New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 223

new internationalist
issue 223 - September 1991

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

Hard feelings
Cover of the NI Issue 222 I’m glad you managed to respond more quickly than usual to the most recent series of calamities in the Third World (Assailed by the Cyclone NI 222). But aren’t you a bit hard on us poor NI readers?

If ‘we’ would rather not know uncomfortable truths about child deaths in Bangladesh, why do we bother to read NI at all? If ‘our’ attention-span is so short, what’s the point of going on about disasters at such great length in the magazine?

Making us feel bad about something ‘we’ are often working very hard to change may be truthful but it’s a bit unfair – especially when in other respects this issue is such a rewarding read.

Leo Ashurst,
Bideford, UK

Noble savage
Once again I am writing to complain about the Letter from Tamil Nadu (NI 221). This time we were treated to the classic cliché of the ‘noble savage’.

The tribal people of South India apparently do not need to learn how to read because for them the spoken word is sufficiently reliable. Their way of life is portrayed as ‘uncorrupted by outside values and standards’, implying that literacy would introduce corrupting influences.

Mari Marcel knows that it is because of their illiteracy that it has been possible for the tribals’ land to be taken from them. Yet instead of trying to convince them that literacy is a means of defending themselves, she and her husband find themselves unable to answer the first simple questions that an old tribal man asks them.

Pete and Sue Somerville
Manchester, UK

Grim grip
I enjoyed reading NI 221 on The armed agenda. Just one little point about Namibia which you omitted in your Country Profile.

Walvis Bay which is the principal port for Namibia is officially part of, and controlled directly by, South Africa. This makes Namibian ‘independence’ less obvious than it might first appear when looking at a map.

David Somerville
Bradford, UK

Briefly confused
The camera may not lie but the caption certainly can. In NI 221 (The armed agenda) ‘the burly and belligerent military man’ to whom the bunch of flowers is being winsomely presented is in fact a traffic policeman, as his Russian arm band declares.

John D Anderson
Shipley, UK

Bulging budget
Your arms trade issue (The armed agenda NI 221) prompts me to ask what we should do about a nation that has an arms budget which contradicts its expressed intentions and suggests sinister future plans? Classic example – South Africa. Its white government’s assurances of an early non-racial, peace-loving democracy, is flatly contradicted by its consistently enormous arms budgets. Since none of its neighbours even remotely pose a threat and the ‘communist bogey’ has collapsed, why the preservation of this vast arsenal unless the whites plan to continue intimidating defenceless blacks – including those in surrounding states?

Len Clarke
Uxbridge, UK

Vicious cars
As someone who has been involved with the ‘Peace Movement’ I was greatly surprised to see ‘Volkswagen, Audi, Seat’ listed in the Action section of your arms issue as car manufacturers having no military connection (NI 221). I believe that they are connected with the production of heavy duty military trucks and indirectly, with the production of the mobile Cruise missile launchers.

Of course this begs the question, ‘Can you buy a car without a military connection?’ I think not. I can only recall Japanese producers, Honda – and they supply engines and technology for British Aerospace-owned Rover. Or perhaps Toyota, who supply many vehicles used by the UN Peace Keeping Forces.

Martyn Rogers
Great Malvern, UK

Curious contradictions
Now is the time to seriously reconsider the effectiveness of the co-operative under which the editorship of the NI lies. If the NI wishes to advance a coherent and consistent argument, each magazine must follow similar principles. At present this does not happen. Here are two examples which highlight divisions between your editors: In NI 217 (edited by Sue Shaw) biotechnology was portrayed as a threat to the Third World farmer. Yet in NI 213 (edited by David Ransom) the view was expounded that biotechnology was the Third World’s saviour as it would ‘quadruple’ food production.

In NI 195 (edited by Wayne Ellwood) there was strong criticism of Malaysia’s ‘Proton’ car. But unfortunately this view was not shared by David Ransom (again) in NI 204. He thought that the exportation of 10,000 Protons was worth applauding.

Unless NI editors can act in unison, why do they think their views should be taken seriously?

York Ryding
Southport, UK

EDITOR REPLIES: We do aim to advance a coherent and consistent argument in the pages of NI. For this reason each magazine proposal is scrutinized and debated by all the editors. On the basic principles we agree. But there will be times when we disagree on specific details and may draw different conclusions – even from the same examples.

Cartoon by VIV QUILLIN
Illustration by VIV QUILLAN

Misunderstood
Anton Gratz misses the point about tax (Letters NI 221). It is perfectly acceptable for governments to fine people to stop actions like factory pollution just as it is for them to give money to encourage other activities like education; there is no fundamental distinction between the two types of government behaviour. The NI issue on tax (Taxed to death NI 220) simply criticized the uses to which tax breaks are often put – not their actual existence.

Mark Pack
London, UK

Political pictures
Your Starve trek issue was a witty and effective way of revealing the reality behind the American Dream. Perhaps the rather pompous letters of complaint in NI 220 were from readers who believe that humour has no place in the discussion of serious issues. However cartoons have a long and honourable tradition of making effective political points.

Jerry Mayers
Oxford, UK

Memorable past
Some of your readers have been irked by Mari Marcel Thekaekara’s seemingly pro-Saddam Hussein and anti-Anglo-American stance (Letters NI 220). But like it or not, her sentiments were felt by most South Asians during the Gulf crisis. South Asians remember what happened to their not-so-far-away neighbours, the islanders of Diego Garcia, who were evicted from their homeland by the British so that America could establish a military base there.

Prakesh Seth
London, UK

Benevolent tax
Unfortunately none of your writers in the tax issue (NI 220) realized that a tax exists which differs fundamentally from all others and which offers radical solutions to present injustices and the lack of incentives in existing tax systems.

