The accusations of backbiting from the NSA has me in a bit of an uproar. I’ve been thinking about how they shifted blame to me by accusing me of breaking religious law. It’s rather infuriating and I’ve put a lot of thought into it. I’ve been a Baha’i for a long time – I was not born into it, I chose it. Over the many years, I have run into many viewpoints from fellow Baha’is on the various Baha’i laws. The views on backbiting seem to have two main schools of thought… either Baha’is feel free to say anything and everything negative without naming the actual person they’re speaking of – or they use positive-sounding language to basically say the negative ideas, just to make it seem positive (e.g. – He’s not “stupid,” he lacks education). I realized that perhaps the NSA had done the same thing, as backbiting is approached in one of the two ways almost universally amongst Baha’is. So, I figured I’d try to untwist their letter to me – see if I can find the “actual” version of it. Care to join me? (the following contains my interpretation of what they could be saying… I do NOT imply that the words “translated” below were the actual intentions of the National Spiritual Assembly)
Dear Bahá’ʹí Friend,
[Dear Baha’i troublemaker that if we call “friend” might be more willing to listen to our commonly perceived authority,]
We have carefully read your letter of June 18, 2012, and first and foremost wish to express our grief that you have endured the torment of memories of sexual abuse at the hand of one who you should have been able to trust, as he was considered by many as a pillar of the Bahá’ʹí community.
[We got your email, please quit trying to contact us. You have accused a Baha’i of sexual abuse/assault who we believe has been a shining star in the Baha’i community. You are obviously stuck in the past and can’t get over what happened to you, which couldn’t have been too bad as he was such a generous and loving person.]
We also deeply regret the delay in our reply due to the heavy burden of work at the Bahá’í National Center and our intent to craft a thorough and appropriate response to your heartfelt comments.
[You’ve been very pushy about us responding and you need to realize that other matters come first. (fair enough, I say) Sexual abuse and assault are not the concern of the NSA. (no longer “fair enough”) It takes time for us to figure out how to deal with someone who is obviously going to be outspoken. We knew we had to come up with just the right words in hopes that it would shut you up.]
We also deplore that you were given ill-‐‑advised counsel from a member of our staff years ago when you first reported an incident that occurred years earlier.
[We heard that you reported many years ago and realize that it was, in fact, illegal for us to do nothing about it. We are backpedaling in an effort to not seem so cruel.]
Be assured that adjustments in staffing and oversight have been made since that time to ensure that complaints of sexual abuse are addressed swiftly, keeping the safety of potential victims as the highest priority.
[We are showing, in writing, that we are releasing ourselves from all blame. We are claiming to have since released the individual you talked with and changed our policies… so you can’t hold this against us anymore – despite the fact that our policies actually changed years before you contacted us and that we don’t actually know who you talked to when you reported the incident. Oh, and we’re going to throw in a bit about how we worry about the victims because it makes us look caring – even though we don’t know the first thing about how sexual assault affects a person.]
For example, when your story involving Dr. Maani came to our attention last year we investigated the matter immediately, and though the reported events took place many years prior, we were compelled to sanction him due to his reprehensible behavior.
[We’re going to argue our case now because that’s the only reason to use “for example” in a letter that is supposed to be full of concern for others. Also, we are very intent on reminding you that you are being a baby about all of this since it happened so long ago. You REALLY should be over this by now. But, we figured you would keep harassing us if we didn’t do something, so we’re proudly showing you that we handled the situation in a VERY quick nine months – because, again, sexual assault is an unimportant and irrelevant topic for us.]
The National Assembly took this action despite the fact that his advanced age and ill-‐‑health lessened the threat of his repeating his misconduct.
[We felt, at our extreme spiritual station, that we knew best and he couldn’t hurt anyone because he was sick. Note how magnanimous we were by deciding to punish him even though he had cancer – something that very few others would do… certainly a court would go easy on a dying perpetrator, right? And, yes, we read your quotation about how punishment is specifically to prevent others from committing the same acts, but we really feel it wasn’t right to punish a dying man. Dying is a very difficult thing to do – much more difficult than living life as a survivor.]
