New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 172

new internationalist
issue 172 - June 1987

Letters

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 : ni@newint.org

Green gap
Cover of the NI issue 171 From Moses to Mao humans have observed their superior intelligence and dexterity and proclaimed themselves intrinsically superior to all other species. So politics has always been about how humans order their affairs for their own exclusive benefit.

The environmentalist policy of preserving some of each species because of their actual or potential benefit to humans is just a modified version of the same idea. The ecologist Greens, however, reject the notion that one species is superior to another. They believe that life itself has intrinsic value - and humans have no right to reduce biological diversity.

This leads to far more sweeping changes in the political and economic order. For the first time politics recognizes interdependence among species and seeks to restore the whole planet to health and well-being.

While NI 171 gave a good overview of the debates among Greens and their difficulties in translating philosophy into policies, it presented the environmentalist rather than the ecological viewpoint. The result? You missed the one value which sharply distinguishes Green from other political philosophies.

A H Cathrall
Toronto, Canada

Chinese misrule
As a Tibetan living in exile and a long-term reader of your magazine, I read 'The face of the new China' (NI 170) with great interest. I was extremely disappointed, however, that a magazine which claims to speak out for the oppressed had absolutely nothing to say about 28 years of Chinese misrule and oppression in Tibet.

Since the 1950s, the Tibetan people have had to endure the total destruction of their religious and secular cultures, famine caused by the devastation of traditional agriculture, the forced settlement of nomads and the imposition of the Chinese staple, wheat, rather than the Tibetan staple, barley. (Wheat, it turned out, could not be grown at these high altitudes, and people starved).

More recently, Tibetans have experienced a massive influx of Chinese settlers, to the extent that they are now an ethnic minority in many of their own towns. Some areas have been turned into militarised zones containing nuclear bases. Standards in education and health care are lower than those found in the rest of China, and even below average Third World levels. The vast majority of Tibetans living in Tibet today look forward to the day when the Chinese leave their country.

Tsering W Shakya
London, UK

Fathers wanted
In 'Sex after AIDS' (NI 169) Ros Coward describes 'traditional family life' as 'far more disastrous for women than the heady days of sexual freedom'. I suggest that the opposite is true in Britain when contraception isn't used.

Bringing a child into the world without a settled father figure exposes it to several risks. Children lacking one parent may feel that lack keenly (as I did), and may even grow up less well-adjusted because of it. A later partner of the original parent may not be as satisfactory a parent: child abuse is often committed by stepfathers.

Graham Everett
Watford, UK

Pie for Marx
Marx looking down from heaven (Keynote NI 170 on China)? What are you talking about? Have you forgotten that for Marx religion is 'pie-in-the-sky when you die'? I'm sure he didn't imagine he'd be getting a bite after his death!

Alison George
Coventry, UK

Guinea-pigs
The doctor who discovers a vaccine for AIDS will get a Nobel Prize. But what about his guinea-pigs? Right now doctors are experimenting on people in Zaire. Development aid agencies are keeping quiet about it and doctors are battling to keep trouble-makers (i.e. people raising the ethical issues of such experimentation) from their areas of research.

Some doctors have admitted that they would not experiment in the same way in France or the USA because it is illegal.

Christine Obbo
Professor of Anthropology Wheaton College
Mass., USA

Lesbian puzzle
I was interested to note that yet another journal had a feature on AIDS last month (NI 169), and I read it, eager to find a decent coverage.

Alas I was disappointed - once again the information was of no use to me. Questions such as 'Are you making sure to use a condom', I'm afraid, leave your lesbian readers frustrated, annoyed, no less anxious and somewhat puzzled. Information as to whether and how lesbians can contract AIDS was totally lacking, and while it comes as no surprise that lesbians, as usual, are at best lumped in with gay men, and at worst, totally invisible, it would have been nice to see NI a little more enlightened.

R Jones
Yorkshire, UK

Graham Hancock replies: Lesbians, after celibates, are the group with the lowest risk of contracting AIDS. The real danger lies in penetrative sex.

Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Milk dilemma
While welcoming your issue on the impact of AIDS on the Third World we are concerned by the suggestion that breast-feeding is a major route for transmission. The evidence for this is circumstantial. There is one Australian case report of a child breast-fed for six weeks who appeared to have acquired Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection after delivery. His mother presumably seroconverted after receiving a blood transfusion from an HIV positive donor following a caesarean section. But it was not until 13 months later, when the blood donor was found to have AIDS, that the mother and child were examined immunologically. Breast milk seemed to be the most likely route of infection though other routes cannot be excluded. There is one report of isolation of HIV from the acellular fraction of breast milk from an asymptomatic carrier of HIV. No other cases have been reported, nor have other laboratories identified the virus in breast milk.

The enormous risks associated with the use of artificial milk in the Third World are familiar to most readers. There seems little doubt that cessation of breast feeding by HIV infected mothers would pose a major risk to children in the developing world. Further information on this issue is urgently required.

G S Logan
C S Peckham
Y D Senturla
Paedeatric Epidemiology Department,
Institute of Child Health, University of London,
UK

Testing times
Allowing for the fallibility of any laboratory test, what is the maximum length of time a Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can exist in a human body without having, say, a 90-per-cent chance of being detectable by tests? Do we know? And if it is undetectable is it still transmittable?

