloud Press). He has penned dozens of articles for prestigious academic
journals such as the International Journal of Middle East Studies, Iranian
Studies, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Middle Eastern
Studies, The Muslim World, Encyclopaedia Iranica, Encyclopedia
Philosophique Universelle, and The Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East.
Juan is known by his academic colleagues as an eloquent and persuasive
representative of the Baha'i faith and a staunch defender of the Iranian
Baha'is, and he is a recognized expert on the Middle East in general by the
press and the United States government.

Juan's great love for Baha'u'llah is evident in all of his work, even in
his most demanding academic studies that uncover the context and setting of
Baha'u'llah's world reforms. His translations of Baha'u'llah's mystical
tablets show us that he is not merely a dry academic historian but that he
is also an inspired mystic and poet whose soul has been lit by the fire
that burned on Sinai and that he has been transformed by the spirit of the
Abha Beauty. Juan has not only provided me with guidance but he has been an
invaluable friend, colleague and mentor to younger Baha'is entering the
field of Baha'is studies. He has given us his time, encouragement,
criticisms, and friendship. He is our true brother.

It is to my lasting benefit that I have been able to call these men my
friends. I wish to state publicly that I believe David and Juan have been
completely open and honest in their dealings with the Baha'i administration
and that the Baha'i institutions have falsely accused them of crimes
against the Covenant and, in David's case, unjustly removed his Baha'i
rights. Moreover, the Baha'i institutions have disregarded their own
policies in attacking and vilifying these loyal servants. In doing so, I
believe that the Baha'i institutions have acted in a manner that is
contrary to the letter and spirit of the Baha'i teachings.

My reasons for this belief are rooted in my personal knowledge of many of
the events that are reported in the communiqués of the NSA and House of
Justice. In the House's letter of 10 April, old distortions and half truths
are publicly declared and David is accused by the Supreme institution of
the Baha'i faith to be "insincere" and "duplicitous." I believe that a more
complete accounting of the events that led us to this tragic state of
affairs will demonstrate that although there may be faults on the part of
all involved parties, it is the Baha'i institutions who have acted in
violation of their own clear policies and in violation of the foundational
principles and values of the Baha'i sacred writings.  The House of Justice
letter to the US NSA of 10 April regarding David's case demonstrates that
the House of Justice continues to accept as truth the false statements and
distortions propagated by the National Spiritual Assembly surrounding the
publishing activities of "Dialogue" magazine and  Kalimat Press. In doing
so, the House of Justice continues to ignore the facts of the case as
presented in our appeal letters. Indeed, one of the most frustrating
aspects of our appeal process to the House of Justice is that they have
simply refused to address the specifics of our appeals and the evidence we
have presented that contradicts the NSA's account of our actions and
motives. In doing so, the House of Justice has relied on the campaign of
backbiting and gossip that has been directed at us for over 15 years by
prominent Baha'i administrators.

The easiest way for me to address these issues is to respond directly to
accusations made against us by the Universal House of Justice and the NSA.
Let me begin by first addressing David's loss of pilgrimage rights.

In his appeal to the House of Justice that was posted on Talisman, David
attempted to reconstruct the events that led to his removal of pilgrimage
rights and his confusion as to who was sanctioning and why. The House of
Justice letter of 10 April 96 is unsatisfactory as it attempts to dismiss
David's detailed accounting of events with the following statement: "The
inaccuracies and distortions of this communication are too many and subtle
to enter into here."

As one of the four "Dialogue" editors sanctioned (Anthony Lee and Payam
Afsharian rounded out the list), I, too, was confused as to who was taking
action and why. The communications from the NSA and House to us were
contradictory. On 8 June 1988 the NSA wrote to the four of us that,
"Considering the seriousness of the matter, the National Spiritual Assembly
has withdrawn, and will not extend, invitations to you for pilgrimage to
the Baha'i World Centre for the time being. In so doing, the National
Assembly is carrying out the specific instructions of the Universal House
of Justice."

At that time some of us who received this letter remained unsure of what
exactly we had done to receive such a reprimand and what exactly were the
specific instructions of the House of Justice concerning our case. Payam
Afsharian sought clarification from the House of Justice as to why he had
been sanctioned. Their response to Payam indicated to us that the House was
not fully involved in the case and the sanctions, leaving the impression
that it was an NSA action. In response to Payam's query, the Dept. of the
Secretariat of the House of Justice wrote:

"The Universal House of Justice has received your letter of 17 December
1991 in which you ask what you may do "to regain Baha'i status".  It has
asked us to say that, to the best of its information, your administrative
rights have not been removed and you are a Baha'i in good standing.
Concerning your question about pilgrimage to the Holy Places at the World
Centre, as the instruction of the National Spiritual Assembly indicated,
the restriction placed on you and a few others, in the heat of the problems
which arose from the actions of the editors of "Dialogue" in connection
with the intended publication of the article "A Modest Proposal", was
temporary, and you may apply, if you wish, to come on pilgrimage. As to
your request to know what you did to have caused the problems which came to
a head in the Spring of 1988, the House of Justice feels that this matter
has been discussed exhaustively with you and others concerned by the
National Spiritual Assembly and its representatives both orally and in
writing (letter dated 9 Sept. 1992).

Our reading of this letter was that the House of Justice was unsure of our
Baha'i status as it was under the jurisdiction of the NSA and that any
questions should be raised with the NSA and not the House of Justice.
National Center staff also interpreted the letter to Payam in such fashion
and communicated this impression to David.

