Monday, January 30, 2006

Baha'i Scholars as Collateral Damage

There have been some rumblings online from writers and scholars about the NSA's boycott of Kalimat Press, as might be expected. There's a lot of fear out there, because they know what this means for anyone who has published with Kalimat, yet they also know the consequences of publicly -- even on a small email list -- criticizing a decision of a Baha'i institution.

However, one of them got a letter back today from the US NSA, which I hesitate to show in its entirety, because there's personal stuff in it, and the person involved seems rather torn two ways between talking about this publicly, and simply hoping that going through approved Baha'i channels will resolve the problems. So, I'm not going to shove him into the limelight if he's reticent -- although this letter could very well pop up elsewhere; the email list it was posted on doesn't have a no-forwarding rule.

Anyway, the NSA is quite aware that their actions create enormous difficulties for Baha'i scholars, but the attitude appears to be "Sorry, but it's your problem". Apparently, smearing Kalimat in the eyes of the community is important enough that hurting virtually every prominent Baha'i scholar is worth it to them. And Baha'i scholarship itself ranks so low on the list of priorities that for the sake of a few books they don't like, they are willing to allow all the other work that Kalimat has produced to be tainted.

What caught my attention was this: "As to the distribution of those titles of which the Assembly approves, this has been the approach for a number of years and has only emboldened and enabled Kalimát Press to carry more harmful titles." That is, the policy has been for the Baha'i Distribution Service to simply avoid purchasing the titles it doesn't approve of -- at least in the US; I noted that a couple of the controversial titles are being carried by the UK BDS. And actually, that's a fair way to approach things -- I certainly would never say that the NSA is obligated to buy books it doesn't approve of. Like any other buyer, it can make choices. However, what struck me about this passage was the decision that this approach wasn't working i.e. Kalimat just kept distributing books the NSA didn't like anyway. What this tells me is that the NSA expects this action to destroy Kalimat. After all, if Baha'is continue to buy Kalimat books, as the NSA keeps saying they have the right to do, then things will go on pretty much as before, and Kalimat will be just as "emboldened and enabled" as it has ever been, which is clearly not their goal here.

This is why all this stuff about how it's only the severing of a business relationship, and that Baha'i are free to buy from Kalimat etc. is just so much bovine manure. A business relationship can be severed without a big public announcement -- and if Kalimat survives this, because Baha'is continue to buy these books, then even stronger measures will be taken either against the company or against its owners. Because they don't want these books to have any influence on the thinking of Baha'is.

The really insane thing about all this is that these titles, while controversial, are not harmful. They are ideas that can be openly discussed and debated, just like anything else. The big problem hereis that the institutions think they have to play thought police. They say they don't want to name the "inimical" titles because they don't want to create a list of banned books, yet for the sake of those books they say they aren't banning, they are willing to destroy an entire publisher and risk the reputation of many, maybe most, Baha'i writers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Friends of Kalimat

Some of us are organizing to support Kalimat Press during this difficult time. For those unfamiliar with the situation, check out the story here.
The letters ordering all Baha'i agencies in the U.S. to stop buying books from Kalimat can be found here or on the administrative website. (You need a Baha'i i.d. number to get into the latter.)

We feel that this decision is unjust because:

1. Only three or four titles have content that can be documented as being seen as objectionable by the administration, yet all of Kalimat's publications are being stigmatized. All of these titles are books that are only being distributed by Kalimat, but have come from other publishers.

2. The controversial titles include high-quality academic work published by reputable university presses. For the NSA to cease doing business with Kalimat for distributing these books just makes the Faith look ridiculous.

2. This is not just a matter of the NSA deciding not to buy books from a publisher; they publicized this decision in *The American Baha'i* in a clear effort to stigmatize Kalimat Press. If the NSA disapproves of what Kalimat is doing, it could simply refrain from ordering the books it doesn't like, or write to them about it -- to go public means that this is something beyond a judgement about what is appropriate for the NSA and its agencies to sell. Already some Baha'is are publicly saying that they will avoid buying any Kalimat publication because of the NSA's judgement.

4. Enrolled Baha'i authors, whose work went through the Baha'i review process, are being put in danger of being suspected of wrongdoing by the community, since the NSA has not specified which books it considers "inimical". These are people that are perfectly innocent even by the most conservative of Baha'i standards.

5. All materials that Kalimat Press publishes itself (as opposed to just distributing it) has passed Baha'i review. Kalimat wasn't required to put books from other publishers through review; in other words, they followed the rules and are getting nailed anyway.

So we are encouraging a variety of respnses:

*Buy books direct from Kalimat, especially those that Kalimat distributes from other publishers. The titles that are known to be controversial are all in this category anyway.

*Buy Kalimat's books for donation to local and university libraries. Talk to the librarians about what you're doing. Libraries take a dim view of censorship; some even have a "banned book" week that promote the reading of books that have been banned during various times and places.

*Write a letter of protest to the NSA. The administration is always saying that criticism must take place within channels -- well, here's your opportunity. Writing to your National Spiritual Assembly is one of those approved channels. Ask the NSA to specify which titles it thinks are "inimical" to the Faith, and why.

*Bring the matter up, either orally, or in written form to your LSA.

*Write a letter of support to Kalimat Press.

*Write reviews of your favorite Kalimat books at

*If you have a blog or other website, put a link to Kalimat Press on it.

Finally, we'd like you to write to to let us know what you're doing and how you feel about the NSA's decision. We'll keep all names confidential, but we may quote from emails, unless you specifically request us not to. So far, we have pledges to buy Kalimat books for libraries, and several people who just want to buy books for themselves.

It should be noted -- especially since my blog stats tell me that this site has had several visits from the US BNC -- that the owners of Kalimat Press have nothing to do with this effort, and have not been included in the discussions about it. Therefore, any reprisals against them would be completely unjust.

Al Gore's Speech

I haven't been posting about current events much lately, but this was brought to my attention this morning. Al Gore made a rousing MLK Day speech on how the current administration is putting our Constitutional rights at risk. I've always said, as Gore just did, that the biggest danger to our freedoms is fear -- it's when we feel under threat that we seem willing to start tossing our rights away for the sake of security. Wasn't it Ben Franklin that said "Those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."?

The neocons are not happy with this speech, and the mainstream media has not seen fit to cover it much -- so you know it has to be worth taking a look at:

The full text is here.

Video clips can be found here.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Karen Unmasked!

On a lighter note: Baha'i Angst, that master of Baha'i satire, takes a shot at recent speculations about by identity, by revealing who Karen Bacquet really is. And since the pronunciations of my name, both current and former, gave Angst such a hard time, I thought I'd respond in audio form.
One point I forgot to add in this little audio is that Baha'i Angst got his info from the genealogy page of my website. But it only goes to show that nobody would *invent* last names that are unspellable and unpronounceable, if only to avoid the lifetime hassle I have endured of continually correcting people.

Anyway, so here's my response.