Saturday, August 05, 2006

Challenge from Women Priests

I found this article interesting. As I mentioned in my own article on women's exclusion, the Roman Catholic arguments sound very much like those the Baha'is use. When I was researching, I was reading some of the official statements, and if you changed a few technical terms, it could have been the UHJ talking.

The huge difference -- both an advantage and disadvantage -- is that the Baha'i exclusion applies only at the top. That means that it's easier to live with, and easier to ignore. It is also far more difficult to stage the type of protest this article is talking about. The "womenpriests" group can get male bishops to secretly ordain women, who can ordain other women, which gives a certain type of legitimacy. After all, men get to be priests by being ordained by bishops, too. But the Baha'i Faith has an elective structure. If some renegade NSA members, like these unnamed male bishops, decided to put women in a position where they are excluded (i.e. the UHJ), the ballots would be just quietly disqualified, and nobody would hear any more about it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Article on Women's Exclusion

My article, "When Principle and Authority Collide: Baha'i Responses to the Exclusion of Women from the Universal House of Justice" is now available online. Copies can also be purchased from Nova Religio.

The article has been a long time coming -- I started the survey in 2002, soon after the publication of my Cultic Studies Journal article. It started out with some questions I had about how prevalent Baha'i liberalism is, as opposed to Baha'i fundamentalism. Women's exclusion seemed a good issue to work with, because it was talked about endlessly during the first decade of Baha'i cyberspace, which gave me a lot of material. I also ran into some other questions along the way -- so it was a really good experience for me overall, even though there were times I thought it was going to just end up as another online article. Thanks to Catherine Wessinger and Rebecca Moore at Nova Religio, and to Juan Cole, for giving me advice when I was ready to pull my hair out over the whole thing.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Silly Quiz Time

You Are a Retrospective Soul

The most misunderstood of all the soul signs.
Sometimes you even have difficulty seeing yourself as who you are.
You are intense and desire perfection in every facet of your life.
You're best described as extremely idealistic, hardworking, and a survivor.

Great moments of insight and sensitivity come to you easily.
But if you aren't careful, you'll ignore these moments and repeat past mistakes.
For you, it is difficult to seperate the past from the present.
You will suceed once you overcome the disappoinments in life.

Souls you are most compatible with: Traveler Soul and Prophet Soul

Saturday, June 03, 2006

St. Rain on Kalimat

Justice St. Rain of Special Ideas has published a heartfelt essay in his catalog about the contributions that Kalimat Press has made to the Baha'i community over the years. Folks like myself, who came into the Faith after the 1970s, need to realize just how brave and pioneering an effort Kalimat was, at a time when independent Baha'i publishing was all but unheard-of, and even opposed in some quarters.

Justice carefully avoids criticizing the US NSA for its decision against Kalimat, instead taking aim at the rumors flying around the community about what it did wrong. However, I would suggest that such rumors are inevitable -- given that the NSA was both very public and very vague about its order to stop all of its agencies from carrying Kalimat books. The NSA knew very well what kind of impact this would have on the community's attitude towards Kalimat.

But Justice stays more positive than I, and is helping in a more practical way than I can: Special Ideas will be carrying the full line of books from Kalimat Press. This company carries a broad variety of Baha'i materials, including not only books but prayer beads, Baha'i jewelry, music, proclamation materials, etc. So, it's worth checking out -- and certainly worth supporting a publisher which has made such a bold, yet non-confrontational statement on the situation.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Baha'is Online

Well, folks, I'm more or less back. During most of this spring, I just haven't had the time, energy, or thought to say much of anything online -- which is bad for a blog, since people stop checking back to see what you've said if you don't update. Well, what can I say? I'm not Juan Cole.

But this weekend I've been messing around a bit on Wikipedia, and posting a little to an email list, so I thought I'd stop by here. One thing that has developed during my vacation is Steve Marshall's website Baha'is Online It contains a fine collection of opinion essays, articles on mysticism, news affecting the Baha'i community, discussions on the arts, humor, and satire. The material comes from a variety of Baha'i perspectives. The site began rather slowly, mostly recycling a lot of old articles, including my own, but Steve has brought together a lot of good stuff -- worth checking out.

Steve commented that there has been a great resurgence of individual Baha'i activity on the Internet -- partly due to technical developments, and partly due to a weariness with the "Baha'i Wars". Well, that's one reason why I started blogging. And, actually, this change seems to be resulting in better quality material being put out there. Maybe it's turning out that people are not at their best when they are crossing swords; debate too easily devolves into personal hostility and name-calling.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Teachers vs. Parents

Some of my online friends are probably wondering where I've been these days -- for the past week or so, I haven't even been answering all my email. Well, I've been teaching and parenting, and there have been some very important issues going on so that I just haven't been able to concentrate my energies online at all.

