New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 214

new internationalist
issue 214 - December 1990

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

Socialism lives
Cover of the NI Issue 213 I think reports of the death of socialism are premature (What Next? NI 213). It is still by far the most influential political idea around, even in Europe, where an admittedly tame form of social democracy could shortly be in the majority. My guess is that capitalism will miss the Cold War more than socialism. Socialism will continue to provide the best means of both understanding and tackling the issues of world poverty and environmental destruction, free at last from the need to take sides in the Cold War. People like Fred will have to get their hands dirty and start organizing.

Sandra Littlemore
Seattle, US

Shaping sex
In Why men hate women (NI 212) Celia Kitzinger observes that sex with women can reinvoke in men the helpless passion of infancy. In heterosexual intercourse men risk discovering in women an unsettling power which contradicts and undermines their own more obvious social, political and physical power.

However boys are not educated in manhood by their mothers but by the images, structures and bonding rituals of male culture. Assumed power over women's sexuality is a consequence of masculine privilege. There are men who rape because they feel this power is denied them ('inadequates') and those who rape to fulfill such power ('sadists'). Society shapes sex, not sex society. Men must change their culture.

Mike Belbin
London, UK

Self control
Though I have some sympathy with Gillian Sathanandan's point of view (Letters NI 212) please don't blame the natural childbirth movement for trying to make women feel guilty. Pain is not good in itself though it has its uses. Epidural anaesthesia is not without its risks for both mother and baby, and for this reason the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS) has ceased to lobby for epidurals on demand. Surely the natural childbirth movement is about empowering women, not about guilt?

Anna Georgina Chitty
PwllheIi, Wales, UK

Social climbers
I sympathize with MacDonald Daly's disgust at the cleaning-up preparations for a royal visit to a colliery (Classic NI 211). What is even more nauseating is the spectacle of local bigwigs who would normally never go near the place being given the attention of Royalty, and edging out the people who live or work there.

Bernard Misrahi
London, UK

Afghan reply
I was disappointed with your article A tale of two cities (NI 211) in which Behrouz Afagh attacked Islamic values and the Afghan mujahedin movement without any real evidence. He misunderstands the Afghan people's struggle. The West, especially the US, has agreed with Moscow to hold the puppet communist regime in power, despite the clear opposition of the people of Afghanistan. Undoubtedly Western policy-makers do not want an Islamic and independent Afghan Government which will be free from foreign influences, which is why they have launched a propaganda war against the Afghan Mujahedin Government. Where is the respect for belief, human rights and movements of liberation from all evil influences? Let's be a little bit broadminded by not accusing others of being narrow-minded.

Lami Kaya
Stoke, UK

Cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Killing contradiction
I was pleased to see you reported our problem with the Muslim Institute whose support for Salman Rushdie's murder is causing us difficulty (Briefly NI 211). But I was puzzled by the headline 'Pacifist intolerance' which is of course open to interpretation. I hope NI is not suggesting that to protest at calls for murder is intolerant since this would be a novel addition to the already nebulous meaning of intolerance.

I appreciate much of the material in the NI and particularly its attempts at demystification but I cannot help noticing a blind spot when it comes to killing people for 'freedom' and 'liberation', which to pacifists appears as a total contradiction. Your frequent excellent explanations of the wider social forces which make up the world sit rather uncomfortably with the simplistic view that killing a few people is going to solve anything and the underlying implication that freedom and liberation are only some people's prerogative.

Jan Melichar,
Peace Pledge Union
London, UK

Breaking barriers
Congratulations on your September Issue East Meets West! North Forgets South (NI 211). It is a sobering reminder that the world's divisions do not come to an end with the removal of the Berlin Wall. It might have been appropriate to mention that another physical wall remains, dividing a Third World country more impenetrably than the Berlin Wall has ever done. Five metres high and ten metres thick at its base, the wall was built by the US across the entire Korean peninsula within the southern part of the Demilitarized Zone in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is reported to be the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world. If our souvenir shops run out of bits of Berlin Wall maybe they can start chipping away at the Korean Wall.

Erich Weingartner
Callander, Canada

Fundamental omissions
I was astonished that nowhere in your entire issue on fundamentalism (NI 210) did you even mention the word Zionism. Even in your summary of current fundamentalisms you mention fringe groups like the Moonies and Ron Hubbard's Scientologists, but fail to observe that one of the most powerful destabilising influences in the Middle East is attributable to Zionism, a fundamentalist system of values akin to South Africa's apartheid.

There was also no mention of apartheid. In the last white election in this country, 700,000 whites voted for the Conservative party, which espouses Verwoerdian apartheid. These people aren't just a group of red-necks: they are a very powerful constituency, passionate racists who have created their culture and tailored their scriptures to accord with their views.

Richard Lyster
Durban, South Africa

Zimbabwe regression
Your profile on Zimbabwe needs some updating (Country Profile NI 209). The office of Prime Minister was eliminated in 1988. By strengthening the powers of the President, the largely titular office has become that of an executive president. It is now President Mugabe. There have also been recent policy changes. The Mugabe Government has recently accepted the priorities of the IMF and the World Bank when it comes to budget allocations. In real terms overall earnings have declined due to inflation and the gradual removal of food subsidies, making it difficult to pay for basic health needs.The Government has not adjusted its level of qualification for free health care. Similarly the Government plans to introduce 'manageable' fees at its (once free) primary schools. It appears that the post-independence advances are rapidly being eroded under international pressure.

