November 21, 2007

Mr Erfanian had finished his story and sat down in his allocated seat humbly and greatly afflicted. The room was silent. The other six men seemed … taken aback.

They were an international bunch, the men of the Universal House of Justice. Those present:

Mr Omid Enayati – American, of Iranian ethnicity
Mr Behrouz Erfanian – Israeli, of Iranian ethnicity
Mr Ammar Fadl – Egyptian
Mr Michael James – American
Mr Steven Selwood – English
Mr Fabio da Silva – Brazilian
Mr Kevin Thompson – Canadian

Apologies (still in transit):
Mr Underwood – Australian
Mr Young – Moroccan, of Iranian ethnicity

You may wonder why only the Iranian ethnicity is highlighted. Me too! Except to note that the Iranian Baha’i diaspora, resulting from the overthrow of the Shah in the Iranian revolution in 1979 and subsequent refugee programs, play a very important part in the development of the Baha’i Faith.

[Mr Selwood]:
“Goodness, gracious. So, you are saying Layla is the illegitimate child of a covenant breaker? And… and weren’t the Afnans relatives of the Báb, not Bahá’u’lláh?”

[Mr Erfanian]:
“Dear Steven, I have to. I have no choice. It is the truth. And it happened near the Shrine of the Báb no less. Awful. Steven, Afnan’s mother was Bahá’u’lláh’s great granddaughter. Of course, yes, Afnan was also descended from the relatives of the Báb through his father.

Friends, I knew I had to do something to avoid this knowledge coming out and I had no time to consult with the other members, except Omid, and then only very briefly. It had to be right there and then. As I said, I asked Behzad Rezvani in Chicago to ascertain as much information as he could from McGuire. Of course, Behzad knew not to link this information gathering to the House. The result of his discussion is before you. If we want continued involvement we have to reply by 6pm Eastern Time.

I must tell you that McGuire insisted on five hundred thousand dollars to talk to Behzad. I had to agree to this and told Behzad to take it out of our retainer funds. Anyway, that’s the heads-up, it’s up to consultation now. I think we should pull every stop out but in any case, I have done my best, my conscious is at rest.”

[Mr Enayati]:
“You have done a remarkable job in the circumstances Behrouz.”

[Mr James]:
“6pm Eastern Time is in less than one hour! I can’t think this out so quick, we’ll have to pass.”

[Mr Enayati]:
“I don’t see that option Michael. Think of the difficulties. The Universal House of Justice will be humiliated in the eyes of the world for failing to deal with the abuse. Just at the time when we are trying to gain a voice at the World Strategy Council to steer the next stage of world development. Or, just as importantly, that can of worms will be opened up again. Goodness, the streams will be bursting with more ill-considered claims from the rank and file of Layla being the next prophet. [In a patronizing parody] ‘She is, she is the next prophet. One thousand years was a red herring, the prophecy only applies to men. It was divine protection of her from men’. I don’t think I can take all that again. Or they’ll insist she be considered as a new Guardian. Oh, and gentlemen, you all know the rumour that used to circulate. The one that a teller at the Universal House of Justice elections had said that Layla had been given sufficient votes to get on the House in the last five elections! That will be dusted off again I’m sure. But can you believe how these people think?

Hold on, wait, I know, we’ll end up being accused of disappearing her. Any way you go, it will be a nightmare. We must act decisively to get these assets; this cannot be let out to the world raw. We should pay. We can get that money.”

[Mr Thompson]:
“I thought she did get enough. In one election. The votes just had to be declared invalid, not a Baha’i, not a man.”

[Mr da Silva]:
“Kevin, you of all people would know that it was just a negotiating tactic of the Unenrolled Bahai’s to send a message to the House at the time. They picked Layla, it could have been any cartoon character.”