It should also be noted that we had very good reason not to trust the
communications of the NSA sent to us by the Secretary General. The
Secretary General had a history of attacking us, distorting our words and
actions, and failing to provide us with full information on issues
surrounding our case and appeals.  Because of the Secretary General's track
record for partial or dishonest communications, we did not accept this
statement at face value and thus some of us sought further clarification.
Unfortunately, no clear guidance came and, indeed, the House of Justice
letter to Payam added to the confusion.

The House of Justice could have easily cleared up the matter during David's
three-day visit in June 1988. A member of the House and ITC representative
could have met with David to discuss events that led up to the crisis and
stated clearly and unequivocally that the House of Justice had taken this
action. Instead, David was shunned by the members of the House and ITC. I
found this shunning of David difficult to comprehend as it runs so contrary
to the examples of Baha'u'llah, Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, and even
the House in earlier years. Baha'u'llah's response to believers that he
felt might be trouble-makers was to take them with him into exile and have
them share his imprisonment. The House could have easily ended the
confusion on our part by spending 30 minutes with David during his
three-day visit to the Baha'i World Centre. Or they could have ended our
confusion by stating directly to Payam what they are now stating. But it is
unfair to call David insincere and duplicitous in light of the fact that
those of us who were sanctioned and the NSA's own staff remained uncertain
about jurisdictional issues due to the House's inability to communicate
clearly.

I am also disturbed by the manner in which the NSA and House of Justice
have taken certain passages from our appeals and twisted their meaning in
order to give the appearance that we are being devious in our actions. What
comes across time and again in the letters from the House in response to
our appeals are vague accusations that are never substantiated with
specific examples. On the other hand, our appeals supplied the House with
concrete evidence of lies and unethical behavior on the part of the NSA. To
these specific charges (which I will discuss below) the House has remained
silent and continues to misrepresent the actions and motives of those of us
involved with "Dialogue" magazine and Kalimat Press. As an example of how
the House of Justice has twisted our words to make us appear insincere or
duplicitous, I refer to my second appeal letter to the House of Justice of
26 April 1988 and their response to me on 21 June 1989.

Selectively quoting words from my appeal letter, the House of Justice
writes that I "assume that all is due to the machinations of certain
individuals in positions of responsibility" and that I lack any "awareness
that there may have been faults" on my side; that I characterize the
"Dialogue" staff as "Baha'is who are innocent of any wrongdoing."  I find
this statement offensive and a sign of the House of Justice's intransigence
in dealing with us. In several of my letters to the National Assembly and
the House of Justice, I have openly acknowledged that I am not without
fault in this dispute.  In these letters I acknowledged that feelings of
mistrust have developed in my heart toward individual members of the
National Assembly; I recognized that I did not always agree with National
Assembly policies and decisions affecting "Dialogue" and have expressed
these disagreements in language that has offended; and that I regret some
of my actions.

However, what I actually stated in my appeal letter of 26 April 1988 to the
House of Justice was that "in our activities associated with the
preparation, review and publication plans for the article 'A Modest
Proposal' we were innocent of any wrongdoing." I maintain that we did not
do anything to circumvent the authority of the National Assembly nor did we
act in any way contrary to established Baha'i guidelines concerning
publishing, nor did we have any intent or motivation to undermine the
authority of the National Spiritual Assembly specifically or the Baha'i
administration generally.  Once we were aware of the National Assembly's
concerns about the article, we did everything possible to work with them to
alleviate their concerns.  For example, we requested to meet with two
representatives of the NSA to go over the article word by word. This
meeting was held in Los Angeles and we agreed to make changes to the
article based on the recommendations of the two NSA members. We met
extensively with Counselor Fred Schechter to find a way to achieve
reconciliation. We made proposals to the Counselor and the NSA on ways to
achieve understanding and harmony. I personally wrote to each member of the
NSA and invited them to contact me at any time if they had any questions or
concerns about our activities. I invited each NSA member to contribute an
article to "Dialogue". In May 1987 the NSA summoned Anthony Lee, Payam
Afsharian, Richard Hollinger and myself to Wilmette where they presented
their concerns about our activities. We patiently answered all their
concerns and felt that we had laid to rest some of the false impressions
held by several NSA members, particularly Firuz Kazemzadeh. Following this
meeting, I wrote to the NSA and acknowledged that there may still be some
lingering concerns between us and that we needed to build bridges of
confidence, so I suggested that the NSA should ask us to do something for
them, give us a publishing project to work on together. I believe a similar
letter was written by Kalimat Press. We (Kalimat Press and "Dialogue")
felt that if we could work with the NSA on such projects it would be a
first step toward better understanding of each other. My  hope was that we
could come to recognize that we are all co-workers in the Cause of God. I
also suggested that the "Dialogue" editorial board and NSA meet at the
Bosch school to pray together and consult with each other, and recommended
the calling of a "review summit" where various independent Baha'i writers,
publishers, and Baha'i institutions might brainstorm to find a way to make
review a more effective and less arbitrary process. The response to each of
these attempts to achieve reconciliation and common ground was met with
silence.

Every attempt on our part to achieve common ground and a true
reconciliation only led to further attacks on our motives and characters.
Our appeals to the House of Justice came from our concern for the integrity
of the institution of the National Spiritual Assembly as well as concern
for our Baha'i rights and the economic viability of our work.  We appealed
to the House of Justice because the Constitution of Universal House of
Justice states that the Supreme Institution of the Baha'i Faith is
responsible "to safeguard the personal rights, freedom and initiative of
individuals," and "for ensuring that no body or institution within the
Cause abuse its privileges."  I remain convinced that violation of Baha'i
law, abuse of authority and privileges, and disregard of Baha'i teachings
and values has occurred and that the National Assembly is the perpetrator
of such violations.