As you know, shortly thereafter, Dr. Maani expressed to the National Assembly deep remorse for his misdeeds and entreated it to restore his administrative privileges.
[Look, he found out he was going to be punished and said sorry to the NSA. We don’t need him to apologize to those he actually hurt, we just needed him to kiss our butts, and he did. We believe that is apology enough. He was obviously sincere as he was begging to not be made into a monster publicly when he was too sick to manipulate the news when it came out that he had his privileges taken away. That wouldn’t be fair to a dying man.]
Underlying the teachings of all the revealed religions of the world is the possibility of spiritual transformation and the correction of human conduct. Thus, a primary purpose of the Bahá’ʹí Revelation is the reformation of character.
[We just wanted to remind you, in case you didn’t catch it earlier, that we do not agree with our sacred writings about punishment being used to prevent crime.]
When it is evident to the institutions of the Faith that a believer under sanctions has amended his behavior and expressed sincere regret, the way becomes open for the sanctions to be lifted.
[Remember, we did punish him… and only after he was punished did he express to us that he really wanted his privileges back. We believe he changed his ways because while in hospice, he didn’t try to rape anyone… that we know of. We understand that he wrote the apology letter BEFORE he was ever notified of his punishment… and the original punishment was never received… and that his letter of apology arrived in our offices BEFORE we enacted ANY punishment, but if we insist our point of view enough, you might overlook all of that and believe us.]
The timing of the National Assembly’s consideration of Dr. Maani’s request was exceptional in that he was dying of cancer and not expected to live more than a matter of weeks.
[Even though we prided ourselves on punishing a dying man earlier, even within the confines of this letter, we take even more pride (and are willing to accept adoration) in the fact that we didn’t let a dying man leave this earth with a blemish on his reputation. His financial contributions, we mean, his apology was exceptional… how could we say no?]
Be assured that our decision to restore part of his administrative privileges so soon after his rights were removed does not imply that the National Assembly considers his transgressions to be inconsequential.
[We are going to continue to pretend he received the first phase of the punishment because it makes us look more just. Again, if we pretend that all of his rights were taken away and then restored later, we look like a more just governing body. We call his crimes “transgressions” because the connotation is a bit less harsh than “crimes.” But, for the record… sexual assault is bad.]
On the contrary, the National Assembly knows that the damage of sexual abuse is severe and long-‐‑lasting.
[We read one brochure about sexual assault that says people can suffer from it. We don’t really understand how or why, but that’s why we chose to soften our language when telling you that you really should get over this by now.]
Under different circumstances, the sanctions would have likely remained in place for an extended period not only to correct his behavior, but also to serve as a warning to others and an affirmation to those he wronged that such behavior will not be tolerated.
[If Dr. Ma’ani hadn’t been dying of cancer (which is much worse than being sexually assaulted), we would have taken away his privileges for even longer (yes.. we are again pretending they were taken in the first place). So, if he hadn’t been dying, it would have been important for us to prevent future attacks and to let the victims know that we feel that future sexual assaults shouldn’t happen. But, since he was dying, our main concern was to give him happiness and peace. If the victims had donated more money to the Baha’i Faith, maybe we would have considered a different opinion on the matter.]
In our review of the matter, we determined that due to Dr. Maani’s imminent death there was little compelling reason to announce his sanctions to the general community.
[Since Dr. Ma’ani was dying, we thought it was best if his fellow Baha’is thought of him as a generous soul who did nothing wrong. We also feel that if anyone does hear about what happened, then they can be assured that their image will never be tarnished on our part. We believe that a happy facade is better than the truth. See? We told you we weren’t actually interested in preventing future assaults. Maybe we just love the drama.]
However, you may be interested to know that, prior to receiving your June 18 message, we had already intended to address you personally, as a victim of his behavior, to inform you of our decision.
[We actually had no intention of contacting you further, but since we found out that you won’t shut up and go away, we needed to make you feel guilty for trying to contact us. Now, you look like an impatient moron while we look better because we “intended” on writing you. Yes, we know, a month passed from when we sent the LSA a letter to the time you sent us an email, but that’s a reasonable amount of time to wait for any message from us. Please ignore the fact that we only took two weeks from the time we received the apology letter from Dr. Ma’ani to the time we re-worked his punishment and contacted the LSA about it. Honestly, we just felt that voiding his original punishment was just too urgent – your state of mind is not nearly as pressing of an issue.]
