issue 169 - March 1987
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : [email protected]
Your feature Money Makes the World Go Round (NI 168) covers a lot of ground explaining the origins of the debt crisis. I particularly appreciated the way you uncovered the operations of the private banks in creating and sustaining the crisis.
But I have reservations about your apparent acceptance of the theory that everyone stands to benefit from extensive international trade. John Maynard Keynes strongly questioned free trade and unregulated international capital flows at the height of the Great Depression. He called for greater national self-reliance and 'financial disarmament'.
Like most studies on this topic you imply that Keynes willingly co-authored the Bretton Woods Agreement along with Harry Dexter White. The truth is that the US bullied Keynes and the rest of the delegates into accepting its plan for post war monetary institutions, the IMF and the World Bank, which have served its interests ever since.
What I do appreciate is the clarity of your conclusion:
'The poor, already on the breadline, can't make many more adjustments ... One country or another ... is eventually going to refuse to pay.'
Only when countries become more self-reliant and less dependent on foreign trade and foreign creditors, will authentic development in the interests of the poor majority become a real possibility.
Peter Stalker: We did say that everyone was supposed to benefit from free trade.
It seems strange to give the title 'The Red Threat' (NI 167) to an article which shows there is no Red Threat. This is probably caused by anxiety not to appear pro-Soviet amidst the present anti-communist hysteria, but it is rather misleading. The article is informative, and quite complimentary to the Soviet Union. Lynne Attwood is to be thanked for making the facts clear.
Bishop's Castle, UK
The techniques of propaganda include such devices as the half-truth and the comparison of not-quite- comparable events or situations. NI makes many excellent points; but in doing so, it must avoid propagandist techniques, if only because their use provides the opposition with ammunition. The article Exporting illusion (NI 167), for example, illogically counters a nineteenth-century imperialist's appraisal of contemporary African culture by adducing the cultural brilliance of Timbuktu five or six centuries earlier. The argument is further weakened when we recall that this brilliance emanated from the cultural imperialists of the time, the Arabs.
Gerry and Elizabeth Abbott
In your article The Red Threat (NI 167) the author ignores the opinions of the victims of Soviet imperialism (for instance the Czechs) in favour of a less 'simple', theoretical approach.
Let apologists for the USSR quibble over whether its behaviour satisfies their definition of imperialism or not. I don't expect this from the NI. If the victims of 'military and ideological control' choose to view this as imperialism, who are we to say they are wrong?
People are well able to define their own oppression. Just because the actions of the Soviet Union do not 'fall into' any particular pigeon-hole definition of imperialism doesn't mean they aren't imperialist.
In future I suggest that the NI take as a maxim the phrase 'The Oppressed Know Best', and don't put theory before people's experience.
Life after Beano
Being a down-and-out student means that I have had to cancel my regular order of the most unbiased, perceptive, informative magazine on sale - The Beano, in order to stretch my last few coins to pay for the NI subscription.
I was looking for a magazine which had initiative, refreshing and thought-provoking journalism and I believe I've found it.
I'd like to congratulate you all for reassuring me that there is life after The Beano.
David Benson's comments about the IRA (Letters, NI 167) in fact exemplify the cliché that one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. He distinguishes the IRA from the Red Army Faction because he considers it to be engaged in a war of liberation while the Red Army Faction is not.
This avoids any consideration of the moral issues involved - how to distinguish the terrorist from the freedom fighter and determine whether the violence used is legitimate or not.
The following criteria were elaborated by Fred Halliday, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics. Firstly, there must be major oppression on the part of the established authority, and no possibility of securing change by ordinary political means. Secondly, the 'liberation forces' must represent a genuine majority of the people they claim to be fighting for. Thirdly, the violence used must not be indiscriminate in its choice of targets.
The IRA does not fulfil a single one of these criteria.
If you are going to give us record reviews in your pages I wish they would actually deal with the music in question. The diatribe against Paul Simon's Graceland (NI 167) was simply a waste of space - it may be a moot point as to whether he was right to record in South Africa, and it is worth noting that the songs have no political content, but to dwell on these points and virtually ignore the music is hardly a review.
While I feel sure that the NI is opposed to the exploitation of all life forms, NI 165 failed to speak out for the first victims of the drug industry - animals used for the testing of these drugs. Francesca Luman only recognised them as a scientifically invalid means of testing.
The animal kingdom is, I am sure, the largest exploited sentient majority on the planet, and an NI dedicated to the fradulent drug industry which ignored the other half of its practice was very disturbing.
It should come as no surprise that Brunei has given some millions of dollars to help destroy the fledgling participatory democracy of Nicaragua. Brunei is a benevolent monarchy, but benevolent only to those who are quiescently co-operative.
Nor should we be surprised that the famous Indian-rubber man, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Hayden has not condemned the United States, Israel and Iran, for their parts in this latest conspiracy. After all, Mr Hayden has managed to so contort and distort his perspective of reality as to be able to support every convolution, however despicable, of American foreign policy.