Armed with this knowledge, a couple who had been faithful to each other for some time could work out when to have the appropriate test and then, hopefully, relax!

Peter Hollings

London, UK

Graham Hancock replies: The teat that exists does not detect the virus but the anti-bodies to it. It is possible to have the anti-bodies without the virus (in the case of babies born to HIV-positive mothers, for example). It is also possible, in some rare cases, for people to have the virus without the anti-bodies. Normally, however, three months, or less, after infection the anti-bodies are produced.

Other hall
Your summary of the readership survey in NI 168 was very illuminating. I was somewhat perturbed, however, by the statement regarding travel - 'Europe has been done. North America comes next, with Africa and E. Europe on level pegging.'

Since when has 'E. Europe' ceased to be part of the continent of Europe?

To people in the German Democratic Republic (and other countries too, I'm sure) the tendency of Western Europeans to forget that their Eastern neighbours even exist is irritating to say the least. What is more, it is symptomatic of the kind of prejudice the NI is supposed to be fighting against.

The fact that Europe is divided is bad enough but if you mean Western Europe please say so, and don't simply ignore 'the other half'.

Geraldine L Harley
Leipzig, GDR

African men
The back flap advertisement for 'With These Hands' about African women growing all the food (NI 170) seemed to me to be racist towards African men.

It is true that African women grow most of the food. However, you fail to report that, prior to colonial intrusion, African men mostly hunted and provided meat whilst the women grew arable crops. The resentment undoubtedly felt by women at the new situation might, too, be linked to the importation of colonial attitudes towards the status of women - attitudes probably not native to Africa.

George Higgins
Southampton, UK

Honest feel
I like your magazine. There is an honest feel about it.

John McCarthy
Worcester, UK

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The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from Mawere

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Margaret St Clare has been living and working in the Zimbabwe
countryside since January 1984. This month she describes the
excitement, pleasures and tensions of city night-life.

A week of meetings and music in Harare and I feel I've been to London and New Orleans as well. I've seen the arrogance and anger of those cities, but also their racy style. Race is the issue, I feel, in all three of them.

I got into the music scene by accident. A white Zimbabwean friend offered to take me to a community drama workshop in one of the black townships. We found posters for my favourite Zimbabwean musician, Lovemore Majaivana, in the hotel across the road when we were there.

But first the community drama. We watched political theatre, largely in English, played to a mainly black audience. The ironies of anti-imperialism were piled high: how far can you undermine capitalist and 'white man's' values - or advocate socialist or African ones - where everyone is used to dressing, addressing and assessing each other by those very Western values? The workshop leader, for example, thanked us for coming in Shona, but wore a smart business suit. These contradictions remind me of the regular efforts to become more like Jesus by preoccupied, respectable, middle-class congregations - especially in places like Northern Ireland, the Southern US and South Africa. There the ironies have not yet emptied the churches.

The saddest part is that for both Africans and Westerners there seems no powerful, working alternative to the oppressive, materialist values we want to reject - aside from human goodness, still blessedly abundant. Even, or perhaps especially, in a 'Third World' city, we live in a society formed and driven more and more by the forces we despise and take issue with.

Straight after the drama we went to hear Lovemore. Because I was wearing plastic flip-flops we nearly missed the show; my dress was too poor and casual to allow automatic admittance to the performance. We managed to wheedle admittance, probably because I was white and speaking Shona!

Upstairs, the music was rapturous but the dancing mediocre. Lovemore comes from the other end of the country and the mainly Shona audience were unsure how to move to his swinging, flowing gospel-style music that is so close to South African 'jazz'. Four nights later I saw what the Harare crowd can do with a local band - 'The Marxist Brothers' - on stage: scintillating movements, jerky yet smooth, to match brilliantly twinkling, rolling sounds.

Comparing their respective styles of speaking and gesturing, it's hard to believe the loud, demonstrative Shona have always been the peacelovers who wish to avoid conflict. While the quiet-spoken Ndebele are warriors, related to the Zulus. This latter group have been, interestingly, accorded far more respect by Europeans.

On the second night I went to hear a band with a local man and was the only white there. A friendly, energetic woman of 35 to 40 years old took me under her wing by dancing with me. She was wearing a tulle dress like the ones I remember from Sunday school parties, with large black spots on white. Despite the decorative dress she looked tough, with wide-spaced teeth and her hair cropped short. She danced with her head back, breasts and arms low, assertively and beautifully stomping and turning. Her familiar Zimbabwean women's way of dancing roars female confidence in the face of white middle-class feminist analyses of Third World women's oppression - or rather, in the face of our own shattered sense and enjoyment of ourselves.

About the bottled beer: nearly all earning men want to be seen to drink bottled beer. But it's expensive, weak, bubbly and far inferior to the thick smooth 'People's Beer' sold by the nationalized brewer, or the traditional seven-day brews. However, and this I didn't realize until this week, until 1980 the bottled beer was forbidden to Africans.

When I took a rest from dancing, the woman who had been my partner danced over to my male friend and myself and said: 'Many of these people are looking at him because he is with you. My husband is coloured - his mother is white. I have four kids. Don't worry about them. Love your man, love your kids, love your house - love yourself!' And she stomped off again, grinning back mischievously, encouragingly.

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