issue 219 - May 1991
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Taking the Michael
Hey punters, inspired by your issue Starve trek (NI 218) I've got a great idea for a magazine about sexual politics. It will trace the miraculous evolution of Tarzan from a brutal and sexist ape to a sensitive and highly aware man through a traumatic period during which he is unable to hold down a job and can only grunt, beat people up, swing around in trees and talk to the animals. The story will tell how this immature and sexist body builder makes the miraculous passage to real manhood with the help of a chimpanzee, a men's group and a transvestite called Jane. We'll call it 'Tarzan - the New Man'. What say you?
Congratulations on your excellent Test-tube coup (NI 217). Readers may like to add to the list of useful addresses that of Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering (FINRAGE), International Co-ordination, P0 Box 20 19 03, D-200 Hamburg 20, Germany. We have biotechnology contacts in 36 countries and can supply readers with the address of any national contact.
One issue which seems to rise naturally from your Biotechnology issue (Test tube coup NI 217) is the possibility that Africa's peasant farmers are saving seed crop from their hybrid 'green revolution' seed types. This has always been the basic practice of farming, and farmers must naturally be tempted to retain seed from such a miraculous crop. Yet hybrid seeds are infertile. This must be difficult to explain to farmers. I even wonder if it might be an unrecognised cause of famine in Africa.
W A Pritchard
The Letter from Tamil Nadu makes me almost despair of the human race (NI 217). What is the use of trying to help the oppressed people of the world if they admire their oppressors and say 'Oh, aren't they brave?' So brave of Saddam Hussein, wasn't it, to order his planes to drop nerve gas on Kurdish villagers and massacre 4,000 defenceless people? So brave to shout defiantly 'I'LL make Kuwait a blood bath,' and from his deep bunker, to order his soldiers to slaughter Kuwaiti civilians?
I wish Germans and Japanese who remember the Second World War would remind Iraq how they climbed out of the humiliation of defeat, not by swearing revenge, but by repudiating their militarism to become in consequence more prosperous and more respected in the world.
Isle of Wight, UK
One of the more irritating features of NI is the sanctimonious sic which occurs beside each and every example of sexist language - even when the quote is obviously from a time when terminology was exclusively male. The least you could do is be consistent. Why no sic beside Chris Brazier's 'She Who Would Valiant Be' sung to his Vietnamese companions on the road to Hue (After the storm NI 216)?
I have been reading with great interest your issue on Vietnam (NI 216). As Chairman of the Executive Committee of Medical and Scientific Aid for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, I find much to commend in the magazine and hope that as a result something will be done to stop the US Government, followed meekly by the British Government, from continuing its economic embargo on trade with Vietnam, years after the end of the war.
E J Shellard
How your issue on Vietnam (NI 216) brought back memories of my visit in 1987. Like Chris, I started in Hanoi and finished in Saigon, and most of the places mentioned were familiar to me. The photos taken on my last morning in Saigon sum up memories of this lovely country - the 'Land of Smiles'. I believe that the Vietnamese people aren't happy in spite of being poor but precisely because they do not have much material wealth, which enables them to appreciate the real quality of life. It will be a terrible shame if this country is ruined by Western-style development and commercialism.
Peter B Hardy
As a member of Amnesty International I was disturbed that your Vietnam issue (NI 216) contained virtually no mention about human rights abuses in that country, and that the editor seemed unconcerned that the Vietnamese Government is strongly resisting moves towards multi-party democracy. Many people in Vietnam continue to be imprisoned because of their criticism of the regime and they have been tortured while in detention. I am surprised that you did not raise this issue in your magazine.
Kill your own
Possibly because you people are such dyed-in-the-wool city-dwellers, the most obvious way of combating the evil of factory farming was not even mentioned in issue NI 215 (Animal Rights and Wrongs): moving back to the land, raising one's own live-stock humanely and butchering them oneself.
This enables the consumer to know what she cannot know otherwise - namely that the meat she eats has come from an animal that was well cared for and killed with minimal suffering.
I would like to protest at the last two paragraphs of Celia Kitzinger's otherwise excellent article on 'Sex, beauty and beasts' (NI 215). Certainly there are links between the way in which men exercise power over animals and the way they exercise power over women. But why should it be seen as part of a feminist analysis to attack male writers for emphasising that there is a 'rational basis' for the animal liberation movement?
Pity and sentiment are a proper and important part of our attitudes towards animals. But when I wrote Animal Liberation I stressed the rational basis of the movement, because at the time it was too easy for the great majority of the population to dismiss concern for animals as something that was fine for animal lovers, but had nothing to do with them.
The terms 'womanish pity', 'feminine sentimentality' and 'womanish sentimentality' to which Celia Kitzinger refers, are not of course used by me, or by Tom Regan, the other male author she mentions. It is therefore cheap and quite unfair of Celia Kitzinger to conclude that Tom Regan and I are 'recycling sexism'. These accusations introduce division into a movement in which women and men have, in my experience, generally worked harmoniously and very much on equal terms.
