In response to:
The Terror Facing the Bahais from the May 13, 1982 issue
To the Editors:
As one concerned about the situation of the Bahais in Iran, I was dismayed by Professor Kazemzadeh’s article [NYR, May 13]. Much of his piece is devoted to inappropriate attacks on Western scholars, some of whom (e.g., Nikki Keddie) have spoken up in public forums in vigorous defense of the civil rights of the Bahais. Kazemzadeh seems as concerned with defending the Bahais’ version of their movement’s history and social basis as with protesting the current measures against Iranian Bahais. An ambiguous sentence leaves the reader with the impression that Keddie is using “simple-minded Marxism at its lowest intellectual level.” Kazemzadeh is evidently pained that Keddie describes the militant political activism and egalitarianism of some of the Bab’s early followers. Since Baba’ollah led the movement in the direction of pacifism and quietism, many Bahais have preferred to pass over this aspect of their early history. Kazemzadeh also takes umbrage at Trevor-Roper’s reference to the Bahai population of California. Not all of us see California as a “sordid place.” Further, since it is the state with the largest population, we would generally expect it to be the state with the most of any given religious group. Trevor-Roper’s erroneous statement that there is a Bahai temple in Haifa is hardly a cardinal sin; after all, Haifa is dominated by a large Bahai shrine which has housed the spiritual and administrative center of the faith. The space Kazemzadeh used for his exaggerated comments could have been better spent describing what we can do to express our concern about discriminatory measures against Bahais.
Firuz Kazemzadeh replies:
I am baffled by Clawson’s letter. He claims that much of my article is devoted to attacks on Western scholars, whereas Western scholars are mentioned in only two of its twentyone paragraphs. In those paragraphs I name two scholars—Naipaul and Dreyfuss do not qualify—and raise objections to the statements of one. Though his errors are not “a cardinal sin,” they do demonstrate lack of knowledge. Like Mr. Clawson, I do not see California as a sordid place, but I fail to see the logic of his argument that since California is the state with the largest population, it is proper to assume that it has the “most of any religious group.”
My article did concern itself with the history of the Bahai faith because a minimal knowledge of that history is necessary for an understanding of the present Iranian regime’s attack upon the Bahais. If Mr. Clawson can point out any errors of fact in my version of history, I would take his criticism to heart.
I should like, in conclusion, to express my appreciation of Mr. Clawson’s generous concern for the human rights of Bahais in Iran.
September 23, 1982