First of all, as some of you know, I got a long-term sub job in a special education class, which will probably last until the end of the school year. And, I've been having a great time. I'd subbed several times in this class, and was familiar with both the teachers and students there -- it's a very friendly and supportive environment. Even though special ed students can be difficult, it is a much more "mellow" environment that the regular classroom. The class is small, and there is a lot of adult help. You do have the occasional meltdown by one of these kids (one of the teachers asked "Why do I always get the ones who kick?), but even then, everyone keeps their cool until the storm passes. But the room is chronically short-handed, since the needs of these kids are such that all of them really should have a one-on-one aide. One of the other teachers is a sub, like me, who has been there since the beginning of the year. I think, too, that the main teacher tries to do more with these kids academically than most Special Ed. classrooms do -- which is a good thing, because these kids are quite capable of learning.

The biggest thing going on now is that an autistic boy, who was completely non-verbal when I first met him last year, is now beginning to talk -- and even to read a little! We're all so excited, and we pass on to each other the latest thing he said. Of course, we aren't talking about scintillating conversation here -- it’s along the lines of “I want toy” and “No juice.” Although yesterday, he saw a Willy Wonka poster in the library and said “Chocolate” several times. These are moments of excitement in Special Ed. His parents are ecstatic -- they come from Mexico and they said that down there, this child wouldn’t have even been able to go to school at all.

So, now that I’m working steady, I have less time for everything else -- housework, volunteer work, and, of course, the Internet. But I’ve also got something else going on that’s consuming my non-work hours and a good deal of my emotional and mental energy: I’m fighting my daughter’s school about an unwise decision they are making about her future.

Teachers and parents ought to be, and actually sometimes are, natural allies -- they are, after all, concerned about the welfare of the same children. However, they are frequently antagonistic. Being a teacher myself, who has heard many conversations at many schools about many children and their families, I can’t remember the last time I heard anything complimentary about a parent. The general attitude hovers between patronizing and contemptuous. And, to a certain extent, this is understandable -- you see children who are not being taken care of at even the most basic level, or who are allowed to stay up all hours watching t.v. while the homework is neglected, etc. Oh, a nice smile is trotted out for parent conferences, but at bottom, teachers generally think that parents are really stupid. Since I also sit on the other side of the fence, I know that teachers and school administrators can be infuriating -- making judgements when they really don’t know all your home life circumstances, critical, and with a condescending “We’re the experts and we know best” demeanor.

I have, up until this point, generally gotten along with all the personnel at my children’s schools, with only a few minor differences over the years that blew over fairly quickly. My daughter has had a lot of trouble, and I have always been supportive and sympathetic about the teachers’ difficulties with her. But now, a line has been drawn in the sand:

We have been led to expect one thing, and now they are insisting on another. In short, we have been lied to. We insisted on a meeting to discuss the issue, and we get back a Student Study Team form that set up a meeting to discuss something else -- and it took us two faxes to the principal to make it clear that our issue is to be discussed. When we got this meeting, it was clear that our wishes would get no serious consideration and that, from their perspective, the whole point of the meeting was to convince us that they knew best. It’s no picnic, to sit around a table where you’ve got six people there telling you you’re wrong. The worst part of all was that, the school counsellor, who basically ran this meeting, controlled it very tightly. Any time things went in a direction he didn’t want it to go, he very deftly redirected the conversation -- and therefore, some very important points were swept under the carpet. Like the fact that we were misled about what the school would do about Tory’s difficulties. I politely observed that there had been some lack of clarity about the school’s policy, and recounted what we had been told by the principal last year. The principal opened his mouth to answer, and the counsellor rapidly changed the subject so that issue was never pursued.

They shouldn’t have screwed with me. Because now I’ve carefully read the school board’s written policy, and the education code, and have discovered that there are several required procedures they have ignored -- and they have lied to us about what the policy actually is. Also, since the counsellor ran straight over the top of us at the first meeting, we are bringing a lawyer to our appeal. What is clear to me is that, because our daughter is a difficult child behaviorally, they are willing to completely disregard her academic welfare -- figuring, I suppose, that she’s impossible to teach anyway.

So, my husband and I are prepared to take this up the chain as far as we have to, but being basically non-confrontational people, we’re hoping we don’t have to. It may very well be that simply bringing a lawyer with us to the next meeting will be enough to make them cave. We aren’t planning on a lawsuit, we just need someone there to make sure we are heard. Because right now, nobody wants to listen.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Kalimat Petition

The Friends of Kalimat have written a petition to ask the Universal House of Justice to suspend the US NSA's boycott of Kalimat Press, and to enter into consultation with the owners to resolve this conflict.

The petition can be read here. For those needed background information on the situation, a brief description of the situation is here. And, of course, I have several recent blog entries about what has happened.

I hope that my readers who appreciate the priceless contribution that Kalimat Press has made to Baha'i scholarship will stand with us in this effort.

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.