George Lewis' letter cries out for rebuttal (Letters NI 215). Men choose the 'dangerous, brutalizing' jobs because we also choose to be the dominant power-brokers in society Men who hate women do so because women are rightly resisting male dominance and abuse. Human salvation lies not in women having 'the generosity and sensitivity to share their lives with us' but in our accepting our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and sharing, for the first time mostly, our lives with women. We need to become whole persons, not macho combatants. Until we do this, we are going to remain emotionally lobotomized, paranoid automatons living nasty, brutish and shorter (than women's) lives, victimizing anyone weaker than ourselves.
Prairies Men's Network,
The Country Profile of Jamaica (NI 213) gives the misleading impression that Jamaica is a land of reggae and Rastafarianism. I was disappointed to find on arrival in 1983 that reggae took a back seat when Michael Jackson and Bonnie Tyler were on the air. I heard more Bob Marley during a term at the University College of North Wales than in a whole year at Kingston - even though Tuff Gong Studios were just down the road.
Rastafariansm was practised by less than five per cent of the population. And while most Jamaicans were preoccupied by slavery, they preferred to go to the US in search of American soap opera life-styles rather than to Africa. The profile would have told us more if it had concentrated on the real issue in Jamaica - the escape from poverty.
A J Roby
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Dying for glory
Soldiers get blown to bits for it. Politicians thrive on it. Poets wax lyrical about
it. Mari Marcel Thekaekara reports on India's rising tide of patriotism.
As a child, I was appalled by the poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade. Our poetry teacher, a romantic and ardent patriot, adored Tennyson. Her voice filled the room, vibrant, charged with emotion: 'Was there a man dismay'd? Not tho' the soldiers knew someone had blundered'.
Everything in me rebelled against the futility of that line. But in patriotic, poetic Bengal such sentiments were put down immediately as traitorous glimmerings of a subversive mind. Most people adored the rhetoric. It was a favourite in every elocution contest.
It takes very little to breathe patriotism into people. In Britain during the Falklands War I watched normal youngsters transformed into bloodthirsty little monsters. 'Blood for blood,' the children screamed and stomped around whooping for joy at each new Argentinian defeat. 'Do you realize that victory or defeat are euphemisms for dead soldiers? Each one with a grieving family?' I asked. 'Annihilate the Argentinians. Rule Britannia. We'LL finish the Faildands,' were the hysterical responses. Television and newsprint had done their bit. War hysteria gripped all but the minority of hardcore pacifists.
Closer to home, for months now, there have been war clouds hovering ominously over our heads. Television reports, video news, magazines and newspaper headlines carry reports of Pakistani aggression. The politicians and mullahs need a war to divert attention from their domestic problems. It's an old story: history repeating itself.
A few months ago Indian journalists who visited Pakistan in the euphoria of the much vaunted Rajiv-Benazir romance, waxed eloquent about how ordinary Pakistanis in the street hugged them with tears of joy, welcoming them with nostalgia for the old homeland of pre-Independence days. The ordinary Pakistani has relatives in India. But power games continue to be played by politicians and preachers. And ordinary people pay the price.
'Oh God, I can't bear the Pakistanis to win,' announced my five year old son with all the inherent agony possible at his age. He was referring to cricket not war, having recently been converted. But the intensity of his declaration knocked me out, an obvious result of the aggressive atmosphere around him.
'Who are these Pakistanis?' I asked, confident there was nothing of the child prodigy in him as far as his geography went. 'It doesn't matter, he muttered, exasperated. 'We have to win, not they.'
I was appalled at the way he was already becoming conditioned: I had expected him to be insulated from such talk by our family and friendship circle. Yet the current carries us all. Like a massive tidal wave, it sweeps us along in spite of logic, reason and the experience of years. Patriotism takes over. I remember feeling indignation and anger at a US senator's insistence for the UN (read US) to step in and decide the Kashmir question for us. Who the hell do they think they are anyway? was my instant reaction. That's only a short step away from 'We should teach the Pakistanis a lesson once and for all'. Which is the kind of attitude that becomes common in every Indo-Pakistani flare up.
In 1971 we had God on our side and the reality of millions of refugees pouring into Calcutta. Genocide in Bangladesh. Now the Pakistanis are pouring into Kashmir. The opposition stirs up more trouble trying to get maximum political mileage out of it. And no matter how hard one tries, clear thinking and objectivity disappear.
I always laughed at US paranoia about Soviet aggression, and the argument that US defence budgets had to keep escalating to save the world from Communism and Russian expansionism. But recently in New Delhi, the tables turned when our own budget was presented.
As budgets go it was fairly sensible, taxing luxury goods and upper income groups, subsidizing fanners and giving relief to poorer sections. No eyebrows were raised that the defence outlay has gone up by a staggering 1,250 crores ($450 million). It was expected by everyone, a foregone conclusion. Even the opposition had to concede that with war on our horizon, the increased expenditure is totally justifiable. And I hate to admit this. But I am forced to agree.
If the Pakistanis think we're weak or unprepared they will walk in the way the Chinese did in 1962. So say the generals. It's the same argument that the Americans use to justify Star-Wars and which I have never bought. But I'd hate to think of my children blown to smithereens because of power games in Pakistan. So in the end pretensions to pacifism have to be jettisoned. It's back to Tennyson. No one can reason why. Soldiers have to die. Someone always blunders.
Mari Marcel Thekaekara has been working for the last seven years on a project she and her husband started for native people in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
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