Sheila M Nicholas
Guelph, Canada

Cultural blinkers
Despite its pretensions to the contrary, NI remains as parochial in its outlook as any nineteenth century Colonial Secretary. You are well-disposed of course but never consider that perhaps we don't want to become Westerners, that our ways ofdoing things might be better than yours. at least for us. or that our priorities and value systems might be different but equally valid. The immediate case in point is The human factor article in NI 211 with its prejudice against the one-party state. How about an article on the advantages of the one-party state for Africa? It has lots of them. When the NI prints an article in which someone has learned something from the Third World, then it will be really international. Until then, it's a scam.

Mtumiki Njira
Limbe, Malawi

[image, unknown]
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from La Paz

Shaking the sorrows away
Susanna Rance explains how the living say
their final goodbye to the dead in Bolivia.

It's been a year, full circle, since Mama died. Time for the 'Soul's Mass', a ritual re-encounter of relatives and friends with each other and with the deceased. Time for a fresh exorcism of grief, as sorrows are physically shaken away with each garment of mourning dress and the bereaved don bright clothes to dance and drink themselves into release from pain.

Spanish and Indian blood, Catholic and Aymara rites merge and give birth to a mestizo ceremony in the back streets of La Paz. Hierarchy dictates that the dominant religion's god should have first say. Black suits, wide skins, shawls and bowler hats file respectfully into the whitewashed church and sit, Aymara style, women in the left-hand pews, men on the right.

Kneeling on the hard pew under a bejewelled Virgin's gaze, I clutch Julia's plump arm as she shakes and sobs, pulled back to the sharp edge of her mother's loss. 'HELL!' warns the grey-haired priest, his eyes narrowing as he focuses on this unseemly spectacle of grief. 'That's where unbelievers go. Those of little faith. Those who think that God is BAD. Who cry for the dead, when they should be GLAD that their loved ones have been taken to God's side!' The rest of the family shoot disapproving looks at Julia for bringing Aymara wailing into the house of the Spanish god.

Eternal life is left inside the church, for outside again, the mourners are on the Pachamama's soil. The Earth Mother swallows up her children and their end is final. 'She's gone, she'll never come back', go the Aymara condolences, as each guest embraces the family members. 'No more sorrows. You just have to accept it. Mama is dead, what can we do?' But with this stoical belief goes the recognition that grief must be expressed and ritually shaken away. A cycle of mourning and joy is imperative, life and colour must return.

As we enter the dance hall, Mama's table makes her presence tangible among us. Her skin, woven shawl and best hat sit stolidly under a faded photo and the plaque with her name. Coca leaves, flowers, fruit and bread have been placed as offerings to welcome her to the celebration. A year after the first farewell at the wake, we have another chance to say goodbye to Mama, to ask for her forgiveness, to feet the roughness of her shawl against our faces.

Suddenly the table is cleared and all its contents are bundled into the shawl. Amidst hushed whispers, male relatives abruptly pick up the table and carry it out, taking with them the illusion of Mama's fleeting presence among us. The spot is swept, there's nothing left. Mama has really gone and you can see the gap which marks her absence, her disappearance from our lives.

Grief must subside. A mood of excitement takes over as Mama's relatives start piling into a tiny room to change their clothing. I wait for some of them to come out but no-one does. I'm pushed in to join them and find myself in a musty, windowless box four foot by six, where 19 people are struggling to remove their mourning gear and dress in bright colours.

Papa is the main object of attention. He's still wearing his black shin and another one has to be improvised. He glows with pride as his sons do up the buttons on the scarlet shirt. His daughter ruffles his scant white hair: 'Now you go out there and get yourself a nice young girlfriend'. Teasing and whistles greet each show of new garb.

Finally each black garment is shaken to release the woes of a year's mourning. All the clothes are bundled into a black bag, which is doused with alcohol from each glass in a ritual blessing. 'No more sorrows! Let there be joy!' is the toast. Firecrackers burst in the yard outside and its time for us to emerge, a motley crowd in rainbow colours, pushing each other and giggling like so many children.

The band starts to play and the dance begins, stiffly at first and then more wildly as alcohol loosens our limbs and spirits. Papa jumps around like a colt, to the encouragement of whoops and cries. The formidable aunts shuffle hack and forth in their massive skins, children weave in and out of the rows of dancers. Julia is still sobbing as she sways and turns but the family push her to keep dancing. 'Today I'm here, tomorrow I'll be gone', goes the lively popular rhythm. as alt are swept into an affirmation of life flourishing in the midst of pain and deprivation.

'That's enough, Julia. no more grieving,' insists a neighbour as we recover our breath between dances. 'Cheer up, think how happy Mama must be to see everyone here enjoying themselves in her name.' 'And she's here, isn't she?' whispers Julia. We all look towards the door, out through the stone courtyard. 'Yes, she's here...' 'And her heart must be in flower,' says Julia, wiping her eyes and going back to the dance.

Susanna Rance lives and works in Bolivia.

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