Sunday, October 16, 2005

Baha'i Individual Initiative and Varqa Magazine

Back in the days when I was an enrolled Baha'i, there would nearly always be, circulated at Feast, various pamplets advertising from companies whose market consists largely of Baha'is: Kalimat Press, Oneworld, Special Ideas, etc. that sell Baha'i books, jewelry, prayer beads, promotional materials like t-shirts and bumper stickers. When I was Secretary, I used to get that stuff in the mail all the time. Selling Baha'i items means that a company is trying to reach a niche market, to say the least, and these companies do this with the permission of the institutions. Kalimat, for example, was once described in a UHJ letter as having "privileged access" to the Baha'i community. But without that "privilege", it would be nearly impossible to reach Baha'is at all, except for repeat customers. Membership lists are not given out, except to Secretaries who are asked to keep them confidential.

Well, a few years ago, a Baha'i gentleman, as a labor of love, revived the children's magazine Varqa. It is not so much a "Baha'i magazine" like Brilliant Star, but a magazine based on Baha'i principles. Here's the description:

Varqa International Children's Magazine is a full-colour literary magazine for children ages 7 to 14 and is entirely advertisement-free. Varqa, whose name means “dove,” the symbol of peace and bearer of good news, is dedicated to the spiritual and intellectual development of children. It strives to generate hope and constructive energy for the future of humankind inspired by the principles of the Bahá'í Faith, namely:
unity of mankind
unity of religions
the equality of women and men
the independent investigation of truth
celebration of social justice, diversity, cultures, creativity, and art
universal education
appreciation of nature
protection of the environment


Like many projects taken on for idealistic reasons, it is barely staying afloat. However, this man, who knows some of the UHJ members was told that the House will not allow him to promote his magazine through the LSAs. This was done informally and orally, so there is no paper trail. One House member told him this, claiming that the others were on his side. Without access to local Baha'i communities, the magazine is cut off from promoting to its primary audience.

The administration says that it encourages individual initiative, but I hear stories like this all the time, where individual initiative is simply squashed. My feeling is that you have to be the "right" individual. As I understand it, no reason was given for this prohibition. Somebody up there doesn't like this guy personally? They don't want competition to "official" Baha'i magazines? They don't like a magazine based on "principles" rather than directly teaching the religion? Who knows?

Anyway, those of you out there, Baha'i or not, who have young children should check this magazine out at their website, and consider subscribing or otherwise offering your support.

7 comments:

Valerie said...

Thanks for the link to the magazine. I've enjoyed reading through your posts too.

Jon said...

Hi, just a small note re. individual initiative vs. official initiative:

Official Baha'i magazines are used to report the activities of the world & local communities, to keep various communities up to date on plans and letters, and are usually run under the aegis of National Assemblies. They are an administrative tool, essentially.

Magazines like Varqa, while noble and beneficial and great, are run privately, and therefore operate as businesses.

Assemblies are fantastic institutions for communication, but they are administrative institutions. To use them for advertizing and distribution of privately published resources would be unwise, because it blurs the line between religious administration and personal business. Imagine a minister pimping Narnia in his sermon. I dunno about you, but that gives me shivers (the bad kind).

Varqa /is/ a good magazine. Here in Canada at least, it's advertized in the magazine produced by the National Assembly.

Take care!

Baquia said...

Jon,

gimme a break! LSAs receive commercial advertisements in the form of pamphlets and direct mails all the time. Whether for Baha'i jewelery or a retreat, or a summer/winter school, etc.

The LSA secretary puts the stuff on the table and anyone who wants to get more info can do so. And anyone else can just ignore it.

This is not about the LSAs pimping a 'commercial interest' like a movie. This is about LSAs informing their members about the existence of a wonderful chidren's magazine that can be used in conjunction with their children's classes.

The personal decision to shut down such an avenue, which lets face it, is the only one with which a venture such as Varqa can cost effectively reach its target market, dooms them to failure.

It is a reprehensible decision and unfortunately it seems the person running Varqa is such a sensitive and obedient Baha'i, even a whisper from a member (not the whole institution) is enough for him to chuck all his hard work.

The way things are done in the community is dysfunctional. No wonder things are stagnant and moribund.

Anonymous said...

Just so people know, none of the other organizations whose advertisements end up in the LSA mailbox have been given access to official mailing lists either. Most have just been around collecting addresses (often paying other Baha'is to submit them) for enough years that they reach a fair percentage of the country.

The NSA's policy of not promoting independent publishers goes so far that when communities send articles describing successful teaching efforts to The American Baha'i, they are censored to remove the name of the publisher of the materials used, or a description of them.

The other difficulty that Varqa faced was that the US NSA decided to give away free subscriptions of Brilliant Star just as Varqa was about to take off. A wonderful gift, but the timing was unfortunate to say the least.

Baquia said...

Doesn't make any sense. No one is saying that Varqa was given a list of addresses.

What they're saying is that Varqa is being discriminated agains. Treated unfairly and unlike other entities that engage in the same behavior.

But then again, there are always people who will twist things and spin them to confuse even the simplest of facts.

sheesh

Anonymous said...

Just passing by. More is said by the attitude than in logic and presumption. As everyone who has experience in and knowledge of the Bahá'í Faith knows, there are fair and dignified ways to criticize the Instutions of the Faith, which are certainly open to this. One is the first Institution established in the Faith, The 19 Day Feast. There, grass-root Bahá'ís remark and consult about matters pertaining to the local and national communities. When posting criticisms over the internet it is not merely between those chatting but accessed by anyone in the world. Be fair and consider the ethics of such actions. Hopefully anyone reading blogs such as these will be inspired to investigate the truth for themselves and not be swayed by mere randome complaints, especially by those who are no longer members of the Bahá'í Faith.

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