I wanted to write and say how much I enjoyed reading NI 166 (Useful work or useless toil). I realized how lucky I have been for at least half of my working life so far, even though I own no house, no nice car, no video recorder and my bank account nearly always records a negative figure. I have spent two years as a volunteer in Fiji and I am now a volunteer in Zimbabwe; my work in these two countries has allowed me to express my personality; it has offered me a sense of fulfilment and balance which transcends the usual quest for money and status.
Your review of the guide to Socially Responsible Investment (NI 167) will have brought comfort to those who favour the 'status quo' in business and trade. The implication of your review was that such matters should be left to the experts because the whole issue is so complex. I profoundly disagree. Only when the public at large insists that the world's resources are managed sensibly and with the good of all in mind will peace and justice be brought a step nearer.
Albion, or something like it (as suggested in Letters NI 167) was undoubtedly an ancient name for Britain, apparently meaning 'the land' (nothing to do with 'white'). The oldest name of the inhabitants was something like Pritani or Priteni, which perhaps means 'the figured or tattooed people' and gave rise to Britannia and Britain.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Margaret St. Clare has been living and working in the Zimbabwe
Last night I went to a party in the Club in the Modza District, a rural growth point about 80 kilometres away. I hitched there and as the sun went down was very lucky to be picked up by other guests heading for the same party. On the last 15 kilometres of dirt road we saw no other traffic.
The full moon has risen level with Orion (who hunts upside down in the Southern sky) by the time we had washed and changed at the nearby Mission and driven to the Club. As we walked in round the empty swimming pool to greet our hosts, an expatriate teacher and a Zimbabwean celebrating their engagement, I noticed how people were sitting in groups. 'Ordinary' local women and girls, many with babies tied on their backs in towels, sat around the edge of the sandpit, watching. Expatriates who had arrived from different areas congregated around the floodlit barbecue; better-dressed black women sat chatting, babyless, in metal garden chairs in the shadow of a huge tree. And the local men, who were easily the biggest group, wandered freely in and out of the bar, mingled with the other groups, or sat drinking on the grass.
After greeting people, I joined a few at the edge of the pool who were playing 'mbira', traditional songs which call for playing of the mbira, or thumb piano and hosho, or ground rattles. It is rare to hear mbira in this area, where the drums reign supreme, although the home-made guitars of cooking oil cans or pots, wood and fishing twine, do seem to imitate its sound.
For a long while I was the only white in the group. Loud South African and American disco and funk continually drowned the soft rippling music, leaving only the sharp shaking of the hosho against the pounding stereo beat. A young man in jeans and a tee shirt danced 'robot' half-heartedly in front of the speaker, while by the pool-side another, dressed in a shirt and tie, shuddered and stomped with movements that recalled a chicken, a man ploughing, a woman grinding grain - dance movements you can see performed with the same energy by a child of three or an elder of seventy plus.
Later I was told that these are not the right steps for mbira music, but belong to the local tradition of drumming. But watching the two men dance, at the one time and in the one place, to the music of two (or maybe three or four) different cultures, I was shown again the vast range of human experience that Zimbabweans have to span in their daily lives - from cow-herd's whip to digital watch, wood fire to stereo.
A woman wanted to put her sleeping child to bed, so we walked along sandy paths in the moonlight to her candle-lit home, not yet electrified although the water was connected this week. On the way back when a thorn went through my rubber sandals, she laughed apologetically about 'these houses in the bush'.
Approaching the Club again, I noticed an unusually tall, windowless building painted yellow: 'For playing squash' she explained and even as I tasted the irony of squash courts 'in the bush' she went on. 'But it is being used to store drought relief food, so the people are not happy, they cannot play squash'.
Back at the Club, the gate-crashers were being politely asked to leave (and arguing their case with zest, for parties are expected to be public affairs). The man who owned the stereo, now very drunk, was picking fights in the bar over a missing record. The mbira group were still singing and playing their hypnotic music. More and more men got up to dance by the pool side, as attention of blacks and whites gradually focused on this 'African Culture'.
Suddenly a burly administrator in a dark three piece suit hurled himself at full-length on the ground in front of me, howling, his body contracting in spasms - in imitation of possession by an ancestral spirit, the man sitting next to me explained reassuringly.
Earlier in the evening this same besuited local dignitary has addressed us at some length in English, while the groom's male relatives heckled him across the pool for not using the 'little peoples' language'.
In Zimbabwe, feelings about modern verses traditional are both strong and mixed - enthusiasm and resentment live together in the same breast. Perhaps this is why people like myself feel extreme and contradictory responses to this place. Here you can feel loved and accepted at one moment, isolated and shut out at the next. Perhaps life here would be calmer if more people could say, like the fatherly middle-aged mbira player, nodding appreciatively to the disco beat, 'We have known this music also, but we do not need all that to enjoy our culture'.
This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7