So much of what happened over the years took place in heated discussions
off the record. For example the meeting between the NSA and Payam
Afsharian, Anthony Lee, Richard Hollinger and myself in Wilmette in May
1987 and the hostile interrogation of the editors of "Dialogue" by three
representatives of the NSA in a hotel room in Los Angeles the following
year.  However, the above attempts on our part to faithfully obey and to
work out a true reconciliation with our detractors are on record.

Furthermore, there is one crucial element of the controversy that can be
used by any objective person or body as evidence of duplicity and
corruption. It is my belief that the National Assembly lied to the 1988
National Convention delegates and observers about our activities,
particularly that as editor of the magazine I "widely distributed" "A
Modest Proposal" to "dozens and dozens" of delegates, that the article was
intended as a "dissident manifesto,"  a petition aimed at undermining the
authority of the National Assembly, and that "A Modest Proposal" was an
attempt at electioneering.

I claim that I did not circulate the article to any delegates and that the
only delegates who received copies from me prior to the convention were
Anthony Lee, a "Dialogue" editorial board member, and Sheila Banani, an
advisor to the magazine.  I ask that the House of Justice poll the
delegates from the 1988 convention to see if I am lying on this matter or
whether the NSA is lying. I stand by my belief that this is one of the key
proofs that we can turn to to demonstrate truth from falsehood in this
case.

The House of Justice further states to me in their June 1989 that we are
somehow violating a Baha'i principle and canvassing support within the
community to bring pressure to bear on Baha'i institutions. "A Modest
Proposal" is thus seen as a dissident manifesto because I offered seven
reviewers the opportunity to become co-signers of the article and that this
somehow "changes the circulation from an attempt 'to elicit critical
feedback for improving it' into an effort to raise a petition" (UHJ letter
to Scholl, 21 June 1989).  First, I know of no Baha'i law forbidding
circulation of petitions within the Baha'i community to communicate the
will of believers to their institutions.  In fact, Baha'i history records
many instances when such petitions (stirrings at the grassroots) were
received with careful consideration by the Central Figures or Baha'i
institutions.

But the fact is that in this case "A Modest Proposal" was from the
beginning envisioned as a "Dialogue" article and not as a petition to the
NSA. Why would we only ask seven more people to sign it? Previously, I
submitted to Wilmette and Haifa the letter I sent to our outside reviewers.
There is no indication in that letter that this article was envisioned by
its original authors as a petition and never, God forbid, as a dissident
manifesto. I urge the House of Justice to contact any of the outside
reviewers, many who are employees of the NSA or serving within the
appointed branch of the administration, and ask them if I or any other
"Dialogue" staff member ever spoke of this effort with the language or even
subtle intentions that the NSA and House of Justice accuse us of having.

If the NSA had honest concerns about the article, all they needed to do was
tell us about them in a direct and honest manner.  If they did not like it
that we had co-signers, we would have gladly removed the offensive list of
names or even run the article under one name, no name, or as being from
"The Editors."  Or they could have simply banned the article for "security
reasons" and the whole matter would have turned into one more annoyance to
the "Dialogue" staff, and another example of the administrative attempts to
suppress any open discussion of difficult issues facing the Baha'i
community.  However, since the dissident manifesto/petition angle seems to
be a late development in the NSA's list of ever-changing accusations (it
appears to have emerged after the "negative electioneering" charge was
abandoned due to utter lack of credibility), the entire argument takes on
the quality of after-the-fact scrambling for a sufficiently vague but
ominous sounding accusation; one that has no merit but may eventually be
used to expel us from the faith.

In the 21 June letter to me, the House of Justice attempts to make the case
that the work of Kalimat Press and "Dialogue" magazine is implicitly an
attempt to undermine the Baha'i administrative order by working outside of
the boundaries of the Baha'i administration.

I do not see how the House of Justice and the NSA can insinuate that we
were attempting to work outside of normal Baha'i channels any more than
George Ronald or One World Publications  or any other of the growing number
of independent Baha'i publication companies. The Baha'i institutions
formulated the rules for independent Baha'i publishers. Kalimat Press and
"Dialogue" accepted these rules and abided by them. Every book published by
Kalimat and every article dealing with the Baha'i faith published in
"Dialogue" was approved for publication by the NSA's Review Board. The
House of Justice has no grounds for declaring that we have acted contrary
to the letter or spirit of the law in this regard. I am sorry but the
Baha'i institutions cannot have it both ways. It is unfair to demand that
we abide by review and then once we publish appropriately censored
materials to claim that they are proof of seditious intent on our part. So,
yes, it is surprising to me that some of the friends have surmised that we
were attempting to create and alternative to the Baha'i administration
through our publishing activities. But it is truly shocking that the
Universal House of Justice should be among those who have interpreted our
faithful efforts in such a partisan and unfair manner.

These are some of the specific events and background that we have
previously noted in our appeals and which have never been addressed by the
House of Justice. More recently, the House of Justice also twisted David's
meaning and intent by taking out of context his reference to kangaroo
courts and show trials in his Talisman posting. But  in the midst of all
these unsubstantiated accusations and false reports on our behavior by the
Baha'i authorities and the denial of our Baha'i rights of due process, it
appears to me that a show trial has taken place and the verdict has been
rendered by removing David's rights even though he has not violated any
Baha'i law and never disobeyed any Baha'i institution. He was asked to make
a retraction of his Talisman statement or lose his rights. He retracted and
still lost his rights. Where is justice in all of this?