We cannot overestimate the detrimental effect Dr. Maani’s actions have had on your life and we know that you will never completely forget the incidents of abuse.
[We can’t overestimate it because our view of sexual abuse and assault is one of pure ignorance… ignore it and it will go away. We say that we know you’ll never forget because, geez woman, you’re just dwelling on the past! Get on with your life… the flashbacks can’t be so bad, now, can they?]
But we pray that through Bahá’u’lláh’s assistance and through the support of your loved ones, you will be able to overcome the ill-‐‑feelings that remain in your heart, so that your soul may be freed to experience the joy of detachment in the path of the love of God.
[We’re going to drop some names to add more guilt. We don’t know what to say, so we’re going to tell you your loved ones might be able to tell you to get over it and pretend it never happened. Oh yeah… and remember that phone call we sanctioned? That’s our real message. No, you’re not allowed to tell your loved ones – or anyone else. If you do, we will continue to harass you on the phone because if we do so in writing, we could be held accountable for it. And just in case you’re not understanding us… get over it! We wouldn’t dare to be so petty as to insist on justice for such an ancient “crime.” If you were as spiritual as we are, you wouldn’t have a problem with this.]
As part of this, you may have to find a way in your heart, to let go of the justifiable anger you feel toward this man who wronged you so many years ago.
[We’ve read what the experts say… and they say you have a right to be angry, so we’ll go along with that. But, we do want to mention that you are spiritually stunted if you harbor any anger against Dr. Ma’ani. Remember, this happened sooooo long ago, that you couldn’t possibly still be suffering effects. We think you’re just out to ruin his good name.]
We must consider that ultimately, Dr. Maani is responsible to God for his actions, and it is God that judges and determines the application of justice and mercy.
[You can’t blame us for not doing anything. We believe God is responsible for all punishment and that any earthly punishment is unnecessary because of that. We don’t care what the laws tell us to do, we are content with letting criminals go free so that God can deal with them later. And, yes… again, we don’t really subscribe to the point of view that punishment is to prevent further crime.]
Most regrettable is that Dr. Maani’s transgressions against you lead to your minimized involvement in Bahá’ʹí community life for almost two decades.
[We really wish you would have continued to give money the to NSA during the 20 years that you felt cast out of the Baha’i Faith. Then, maybe, we would have cared more about your situation. Remember… even though God is the ultimate judge and jury, He still needs you to send money for you to matter.]
It is our fervent hope that you will now make every effort to redeem those lost years by plunging into the work of your local community, using your insights and capacities, gained through tested experience, to bolster the community and its institutions to be ever more purified and effective channels for the spirit of the Cause of Baha’u’llah.
[Now that we have shown you that we don’t really care about you, but are willing to pretend we do… put all of your effort into helping us. Because WE are more important than you. Your comfort and safety aren’t really of any consequence… just go convert more people to the Baha’i Faith so we can have more money.]
The National Assembly will offer prayers on behalf of you and your family at the House of Worship that God Almighty will surround you with His loving care, protection, and tender mercy.
[It’s always good to tell people you’ll pray for them… it’s the ultimate way of offering help without offering any help at all. You’re not going to know whether we really pray for you, are you? HA! We hope you will believe God is taking care of you so that you leave us alone and stop acting so mental. We hope God will protect you so we never have to face you on this subject again. And, we think God should offer you mercy for your shortcomings like backbiting (telling the truth), obstinance (determination to seek justice and active prevention), dwelling on the past (trying to heal from the pain abuse has brought), pettiness and melodrama (PTSD symptoms), and rebelliousness (individuality and the desire to abide by the laws of our country). Please refrain from talking about any of this with anyone, or we’ll have to get tough.]
———-At least, that’s what I take away from it. I could be wrong. But, something inside me tells me I’m not so far off. Especially after getting that aggressive phone call on behalf the the National Spiritual Assembly. I’m sure I’ll be hearing more from them in response to this loose interpretation, though. It seems they get in quite a tizzy when I speak my mind.