Juan Cole has lots of friends

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Posted by Juan cole ( on May 28, 2002 at 08:15:28:

In Reply to: Clarification posted by Bret on May 26, 2002 at 02:41:06:

Dear Bret:

I am not sure whether having friends or not determines whether
you get things right. Around the time he was crucified, Jesus
had no friends--even Peter denied him three times.

By the way, you may all enjoy my most recent piece, on Fundamentalism in the Contemporary U.S. Baha'i Community in *Religious Studies Review,* Vol. 43, no. 3 (March, 2002):195-217 at:


Now, since you make assertions about my *colleagues*, I really
must intervene here. Of course, in rightwing Baha'i discourse, I ought to allow myself to be beaten up without responding, otherwise I am "prideful" and "boasting." Whatever.

It seems to me worthwhile trying to explain to people outside the university system how things work, and why the statements about me here are not true (and are a form of vicious backbiting, in fact). I have, of course, many circles of colleagues.

One is the Middle East Studies Association, which groups thousands
of academics who study the region. They made me the editor of their
flagship journal, *The International Journal of Middle East Studies*,
which suggests that they have a certain confidence in my judgment. I also serve on the editorial board of the journal *Iranian Studies* and have served on the Council of the Society for Iranian Studies, the latter an elected position. My books have all been positively reviewed by colleagues through the years, and my progress to full professor was quicker than usual, showing support by my department and administration. I have served on the Social Science Research Council, and as Director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies. These sorts of appointments are made after wide consultation with colleagues and are votes of approval.

Indeed, the very fact that I am so widely published, with so many different academic presses and journals, shows an appreciation of my work by colleagues in the field, since it passes peer review. You don't get to publish with Princeton and Yale University Presses or get to be employed as an editor by Cambridge University Press if you are thought a poor scholar by large numbers of persons in your field.

Within Baha'i Studies, I also have loads of friends, as witnessed by the fact that more than 200 scholars with higher degrees and an interest in Baha'i studies have flocked to my H-Bahai discussion list--the vast majority of them Baha'is.

I am among a handful of academics who have published substantially about the Baha'i faith in academic journals and with university presses, and in the *real* world someone who tried to make an argument about the history of Baha'i faith without referencing my work would be viewed as ignorant or unethical. Your trying to make it seem that someone who is familiar with my writing is ipso facto wrong about the faith is so ridiculous as to be laughable.

As a young person, I served as a pioneer in the 5 year plan in Lebanon during the civil war there, at some risk to my life and limb, for the sake of the Baha'i faith. I also did travel teaching in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, on behalf of a number of NSAs. I have mounted extensive campaigns to protect the human rights of the Baha'is in Iran and been blackballed for it by academics close to the Iranian government. I have published the only academic book about Baha'u'llah to be carried by a university press since the days of E.G. Browne. That monolingual English-speaking Baha'is who have never read a word of Baha'u'llah in Persian or Arabic should dismiss the findings of someone who has read thousands of pages of his writing and devoted a lifetime to research on him, is just the sort of narrow-minded religious prejudice Baha'u'llah hoped (apparently in vain) he was coming to abolish.

The very bizarre rightwing Baha'i custom is of saying 'if you say one thing I don't like, it wipes out the value of 25 years of your service' or 'it makes everything you've ever said suspect.' This is just a way of making some people taboo, and of silencing some voices. The Catholic priests and Muslim mullahs did all the same things to people in the Middle Ages, so we haven't made much progress if this is Baha'i practice. I respect Pat Kohli for objecting to these practices as well, though I find his inability to get past a statement made on a small private list and later very publicly retracted to be a little tiresome, and am puzzled as to why in the end he seems to capitulate to the tendency he criticized, of tabooing people on the basis of one statement. By the way, the statement was better grounded than he has ever given it credit for.

cheers Juan Cole, Professor, Department of History, University of Michigan

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