Furthermore, it is important to note that unethical behavior and outright
lies are commonly used by the Secretary General and Secretary for External
Affairs of the NSA in their attempt to curtail the good work and honest
efforts of Baha'is around the country. In is not merely a matter of the
lone case of the Los Angeles heretics, who currently have scattered to the
four corners of the globe. It has long been noted by mutual friends that
the Secretary for External Affairs is particularly vindictive in his
attacks on "the LA group." National center staff and national committee
members have been warned against associating with us because we are clearly
"enemies of the faith" and most likely Covenant-breakers. These statements
were made with the implied threat that Baha'is may lose their jobs due to
association with trouble makers. Other friends have noted that Prof.
Kazemzadeh's view of us is irrational and unshakable. In his mind we are
beyond rehabilitation. This type of backbiting and gossip is carried out
constantly by prominent Baha'is in positions of authority. I have even
heard that the Secretary General has intimated to National Center staff
that members of the DIALOGUE staff are closet homosexuals. We have heard
over and over again for the last 15 years these kinds of personal attacks
being made against us by members of our NSA.

I have heard from senior staff members at the National Center in Wilmette
that the method used by the Secretary General in particular is to
skillfully target his victims (people who have questioned his behavior and
personal agendas) and then begin to drop suggestions of grave concern about
the targeted victim to other NSA members and senior staff. He then
manufactures a crime and when he announces that there is an evil Baha'i in
our midst, the groundwork has been laid for discrediting and discarding any
Baha'i who interferes with his quest cult of personality.

Recently the NSA removed the administrative rights of Mouhebet Sobhani over
questions that emerged concerning the World Congress. In The American
Baha'i it was stated that Mr. Sobhani and another Persian Baha'i living in
the United States had been spreading "outrageous, scandalous, and erroneous
accusations about how the National Assembly administered" travel
arrangements for the World Congress.

In brief, Mr. Sobhani was accused by the NSA of accusing the Secretary
General of the National Assembly of "enriching himself as a result of
stealing millions of dollars from the World Congress." This charge against
Mr. Sobhani was communicated to the House of Justice by the Secretary
General and became the basis for Mr. Sobhani's removal of rights. The only
problem is Mr. Sobhani claims that he did not make this charge against the
Secretary General. I have read the correspondence between Mr. Sobhani and
the NSA on this matter and it becomes clear that Mr. Sobhani raised some
serious questions about the handling the World Congress by the NSA, but he
never made these "outrageous" accusations. The charge appears to have been
created by the Secretary General as a way of discrediting Mr. Sobhani and
passed on to the House of Justice as fact, similar to the manufacturing of
the charge that I spread "A Modest Proposal" to national convention
delegates as way of discrediting the NSA and electioneering for office.

Other examples of corruption at the National Center abound. National
Teaching Committees have been chastised and disbanded for preparing
accurate national convention reports that reflected poorly on the NSA.
National center staff and Baha'is around the country have been asked to
become informants on persons felt to be suspect.  Many Baha'is with whom I
have spoken feel the Secretary-General consistently uses his authority to
carry out his personal agenda, frequently leading him to abuse the rights
of individual Baha'is. There are numerous examples of senior staff at the
Baha'i National Center being fired for raising concerns and objections to
actions of the Secretary-General which they felt were in contradiction to
Baha'i principles. The firing of Anna Lee Strasburg, I believe, was a
particularly outrageous example of how the Secretary-General manipulates a
situation to discredit honest servants of the Baha'i administrative order.
The perception of those at the Baha'i National Center who were very close
to the situation is that the Secretary-General's motivation for terminating
Ms. Strasburg was his total intolerance for any expression of views
contrary to his own, or for the expression of concerns about his actions
which he interpreted as questioning his authority, even when those views
and concerns were offered in forums expressly convened for the purpose of
consultation at the national center. Mr. Henderson construes any divergence
from his positions or actions as acts of disloyalty to him personally,
while portraying them as acts of disloyalty to the National Assembly.

Actions such as the firing of Ms. Strasburg has led to a serious decline of
morale among National Center staff, and long-time employees have left the
National Center rather than work in such a poisoned atmosphere. Other
long-time senior staff who have voiced concerns about the Secretary
General's behavior have become persona non grata and have been ostracized
and marginalized and are fearful of retribution from the Secretary General.
Many employees feel that the climate at the administrative offices is
spiritually sick.

Above I noted that we felt that we could not always know whether the
actions of the NSA that were being directed to us by the NSA as a body or
by Mr. Henderson acting on his own or in consultation with his step-father,
Firuz Kazemzadeh. This is not just a wild paranoid perception of those of
us who have been maligned by leaders within the Baha'i administration.
Examples of Henderson's renegade acts are fairly well known, especially by
those who work at the National Center. For example, for sometime the
Secretary General placed the contributions being sent in from around the
country for the Arc projects into an account rather than transferring them
expeditiously to the House of Justice. He then funneled the interest from
this account to the National Spiritual Assembly. He did this action without
the approval or knowledge of the NSA. Only through the courageous reporting
of this fact by a few staff members to the NSA treasurer was the NSA made
aware of the situation. When this was made known, the NSA repaid the House
of Justice the interest and the practice was stopped. I believe it was
shortly after this that NSA member Juana Conrad was sent to work at the
National Center offices. I was told by high ranking Baha'is and NSA staff
that this was done to "keep an eye on Bob."

