Final draft post-refereeing  - with page numbers of published article inserted

Published in Religion 38 (2008) 391-393

doi:10.1016/j.religion.2008.08.009

www.elsevier.com/locate/religion

 

 

Four heroes and an anti-hero

 

Although some response to my article (Momen, 2007, all references not otherwise attributed are to this article) was to be anticipated, the extent of the Internet campaign that has been waged against it on webpages, blogs and e-mail lists has been greater than I anticipated. Not all of the comments on the Internet have, however, been negative. One ex-Baha’i who has gone on to become a Catholic records his own experience of participating in various apostate e-mail lists and states: ‘They act exactly the way Momen describes them’ (Jonah, 2007). I have had similar private e-mails.

Because of restrictions of space, it is impossible to respond to all of the points raised in the four published replies and I have been forced to pick a selection of them. Some of the points made in these replies seem to be the result of these individuals forgetting what they themselves have written and done. Eric Stetson denies that my description of apostasy applies to him and implies that he is rarely involved with the Baha’i Faith now. Yet he is constantly updating his webpage, where he writes on

 

p. 392

some apostate issues, tries to place the Baha’i Faith as a ‘cult’ and includes links to material written by other apostates such as Frederick Glaysher and Juan Cole as well as ‘testimonials’ from former Baha’is with titles such as ‘Baha’i Faith is a cause of dislike, hatred and division’.1 Although Stetson may not have written this latter material himself, his inclusion with evident approval of it on his website, suggests his agreement with it. The website also includes the statement that he has founded (and still runs) the ‘Ex-Bahai’ e-mail list. He therefore fits the definition given by David Bromley and used in my article.2 Similarly, Frederick Glaysher demands to know who it is that has accused him of personal clashes with Iranian Baha’is. What I wrote was in fact based on his own statements in a file which is on his website and records his early experiences of disaffection with the Baha’i community (Glaysher 2008, see references to ‘Persians’ on pp. 50, 60, 61–2, 74–5, 80–81, 84, 109). Glaysher insists that his Reform Baha’i Faith has many members worldwide. He has been asked on several occasions on Internet lists to produce evidence for this and has failed to do so. With the exception of someone from India who for a short time identified himself with it and then withdrew, no one else has ever identified themselves or been identified as a member.

With regard to Sen McGlinn’s response, he was not included in the list of apostates in my article because his writings do not parallel those of the others on my list. They do not deal with the usual apostate issues; they do not contribute to the apostate mythology; they do not take the form of an apostate narrative; and they do not contain the persistent and bitter attacks on the Baha’i institutions that characterize those who are on the list. Space did not, however, permit me to detail all of these considerations for every individual discussed and, in the case of McGlinn, I referred only to the last point by saying that he and another person ‘do not share the ressentiment described by Scheler’ (p. 200). This may have abbreviated matters too much and caused readers to think that ressentiment was the sole determining factor. Several of the other objections raised by McGlinn are in fact already explained in my article: for example that apostate attacks are no longer confined to New Religious Movements (p. 189); and that the Baha’i apostates can be said to have formed their own Internet oppositional coalition (p. 201). My statement that Sen McGlinn’s disenrollment was due to "persistent challenges" to the Universal House of Justice is an inference that I have drawn from letters of the Universal House of Justice going back to 1995. The letter of the Universal House of Justice to which he refers, and which he chides me for having ignored, relates to something he had written but does not say this was the cause of his expulsion.

In the next part of his response, McGlinn goes on to propound a ‘different theory’ or ‘model’ for the phenomenon that I have described. But what he is proposing is a study of people exiting the Baha’i Faith (people who have left, i.e. ‘leavetakers’, or been expelled). He is of course welcome to write a paper on that subject and use any theory he feels is suitable, but my article is about Baha’i apostates (people who have exited the Baha’i community and then carry on a campaign against it) and in my article I have demonstrated a correspondence with other examples of this phenomenon described by other scholars. So the theoretical basis I have chosen for my article is suitable.

Denis MacEoin has quoted Abbas Amanat’s egregious comments on my analysis of the socio-political dynamics of the Babi movement. I am quite happy for readers of Religion to look at my article on this subject (Momen, 1983; see also Smith and Momen,1986) and judge Amanat’s comments for themselves. It is strange however that MacEoin has raised this as part of his disparagements of me, given that he has frequently cited this article in his own works (including his two books on Babism, two of his papers cited inmy article, and elsewhere) without ever voicing any criticism of it. His criticism of my book Selections from the Writings of E.G. Browne is also wide of the mark. In that book I have given in full Browne’s article ‘The Babis of Persia’ in which there are copious references to Azal and his claims and writings – I have ‘censored’ nothing. Then MacEoin has quoted selectively from Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice to make the Baha’i Faith appear intolerant and anti-intellectual. If I had the space, I could equally present a range of quotations that would make them appear the acme of liberalism and modernity.3 The fact is that the Baha’i Faith is a much more varied landscape than the stark picture MacEoin draws. With respect to ‘the intolerant world’, to which MacEoin states I belong, I would invite those who wish to judge for themselves whether academic Baha’i studies is as shackled, distorted and unacademic as MacEoin makes out to look at the last few issues of Baha’i Studies Review.4 The names of those on the editorial board of the journal are published and can be judged as to whether they conform to MacEoin’s ‘panels of laypersons’ description. It is they who review the articles in the journal (except occasionally when their expertise does not cover the subject of a paper and another person is invited to review an article). In other words, there is no more ‘censorship’ involved in this process than with any other academic journal.

