August 3, 1999
Mr. Anthony Lee
1600 Sawtelle Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025-3314
Dear Baha’i Friend,
The Universal House of Justice has reviewed the letter of 8 May 1999 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, signed by you on behalf of Kalimat Press and copied for the House of Justice, on the subject of the manner in which Kalimat has promoted to Baha’is Dr. Juan Cole’s book, Modernity and the Millennium. We have been asked to write as follows.
A good deal of the work of Kalimat Press, which you have ably directed during the twenty or so years of the firm’s existence, has constituted a significant contribution to the advancement of the Cause we all love and seek to serve. It is clear, too, that, beyond the administration of Kalimat’s activities, this valued contribution owes a great deal to your own creativity and professional talents. These circumstances move the House of the Justice to share with you candidly the deep concern it feels regarding your relationship with the Baha’i Faith.
As you are aware, such concern prompted earlier efforts, including those made by Counsellor Stephen Birkland and Dr. Pierre-Yves Mocquais, a member of the Auxiliary Board, in their interview with you and your wife, Dr. Flor Lee Geola, in May of 1996, to draw to your attention the serious dangers of the course you have long been following. At that time, you expressed to Mr. Birkland your deep regret over actions on your part that were seen by the House of Justice to be clearly in conflict with the beliefs you profess as a follower of Baha’u’llah, as well as your firm assurance that your actions would not again give cause for such intervention.
It is impossible to reconcile professions of this kind with the arguments made by you in the 8 May letter. The inappropriateness of the promotional statements and of the approach taken in the letter serves as an illustration of the attitude and behavior on your part that have long been a source of difficulty. It is these personal elements that the House of Justice has asked us to address.
Clearly, no one would dispute the right of Dr. Cole to write and publish whatever work a publisher is prepared to handle. Nor has anyone questioned the right of a Baha’i who is interested in such a book to purchase it. To suggest that the House of Justice is saying otherwise would be to seriously misconstrue the nature of its concern. The book itself is incidental to the problem of attitude on your part that the National Assembly was asked to raise with you. As a participant in various Internet discussion groups over the past five years, and particularly in the last year or two, you cannot but be aware from these exchanges that Dr. Cole has embarked on a deliberate assault against the Baha’i Cause, in which he has not hesitated to attack its institutions, to misrepresent its fundamental teachings, and to abuse the trust of Baha’is who had been led to believe that they were engaged with him in a detached and scholarly search for the truth. These same Internet exchanges exposed you, like other participants, to a flood of calumny and invective against a great many of your fellow believers, on the part of Dr. Cole, that is scarcely credible in rational discourse.
Had such a book as Modernity and the Millennium been written by a disinterested non-Baha’i scholar, its misconception of the nature of Baha’u’llah’s Mission and its other shortcomings would have represented no more than understandable weaknesses of an honest attempt to explore a religious phenomenon as yet little understood in the West. Indeed, in this context, such an attempt to make the Baha’i Faith comprehensible to the Western academic mind, however inadequate it might appear to knowledgeable Baha’i scholars, would surely have earned its author a measure of genuine Baha’i appreciation for the writing and research skills deployed in devising it.
As you — like other participants in certain Internet discussion groups — are well aware, however, the book’s author is not a disinterested scholar. Rather, he is a deeply embittered individual who, as his book was in preparation, had just denounced in the most intemperate language an apparent twenty-year allegiance to Baha’u’llah, in the wake of a failed attempt on his part to impose his private ideological agenda on the Baha’i community’s study of Baha’u’llah’s Message. Modernity and the Millennium represents an effort to provide the current stage of this long-running scheme with the underpinnings of scholarly rationalization.
What is this rationalization? Although distorted by its evasion of Baha’i Texts that contradict its main assertions, and blurred by reliance on speculations peculiar to its author’s purpose, the thesis appears to run somewhat as follows: Baha’u’llah’s work and Writings represent essentially one of several efforts by Middle East thinkers to work out a “response” to the challenges posed by European modernity in the form of rationalism, revolution, nationalism, economic upheaval, feminism and other contemporary developments. Although Oriental in origin, this particular “response”, in contrast to various others, was unusually “progressive”, “liberal”, “idealistic”, even “radical.” Because it “grew up” in a congenial modernist era, its Author was able gradually to adjust and revise the ideas with which He had been “grappling”, through benefiting (in a manner generally insinuated rather than explicitly stated) from successive interactions with other thinkers and movements. By 1862, apparently in order to deal with the problem of religious exclusivity in the Muslim world, and in response to some form of “private mystical experience”, He “decided to make a prophetic claim of his own”.
