The pot and the kettle
May I comment briefly on some points raised by Paul Harper in your October issue? (NI 128).
Controversy as to whether the Arab refugees of 1948 were forced to leave or left of their own accord is unending. Mr Harper states categorically that they were expelled, and quotes Yigal Allon. How does he square this with many quotations from Arabs on this subject? For example: ‘The Arab govemment told us: ‘Get out so that we can get in’ (AlDifaa, Jordan, September 1954).
It is correct that during the Lebanon war last year a number of apparently civilian targets were hit. However, there is ample proof that the PLO used civilian institutions as cover for military operations (a practice specifically forbidden by conventions of war) and it is the PLO, therefore, that must bear ultimate responsibility for many civilian deaths.
Mr Harper also says that the PLO is best known for its ‘military role’. Which one is that? Since the PLO has hardly ever attacked the Israeli army but has always aimed to kill civilians in Israel and Jews abroad, it would be more accurate to refer to the PLO as a terrorist organisation.
Finally, Israel, for its part, has no desire for ‘an end to the Palestine presence in Lebanon’. Israel’s argument is not with the Palestinian people but only with those parts of it i.e. the PLO, which engage in terror in order (by their own admission) to destroy the State of Israel.
Whilst Glen Williams presented a fairly balanced assessment of the problems of minorities across the world, R.L. Pereira mixed fact with fiction in his assessment of the troubles in Sri Lanka (NI 128).
R. L. Pereira has covered the 1950s-1970s extensively and he was quick to attack successive governments. But curiously he has glossed over the real problem of terrorism in the North. Terrorism cannot be justified - there are three Tamil terrorist organisations - they have murdered nearly 100 people, Sinhalese and Tamil policemen, Tamil politicians - even the Tamil Mayor of Jaffna fell a victim to terrorism. No condemnation was given in the article. With regards to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, even Britain has a terrorism act; without such an act it would not be possible to tackle such a problem within the boundaries of democracy.
Your columnist, ‘Devadasan’ poses the question ‘Aren’t there even tremors of conscience deep within their (Sinhalese) hearts. . .‘ I would like to assure him that not all Sinhalese are ‘blood-thirsty’. Only a small minority took part in the tragic violence. We do not condone the acts of violence and thuggery against innocent Tamils.
I like your magazine, but I cannot avoid criticism about La Riforma Sanitaria (NI 127). Like every other young doctor in Italy, I expected great achievements by La Riforma, but all of us have been bitterly disillusioned.
Shifting the power of decision away from professional administrators has brought no good because all the power is now in the hands of politicians, most often incompetent, with a tremendous waste of resources, skyrocketing expenses and no real improvement in assistance.
Moreover the main issues (community health and rehabilitation) have been so far largely disappointed and all services concentrated in hospitals, strengthening traditional centres of power. The degrading situation is now causing massive involvement of large private insurance companies, formerly absent (how on earth could you report the contrary?). Impossible to say more in a few lines. Please forgive my poor English.
As a regular reader of the NI, I’m usually impressed with the smoothness, simplicity and visual attractiveness of your presentation. But when it comes to discussions on aid catch-words replace analysis and fashionable slogans substitute for critical reporting.
Take your article on the Inter-American Foundation (NI 126) for example: ‘The suggestion that this agency really promotes ‘grass roots development’ may be pleasant for the Board of that agency to read. But it is nowhere really substantiated in the article, which contains only quotes from the President (perhaps not the most impartial person) and from the Foundation’s Annual Report. Why do you suggest readers should see through the verbal mists of a World Bank official but present the rhetorics of the Foundation at face value?
To be more specific: you tell us of the Foundation’s involvement in Haiti, Paraguay, Belize and Peru. Some reflection on this choice of countries in the light of US foreign policy might be interesting. And isn’t $731,000 to 960 peasant families in Paraguay a bit out of proportion? And what about a tractor for $31,000 for seven poor families in Belize? What about servicing? Why not draft animals?
All this is not to criticise the Foundation: I don’t know enough about it. My criticism is only directed at the NI which allows such sloppy joumalism.
Martin de Graaf
The author replies:
My article was not about the Perfect Aid Programme. What I was trying to do was examine some strengths of the IAF given its very real limitations.
Because its money comes from Congress, not via the State Department, the IAF has been more insulated from political pressure than other US government aid programmes. Free from those pressures? No. But the IAF does fund projects in Nicaragua and El Salvador and it did support worker and rural co-operative projects in Chile during the Allende years. It does not fund projects in Cuba. But the article was not about the best of all worlds: it was about this particular source of aid.
Had Mr DeGraff read more carefully he would have understood that requests for IAF funds come from existing local organisations. Perhaps it could do better and waste less money. Perhaps the local organisations could formulate better projects. But more to the point is whether this model for aid avoids some of the political problems built into other programmes.
The September issue of NI (NI 127) includes an article on the use of amniocentesis to select female unborn children for killing by abortion. It has always been obvious that specific tragedies of this sort are an inevitable and integral part of abortionism. They will only be prevented when the rights of the unbom child are fully protected, not on the grounds of sex, race, health or wealth but because (s)he is a human being and therefore intrinsically important.
Two correspondents (Letters NI 126) strongly emphasise the difference between human and animal behaviour. But if recent research by American Psychologist Gaylord Ellison is anything to go by, the connection may run deeper than we think. His experiments with rats show that, given access to alcohol, they adopt a similar pattern of behaviour to some of our most cherished and ‘human’ habits associated with ‘having a drink’. The implication was that some, at least, of the many complex forms of human behaviour are established at the animal level.
Interestingly, both correspondents intimate a belief in the efficacy of political action as the means of human salvation. It is salutary to note that political action depends, above all else, on abusing certain foibles of human behaviour. Can there be any doubt that widespread understanding of the nature of human behaviour, especially the identification of and immunisation against the insidious mechanisms of conditioning and manipulation, would severely weaken the basis of political activity?
Do any New Internationalist readers have deaf grannies who have died recently?
As in all developing countries, Zimbabwe has a relatively high proportion of deaf children and adults. Compared to many disabilities, deafness is easy to ‘cure’ with the simple device of a hearing aid. A deaf child without one misses out on social interaction, education, job opportunities and therefore life chances. They are often considered to be either rude or mentally backward.
The cost of a new hearing aid - when they are available - in Zimbabwe is between $75 and $300: This is well out of the reach of the average family who earns less than $75 a month.
Zimbabwe has a number of technicians who can re-condition and maintain old hearing aids. If any readers have one, could they please send it to the above address?
The last word
My thanks to whoever does your Endquotes. They are often interesting, but can they please be more thoughtful?
In your last issue you included that awful howler by the pompous Edmund Burke: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’.
This is a mistake on two counts: Firstly, it assumes that action is always needed to counter the effects of evil, and this is a crude misunderstanding of the nature of evil which frequently feeds off our reactions to it. Often, the right thing to do is nothing. Fine judgement is involved here.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, may we all be preserved from the further actions of people who are convinced that they themselves are good.
This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7