Dear Baha'i Friend, In reply to your email message of 18 June 1999, Dr. Juan Ricardo Cole,
I've gone by Juan R. I. Cole for a decade and a half, thank you. I don't insist on a title, but if you must give me one it is properly "Professor," not just "Dr."
who was for many years a member of the Baha'i community,
I joined in 1972. In 1974-1979 I served as much as I could as a pioneer in Lebanon to meet a UHJ goal for the five year plan. This involved being in Beirut for the early stages of the Civil War, during which time my life was frequenly in danger. I helped with community development in Senegal and Gambia in spring of 1979 for the NSA of the Near East. In 1982-83 I pioneered in India and did some travel teaching, again meeting a goal, and suffering a severe episode of hepatitis as a result, which at one point left me unconscious for three days. I translated two books by Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, for which I was thanked by the Universal House of Justice. I authored numerous journal articles on the Baha'i faith, some protesting the persecution of the Iranian Baha'is. I did numbers of translations of Baha'u'llah's writings and in 1996 the Universal House of Justice received and accepted my permission to publish them under its own name, with mine deleted. In 1998 published Modernity and the Millennium, the first academic treatment of key themes in the Writings of Baha'u'llah from primary sources.
rrenounced his membership
In late April, 1996, as a result of entirely innocent but generally liberal email messages that I shared on firstname.lastname@example.org, hardliners on the House of Justice like Douglas Martin, Farzam Arbab and Ian Semple, cooked up a scheme to discredit me by having me quite falsely charged with "making statements contrary to the Covenant," in hopes of bullying me into silence. This action directly contradicts Shoghi Effendi's guarantee to every Baha'i of the right to "express his views and declare his conscience." I never broke the covenant of Baha'u'llah in any way shape or form. I never questioned the legitimate authority of Baha'u'llah, `Abdu'l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi or the Universal House of Justice. I never suggested there could be further Guardians after Shoghi Effendi. I never made any claims of leadership. The charges launched against me via a very dishonest and manipulative man, "counselor" Stephen Birkland (who has inflicted grave spiritual harm on a succession of persons with whom he has associated) were simply a signal that the fundamentalists on the House of Justice did not like to hear `Abdu'l-Baha's more liberal pronouncements quoted so frequently any more. It is true that I, heartbroken and bewildered to discover that my precious Baha'i faith was now being run like a cult, for all the world like Scientology or the Jehovah's Witnesses, resigned from the religion on May 4, 1996. However, deep in my heart I never lost faith in Baha'u'llah himself, whatever my pain may have caused me to say, and in February of 1999 I posted a statement of belief in him widely throughout the internet. The suggestion in Martin's brief phrase above, that I somehow voluntarily suddenly lost my faith, is cruel and inaccurate.
and has, over a period of time, taken a number of actions inimical to the Faith.
Since 1996 I began a major internet petition drive aimed at protesting the continued persecution of the Iranian Baha'is, garnering thousands of signatures, which I personally sent to Ayatollah Khamenei and President Khatami. I arranged for an article to appear in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the closure of the Baha'i Open University in fall of 1998. I re-founded talisman as email@example.com. I co-founded H-Bahai, an academic list for Baha'i studies that everyone agrees has been extremely useful. At H-Bahai's Web site, I have published thousands of pages of the Writings of the Bab, Baha'u'llah and `Abdu'l-Baha in addition to many chronicles of the early days of the Baha'i faith in Iran and many other key documents for studying the history of the faith. I published Modernity and the Millennium, which has brought knowledge of Baha'u'llah and his teachings to hundreds if not thousands of new readers. In all this time, and despite the way I was mistreated and betrayed by the Baha'i fundamentalists in power, I never did anything to damage the name or interests of the Baha'i faith itself. I did take action to expose and weaken the fundamentalists, which is what Martin is really complaining about.
He has persistently maligned the institutions of the Cause
I haven't maligned any "institutions." I have attempted to write and understand the real history of how Baha'i fundamentalists and cultists have often managed to insert themselves into powerful positions and then use those positions to exploit, manipulate and sometimes deeply damage moderate and liberal Baha'is.
and misrepresented many of its Teachings.
Martin knows no Arabic, no Persian, and nothing about the history of Qajar Iran and the Ottoman Empire, the cradles of the early Baha'i faith. I have spent 28 years studying these things and am a recognized Middle East expert. Martin's Canadian fundamentalism is the misrepresentation of Baha'u'llah's teachings. I suggest anyone who is in doubt read Modernity and the Millennium for themselves and see if they think I have "misrepresented" Baha'u'llah's "teachings" there.
He seems bent on undermining the authority of the Guardian
Actually, I am insisting on the Guardian's emphasis on the freedom of believers to express their views and declare their consciences, and his insistence that Baha'is devote major resources to charity work, even for non-Baha'is.
and the Universal House of Justice
The present fundamentalists on the House of Justice are over-reaching their constitutional authority, which is limited to legislation, and are infringing on the Guardian's reserved sphere, which is Interpretation. Martin is twisting my quite reasonable insistence that this is wrong into an 'undermining' of the authority of the UHJ, when actually I am protesting the UHJ claiming powers it does not have and attempting to manipulate and suppress the views of thinking Baha'is with whom the fundamentalist leadership disagrees.
, distorts and casts doubt on the Master's interpretations of the Writings
This is an out and out lie. I have supported `Abdu'l-Baha 100%. But `Abdu'l-Baha never claimed to be an authority on science or history, and insisting on a literal adherence to his comments on such subjects is just a form of fundamentalism. When they say this, they mean that I don't think Socrates met any prophets of ancient Israel in Palestine (he didn't; this is a myth of Muslim historiography that `Abdu'l-Baha happened to repeat to an Eastern audience). `Abdu'l-Baha knew a good deal about ethics and the spiritual life and we should listen to him on those subjects. About Greek history, he knew what he read in the Arabic sources, which are riddled with errors. But I wonder what `Abdu'l-Baha would think about Doug Martin having this backbiting letter sent out to hundreds of people behind my back?
, and propounds a concept of Baha'u'llah which is far from His own depiction of His station and function as a Manifestation of God.
When the UHJ and ITC sent Stephen Birkland to my house to interrogate me in 1996, one of the charges he communicated to me was that I "spoke of Baha'u'llah as a historical personage." Duh. I am a historian; and he was a historical personage. The above comment is a further demand that Baha'i historians and thinkers kowtow to some Docetic fantasy cooked up about Baha'u'llah in the hothouse atmosphere of Haifa fundamentalism. Next they will be saying he didn't eat food or make love or get angry! Again, anyone who wants to know my concept of Baha'u'llah should read the voluminous papers and book I have written about him, not rely on this sleazy and underhanded bit of gossip being put about by Doug Martin.
it is difficult to see how a link to his Web site would serve the interests of the Cause or the needs of its members.
. I'd say 5,000 hits a year for a dry academic site on a personal server suggests otherwise.
With loving Baha'i greetings,
Loving Baha'i greetings from me, too! - cheers, Juan