[Mr Erfanian]:
“Time is short, gentlemen. Let’s get back to discussing the issue at hand. Omid jahn, yes, you are right. This is a situation that needs proactive management. And… and if we can buy a last bid option that would be crucial. We wouldn’t have to actually outlay ourselves for the full rights, we can use it to partner with a big media company that must agree to our terms. I envisage that the big media company would pay a large percentage or all of it and we would subsequently provide it with reviewed and due diligently produced materials. We would certainly get back the price of the last bid option by charging for this service. It could even be a great investment opportunity! See! It is even an opportunity, the confirmations of Baha’u’llah surround us and the Supreme Concourse are urging us to throw off our timid garments and stride forth confidently with our necks stretched to meet and grapple the complexities of world unity.”

[Mr da Silva]:
“But how do we know that this repository is valid? People can do all sorts of manipulation with media these days. It may be computer generated. And even if it is valid, it may not even show the event you have just related, or may not show it clearly.”

[Mr Erfanian]:
“We can’t take that chance Fabio. I think we are ready to take a vote on whether to proceed with McGuire or to let this opportunity pass forever.

[Mr Fadl]:
”No need to do that Behrouz, I have it covered. Let me toss my Consultation Coin. I haven’t used it in months. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for yes, Shoghi Effendi for no?”

[Mr Erfanian]:
“Ammar, put that coin away. It was funny once but this is very, very serious.”

[Mr Fadl]:
“Okay Behrouz. Listen, I don’t mean to be insensitive to you. You have been under considerable stress today and I do know you have the best of intentions. However, the Universal House of Justice cannot make impulsive decisions. Let us all prepare ourselves for consultation. “

[Mr da Silva]:
“Indeed Ammar. That is appropriate. Behrouz, please?”

[Mr Erfanian deferentially]:
“Of course. [The seven prepare for prayer.]

O Thou Lord of the Kingdom! Though our bodies be gathered here together, yet our spellbound hearts are carried away by Thy love, and yet are we transported by the rays of Thy resplendent face. Weak though we be, we await the revelations of Thy might and power. Poor though we be, with neither goods nor means, still take we riches from the treasures of Thy Kingdom. Drops though we be, still do we draw from out Thy ocean deeps. Motes though we be, still do we gleam in the glory of Thy splendid Sun.

O Thou our Provider! Send down Thine aid, that each one gathered here may become a lighted candle, each one a center of attraction, each one a summoner to Thy heavenly realms, till at last we make this nether world the mirror image of Thy Paradise.


[Mr Thompson]:
“I think we are all thankful to Behrouz for providing his information. In order to gain a fuller appreciation of the facts of the matter I would like to attempt a communicate with Behzad Rezvani. Vote?

[The motion is carried, 4-3]

Fine. Let’s do it. Ammar?”

Rezvani is at his desk in Chicago and recognizing the caller responds immediately.

[Behzad Rezvani]:
“Allah’u’abhá. It is a tremendous privilege to be present with the House in session.”

[Mr Fadl]:
“Allah’u’abhá, Behzad. You’ll be aware that we are short on time. However, with that in mind, can you recount for us your discussions with Mr Erfanian and Mr McGuire?”

[Behzad Rezvani]:
“Of course. Which part specifically?”

[Mr Fadl]:
“All of it. We have voted to hear all of it. Do you understand this Behzad?”

[Mr Erfanian]:
“If I may interject Ammar. There is no time to go through everything. Behzad, tell us about the final request of McGuire. We have your communicate here, maybe we need you to paraphrase it for us. Also, you were going to draft a copy of our response for signature should we need it, yes?”

[Behzad Rezvani]:
“I don’t recall that Mr Erfanian but I can certainly get started on it now if you wish.”

[Mr Fadl]:
“No Behzad. Please tell us all, from the beginning.”

[Mr Erfanian]:
“I want a vote on that! Who is for focusing on McGuire’s final request?”

The motion is not carried 2-5.

[Mr Fadl]:
“Only two for. Okay, that settles it. Behzad, from the beginning please.”