In these and many other cases, we see a pattern in which the Secretary
General has acted in ways that are disturbing. In the personal cases noted
above we see how he has advanced  false accusations against individual
Baha'is who have threatened or questioned his actions, then refuses to
allow the accused to know what evidence has been brought against them so
that they may develop their appeal, and he then is in a position to serve
as lead prosecutor and judge in their show trial. This tactic is in direct
violation of Baha'i administrative procedures and policies. For example,
the NSA of the US has stated that:

1. A Baha'i accused of wrongdoing has a right to know that he is accused of, and
2. He has a right to know what evidence has been presented against him.
(letter to an individual believer from the US NSA 8 January 1985)

This policy is being violated in our case and others. What I am formally
requesting with this letter is that the House of Justice and the NSA abide
by established Baha'i laws, policies, and procedures in handling the case
of David Langness and the editors of "Dialogue". I am requesting that the
case against the "Dialogue" editors be reopened and that we be provided
with all relevant documents including the following:
1. All communications between the NSA and the World Center concerning our
actions.
2. A tape or transcript of Firuz Kazemzadeh's 1988 National Convention
denunciation of the "Dialogue" staff.
3. All reports from Counselors Schechter and Birkland to the NSA and House
of Justice concerning our actions and any relevant communications from the
World Center to the Counselors pertaining to our case.
4. A tape or transcript of Firuz Kazemzadeh and Stephen Birkland's 1996
National Convention denunciations of David Langness.
5. Any and all evidence that exists in our files at the National Center and
the World Center including any other letters of complaints that have been
received about us that have led to a prejudicial attitude toward us on the
part of the Baha'i institutions.

The charges made against us have been made public by the NSA via their
misleading convention reports and postings on Talisman. I feel that justice
calls for the reopening the case as the conflict has never been resolved
and is the source of disunity within the community. If the Baha'i
institutions refuse to release all relevant documentary evidence, then,
again, I think it will be clear that the best beloved of all things in the
sight of Baha'u'llah is not a goal for the institutions of his faith.

I would also suggest that the House of Justice establish an independent
Commission of Inquiry to investigate the corruption that exists within the
National Spiritual Assembly. It is my belief that I have only exposed the
tip of the iceberg and that there are many more such cases. I have heard
many stories of gay and lesbian Baha'is losing their rights under
suspicious circumstances where Baha'i administrative policies were ignored
and outrageous lies and distortions have been asserted as facts and become
the basis for sanctions. It is also widely known that good friends of NSA
members have been hired to serve the community and betrayed the trust of
the friends. Such betrayals have included theft of Baha'i properties and
sexual misconduct at Baha'i schools. Such misconduct has been treated with
the utmost leniency and the true nature of such violations of trust have
been hidden from the community.

And I have heard too many accounts of dedicated Baha'is from all over the
country who have had a shadow cast upon their character and activities by
NSA members and members of the appointed institutions. In the wake of Juan
Cole's resignation of Baha'i membership, I have heard the sad story of how
Michael Sours, who has authored several books dealing with the Baha'i Faith
and Christianity, was publicly chastised at the Louhelen School by the
Secretary for External Affairs, who openly questioned Michael's firmness in
the Covenant. I have never met or communicated with Mr. Sours, but I have
been impressed by his work and dedication to presenting the Baha'i Faith to
the Christian West. I was saddened to learn that Mr. Sours has followed
other Baha'i intellectuals into voluntary exile from Baha'i activity. It
has been reported to me that Mr. Sours is now totally cut off from the
Baha'i community and is pursuing his art and writing projects on non-Baha'i
themes so as not to have to bother with the types of intransigence and
intimidation that brought Juan to make his break with the faith. I know of
dozens of other such stories and have been personally informed by many
well-known Baha'i authors, intellectuals, and scholars that they will not
write on Baha'i topics as they do not wish to go though such trials.

I suggest that the Commission of Inquiry be composed of independent Baha'is
(i.e. persons without affiliation with the US NSA or US Counselors) who
will be regarded by all parties as unbiased and fair. As the precipitating
issues revolve around Baha'i scholarship and publishing, at least some
Commission appointees should be qualified academics. Persons such as Amin
Banani, Heshmet Moayyad, and Todd Lawson come to mind. It would also be
well for some appointees to have national administrative experience and
perhaps members of the NSA of the United Kingdom and Canada, who have
extensive experience with scholarship issues, could serve on the
Commission. Through The American Baha'i, believers could be invited to
share any experiences or concerns with the Commission. I feel that
something along these lines will be required if there is to be a true
healing of the American Baha'i community. As I have noted, it has been the
Baha'i institutions that have publicly attacked loyal Baha'is through the
bully pulpit of the National Convention, removal of rights announcements in
the American Baha'i, through whispering campaigns, and through their
postings on Talisman. I believe that a public process of accounting must
take place.

It is now popular for Baha'is and Baha'i institutions to claim that Baha'i
scholars and intellectuals are attempting to force the Baha'i Faith to
conform to western democratic values and procedures. First, I want to make
it absolutely clear that in all of our appeals we drew solely on the sacred
texts and established policies of the Baha'i administrative order. We did
not appeal on the grounds of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or
the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. Our appeals have always been
grounded in Baha'i law, values and principles. As I noted above, our
appeals were based on the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice
and not the U.S. Constitution.

Indeed, I think almost the exact opposite case must be made in that it
appears to me that it is the Baha'i institutions who have adopted old world
political tactics in dealing with Baha'i scholars, intellectuals, and
writers. Scholars such as Juan Cole have attempted to work within the
framework of the Baha'i system and do their research in a way that is
consistent with the principles of the faith and the principles of
intellectual honesty and discipline established within academic discourse.
Karl Mannheim, the founder of the sociology of knowledge, makes the
following distinction between political discourse vis-a-vis academic
discourse:

"Political discussion possesses a character fundamentally different from
academic discussion. It seeks not only to be in the right but also to
demolish the basis of the opponent's social and intellectual existence. . .
Political conflict, since it is from the very beginning a rationalized form
of the struggle for social predominance, attacks the social status of the
opponent, his public prestige, and his self-confidence" (Ideology and
Utopia, p. 38).