One of the main points that MacEoin seems to want to make is that there is no community or network of apostates and no campaign. I can understand that he may think so since he has never participated on Internet groups for more than a short time (as far as I know), but such groups do exist, as described in my article and as McGlinn’s response and the responses I describe in the first paragraph above confirm. Of the ten post-1996 apostates described in this article, five had participated in Talisman before 1996 and all have participated since that date on either alt.religion.bahai or the main apostate lists. Also in my article I have described these Internet groups as primarily providing support and plausibility structures – not as being the platform for campaigns (although some of that does go on as well, as the Majnun posting that I describe, p. 195, showed).

 

1. http://www.bahai-faith.com, which was most recently updated on 16 December 2007 (accessed 14 February 2008). See sections ‘Behind the Facade: Cult-like Tendencies in the Baha’i Faith’ and ‘Former Baha’is and Ex-Baha’i Christians: Selected Testimonials’ on the opening page of this website.

2. Stetson now states on the opening page of his website (see previous note) that he ‘has been named in an academic journal of religion as one of the 12 most significant ex-Baha’is of the modern era.’ This is of course a gross misrepresentation of what I have said in my article.

3. Regarding Shoghi Effendi, see for example 1968, p. 63; regarding the Universal House of Justice, see for example 1989, p. 7.

4. Volume 13 can be viewed at http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals.php?issn¼13548697.

 

p. 393

In the main, the campaigns have been carried out on an individual basis, as in MacEoin’s own case. The fact that within a couple of weeks ofmy article being published, there were already a dozen or more responses to it on apostate webpages and blogs is evidence of a well-established and active network, especially since the overwhelming majority of those responding were not academics and had probably never even heard of this journal before.

Would I change anything in my article as a result of these replies? Yes, I would – no paper is beyond revision. First, as I discussed in my article (p. 200), deciding who does and does not fit into the category of ‘apostate’ is a difficult business. I now think that it would be better to remove William Garlington from the list. Although his latest book is clearly favouring apostate issues over those of core Baha’is (as I have described on p. 196), I do not, on reflection, think he can be said to have carried on a sustained campaign over a period of time. Second, at the suggestion of the former editor of Religion, I moved Max Scheler’s definition of apostates from much nearer the end of the paper, where it originally was, to the beginning and consequently added to the article further references to it. In retrospect, I regret agreeing to this move (although the responsibility is, of course, entirely mine) as some have thought that it implies that I am using Scheler as my definition of apostates. I am in fact using David Bromley’s definition in picking out the 12 apostates whom I describe (and I state this on p. 188). Scheler’s definition was introduced because I think it sheds light on the phenomenon. Much of the offence seems, however, to have been caused by Scheler’s definition and the original structure of the paper would probably have caused less offence. Thirdly (as pointed out to me in a private e-mail), I regret my failure to mention an important article by David Piff (2005) that covers the Talisman episode in some detail and presages some of the points made in my article.

Finally, I must thank the editors of Religion for publishing what I assume readers will have noted are four further documents of evidence that support several of the main points that I make in my article in describing this episode of apostasy in relation to the Baha’i community:

- that this is a highly articulate group of people whose efforts have been directed at making their views known through the Internet and through academic media (see all four responses);

- that one of their strategies has been to try to turn the status of the Baha’i Faith from that of an ‘allegiant organisation’ to that of a ‘subversive’ one, or a ‘cult’, mainly by representing the Baha’i institutions as repressive and authoritarian (see comments of MacEoin and Glaysher);

- that while Bromley’s definition of an apostate calls for the person to have joined an oppositional coalition, these apostates have effectively formed their own oppositional coalition through the medium of the Internet and the creation of e-mail groups (see the useful statistics provided by McGlinn on these);

- that there are set issues (summarized in my article, pp. 202–203), to which the apostates continually revert (and some of which MacEoin here repeats);

- and that the experience of the apostates is the exact opposite – a dark mirror–of that of the core members (see MacEoin’s comments, especially on academic Baha’i studies).

I will leave it for readers of Religion to judge for themselves whether or not they detect a trace of ressentiment in one or two of these responses. It appears that the Internet apostate Baha’i community regards my article as a further episode in their mythology of persecution and harassment (see p. 202) and will no doubt see these four respondents as heroes in this mythology, while presumably I am to be added to the list of anti-heroes.

 

 

References

Glaysher, F., 2008. Letters from the American Desert. Earthrise Press, Rochester, MI. This file was on Glaysher’s site when I did my research for this paper. http://www.fglaysher.com/bahaicensorship/archives/Letters%20from%20the%20American%20Desert.pdf (accessed on 6 January 2007). It has since been taken off the site and published.

Jonah, 2007. Moojan Momen is Right. http://bahaicatholic.wordpress.com/2007/12/17/moojan-momen-is-right (accessed 04.02.08.).

Momen, M., 1983. The social basis of the Babi Upheavals in Iran (1848–53): a preliminary analysis. International Journal of Middle East Studies 15, 157–183.

Momen, M., 2007. Marginality and apostasy in the Baha’i community. Religion 37, 187–209.

Piff, D., 2005. The globalization of information: Baha’i constructions of the Internet. In: Warburg, M., Hvithamar, A., Warmind, M. (Eds.), Baha’i and

Globalisation. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus, pp. 195–219.

Shoghi Effend, 1968. Baha´ ’i Administration. Baha´ ’i´ Publishing Trust, Wilmette.

Smith, P., Momen, M., 1986. The Babi Movement: a resource mobilisation perspective. In: Smith, P. (Ed.), In Iran. Studies in Babi and Baha’i History, vol. 3.

Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, pp. 33–93.

Universal House of Justice, 1989. Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette.

 

Moojan Momen