The story of Jewish Ex-Baha'i Abbas Amanat

By Juan Cole

Jewish Ex-Baha'i Abbas Amanat
He was brought up a Baha'i, in a Kashan family that had traditionally been Jewish but that had converted to the Baha'i faith in the previous generation. His brother Husayn designed the monument at Azadi square in Tehran, and also the seat of the universal house of justice. His father is an accomplished historian and is writing a mult-volume history of the Kashan Baha'i community. His brother Mehrdad is also a historian and co-authored the section on Qajar Iran in the prestigious Cambridge History of Iran. As a young intellectual at Tehran University and then later at Oxford, Abbas noticed that there was an authoritarian and anti-intellectual streak to the Baha'i organization, as exemplified in bigots such as Furutan (who had played a very sinister role in the attack on and suppression of Mazandarani's scholarship back in the 1930s and 1940s). Abbas therefore very wisely decided rather early on that he wanted nothing to do with the Baha'i organization. However, he has said repeatedly and publicly that he is "in love with the Bab."

Abbas wrote his dissertation on the Babi movement at Oxford under the direction of Albert Hourani and Roger Owen, two of the magisterial historians of the Middle East in our times. He then came to the United States to teach at Yale. He did not ask to be transferred from the UK to the US Baha'i community, but some helpful person in Wilmette heard of his advent and entered him into the US rolls. Abbas, naturally, declined to submit his major historical study of the Babis for their approval or censoring to the motley assemblage of insurance salesmen, electrical engineers, bit part actors and failed businessmen who staff the upper echelons of the Baha'i administration. His book was published by Cornell University Press in 1989.

The Baha'i Distribution Service, to its credit, felt that Abbas's book would be of interest to the Baha'is, and therefore contracted with Cornell University Press to buy 500 copies.

When the book was distributed to the Baha'is, it generated large numbers of angry letters from the fundamentalists in the community who have the impression that they own the religion and can tell people what they may or may not say. They were upset that it departs from the details of Nabil's Narrative (which many have elevated to the status of infallible scripture) and Shoghi Effendi's God Passes By (ditto). Moreover, some religious bureaucrats in Wilmette became uneasy about carrying a book by an author who was on the rolls but who had declined to have it reviewed. A dispute therefore broke out in Wilmette as to whether the Baha'i Distribution Service should continue to carry the book.

This dispute was ultimately submitted to the universal house of justice, which in reply declared that Abbas Amanat was not a Baha'i, and therefore the Baha'i Distribution Service was welcome to distribute his book, as it would be to distribute the book of any non-Baha'i author. I have a copy of this letter, but it is in my file cabinets somewhere and I am not going to spend time digging it out just to satisfy Susan Maneck, who may believe it or not as she likes.

In the good old days before the universal house of justice's membership began being stacked with former counselors (who tend to have an Inquisitorial mindset, since part of their job is Inquisition), the only way to be removed from the rolls of Baha'i membership once you were entered on them was to write a letter explicitly renouncing belief in Baha'u'llah. Professor Amanat has never done so, although it is no secret that he long ago dissociated himself from the Baha'i organization and its authoritarian practices. I find Susan Maneck's speculation about his internal, private, existential beliefs, based on nothing more than hearsay, to be extremely rude and the height of slander (since she is bringing up slander). Has she ever had so much as a private conversation with Professor Amanat? I find her, and her organization's, willingness to expel Baha'is from their own religion by haughty and arrogant fiat, to be not only offensive but indicative of a quite dangerous mindset.

In any case, the US Baha'i authorities have slightly more integrity about these things than do the Canadian ones, since they declined to remove Professor Amanat from the rolls simply on the say-so of the universal house of justice. They have sought from him a clarification of his views, but he maintains that his views are nobody's business.

However, I will indulge in a little speculation. I think that if the Baha'i religious authorities really desire to make themselves so odious that they succeed in chasing out of the religion all the major Baha'i professors at major universities, that they will succeed in this. Apparently the real purpose of these intellectual pogroms is to ensure that it may be said that learned persons such as Denis MacEoin, Abbas Amanat and Linda Walbridge are not Baha'is, but the real Baha'is are ignoramuses who know no Middle Eastern languages, know nothing serious about Baha'i history, and adhere to a fundamentalist and intolerant point of view on the Baha'i faith, and who have managed to get themselves elected to high office (often through the most shameful campaigning and manipulation).

cheers Juan

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Popular Posts

Total Pageviews

Followers

Blog Archive

About Me

http://www.scribd.com/people/documents/12206251-naser-emtesali