This political approach of attacking the character and public prestige of
perceived enemies of the faith is clearly the method being used by Baha'i
institutions in their attacks against scholars and intellectuals. It is a
sad irony that in such attacks they accuse their targets of being enmeshed
in partisan political practices found in "Western liberal democratic values
and traditions."

Over the years the Baha'i institutions have painted a false portrait of who
my friends and I are. Many Baha'is who do not know us or who are unfamiliar
with our work will take such vague but  dire warnings at face value and
conclude that we are misguided at best and enemies of the faith at worse.
However, many hundreds of deepened and dedicated Baha'is have a very
different perception of us than do the Baha'i authorities. Following the
demise of "Dialogue" I received hundreds of phone calls and letters in
support of our work. They came from all over the world and from Baha'is at
the highest levels of service and responsibility within the faith.

The chairman of a European National Assembly wrote to me saying:

"Of course I have heard various things about the situation with "Dialogue"
and have read the letter from the House of Justice to the American Baha'is
to which you refer . . . I do hope that all misunderstandings are now
cleared up, as the magazine does provide an interesting medium for
discussion and comment. Interestingly, our own NSA promotes this magazine
along with all other magazines-we do not find it at all threatening or too
controversial-many of the points raised are heard in everyday consultation
here, even at national convention . . ."

A European Baha'i scholar and widely published author wrote:

"Although the material you sent me shocked and saddened me, it described a
situation not altogether foreign to my own experience here, when I
incorporated some of the details and much of the spirit which animated A
MODEST PROPOSAL in several articles that appeared in the [national
newsletter] . . .  There was an enthusiastic response from lots of ordinary
Bahais, but, as I learned soon afterwards, a negative reaction from the
powers-that-were. . . .
"The point is that people in the Bahai community are very conservative in
matters religious and social, and so long as this attitude prevails, there
won't even be the sort of Liberal-traditionalist tensions that exist in
say, the Anglican communion, because the Liberal trend in the Bahai
community is so weak. How, nearly seventy years since Abdul-Baha's death,
has this come to pass? We might well ask ourselves this question, but the
fact remains that at this point in time the Bahai faith is being expressed
in a very narrow and fundamentalist form throughout its institutions,
worldwide. What you say about the negative situation which would exist if
DIALOGUE and Kalimat folded seems to me absolutely correct.
"That's the reality. I know through my work [at the national institute]
people who have ended up bitter and scarred through their struggle in the
contemporary political environment in the Bahai community.
"As you pointed out in your letter to the House of Justice, many good and
caring people simply no longer see the relevance of the Bahai community to
contemporary developments, and have taken their creativity and commitment
elsewhere. The rump that remain - well what can one say of them? They'll
still be preaching their same old tired message when the world is unified
and virtually running the sort of order Baha'u'llah envisaged. A genuine
Bahai who is true to the cause of the founder of his faith should be
ardently seeking the stones which Baha'u'llah said he would raise if the
Bahais failed....
"As for me, I take no active part in the community other than to give the
occasional session to the youth here - sessions usually swamped by 10
students. I feel at a loss as to how to live my life spiritually and
ideologically these days, but I know I cannot go back into the ranks of
Bahais and pretend, pretend..."

Another prominent European Baha'i administrator and widely published author
and translator of the sacred texts wrote:

"I read the issues [of dialogue] with great interest. I was impressed by
their high standard. The articles deal with questions that are relevant and
challenging. DIALOGUE is really an open forum for different, even
controversial, views. It is a new type of journal, we have never had
before. I think we need such a journal which is in touch with society and
which provokes an interchange of thought. . . .
"What I found really important and necessary was the discussion on politics
and all questions which derive from it. There is nothing more appropriate
to write than to quote from a letter you published (issue 1, p. 37):
'Whether or not all views are accepted is irrelevant-the stimulation of
thought will give us all new intellectual vigor to meet the challenges put
to us by the Universal House of Justice in 1983.'
"The journal is provocative and treats the issues more interestingly than
the Baha'i magazines published by the institutions. . . .
"I do hope that you will continue as, for a new dimension of understanding,
such an open forum for the exchange of thoughts is indispensable."

The general manager of one of the national Baha'i Publishing Trusts wrote:

"I was saddened to learn of your trials and difficulties with DIALOGUE. I
am sure you anticipated some of them, change is a painful thing and I
believe DIALOGUE is a force for positive change in the Baha'i Community. I
will pray for DIALOGUE and hope that from your efforts the "spark of truth"
will emerge. . . ."

A Baha'i publisher from the South Pacific wrote:

"I want you to know that other people, even people on this side of the
world, know something of what has gone on with you, and sympathise with
your struggle. Whatever happens, at least it's down on record and the
matter is kept alive in somebody's mind.
        "I think you have been treated very badly. Issues aside, you've
been treated badly as human beings. If it was me I would be devastated. . .

Clearly there are differences of opinion about our character and the
sincerity and value of our Baha'i  activities.

