issue 222 - August 1991
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Your issue Bang bang you're dead (NI 221) was right to make the point that we can all do something to tackle the arms trade. There is no better evidence of this than the efforts of the women at Greenham Common who by their own actions inspired many thousands of people with the courage to actively protest against the nuclear threat. Through a disciplined and highly innovative campaign of non-violent direct action they succeeded in using the media in a sustained way to raise public awareness, as few other protest groups have ever done. They, perhaps more than any other group in the West this century, showed what it is possible for ordinary people to achieve when they apply their intelligence, humour and initiative to the task of achieving change.
This September 5th, 1991, marks ten years of non-stop women's resistance to militarism outside the main gates of RAF/USAF Greenham Common. Many will be surprised that we are still here; the British state met the camps' persistent, non-violent, non-aligned challenge to the military with strict censorship and police violence. And on August 5th, 1989 a young Welsh woman living and working at the base was killed by a West Midlands police horse-box. Helen's mother, dissatisfied with the cursory inquest into her daughter's death, fought bravely to get to the truth of what happened. But recently a Judicial Review' turned down her application for a re-opening of the inquest to examine more thoroughly the conflicting evidence which had been presented.
The camp has endured much censorship, harassment and violence over the past 10 years but the killing of Helen Thomas was the most tragic. Nevertheless we continue our campaign and readers can obtain details of forthcoming events by sending a SAE to Yellow Gate, Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, nr Newbury, Berkshire, UK RG14 7AS.
All Yellow Gate Women, Yellow Gate,
Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp,
Taxing for death
Your fascinating issue Taxed to death (NI 220) skipped over the fact that a proportion of tax revenue goes towards military spending - a form of military conscription in financial terms - with at present no form of conscientious objection possible. This violates a basic right to freedom of conscience - the right not to participate in war when you have a conscientious objection against doing so. It is, for example, one of many ironies of the Gulf War that all those in Britain who campaigned against military action had also paid, through their taxes, for the weaponry which allowed that military action to take place.
There are many groups around the world that are pressing for a way of diverting their taxes to non-military purposes and in the UK we are campaigning for a change in the law to allow conscientious objectors to have the military portion of their taxes - around 11 per cent - diverted to peace-building purposes. For more information write to 'Conscience - The Peace Tax Campaign, la Hollybush Place, London, E2 9QX'.
Conscience - The Peace Tax Campaign,
Full marks again for digging up those relevant facts and figures on a topical issue (Taxed to death NI 220). However as usual the conclusions and recommendations fall short of the mark. The influential and powerful have always found a way around reformist policies however radical. And this applies to tax reforms just as anything else. When it comes down to it, the methods of taxation are not the problem, but money, an instrument of exploitation that has been so drummed into our psyche that even so-called socialists find it difficult to imagine a system without it. You cannot seriously believe tax reforms will alter the injustices perpetuated by the capitalist system. After all NI frequently advertises a T-shirt proclaiming that we cannot eat money, so when will you stop toying with the idea and explain this to your readers.
I would like to correct the piece Democracy: multiparty time (Updates NI 219). The author says 'Zimbabwe's President Mugabe ... has grudgingly introduced pluralism...' But we have so far had three general elections at which opposition parties fielded candidates, and since Independence we have not had a Parliament with 100 per cent members from a single party.
What has happened is that the ruling party continues to capitalize on the absence of 'quality' opposition and also on the mass rural vote. Over the years, Mugabe and some of his party colleagues have tried to present this as proof of overwhelming support for a one-party state. However others have pointed out that this would be a phony mandate because the rural masses, being largely 'uneducated', do not fully grasp the concepts of multiparty democracy. Even some intellectuals in Mugabe's cabinet have conceded this. Mugabe has not 'introduced pluralism' but merely backed down on his determination to make Zimbabwe a one-party state.
Business as usual
I enjoyed Chris Brazier's piece on Vietnam (After the storm NI 216). But like most Vietnam travelogues it gives the false impression that Vietnam is an isolated country where few foreigners dare go - the 'exotic syndrome'. The reality is that for years foreign business people have quietly made thousands of visits and today hundreds of them even live in Vietnam. For them Vietnam is just another (yawn) place to do business in Asia. They study the local methods of commerce and adjust accordingly. They have experiences worth recording because they must understand the country to achieve success. Journalists face no such requirement.
Hõ Chí Minh City, Vietnam
The only reference to trapping animals in your issue on Animal Rights (NI 215) was the statement that 'only one per cent of North American animals trapped for their fur are hunted by native people whose livelihood depends on hunting'. I have no idea whether that is true. But I do know that 70 per cent of trappers where I live are aboriginal and they believe the anti-fur lobby is literally threatening the survival of their children. I just heard a native woman from the Northwest Territories attribute the increase in violence against women in her community to the collapse of the fur trade. How can you suggest to people whose culture has for 10,000 years been based on hunting and sharing meat, that they might want to consider vegetarianism?
Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
I have just returned from New Mexico where I visited a large Navajo/Hopi Native American Indian reservation where levels of poverty, suicide and lack of self-reliance are worse than those in many Third World countries. The really disgraceful aspect of this is that the reservation is situated in the middle of the richest, most powerful nation on earth.
The present famine in Ethiopia need not have happened. Just a few miles away from where people are starving the world's most potent food is multiplying naturally and rotting away in three giant lakes. The food is Spirulina - a blue-green algae, which is the richest source of protein yet discovered. The algae also contains twice as much Vitamin B 12 as liver - the commonly accepted major source - and a massive concentration of other vitamins, minerals and important nutrients.
This algae is a total food source: a Japanese philosopher lived for 15 years off it alone. One acre can produce enough food to feed 400 people a year without fertile land, fresh water, pesticides or herbicides. Ironically Ethiopia is one of the very few places where this algae grows naturally. And the money needed to provide harvesting equipment, a factory and the necessary machinery to solve Ethiopia's food problems is only a fraction of the emergency relief now being provided.
Sam St Clair-Ford
Life Stream Research,
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
The murder of India's Prime Minister has thrown the
entire subcontinent into chaos. Mari Marcel Thekaekara
reflects on the meaning of Rajiv Gandhi's death.
The news of Rajiv Gandhi's murder shattered the nation. Despite over a decade of terrorism, the Indian psyche refuses to become inured to violence. Even in the capital, Delhi, murders still create shock waves.
It is difficult to conceive of anyone hating Rajiv Gandhi, he had such charm and personality. Travelling to Delhi soon after the Bofors Scandal broke - Gandhi was suspected of having accepted bribes from the Swedish arms manufacturer - I wondered why the more decent Congress politicians still stuck to him. The answer became apparent at a ceremony there.
Rajiv's arrival was heralded by the glamorous Black Cat Commandos. There was a fanfare of music. A hushed silence. He strode in like a film-star. And the crowd screamed its adulation. The people around adored him. Bofors paled into insignificance. Rajiv, the man, floored everyone.
The news of his death seemed unreal despite the gruesome photographs of his body splattered all over the floor; how could so individual a personality suddenly be gone? It was as if he'd merged with the masses he had been determined to reach in his last battle for power.
He didn't deserve such a brutal end. When he entered the political arena in 1984, he brought hope to the nation's millions. He was young. Clean. He held promise for the future.
Somewhere along the line, the halo clanged to the ground with reverberations that echoed around the world. Yet whatever one thought of Rajiv the politician - his naiveté, his colossal blunders - Rajiv the person, remained in everyone's eyes the original nice guy who wanted to clean up the country; whose intentions were good. He blundered because of a coterie of crooks and charlatans surrounding him.
On the morning of Rajiv's funeral I woke up conscious of the reassuring warmth of my sleeping husband, the sounds of the children playing. My thoughts went to Sonia Gandhi and I shivered, chilled by the spectre of her loneliness; the tragedy of her personal loss. Sonia Gandhi sacrificed her husband, and her children their father, to the country. The thought will bring them cold comfort in the bleak days ahead. Yet salute them one must. The family have lived on a tightrope ever since Rajiv accepted the Prime Ministership after his mother's assassination.
Few people want to end up martyrs. And Rajiv's death won't inspire people to follow in his shoes. Yet the time has come for all good people to come to the aid of the country. We seem to be teetering on the brink of disaster.
More than ever before we need clear-headed, right thinking people to enter the political arena. Ordinary decent citizens abhor politics. It is a dirty word. But if upright people refuse to pick up the gauntlet, doesn't it leave the battleground free for the hoodlums, the terrorists and the corrupt? Do we not then get the governments we deserve?
The scenario is not particularly Indian. It amazes me that the Reagans and Bushes of America continue their election victories so easily. Indeed, across the globe there isn't much to choose from in the way of politicians with integrity. The best people shrink from the enormity of the battle; the seeming futility of it all.
Yet in every party there are a few impressive individuals. They stand out. A small number of honest men and women continue to fight for justice and peace; for value-based politics. And it is time that men and women of worth jumped into the fray and took charge of the governance of India. It happened once before, when the best forces in this subcontinent put aside their differences and fought together for a common cause. Briefly. For freedom for the motherland from the British.
India needs leaders with integrity like it never did before. The victims of violence cry out for justice; for peace; for a time of healing. Power-hungry politicians with scant regard for the nations' welfare continue their games of manipulation and power-brokering. They pit Indian against Indian; Hindus against Muslims; Sikhs against their non-Sikh brothers and sisters. On the basis of language, religion and caste, divisions and schisms are created where none existed. Discord and hate is stirred up where there was harmony. Everyone agrees that it must be stopped. But no-one wants to dirty their hands by doing the work.
The violence and hatred must end. Time and again, it is the hour of crisis which produces leaders who restore one's faith in humankind. The Martin Luther Kings, the Mahatma Gandhis emerged from periods of great suffering and anguish. We await the new order. It must come from the people.
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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