One of These Is Not Like the Other

One of These Is Not Like the Other

The activity most intimately linked to the consciousness that distinguishes human nature is the individual’s exploration of reality for himself or herself. The freedom to investigate the purpose of existence and to develop the endowments of human nature that make it achievable requires protection. Human beings must be free to know. That such freedom is often abused and such abuse grossly encouraged by features of contemporary society does not detract in any degree from the validity of the impulse itself.

It is this distinguishing impulse of human consciousness that provides the moral imperative for the enunciation of many of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration and the related Covenants. Universal education, freedom of movement, access to information, and the opportunity to participate in political life are all aspects of its operation that require explicit guarantee by the international community. The same is true of freedom of thought and belief, including religious liberty, along with the right to hold opinions and express these opinions appropriately.

“The Prosperity Of Humankind”
A Statement Prepared by the Bah??’?­ International Community’s Office of Public Information

The light of men is Justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny. The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men. The ocean of divine wisdom surgeth within this exalted word, while the books of the world cannot contain its inner significance.

His Holiness, Baha’u’llah
Sixth Leaf from Kalimat-i-Ferdowsiyyih (Words of Paradise)

Today we have closed our eyes to every righteous act and have sacrificed the abiding happiness of society to our own transitory profit. We regard fanaticism and zealotry as redounding to our credit and honor, and not content with this, we denounce one another and plot each other’s ruin, and whenever we wish to put on a show of wisdom and learning, of virtue and godliness, we set about mocking and reviling this one and that. â€?The ideas of such a one,â€? we say, â€?are wide of the mark, and so-and-so’s behavior leaves much to be desired. The religious observances of Zayd are few and far between, and â€?Amr is not firm in his faith. So-and-so’s opinions smack of Europe. Fundamentally, Blank thinks of nothing but his own name and fame…

With words such as these they assault the minds of the helpless masses and disturb the hearts of the already bewildered poor, who know nothing of the true state of affairs and the real basis for all such talk, and remain completely unaware of the fact that a thousand selfish purposes are concealed behind the supposedly religious eloquence of certain individuals. They imagine that speakers of this type are motivated by virtuous zeal, when the truth is that such individuals keep up a great hue and cry because they see their own personal ruin in the welfare of the masses, and believe that if the people’s eyes are opened, their own light will go out. Only the keenest insight will detect the fact that if the hearts of these individuals were really impelled by righteousness and the fear of God, the fragrance of it would, like musk, be spreading everywhere.

The Secret of Divine Civilization

To all Local Spiritual Assemblies

Dear Bah??’?­ Friends,

Enclosed for your information is a copy of our letter of today’s date addressed to Kalim??t Press. We ask you to comply with the decision we have made that all national and local Bah??’?­ agencies cease to distribute books and other items marketed by this publisher.

National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States

Hot Zone: Iran

Next week, Kevin Sites and the team at Hot Zone will be bringing their unique style of gritty, in-your-face journalism to Iran. Be sure to check it out.Getting to the bottom of what is happening in Iran right now is especially important with the current tensions which are intensifying between the EU, the US and the new Iranian regime. As I surmised months ago, there isn’t a whole lot that the world can do to prevent Iran from achieving its goal of full nuclear capability. And that is what they are after, in case it still wasn’t clear to you. Iran wants to control the full cycle (which explains why they rejected the recent Moscow overture to have enrichment done on their behalf in Russia). Needless to say, only by having full control over the complete nuclear process (including the vital uranium enrichment step) can they ever make nuclear weapons. This, along with the most ignored issue (Iran’s massive fossil fuel reserves) makes their repeated assertions of peaceful intentions, rather hollow.

Anyway, lets hope that Kevin Sites is able to break away from his government minders and actually have a frank conversation with Iranians and get the real story.

Boycott of Kalimat

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.

Related Links:

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).