Land tax – or Community Ground Rent – forces the handful of elite families who monopolize land to reimburse the community for their exclusive use of what should be the common and equal birthright of all. If used, it would compel the opening up of vast areas of unused or under-used land, would not penalize the hard-working farmer as it is not productivity-linked, and cannot be evaded.

Karl Williams
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Disappointed hope
I am disappointed that you promote and sell a non-vegetarian cook book. Surely the new civilization on this earth will be vegetarian. After all, vegetarianism is the only humane diet.

T Bussey
Stanthorpe, Queensland, Australia

Big business
We often hear and read reports of surplus food crops like grain which are stock-piled or wasted while in other parts of the world there are famines. And while it is true that voluntary organizations like Oxfam do a commendable job, their efforts are not adequate to tackle the world problem.

Could there not be a central world agency which would control funds donated by wealthy organizations and businesses like banks, to buy surplus food stocks at a rate which would give producers a fair profit – and then distribute these free of charge where they are needed?

Pamela McCormack
London, UK

Multi-concerns
The letter from Eric Topp ( Letters NI 218) angered me. Caring about animals does not mean one is not interested in world hunger and pollution. We can be concerned about more than one thing at a time. All living things deserve our respect. Should some creatures be denied this just because they have fur or feathers or languages we don’t understand? By the way, the syphilis microbe and smallpox virus are not animals.

Evelina Smith, Stoke
Quebec, Canada

Respecting variety
Your issue on the Amazon (Thirst for justice NI 219) reminded me of what we in Australia have done to the aborigines; destroying their life-styles, taking away their land and disregarding their tribal beliefs.

No wonder they have turned to alcohol. It is probably their only way of achieving happiness. Why can’t they be given respect? There is only one world. Cultures should live together and help each other too.

Mrs Diane Redman
Chadstone, Victoria
Australia

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from India

Meat matters
Temptation or greed? Mari Marcel
Thekaekara
is troubled by NI.

The NI issue on Animal Rights caused an outbreak of warring emotions and thoughts in my once contented brain. Having been reared in a strictly non-vegetarian home, I learnt the rule of survival as an omnivore from childhood: avoid the link between meat on the table and all thought of the terrors of the abbatoir.

A Christian education indoctrinated me with the belief that all living creatures are made for humans to enjoy, and helped assuage doubts about the morality of killing animals. Paradoxi-cally Western culture preaches kindness to animals except when they are being slaughtered for food. Similarly in the land of Ahimsa, India, it is not unusual to see a farmer who would die rather than eat beef, whipping his bullocks with impunity to get them to move faster. Or shoving a rod up the wild-eyed half-starved animal’s anus to get it to the market-place on time.

Rarely are children chastized for teasing animals. During Diwali – a festival of fireworks – it is common to see a pack of brats amusing themselves by tying fire-crackers to some helpless mongrel’s tail. Adults smile indulgently at them, the rare exception being the English-speaking, reared-on-a-diet-of-Kipling kind of person.

Soon after my marriage I considered vegetarianism seriously for the first time when my husband’s Brahmin teacher, a person both of us revered and loved, asked ‘How can you kill an animal and eat it?’ He spoke so passionately our only response was a weak ‘it’s a difficult habit to break’. Intellectually and emotionally we agreed with him. Several times we discussed the possibility of turning vegetarian. But finally we relapsed into orgies of meat-eating, pushing those uncomfortable feelings to a safe distance in the recesses of our minds.

Then NI arrived. And with it the re-opening of an unfinished chapter. For still there is conflict. It makes sense to turn vegetarian. The only obstacles for us are inconvenience and habit.

And I have another incentive – a vivid childhood memory of my grandmother feeding bread and precious milk to the cat and dog. Outside children played in the dirt while their mother, Shanti, mopped our homes and cleaned our bathrooms. These kids never got as much milk as our cat. And they would have snatched the food from the animal’s dishes if they could have. The thought always made me sick, even as a child. The only solution Shanti’s employers could suggest was that she should get herself sterilized. As for her eight malnourished children – too bad – we couldn’t possibly feed all the starving children in Calcutta.

Today the same issue torments me. The money we spend on our Doberman’s food would set a hungry child on the road to health. Every time I pour milk into the dog’s dish, the unbidden image of a rickety, starving child looms reproachfully before me. So what is the answer? Don’t feed the dogs? Obviously not. It would be ideal to have no starving children. But the kids are there in every village I visit. And though I wish to God they wouldn’t haunt me, they do.

Protein deficiencies are a major problem here – especially severe anaemia. Traditionally tribals got most of their protein from hunting which is now forbidden. And people are dying in huge numbers as a result. Women suffer most – many young girls die in childbirth.

Our doctors examine many poor, pregnant women and the healthiest are Christians and Muslims because they eat beef, the only affordable meat, at least once or twice a week. This takes them over the brink of anaemia. And in the hope of preventing more deaths from anaemia we are promoting the rearing of rabbits and fish.

‘How can you raise these animals with the sole objective of killing them?’ a friend shuddered recently. And I share her revulsion. A few years ago I would not have. But now I am plagued with doubt.

The solution would be for our country to be self-sufficient in protein-rich foods like pulses and soybeans. But everyone is growing cash crops for profit. In India no-one keeps cattle for meat. Only old, tired animals past their prime end up as beef. Even many wealthy Muslims and Christians shun this as the food of the lower castes. Which is not so bad because a bit of beef makes all the difference to a poor, pregnant woman.

So could one ever ban animal slaughter in India? For myself, the aroma of a succulent kebab wafting on the air is a temptation. Pure greed. Something I could do without. But I could not make the moral decision to take away a bit of meat which might make the difference between life and death to a child. Should I?

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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