This was the situation that Rezvani had been dreading all day. Mr Erfanian was clearly in the minority. But with the clarity came relief and Rezvani resolved himself to lay it out as it happened.

[Behzad Rezvani]:
“Okay, I got a communicate from Mr Erfanian not too long after the press conference. He gave me the terms of reference here [waving terms of reference] – I’ll send you a copy for your records although I’m sure you’ll already have it. Broadly, it involved getting to talk to Mr McGuire of McGuire Management Corporation in order to sound him out regarding some possible proposals for the purchasing of distribution rights for the Layla repository. I informed Mr Erfanian that it might be difficult to make direct contact with McGuire. At this point Mr Erfanian authorized me to offer McGuire two hundred thousand dollars for a short conversation. McGuire rejected this offer but said that he would talk for five hundred thousand dollars. I informed Mr Erfanian and he authorized the release of the additional funds. As a point of information – the funds were taken from the retainer amount and it will be necessary to top this back up in due course.

It turned out to be a very difficult talk with McGuire. He was very much aware that he held all the cards and, although he was not dismissive, he didn’t give much away or wish to make any agreement. He did seem suspicious and underlined the need to know who I was representing and, basically, wanted to receive an official, written statement of the position and offer.

I then relayed a précis of my discussion with McGuire to Mr Erfanian who asked me to send him the communicate, reference number HJ0084543/20481020.”

[Mr Fadl]:
“Yes, we have that document.”

[Behzad Rezvani]:
“Good. And that’s pretty much it. I may get a communicate from McGuire. I just need to know the position before I respond to him.”

[Mr Thompson]:
“Bezhad, if we do as requested by McGuire, what do you think our chances are?”

[Behzad Rezvani]:
“I don’t think you have any chance of getting any of your wishes. I believe McGuire will just use any firm figures that you give to him as leverage on his big-moneyed clients. I’d have to think you would need to offer ten to twenty times the figures already mentioned to be in with a shout.”

[Mr Erfanian]:
“Behzad jahn, that is not a matter for you. [To the other members.] If it is necessary to engage a professional negotiator outside of Rezvani and Chooper, so be it.”

[Mr Selwood]:
“I think, perhaps, that is enough Behrouz. Behzad, can this be traced to us?”

[Behzad Rezvani]:
“I can assure you that I gave no indication of my clients’ name. The five hundred thousand can, of course, be traced to our firm but not to you. They could find out that I am Baha’i or, more likely, that my firm represents the Baha’i Faith and maybe link that with Layla. In any case they can’t prove anything and they can’t audit our internal systems. Even if they could I’ve hidden the transaction pretty well. If I’m asked I will cite client confidentiality. Moreover, I doubt McGuire will care that much.”

[Mr Selwood]:
“Well that is all from me Behzad. Anyone else need to ask anything? [No takers] No, well thanks very much. We will be back in touch in a few minutes one way or another.”

[Behzad Rezvani]:
“A great pleasure.”

With that the communicate ended.

[Mr Fadl]:
“Given the enormous sums of money involved and the fact that our expert, Rezvani, thinks there is no chance of success, despite his earlier communicate to us to the contrary, I propose to not go any further with McGuire. Vote? Yes, I count at least four votes to discontinue.”

[Mr Erfanian]:
“Whoa there, whoa. We have not consulted enough. Of course I am happy with any decision of the House but we must go through the process properly. What are the pros and cons? For example, what harm is there in getting involved in the negotiation? We don’t have to win it. If for some reason we are given the last bid option at our bid price we can easily pass it on to a big media company at twice the price.

Let us at least put the proposals as suggested to McGuire and buy some time during the negotiating process. We will have a seat at the table. Who knows how it will turn out? Maybe we will get to see some of what we are buying and maybe we will find out it is not credible… see… isn’t that reasonable?”