Baha'u'llah warned us that it is the leaders of religion in every age who
corrupt the pure teachings of the Manifestation of God. Baha'is assume that
corruption within the Baha'i administrative order is not possible. However,
I think it is naive to think that there can ever be perfection in this
world. Ever. Abdul-Baha states this quite clearly. A major theme of The
Kitab-i Iqan is the dangers posed "by the leaders of religion in every age"
and Juan and others have posted many of Abdul-Baha's concerns over tyranny
and corruption by those in authority. The Master also notes that because of
the slippery ego, corruption can enter the Baha'i system, even if it is
divine in its origin.
There is a very strong statement from Abdul-Baha on how those in authority
within the Baha'i community are vulnerable to the disease of corruption by
power.  Speaking in Haifa in 1915, Abdul-Baha observed that:

        "Holding to the letter of the law is many times an indication of a
desire for leadership. One who assumes to be the enforcer of the law shows
an intellectual understanding of the Cause, but that spiritual guidance in
them is not yet established.
        "The alphabet of things is for children, that they may in time use
their reasoning powers. "Following the spirit" is a guidance by and through
the heart, the prompter of the spirit. The Pharisees were extremely
orthodox, holding strictly to the law. They were the cause of the
condemnation and ultimate crucifixion of Jesus. . . .
        "The ones in real authority are known by their humility and
self-sacrifice and show no attitude of superiority over the friends.
        "Some time ago a tablet was written stating that none are appointed
to any authority to do anything but to serve the Cause as true servants of
the friends--and for this no tablet is necessary; such service when true
and unselfish requires no announcement, no following, nor written document.
        "Let the servant be known by his deeds, by his life!
        "To be approved by God alone should be one's aim. . . .
        "Envy closes the door of Bounty, and jealousy prevents one from
ever attaining to the Kingdom of Abha. No! Before God! No one can deprive
another of his rightful station, that can only be lost by one's
unwillingness or failure to do the will of God, or by seeking to use the
Cause of God for one's own gratification or ambition.
        "No one save a severed soul or a sincere heart finds response from
God. By assisting in the success of another servant in the Cause does one
in reality lay the foundation for one's own success and aspirations.
        "Ambitions are an abomination before the Lord!
        "How regrettable! Some even use the affairs of the Cause and its
activities as a means of revenge on account of some personal spite, or
fancied injury, interfering with the work of another, or seeking its
failure. Such only destroy their own success, did they know the truth."
                        Star of the West, vol. 6, no. 6 (June 24, 1915)

Even sterner is the Master when he warns "What deviation can be more
complete than falsely accusing the loved ones of God!"

Another disturbing aspect of these recent events is how the Baha'i
institutions have complained about how "the LA group" has undermined the
authority of the NSA by its disrespectful attitude and hostile publishing
activities. Yet at the same time it is very clear that an even more
blistering campaign of gossip is being carried out by the House of Justice
and some of the Counselors.

For example, in several private conversations with different Baha'is around
the country, Counselor Birkland has acknowledged that the US NSA has a
problem with corruption. He has stated that Baha'is should not be
concerned, that everything is under control and that there will be "an
elegant solution." The implication being that the House of Justice will
find a way to get some of the most offensive members off the NSA via
retirement or re appointment.

As for the "elegant solution" coming down from Haifa, many recent pilgrims
and visitors to the Baha'i World Centre have returned home with interesting
stories to tell. Several have spoken of the very blunt criticisms of the US
NSA by individual House of Justice members and ITC members. The story line
goes something like this: "Yes, the House of Justice is aware of the
problems and corruption surrounding the American NSA. Haven't the Baha'is
read the May 19th letter? Why don't the delegates do something about this?
What more can we say? Wasn't this statement clear enough? We are waiting
for the Baha'is to reform the system via election."

From the pilgrims' tales I have heard, it seems clear that the House of
Justice too believes there is a problem and is now attempting to control
the situation by supporting their May 19th communiqué with a stream of
backbiting about the NSA in hopes that the word will spread. This seems
contrary to the high ideals espoused by the House and is a troubling
development within the Baha'i community. Our position has always been that
it is time for the establishment of open discourse within the faith via
uncensored publications and the development of scholarship and journalism.
This path seems much more honest and healthy than the culture of deceit
that dominates the Baha'i community in the late twentieth century.

This is culture of deceit has existed for some time now in the Baha'i
faith. It is a fact of life that those of us involved with Kalimat Press
and "Dialogue" were very much aware of. It has always been our position
that in such a climate of gossip and backbiting our only chance for
protection is to be open and honest about our beliefs and actions. We have
never shied away from directly stating our views in private correspondence
with the Baha'i institutions and through our published works. We have
nothing to hide or be ashamed of. I am proud of what we accomplished with
"Dialogue" magazine and I am proud of the way we handled ourselves in the
face of such hostility. In the course of 18 months we became the largest
paid subscription publication in the Baha'i world, surpassing World Order,
which had a 50 year head start on us.

Finally, I feel it only fair to state what my sense of the current
situation calls for. The Baha'i institutions have invited the world to
study the Baha'i faith as a model of unity in a world of crisis. Talisman
is a public forum with several non-Baha'is on board. These events have
already gone beyond the Baha'i community through the participation of these
interested non-Baha'is in the Talisman discussions. One non-Baha'i on
Talisman has already indicated that he plans to develop a story on these
events for a prominent national magazine. I have also discussed this
situation with my Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist colleagues, who are
interested to hear about these developments which are so contrary to the
public image of the Baha'i faith as a religion of tolerance, peace,
compassion, and unity. I think that it is for the good that this
controversy is spilling outside of the Baha'i community. The Baha'i
community has asked the world to regard it as a major player on the world
stage and the Baha'is have begun to be more visible in world affairs. It is
important that non-Baha'is see the entire picture so that they can judge
between Baha'i public relations and the true state of Baha'i community
relations. Baha'is are doing good works in the world. No one can doubt
this. But it is also clear that there is a darker side to the Baha'i faith,
a hidden Baha'i faith, that appears in these cases dealing with
intellectual honesty, academic integrity, and and open community. The dark
side of the Baha'i faith is the role of censorship and harrasment of Baha'i
authors, the punishment of any Baha'i who publicly offers critical analysis
of Baha'i institutions, the threat of shunning and ex-communication to
force conformity, the use of informants, and sanctioning of faithful
Baha'is who are seen as "dissidents" by a frustrated and over-sensitive
American administration that has presided over thirty years of stagnation
and no growth.

