Re: Dialogue thread on SRB

White Cloud Press (sscholl@jeffnet.org)
10 Feb 1997 21:06:04 -0700


Dear Friends,

I have been informed of some of the posts on this list re: Dialogue magazine and the article "A Modest Proposal." It seems to me that several key issues remain unclear and, in some instances, the actions taken by the Dialogue editorial board have been misrepresented. Let me attempt to clarify.

1. The article "A Modest Proposal" was a collective effort by a fairly wide group of Baha'is in the Los Angeles area, mostly members of the Dialogue staff but a number of others joined in the consultation process that helped develop the article. The article's primary author was David Langness, who developed an initial draft, presented it to the Dialogue staff and interested friends. This led to a second draft that became the working paper that was submited to the NSA for review under the full title: "A Modest Proposal: Nine Recommendations for the Revitalization of the American Baha'i Community." We sent this working draft to the NSA even though we realized it was not in final form.

2. At the same time I sent the draft to the NSA for their review, I sent it to seven outside readers to solicit their feedback. To my knowledge none of these individuals were national convention delegates. However, it might be of interest to know who they were. They included Aux. Board members, the head of a permanent Baha'i school, senior NSA staff, two Baha'i scholars, a couple of national committee members. In short, I circulated it to prominent Baha'is who were either on the NSA payroll or close to the NSA--not a bright move if we were planning to take over the NSA! In doing so we sought their feedback to improve the article, to help us make it better and more acceptable to the Baha'i administration and the community at large. Most of the outside reviewers responded positively to the project and offered criticisms to the draft for improving it. None of these prominent and deepened Baha'is contacted me saying they felt we were engaged in any kind of negative criticism or improper action.

3. Once the NSA read the article they reacted in a rather extreme manner. In an attempt to better understand their concerns and to work with them in a spirit of cooperation, we met with two NSA members to go over the article line by line. These NSA members were very open and frank and expressed their concerns and explained how certain wording or specific proposals would be interpreted by the NSA as confrontational, or, in some instances, our initial proposals were, in fact, matters that should be addressed to the Universal House of Justice. We agreed to adopt every one of the suggestions of the NSA members, and Dialogue editor Sidney Morrison was asked to prepare a final draft for the NSA. At this meeting, it was emphasized by the NSA members that they understood the positive spirit and motivations of the Dialogue staff in preparing the article, that the proposals, as they were to be modified based on this consultation, were important and should be circulated within the community. It was even suggested by the NSA members that it is these kinds of ideas that should be circulated to the national convention delegates.

4. Based on this positive meeting, I contacted the Office of the Secretary in Wilmette and suggested that if the revised article met with the approval of the NSA, we would be happy to provide national convention delegates with a copy of the article. I did not expect this to be approved, but in light of the positive response we received from two NSA members, I thought it was a long shot worth asking about.

5. Shortly thereafter I was accused by the NSA of circulating the article to dozens and dozens of delgates in an attempt to engage in "negative electioneering" and to attack the NSA. In fact, to the best of my knowledge only two delegates saw the draft of "A Modest Proposal," and these two were Los Angeles area members of the Dialogue editorial and advisory boards. On hearing this charge, I submitted to the NSA the extent of the circulation of the draft and the cover letter I sent to the outside readers. In my letter to outside readers there was no indication of this being a "dissident manifesto" or any kind of subtle attempt to undermine the authority, or malign the integrity, of the NSA.

6. These documented *facts* always seems to get lost in the accounts by those who criticize our actions and assume to know our motivations. A proper understanding of the sequence of events is crucial to reaching an accurate assessment of the affair and of the motives of the disputants. It deals with the old Watergate question: what did they know and when did they know it? The NSA was informed very early on that we did not circulate the article to delegates. A full month before they denounced the Dialogue staff at national convention and circulated their accusations of negative electioneering and attempting to sway the delegates, they had all the information from us about who the article had been sent to along with my cover letter to the outside readers. I have requested the NSA or UHJ to provide any evidence of this accusation, to bring forth even one delegate who I sent the article to let alone the "dozens and dozens" of delegates I supposedly contacted according to the NSA. They have yet to respond with any contrary evidence to support their charges.

