issue 176 - October 1987
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I thought your issue on Masculinity (NI 175) was a good attempt to wrestle with the demon of sexism. It's heartening to see NI take up some of the challenges of feminism in a thoughtful, provocative way. Still I find it hard to believe most men would want to cede their privilege and power on the evidence you present.
It's important to have a sense of the 'personal and political'. But that doesn't go very far unless you also examine the structural influences which shape personal behaviour. Most men, bombarded by the Rambo phenomenon, 'Ollie-mania' and widespread flirtation with militarization, will need more convincing than the worthy examples of the new man you mention.
The cult of the warrior hero provides the overwhelming context for constructing the male identity today. It is a pervasive ideology that bolsters the global political economy, capitalist and non-capitalist alike. The lie of the fast gun must be exposed in all its waste and brutality for the gentle man to be born.
The Women's Press
Bigots and bondmaids
I wish to refute Alan Davidson's comment in NI 174 (Letters) that 'Christianity does not have exclusive possession of the truth.' Christianity does not possess one ounce of truth, let alone exclusive possession of it. It was invented by ignorant bigoted priests of the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.
Christians quote from the Bible as if it had divine authority. Yet this religion has caused escalating hatred, wars and disease, because of passages in the Bible, surely inserted by evil fanatics. How about this gem: 'Both thy bondmen and thy bondmaids which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy them bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers ... shall ye buy and of their families ... and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen forever.' (Leviticus 25: 44-46).
Because the slave traders were brought up in the belief that every word of the Holy Bible was inspired by God, they honestly thought that they had divine sanction to enslave blacks.
Your Punchline cartoon (NI 174) was too one-sided. The 'base communities' of Latin America know more than we do about hunger and sickness, but it is study of the Bible that gives them understanding and courage to demand justice in the name of the God of justice. They - and we - need food for mind and spirit as well as body in order to be truly human.
Alison M. Douglas
Many Christians do stand 'shoulder-to-shoulder with the oppressed' (Letters NI 174) and have taken the preferential option for the poor. To name but a few Archbishop Romero, gunned down by right-wing death squads while saying Mass in the Cathedral of San Salvador, Father Ed de la Torre Filipino, priest, poet and political activist, who spent nine years in prison under the Marcos regime; and numerous priests and pastors working in Nicaragua, one of whom was recently killed by a Contralaid mine.
Justice for the Poor is a vision which can unite us all. Let's not worry too much about claims to exclusivity where truth is concerned - perhaps these are best left until the next world!
The moral of the Punchline cartoon in NI 174 seems to be that bibles should not be offered to anyone who is short of basic necessities. Is this consistent with respect for intelligent human beings? The motives of some missionary societies may be suspect, but the bible itself has helped to fuel the visions of many human rights movements.
A. A. Barton
Your issue on Chile (NI 174) was a truly significant and encouraging publication both for Chileans in exile and those working within the country. The space you gave to exposing our national dilemma is a triumph for anyone persisting in the worldwide struggle against the Pinochet dictatorship.
In our opinion, few other publications on the Chilean struggle have been so generous. Nor is it usual for the foreign press to first travel and then write the story. Your articles bring alive the voices of our compañeros in Chile. We sincerely hope that this will encourage the work of other committed Chileans in exile together with our European brothers and sisters in the struggle against fascism worldwide.
The Manuel Rodriguez
London Office, UK
You assume, in your issue on Underground Work (NI 173), that the relationship of the individual to the State is both natural and inevitable, and that it in some way presupposes fair treatment of the citizen by the powers that be. One of your writers actually says: 'If there is to be government somebody has to pay for it' But does there have to be government?
I question both the justice of all governments and the principle by which my taxes can be used to pay for machines of mass destruction. The glee - and clear conscience - with which most people here avoid taxes if they can, is to do with their feeling of powerlessness in relation to government, and that is what fosters selfish competition.
Is it not patronizing to assume that ordinary Omanis are not interested in affairs of state and to imply that all the peoples of Arabia prefer strong leaders to participatory democracy (Country Profile NI 173)?
Oman is indeed united under one leader who maintains diplomatic relations with East and West But it should also be mentioned that Sultan Qaboos overthrew his own father and needed the military support of the Shah and the SAS to defend himself against those of his countrymen not recognizing the benefits of his traditional Arab-Islamic leadership.
His armed forces are still dependent on non-Arab personnel, secrecy surrounds the extent of military ties with the United States and Oman has been less than enthusiastic in supporting Arab League action against the Camp David accords. Thus he has ensured that 'Oman is run by Omanis and not by foreign powers'.