[Mr Thompson]:
“I think it is important now for me to be very frank Behrouz. Consider the situation. A religious organisation is part of the negotiation process to buy the repository, under any arrangement, in order to release bits as and when it has checked them out. That’s not going to fly with people. Anyway, there’d be pirated copies out day one. There is not an iota of a possibility that we can control this. Even if we could, we cannot get involved with this on principle. What aspect of justice is it we are interested in? The reputation of the Faith being sullied because of a rape in 1984 in the World Centre? Surely, any action we take on that account would not be to hide the truth but, now that we have learned of it, to bring it to the attention of the Haifan authorities. It is really their decision then whether to let it slide under statute of limitations or to pursue it in some respect.”

Mr Erfanian shakes his head in disbelief and is perceptibly unimpressed by Mr Thompson’s contribution.

[Mr Enayati]:
“Kevin, Kevin. Let me also be Frank. First, ignoring completely the whole repository aspect, allow me to address the following issue – we have just found out from a third party source, Behrouz, that there was a rape at the World Centre in 1984. Sixty four years ago. The only witness still alive is the victim, now a very elderly lady. Even the accused is long dead. A former House member, Behrouz‘s father, at the scene decided against bringing the attention to the authorities as a mercy to Afsaneh. Who is it that will get justice, who will benefit by informing the police now? Afsaneh Parkin certainly doesn’t want it dragged up! That’s why she immediately called Behrouz when she thought it might become common knowledge. Surely it would be a great injustice to her for the matter to be resurrected on a whim. And equally as surely, avoiding injustice is itself just. Okay, after hearing this, if the fact of the rape could never be found out by anyone else, who here would support bringing it to the police? [No one raises a hand.] Good, now let’s abandon any high-minded, decontextualized notions of justice.

Getting back to McGuire. Behrouz, accept the vote. This consultation has convinced me from my former position. Getting anywhere near this bidding process will taint the House far worse than any possible repercussion due to an unreported rape in 1984. Everyone, this may never see the light of day. If it does, it may not be credible. If it is credible, we will respond with dismay to the event and reaffirm our commitment to following the laws of the land whilst highlighting the relative immaturity that most people and institutions had towards sexual abuse in the late twentieth century. Sadly, this will not help Afsaneh should she still be alive. We would pray for her and request that all Baha’is around the world support her to the limit of their abilities.

In short, ‘no’ to McGuire and ‘yes’ to the justice of keeping Afsaneh Parkin’s story to ourselves. Anyone against that? [Every member was shaking his head in agreement.] Great. This meeting is complete.

Will I convey the decision to Rezvani? Good, I will do it right away. I will also organize the Secretariat to write a warm and supportive letter to Afsaneh.

Let us finish with the Remover of Difficulties.

Is there any Remover of difficulties save God?
Say: Praised be God! He is God!
All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!”

Just as Mr Enayati finished a message came through from reception. “I’m very sorry but there is a Mr McGuire on communicate. He says it is very urgent that he talk to you.” This was quite startling to all assembled but Mr Erfanian in particular was the most disquieted.

[Mr Enayati]:
“Please pass the following message to Mr McGuire:
The World Centre business hours are between 8am and 5pm Israel Standard Time. However, feel free to leave your message and our administrative staff will deal with it as efficiently as possible when they are next available.

Do not communicate with him outside of this scope. Under no circumstances indicate that the House is available to talk with him. Thank you.”

The members rose and wished each other good night and began to exit in twos and threes. Mr Enayati went to Mr Erfanian.

[Mr Enayati]:
“Behrouz, you were very lucky tonight. Your heart is in the right place but they were never going to agree to your proposal. I am certain that if I had left the meeting take the direction it was heading there would have been a motion to dismiss you on the basis that your actions were injurious. I would have to have supported that motion Behrouz my dear friend. It was obvious that the document Rezvani communicated was not his own work. This was far too risky. However, I am with you in spirit. This repository could be very damaging to the Cause. We need to gain information about it very discretely. Let’s sleep and get together in the morning over breakfast. Let’s find out if any Baha’is work close to McGuire.”


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