7. Consequently, I disagree with Susan Maneck when she says things like:

>Apparently
>action was initiated against these Baha'is under the mistaken premise
>that they had distributed the article to delegates prior to the
>Convention.

While others have their opinions, it is my feeling that the National Spiritual Assembly had to be aware that we were innocent of these charges and I feel that they somehow misled the Universal House of Justice, the convention delegates, and the general community due to what I personally perceive as false accusations.

8. In one post on this list it was noted that Dialgoue was never commanded by the Baha'i institutions to cease and desist publication. This is true, but reveals a rather unsophisticated understanding of how Baha'i publishing operates. It seems to me that modus operandi of the NSA re: Dialogue was to make it clear to the American Baha'i community that we were a renegade "dissident" group attempting to subvert the administrative order via our campaign of negative criticisms. This was done by sending out the letter to all Aux. Board members and assistants disparging our work followed by an open denunciation of the editors by the NSA to the national convention delegates. Furthermore, members of national committees, national center staff, and prominent Baha'is were warned not to have any association with the editors or to write for the magazine. It is my understanding from national center staff that at least some of the Dialogue editors were designated "internal enemies of the faith" and that a blacklist was circulated in high Baha'i circles. In a closed system such as the Baha'i faith, which is a very small community where most information is spread via gossip and backchannel communications, this is the prefered method for marginalizing unwelcome views and those who hold them. There was no need to officially ban the magazine when the magazine could be shut down by more delicate and PR-friendly forms of control. This campaign was, indeed, effective, and we realized that in such a hostile environment it was impossible to carry on with our work. The closing of the magazine was devastating to the staff.

9. I would like to remind the members of this list that Dialogue followed all the established policies and guidelines for Baha'i publishing. Every article dealing with the Baha'i faith was first approved by the NSA's review committee. Prof. Maneck is correct that our work was carefully monitored and scrutinized. I find it unfair for Baha'i institutions to demand that we submit to censorship and then condemn our publishing program as an attack on the integrity of Baha'i institutions for publishing materials that the official review agency approved. You just cannot have it both ways. I am grateful to Prof. Maneck for emphasizing that "A Modest Proposal" was never published and that all the hub-bub was over an article that had been properly submitted for review and was still in the review stages. As I noted in an appeal letter to the Universal House of Justice, if the NSA had honest concerns about the title, the listing of a the collective authors names, or any content, all they needed to do was present their concerns to us. If they found the title offensive, we would have changed it. If they did not like a listing of all those involved in the creation of the article as co-authors, we would have dropped the names and run it under "From the Editors" or whatever they suggested.

10. Finally, when I was a Baha'i, I sought in many ways to resolve these issues with the Baha'i institutions, quietly, privately, and in a spirit of openness and reconciliation. But reconciliation requires two parties to come together to seek understanding and healing. Following a meeting in Wilmette in 1987 with the NSA, I expressed my hope that we had put behind us any misgivings regarding each others' motives and that we find a way to work together for the good of the faith. I invited the NSA to suggest a publishing project for Dialogue to work on that would be of assistance to them. I invited every member of the NSA to phone me at any time with any concerns they might have about the magazine. I invited every member of the NSA to contribute an article to the magazine. I suggested that a meeting between the NSA and the Dialogue staff be held at the Bosch School as this would provide an opportunity to spend some relaxed time together in prayer, consultation and fellowship, so that we could come to know each other in a friendly fashion and seek ways to resolve issues and create a sincere love and appreciation for each other. Each and every one of these attempts at reconciliation initiated by me were met with silence.

I trust that these comments are useful in helping those trying to follow this discussion.

With best wishes, Steve Scholl

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Steven Scholl White Cloud Press PO Box 3400 Ashland, OR 97520 Phone/fax 541-488-6415