The crisis of the present hour is a test that we must face with faith and
courage. I believe that these troubling patterns within the Baha'i
community primarily reflect that we are passing from one phase of
development to a new one. The old ways no longer work and adjustments need
to be made. These adjustments do not mean we should lose heart or faith in
the fundamental verities of Baha'u'llah's new world order, but we must work
to find new ways that meet the challenges of the crisis. Sadly, we have
lost one of the most learned champions for a Baha'i renewal  that is firmly
rooted in the writings of Baha'u'llah and 'Abdul-Baha. Perhaps if justice
is truly served, a loyal servant of the Blessed Perfection such as Juan
Cole will be able to return to the community. This is my hope and prayer.
Whatever happens I remain confident that Juan, David, and others who have
been unjustly accused and slandered over the years will eventually be
vindicated as honest and faithful Baha'is.

The NSA and House of Justice in their statements concerning those of us who
have been working for constructive change within the Baha'i community
appear to have raised unity and obedience above all other Baha'i values and
principles-indeed, it appears that many fundamental Baha'i principles are
being sacrificed in the name of unity and obedience. Yet it is clear that
for Baha'u'llah and 'Abdul-Baha it is not a constricted and forced unity
through conformity that is the Baha'i ideal. Nor would Baha'u'llah and
'Abdul-Baha, who were prisoners of conscience, desire to see the
elimination from the Baha'i community of personal conscience, freedom of
expression, the independent investigation of truth, and the harmony of
religion and science. These are not western liberal democratic values and
traditions, these are Baha'i values and traditions that cannot be
sacrificed on the altar of personal ambitions of Baha'i administrators or
dictatorial behavior of Baha'i institutions.

'Abdul-Baha notes that truthfulness is the foundation of all virtues and
Baha'u'llah has made it clear that "the purpose of justice is the
appearance of unity."  In other words, there cannot be true unity if
truthfulness is abandoned and justice is not adhered to in the conduct of
our affairs. This is what I am seeking by writing this letter: that
truthfulness and justice be the guiding lights in dealing with these
difficult issues so that the light of unity, a unity that embraces
diversity and preserves human honor, will make it possible for a new
beginning.

I know that the four Baha'is who are currently under investigation for
undermining the Covenant have acted out of love and loyalty to the Covenant
of Baha'u'llah in all their activities. It will be tragic if the Universal
House of Justice supports or takes further actions against them. I urge the
members of the House of Justice to prayerfully look into their hearts to
see if there might be a more just and honorable way to deal with these
disputes.

With love,
Steven Scholl
White Cloud Press
PO Box 3400
Ashland, OR 97520
Phone/fax 541-488-6415
e-mail: sscholl@jeffnet.org

-----------------
Steven Scholl, Publisher
White Cloud Press, PO Box 3400, Ashland, OR 97520
phone/fax 541-488-6415
e-mail: sscholl@jeffnet.org
http://www.jeffnet.org/whitecloud


rom - Mon Apr 07 07:53:02 1997
>From sscholl@jeffnet.org Mon Mar 31 08:45:01 1997
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To: fglaysher@hotmail.com
From: sscholl@jeffnet.org (White Cloud Press)
Subject: Your Letter to UHJ
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Dear Frederick,

A friend on Irfan sent me your letter to the UHJ. I just want to let you
know that I think it is right on the money and I applaud you for writing
such a clear statement on current Baha'i practices. As you may know, I was
one of the founders of Talisman 1 and the editor of Dialogue, and am now an
ex-Baha'i. Like Robert Hayden, I came to ask myself why I was still a
Baha'i and came to the conclusion that the religion had strayed so far
from the open and life affirming teachings of Baha'u'llah and Abdul-Baha
that I could no longer honestly say, "I am a Baha'i." And so I resigned my
membership last October. Although at times I find this sad, I also must
admit that I feel much happier and healthier as a non-Baha'i. I do not
regret my years of service to the Baha'i community, and I hope you will
have similar feelings. Sure, there is some anger, because I feel strongly
that Baha'i could have been a real source of good for the world rather than
becoming a narrow and arrogant minor religion with fantasies of world
domination. But in the end I came to see that there really was no hope for
openness within the Baha'i system and that I did not want to spend my life
as an angry Baha'i fighting a hopeless fight. Instead I wanted to find a
way to work for Baha'i ideals outside of the fanaticism and rigidity of the
Baha'i administrative order and leave the Baha'is to spin their fantasies
of religious truimphalism and mass conversions.

I hope you find a way to reach peace with this part of your life. I know
that it is a hard road and I wish you all the best on the path you have
bravely taken.

Warmest regards,
Steve


PS: In you letter mention is made of a letter from Hoda Mahmoudi. Could you
forward a copy of this to me for my files? Thanks

-----------------------

Steven Scholl
White Cloud Press
PO Box 3400
Ashland, OR 97520
Phone/fax 541-488-6415
http://www.jeffnet.org/whitecloud/

 


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