issue 216 - February 1991
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The wrongs of rights
I opened your January issue (Targets of Tyranny, NI 215) imagining you would debate the subject of whether or not animals have rights. But did you grasp the nettle and argue the case? No. 1 suspect because you knew there was no case to argue. There is no such thing as basic or inherent 'rights' - not for humans or animals. Rights are something that people create, fight for and try to get accepted by society at large. Any other belief in 'rights' is a religious or spiritual one. If you believe that 'animal rights' exist - and the term was used throughout the magazine - then either you argue the case or admit that your belief is religious. Skirting the issue is simply not good a enough.
Unable to respond to Amorey Gethin (Endpiece NI 214) with a few well chosen shrugs and grunts or a mental reservation telepathically transmitted, may I use the blurred medium of writing to say that he should mind the baby as he empties the bath-water. Of course language is an inaccurate vehicle for thought and a far-from-perfect means of communication. But this doesn't make it malignant, a disease, as he says. Diseases are by definition harmful to the life of the organism. And language enables individuals to unite (as well as separate) groups to co-operate (as well as fight), civilizations to develop, the past to be preserved, the future to be faced up to... I think Amorey Gethin has fallen into the trap of blaming the human condition on one big idea: language. I could make a similar case for religion, ideology, technology, instinct. They all cover a multitude of sins - and virtues.
I too am revulsed by the sycophantic adulation given to our royalty (Letters 214), but I confess I sometimes prefer a monarch to a state president. Take South Africa. I was horrified to discover that the politician appointed as its first state president had been interned for supporting his country's enemies in both world wars, and a successor had also been interned for heading a pro-Nazi 'SS' style terrorist group in South Africa during World War Two. Compared with this, our Liz's frock-coated brigade of boot-lickers are the embodiment of nobility.
The country profile on Jamaica by Tony Thorndike (NI 213), was as interesting and informative as ever. But I was surprised to find that the 'At a Glance' panels gave Jamaica five stars out of five for its 'Widespread respect for Human and Civil Rights'.
Jamaica retains the death penalty. And Amnesty International's 1989 report lists numerous cases of inadequate trial procedures, unsound convictions, unacceptable treatment of prisoners and over 200 prisoners on death row. The Jamaican final appeal committee has annulled 10 death sentences due to errors in the trials. This is hardly a spotless record. I have taken my tippex to three of the stars and feel that other readers might wish to do likewise.
Milton Keynes, UK
Jim Heber (Letters NI 213) asks us not to 'emasculate' the Bible, but consider the following excerpts from the New English Bible: First, 'You should not wrong an alien or be hard upon him; you were yourselves aliens in Egypt.' This is a noble precept. If we all lived by it the world would be transformed for the better. Second, 'You shall not allow two different kinds of beasts to mate together. You shall not plant your field with two kinds of seed...' This is merely harmless poppycock - ask any farmer. Third,'You shall not allow a witch to live.' This is not merely poppycock. Its application led to horrible suffering on the part of many innocent women and children over many centuries. I cannot reject the whole Bible because of statements like the first. But I cannot accept it all because of the other two statements. I have to sift it critically - to emasculate it if you like. The glib alternative - to make it mean what I want - is intellectual dishonesty.
Sanday, Orkney, UK
Your October issue The Secret Life of the Apple (NI 212) filled me with distaste and even revulsion. Page after page poured out effusions of indignation of the most revolting kind, selectively gathered - not only from all over the world but from a prurient exploration of mediaeval and ancient writings. Your title 'Why men hate women' implies a universal assertion which most normal people, men or women, would react against as misleading or untrue. I suggest your 'psychologist' who wrote it is projecting her own hurts, confusion and animus onto men with a blind intensity that mirrors the obscenities and mistakes of men which she selects to quote. She is actively undermining the long-established structures of family loyalty, respect and trust.
David P Smyly
I was surprised that you printed Celia Kitzinger's disappointing and depressing article 'Why men hate women' (NI 212). It did not get to grips with the real issue at all. The fragile masculinity that men have to struggle with is a false masculinity imposed on them from babyhood by a society that teaches boys to be competitive and aggressive. When the qualities of gentleness are truly valued in men as much as they are in women, and when all children are encouraged to develop their total personalities regardless of sex, this struggle will become meaningless.
Given the pip
Frankly, Apple Day ranks bottom of my list of significant events for the year. I am more interested in an apple for the teacher (my job), by which I mean that nowadays it is difficult to find time for teaching let alone discussing secondarily-derived trivia about apples.
J S Nightingale
We looked forward to the August issue on Fundamentalism (NI 210) with considerable interest. To say we were disappointed would be an understatement. Instead of dealing honestly with the issue, you seemed determined to undermine all religious consciousness.
Why, for example, is it difficult for Chris Brazier to understand that world hunger is caused not by God's inaction but by humankind's? It is our own determination to live selfishly rather than follow God's directive to love our neighbour as ourselves that has created painfully unfair global food distribution. In your zeal to whitewash fundamentalism, you have broadened your brush to include all of Christianity.
