Most Baha’is will have no clue what is behind the decision of the US NSA to boycott Kalimat Press. Nor will they understand how exactly a publisher of such high caliber can be charged and convicted of acting against ‘the best interests of the Faith’. No doubt some will write to inquire just what variety of the finest Moroccan chronic inspired the NSA to come up with such a decision. I share their perplexity.This latest decision is in keeping with the recent pattern of behavior from the NSA and other high ranking Baha’i institutions. It comes in the form of an accusation, judgment and conviction all rolled into one (skipping that pesky little ‘old-world’ due process thingy). And it is both sufficiently vague and ominous sounding to make any attempt at defense further proof of guilt.
As Steve mentions on his new blog, there is no rational or logical explanation for this decision. Were the intentions of the US NSA to ‘protect’ the community from ‘inimical’ books, then they could just ask Kalimat to either stop marketing books which have not undergone Baha’i review or instruct the Baha’i distribution channels and LSAs to not buy and resell these books specifically. After all, Baha’i books which have indeed passed through review, can not be ‘inimical’, can they? But the imposition of a wholesale and blanket boycott of all of the offerings from Kalimat Press smacks of something else entirely.
“Hi, we’re from the NSA’s Book Purity Committee. Got any from Kalimat?”
But before we get to that, lets assume for a minute that the intentions of the US NSA is to ‘protect’ the community from inimical books… do I really need to point out and discuss just how ludicrous this is from an institution which should be inspired and motivated by Baha’i ideals? What is a book, after all, if not ideas? Do you really expect me to expound on the ridiculousness of the whole affair in the light of the principle of the independent investigation of truth? in the high esteem that scholarship and study are held within the Baha’i Faith? in the light of how each Baha’i is expected to deepen in the Faith through contemplation? in the light of how each Baha’i is instructed to read the Writings morn and eve?
Here’s the thing: even if a book is the most hateful, vituperative, and inimical work out there, and even if it is authored by the biggest and baddest Covenant-breaker, Baha’is are still allowed to read it. I know this is an extreme example and that Kalimat Press has never carried such works nor do they presently carry such works in their inventory… but I’m saying, even if they sold that extreme of ‘inimical’ books, it would not be a reason to boycott them.
As Baha’is, we are given permission to read even such vitriolic words. The choice is ours to make! It has not been made unlawful. So how in the world – when a Covenant Breaker book is permissible – then, can an NSA make a decision to shut down access to Baha’i books which are either recognized academic works or Baha’i books having gone through the NSA’s own review process?
Anyway I try to look at this decision, it just doesn’t make any sense. The only way I can make it have meaning, unfortunately, is to see it as a thinly veiled attempt to extinguish Kalimat Press. Having expelled the author of a book they do not like, action is now taken against the publishing house.
I assume a very large portion of Kalimat’s sales come from the channels offered by Baha’i institutions. (In most countries, a Baha’i distribution network is set up which buys and resells books and materials from publishers. When you go to a Baha’i bookstore, say at the Baha’i center in your locality, they have acquired their books through such channels.) Of course, there are sales which are made to the customer directly. And this portion would be growing, I imagine, with the trend towards online shopping. But still I don’t imagine that it represents any significant portion of Kalimat’s total sales.
“Right. Now, if you’d just step aside, we’ll take it from here.”
Losing access to the Baha’is through the channel provided by the Baha’i distribution system in the US is devastating to Kalimat from a financial point of view. Overnight, they are faced with not only a sudden stoppage in sales, but a return of material as obedient Baha’i centers, localities and bookstores everywhere return their merchandise. Oh, yes. If you recall, the NSA’s letter instructed the Baha’is to not acquire or sell – which means that no new purchases will happen and those already made will be reversed though returns.
And although the direct channel continues to be technically open, the fact is that many Baha’is are simply not versed in using the internet, are not willing to pay the shipping cost or don’t trust making online payments. But beyond these niggling disadvantages, the huge barrier to direct sales will be that most Baha’is will interpret the decison of the NSA to boycott Kalimat to mean that they themselves should not buy from them either. Of course, this is not what the NSA said at all. But at the same time, the NSA is keenly aware that such a decision will have this sort of repercussion. This allows them to disavow responsibility (if Kalimat does go under) because they did not explicitly direct Bahais to boycott Kalimat, but rather only denied them access to internal distribution channels. Machiavelli would get teary eyed to have such proteges.
So far, Kalimat has publicly responded only by adding this to their website in red text:
All books published by Kalim??t Press have been reviewed and approved for publication by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States.
They can also, of course, appeal the decision. But realistically it doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being reversed. In fact, I would not at all be surprised to see other NSAs soon following the lead of the US in this decision. In that case, it would confirm my suspicions that it did originate from the House of Justice (and/or the ITC).
“‘Paragraph 77′ ? What do you mean, ‘Paragraph 77′ ?”
The more I think about it, the more I realize that Karen is right when she says that ‘they’ don’t really care who they marginalize, who they malign, who they shut out. They don’t really care how much they damage the Faith, both from inside the community and outside. They really don’t. As astoundingly crass and insensitive as such an attitude is, they do harbor it. They are ready to destroy the village, in order to save the village. This latest decision stands out among a handful of stupid decisions – quite a feat in and of itself – and proves it beyond a doubt.
Look, I admit it. Things look pretty grim right now. But we can either look myopically to right here, right now, and get downright depressed. Or we can choose to extend our vision beyond ourselves and into the future. If we do that, we see what Abdu’l-Baha meant when He described such things as ‘foam of the ocean’. Eventually they will be cast onto the shore and expelled from the mighty and surging waters of Baha’u’llah’s Faith. In the meantime, there are much more positive things that we can be doing.
Karen’s commentary on her blog.
Alison’s commentary and podcast on her blog.
Kalimat Press website.
US NSA’s letters to LSAs and to Kalimat re its boycott of Kalimat.
NSA letter to LSAs (pdf file).
NSA letter to Kalimat Press (pdf file).