As mentioned above, if such a view had represented the interpretation of Baha’u’llah’s Mission arrived at by a non-Baha’i as the result of his objective study of the sources, no Baha’i institution could have an objection. Its relevance to the concern of the House of Justice about your behavior arises rather from your long-standing and widely recognized involvement with a few present and former members of the Faith who seek to foist this caricature of the Cause on the Baha’i community, and your perceived identification with their purpose.
The Covenant, the distinguishing feature of Baha’u’llah’s Revelation, has
been made the central target of this effort (a maneuver that Dr. Cole’s book is at particular pains to shore up). Although forced to acknowledge the appointments of `Abdu’l-Baha and the Guardian as Interpreters of Baha’u’llah’s Message, every effort has been made to call such authoritative interpretation into question wherever it presents a problem for the notions being promoted. Similarly, although ostensibly acknowledging that the Universal House of Justice is Head of the Baha’i Faith today, this opposition has tried by every means possible to undermine the broad authority conferred in Baha’u’llah’s own words and emphasized in the Master’s Will and Testament. (In Dr. Cole’s book, this agenda makes its appearance in the conclusion: namely, that the Faith founded by Baha’u’llah has failed in its mission because, like “the Khomeinist state in Iran”, it has been somehow captured by “fundamentalists”, by which term Dr. Cole has repeatedly characterized the members of the Universal House of Justice.)
Why would a Baha’i or a Baha’i publisher who is genuinely devoted to advancing Baha’i scholarship and to encouraging confirmation of believers in Baha’u’llah’s Covenant seek to persuade his Baha’i readers that a device intended as the mainspring of an attack on their Faith is “an indispensable book for any serious student of Baha’i history”? How could an effort to represent to the Baha’i community such a work as “a brilliant, scholarly analysis of the life and teachings of Baha’u’llah” serve the Cause of God? What moral benefit do you imagine a Baha’i reader could conceivably derive from taking seriously the theories of an individual whose apparently ungovernable malice has made his activities the focal point of contention and disharmony among any believers unwise enough to be influenced by him?
Indeed, what relevance do Dr. Cole’s academic credentials, so strongly emphasized in your letter of 8 May, have to the moral and spiritual issue raised in the letter from the National Spiritual Assembly? Clearly, no reader, Baha’i or otherwise, would be interested in reading a supposedly scholarly study whose author lacked the relevant scholarly qualifications. Nor, presumably, would any publisher, Baha’i or otherwise, promote a work from such an unqualified source. It is both meaningless and disingenuous to argue that these qualifications, however valid in themselves, assure that a publication meets the moral and spiritual standards that are made explicitly clear in the Writings of the Faith whose interests Kalimat’s activities are ostensibly designed to serve.
The assumption of Baha’i institutions is that the purpose motivating a group of believers to create a publishing house that enjoys privileged access to the Baha’i community is in order to promote the advancement of the Baha’i Cause. The House of Justice has always assumed — as is no doubt the case with Baha’is generally — that this was the desire that motivated you and your associates to create Kalimat Press. If some different conception of purpose underlies the Kalimat enterprise, then it is essential that you advise the United States National Spiritual Assembly of the facts of the situation, frankly, unequivocally, and without delay.
The House of Justice calls on you to meditate profoundly on the questions raised in the foregoing, as these issues bear directly on the relationship that binds you to your Lord. Does not the Master in His Will and Testament itself, specifically warn: “According to the direct and sacred command of God we are forbidden to utter slander, are commanded to show forth peace and amity, are exhorted to rectitude of conduct, straight-forwardness and harmony with all the kindreds and peoples of the world”? Does He not, in that same foundation document of the Cause, counsel all of us: “O ye beloved of the Lord! Strive with all your heart to shield the Cause of God from the onslaught of the insincere, for souls such as these cause the straight to become crooked and all
benevolent efforts to produce contrary results”?
The impressive services that you have rendered the Faith, with Flor’s loving support, represent for you a spiritual treasure. God forbid that so precious a capital should be squandered. While there is yet time, the House of Justice earnestly appeals to you to turn away from the course on which you have long been set, a course that has been marked by steady spiritual deterioration and that will lead to grievous loss in both this world and the next. As you will recall, because the matter was of direct concern to her, Flor asked urgently to be included in your discussion with Mr. Birkland and Dr. Mocquais. Because these issues continue to bear so immediately on the well-being of your family, you need to recognize your moral obligation to take her fully into your confidence also on the contents of this present letter.
In the past, you have expressed bewilderment that your actions should have required the intervention of senior Baha’i institutions. The House of Justice expects that you have now understood clearly what is at stake and that you will resolve, unambiguously and at once, to abandon the course you have, alas, been pursuing.
The House of Justice will pray ardently at the Holy Threshold that you will be granted the courage and will to meet the spiritual challenge you face.
With loving Baha’i greetings,
Department of the Secretariat