Dave and Aileen Arnold
Thank you for your September issue East meets West, North forgets South (NI 211). The 'action replay' article highlighted events that changed the political shape of the world. But I was amazed in the entry for April 1990 that you didn't mention the introduction of multi-party democracy in Nepal. This was finally granted by the King after a long campaign by opposition groups which finally united to achieve their ends, urged on by publicity and media coverage of events in Eastern Europe which raised awareness of 'people power'. The previous one-party system and its record of human rights will hopefully now be improved on.
The use of chemical weapons is absolutely forbidden under international law. Yet little was done about Saddam's repeated use of chemical weapons against Iran after 1983. When that war ground to a halt in July 1988, Saddam used chemical weapons against Kurdish villages on August 25. Next day, the UK persuaded the UN Security Council to pass resolution 620 condemning the use of chemical weapons and calling for 'appropriate and effective measures' if the weapons were used again. They were - two days later. And again in September and October 1988. Had the Security Council responded to these outrages in line with Resolution 620 Saddam would hardly have dared invade Kuwait.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
People and other pests
Visitors to the native people's project run by Mari Marcel Thekaekara
and her husband, belong to two categories - those delightful to have around, and the
pain-in-the-anatomy variety. Mari Marcel sorts out the wheat from the chaff.
In recent years, tribal people have become a 'fashionable' group to work with in development circles. And in the Nilgiris, South India, our physical remoteness from the rest of the country makes us especially attractive to a wide range of visitors.
Before we were married, Stan and I belonged to an internationally affiliated Catholic student group. Our homes were open to students from all over the world and this gave us the opportunity for cross-cultural exchanges which have influenced us ever since. Our closest friends came from different continents. And early in our marriage we decided to keep our house open for young people in search of different options. After a while however the parade of visitors has begun to seem too much even for us.
Some visitors have a genuine interest in development and tribal people: they are concerned, sympathetic and sensitive. These people we welcome for their intelligent exchange of ideas, for we have neither the time nor the inclination for normal socializing.
Other visitors are of a different kind. They come in all nationalities, shapes and sexes. Instantly recognizable. Obviously obnoxious. Self-termed charity supporters, they generally arrive unannounced, apologizing profusely on behalf of the Indian postal system for the telegram which didn't arrive. This group believes in project-hopping, which is a useful way to see the Third World at someone else's expense. Hospitality is an Indian tradition. And rarely does anyone mind hosting people. It is considered part of life. But people do mind being unfairly used.
Conversely, I have been embarrassed at 'radical activists' (Third Worlders) unashamedly leeching off Western friends in Europe and the US. The Westerners have guilt complexes about our suffering masses, and unquestioning admiration for the activists working towards revolution. So where they would have kicked a fellow country-person in the pants, they acquiesce abjectly to the most unreasonable demands.
Anthropologists of course, descend on us in hordes. The majority regard the tribals as interesting subjects, not people. They arrive armed with paper and pens, research paraphernalia and not an iota of sensitivity or human concern for the people. They charge into their subjects' homes obsessed with their questionnaires, oblivious to people's objections and with no respect for their privacy. 'Would you allow these people to invade your home and ask you what you eat at each meal?' I asked a researcher. I was answered by a blank, uncomprehending stare. 'But I need the information for my thesis,' was his reply.
Recently, an avalanche of anthropology students from neighbouring Kerala University descended on a tribal village. They camped nearby and besieged the poor villagers mercilessly for days on end. Their questionnaires needed embarrassing details of the most intimate kind. One ridiculous young girl questioned an old Moolukurumba woman about the details of her wedding night. Annoyed, the old woman retorted 'Get married and you'll find out'. A younger tribal woman, similarly harassed, retreated embarrassed to her husband. Laughing, he replied 'Send her to me and I'LL show her'. The student hastily moved away.
The majority of tribal people however are guileless, defenceless against the thick-skinned academics who come to question them. These academics seem oblivious to the fact that mere friendliness would obtain more authentic research material. Take the British anthropologist who spent a year living with local tribals. She was sensitive and won the people over. Consequently, our exchange with her was fruitful and rewarding. She gave us a number of insights which opened up whole new perspectives we had missed.
We had observed that most of the tribals found it impossible to fit in with the local plantation culture which involved a fixed six-day week, an eight-to-five routine. They opted out of the system even when their children were starving, preferring their freedom to the shackles of permanent plantation jobs. Locals tended to dismiss the tribals as lazy even though tribals tackle some of the most thankless jobs around.
The anthropologist observed the tribal people's work patterns over some months and pointed out that these people were still adhering to their hunter-gatherer traditions. The theory made sense. Suddenly our entire perspective changed. For years we had been puzzling over the tribal four-day week. And suddenly we understood it. This influenced our planning and helped us to accept a way of life that had until then seemed frustratingly unreasonable.
So now, when the going gets rough and we have had a surfeit of free-loaders, alternative tourists or just plain pain-in-the-anatomy types, before declaring a blanket ban on all visitors, we just stop and tell ourselves that this person might just belong to the right category. With this firmly in mind, we pause, breathe deeply. And take a chance.
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