Re: Various comments on Baha'i auxlang policy (long)

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Posted by Brett Zamir ( on February 14, 2002 at 15:57:38:

In Reply to: Various comments on Baha'i auxlang policy (long) posted by Dawud (wants to be on the future world government's language committee!) on February 07, 2002 at 22:34:45:

I would first of all like to thank you Dawud for your constructive and well-meaning suggestions.

An email on behalf of the Universal House of Justice dated 10 February 1998 to an individual believer states "With regard to Arabic, in several Tablets Baha'ullah praises the vastness and eloquence of the Arabic language, but in none of His Writings does He state that His followers are required to learn that language. In a number of instances 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Guardian have both encouraged the believers in the West to learn Persian. Simlarly, 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi on occasion encouraged believers in Europe and Asia to study English. And, as you are no doubt aware, the involvement of the friends in the study of Esperanto has also been deemed praseworthy. However, the choice as to which language will ultimately be selected as the international auxiliary language has been left by Baha'ullah, in His Book of Laws, to the leaders of the nations or possibly to the House of Justice to decide."

"Regarding the subject of Esperanto; it should be made clear to the believers that while the teaching of that language has been repeatedly encouraged by 'Abdu'l-Baha, there is no reference either from Him or from Baha'u'llah that can make us believe that it will necessarily develop into the international auxiliary language of the future....Pending this final choice [of a universal language], the Baha'is are advised to study Esperanto only in consideration of the fact that the learning of this language can facilitate inter-communication between individuals, groups and Assemblies throughout the Baha'i world in the present stage of the evolution of the Faith." (From letter written on behalf of the Guardian to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, June 4, 1937: Baha'i News, No. 109, July 1937, p. 1) (republished in Lights of Guidance, p. 341)

As you can see from the above, the idea you mention about encouraging transnational human bonds is already encouraged (though not required) in the Baha'i Writings by its encouragement of the use of Esperanto, and also by the learning of English and Persian which in addition to being languages accessible to large numbers of Baha'is, are beneficial for science, business, etc. and understanding the Writings, respectively.

However, though it is encouraged, and I praise your example as a world citizen in learning Esperanto, I'm not sure it is something which "must" be learned by someone interested in the issue. Though I think it is useful to be familiar with some of the features and history of Esperanto, I would prefer to conserve my own resources and those who we would enlist toward spreading the idea of encouraging such a world decision given that as Baha'u'llah says in the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf this should be "simple and easy of accomplishment". Just like it is too much to ask (as 'Abdu'l-Baha Himself confirms) for one country to disarm itself while others have not, I think it is difficult to expect some individuals to commit to learning Esperanto, when it has not been chosen as an official language. The important thing then is not to work for piecemeal treaties and protocols, but to work for a comprehensive "disarmament" or in this case, universal linguistic disarmament (i.e., making a world official decision). Ok, I know these are not the same, and there are merits for learning Esperanto as the Baha'i Writings even encourage us to do, but, the solution Baha'u'llah provides is ultimately a political one (which He encourages us to make a reality) rather than a purely individual one. I know people are attracted to making sacrifices, but most if not all of the Baha'i teachings are meant to save us from unnecessary sacrifices.

As you may know, the international Baha'i authority, the Universal House of Justice, is a body not only ordained by Baha'u'llah, but granted by Him, where at least there is a majority within this 9-membered body, infallible authority. Deriving, as we believe, their guidance infallibly from God, they are not a human institution which we lobby to accept our own ideas (though they may indeed change their decision as circumstances change), but which we obey. However, as you can see from the above, elements of what you have suggested are already present for Baha'is (if we will act on it).

As to your point that a language must first become dominant in order to be made official, a world commission might indeed take into account the existing spread of a language to be in its favor. In that case, the result of the world decision would be the consolidation of this reality. If, however, the world community considers the choice of an existing language to be intractable (at least when the peoples of the world do not share a common religious identity) or inherently limiting (just like no nation could achieve a complete world empire), a language could surely be invented. If other political results can be successfully achieved which while depending on need (which already exists) does not depend on conditions universally currently favoring its adoption (e.g., Brown vs. Board of Education), why do we need to view language policy as being dependent on the language already existing? Modern Hebrew should provide the example that where there is a will, there is a way. We need to build among the peoples of the world the notion that we are world citizens and that a universal auxiliary language, whatever the final choice, is a viable and necessary solution. In any case, even if we believe this to be utopian (itself a barrier to peace), we can at least do our small part to pass on the idea to others and ask them to do the same. Many things which were thought impossible before, including the euro, the WTO, etc. are becoming a reality through the efforts of interested businesses and individuals (despite vested interests against them); while the democratic world government which may balance corporate globalization is not yet existing due to a lack of sufficient awareness and will among the peoples of the world (though it will inevitably come about), the idea of a universal language would be in the interests not only of individuals and the poor, but also business--which should make this even easier to achieve. As I already pointed out, national language policies (international on a smaller and limited scale) have proved successful in creating national languages, even though the language chosen may not have been universally accepted beforehand; that is why we have government--things in our best interest do not always happen on their own without coordination and representative "interference".

Incidentally, although the Baha'i International Community calls on the United Nations to adopt a commission for choosing an official language for its fora and for research toward an eventual universal auxiliary language, Baha'u'llah addresses His summons to members of Parliaments throughout the world not to the world government, leading this author to consider whether the Inter-Parliamentary Union (which already exists) might take on this task more immediately, as the peoples of the world call on their own representatives to bring it up at such a forum.

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