Ali Abduilab Salah
Dick Racey's article on the LET-System (NI 171) held an inaccuracy about 'green' dollars. The article implies that a LETS member is free to refuse all work while remaining free to spend 'green' dollars. This is true, but strictly in the short term. LETS members, like many people, are concerned about people 'getting something for nothing'. A member that shows a long-term pattern of increasing 'green' dollar 'debt' will have his LETS dollars rejected by the other members until he earns enough to redress the balance.
The truly liberating nature of LET-systems arises out of the fact that they are set up independent of one - another. 'Green' dollars issued by one system are invalid in another, rendering them of minimal use to large corporations.
To dispel the myth that AIDS is a gay disease you argue (The Politics of AIDS NI 169) that the disease has been around 'from the very beginning' but that gays succumbed more quickly than straights. This you claim happens because gays have poorer immune systems through earlier exposure to diseases such as hepatitis. Here I get lost Why should homosexuals be more susceptible to hepatitis than heterosexuals? Does this mean anyone who has had hepatitis is at risk during heterosexual sex?
John M. Williams
Graham Hancock replies: Hepatitis B is predominantly a sexually transmitted disease. Aa, prior to the AIDS epidemic, homosexuals tended to be more promiscuous than heterosexuals, they were particularly susceptible. Because Hepatitis B impairs the immunity system, people who have had it are generally more vulnerable to infections than people who have not.
You say in NI 169 that: 'In Africa, heterosexual intercourse has long been established as the primary transmission route - with the number of men and women infected being almost equal.'
But there is evidence that the widespread re-use of non-sterile needles could be the primary transmission route of AIDS in Africa. This would explain the increased incidence amongst African prostitutes and their clients. These people would be having greater contact with non-sterile needles during treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.
AIDS in Africa is wide-spread because of poverty and poor medical facilities, not promiscuity. You have done a disservice to the African people by ignoring this fact.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Margaret St Clare has been working in the Zimbabwean countryside
One change I have noticed everywhere I have been - in England, Scotland and Ireland - is that there are a lot more cars about. And most of them seem to be new. I remember mid-morning and afternoon lulls between rush hours in Edinburgh, when women shared the streets and buses at an easier pace. Those lulls are gone. At any hour of the working day, to get across the street you have to dodge between smart cars and vans.
When I brought up the topic of the rolling rush hour with my parents Mum said, 'Well, there are lots of retired people like us now, driving around, doing what we're doing.' At that moment, around four o'clock on a weekday afternoon, we were driving back into the city in three lanes of traffic from a picnic tour of Fife fishing villages - now sadly dwarfed by huge offshore oil platforms awaiting commission in the Forth.
She's right. The 1980s is seeing the retirement of the post-war boom generation. I wonder whether this first generation of car-owning middle class retirees will be followed by other generations? For while some of my contemporaries are already well-off financially, I and many of my friends live on more restricted means than our parents. And we look like continuing to do so, either by choice or circumstance. Perhaps we are the first generation for a long time which will not all automatically enjoy a higher material standard of living than the previous one. If so, it's a turning point.
Many feel that the cake of global wealth has stopped getting bigger, if indeed it ever did. Possibly what is called expansion was in fact displacement, from the vaults of the earth into mining profits, from the independent labour of farmers and crafts people in Scotland and Africa into wages and surplus value. The process relies on putting more and more newly discovered (and appropriated) material and human resources to its own profit-generating uses: oil fields, animals, slaves, evicted crofters, Asian girls...
However, unexploited sources of wealth are running out. And looking at the spectre of post-industrial poverty from my experience in rural Zimbabwe, a decisive contrast seems to be that city dwellers in the West have neither land nor subsistence culture to fall back on. Gone is the shared fanning work, all but gone are the celebrations, religious festivals, weddings and wakes. All that's left for many is TV, drink and conversation... and only one of those is free.
Rural poverty is no idyll: I have seen how exhausting and health-destroying it can be. But poverty without the old social networks of mutual respect and communal enjoyment is a nightmare unimagined by most Zimbabweans I have spoken with.
Back to Edinburgh and a lighter, more personal note: over the past weeks I have been to some evening events organized by friends where people have read poetry, played music and done some juggling and conjuring. The atmosphere was encouraging. As I listened to a young poet celebratingher sympathy and respect for her father I realized our feelings that evening were like the excitement of a toddler's first steps.
For in Zimbabwe as in any traditional society, everyone knows a thousand songs and the dance steps to them, songs about work, liberation, faith, love, drought, struggle. People tell teaching stories with songs embedded inthem, aboutbaboons, crocodiles and wise and foolish people. New songs are worked out and new music played every day, everywhere.
Here, most people believe they can't sing, far less make harmony or create new music. Made self-conscious by years of competition and perfectionism we are too shy to perform for each other. But now in Scotland in the late 1980s we are at ground zero, making up new rules and building up new habits to brighten our uncertain economic future by enjoying ourselves creatively together again.
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