New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 231

new internationalist
issue 231 - May 1992

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

Gridlock
Cover of the NI Issue 230 I'd love to share your faith in 'global democracy' (Green Justice, NI 230), but I can't. The only two serious attempts so far to control the private motorcar, in the Netherlands and Hong Kong, were abandoned when they severely restricted 'individual freedom' and began to work. So we'll have to wait for the global gridlock to convince us otherwise - by which time it will be too late.

You provide no evidence to suggest that the majority of us, North or South - who live in cities and not up the Amazon or down the Narmada Valley - have changed our minds about the consumer society.

So Saving the Earth looks set to become yet another major issue on which the majority is wrong.

Linda Hampton
Vancouver, Canada

Hair-shirt
Apart from one issue - the Star Trek piss-take (NI 218) - your magazine has failed to do anything constructive about solving the problems the world faces.

Reading NI is like wearing a hair shirt - great for the 2CV - driving, open-toed sandal, Argyle sock and balaclava- wearing, Real Ale-swigging, fascist feminists who bleat endlessly in your pages about what rotten pigs all men are and how all business people are murderers and all blacks are naturally wonderful, warm human beings and how anyone with views different to theirs should be ignored, imprisoned, stoned to death or at least not let into the bar on wimmin's night.

Preaching to the converted is easy. Communicating to those who regard the world as an infinite resource to be exploited or who see nothing wrong in screwing up the world and her husband for a few quid is not such an easy middle-class sop to the conscience or polish to the ego.

Lain Rendell
London, UK

Grounds for divorce
I must point out a woeful inaccuracy in an otherwise interesting article on Sexual Exiles in NI 229. Failure to obey one's husband is not grounds for divorce 'under Islam'. It may be grounds for divorce under Iranian law, but that is an entirely different matter.

Failure to distinguish between laws of a land and religious teaching is a frequent failing of the press and serves to further distort the already biased view of Islam that is prevalent in the West.

One would be very surprised indeed to read, for example, that adultery was the grounds for divorce 'under Christianity'.

Susan Quick
Burnham, UK

Slavery omission
Perhaps I am jaundiced by your failure to mention Anti-Slavery International in the Action Directory of your issue on Human Rights (NI 229). After all we are the world's oldest international human rights organization.

However, I was very surprised at the omission of any mention in the whole issue of the work of the increasing number of Third World Human Rights groups such as the Pastoral Land Commission in Brazil or the Bonded Labour Liberation Fronts in India and Pakistan. Such organizations must be given the opportunity to set the agenda for change in their own countries and the consequent needs for international action and support.

David Ould
Anti-Slavery International,
London UK.

Apartheid lives
Your Running for Rights - a Second NI Olympics (NI 229) takes an ironic twist with the mention of increased freedom in South Africa. For South Africa's Olympics team will still be an apartheid team.

Concealed by the euphoria are three facts. South Africa's black 'homelands' have not been abolished. Eight million blacks (and not even one white) in the four 'independent homelands have still had their South African citizenship stripped from them, thus excluding them from South Africa's sport and riches. And the entire 'homelands' system is the very focal point of apartheid.

Apartheid lives on - and South Africa, as usual, deceives us.

Len Clarke
Uxbndge, UK

Animal chauvinism
I also find myself alternately irritated and amused by 'virtuous vegetarians' (Letters NI 228) who on the one hand ignore that the human being is one of nature's garbage guts, designed to eat anything that is not directly poisonous. On the other hand these virtuous vegetarians deny or belittle plant consciousness. This act can only be described as base animal chauvinism. Is a tree less than a sheep? Life feeds upon life. That's life. I enjoy my vegetables and I too must admit to discrimination. When I eat meat I make sure it's dead first.

Robert Maxwell
Ipswich, UK

VIV QUILLIN cartoon
cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

One village
What actually happened in the early days of Oxfam trading (Of Mickey Mouse and hunger NI 228) was the company bought 'native handicrafts' from UK importers in order to make profits for its own purposes. It was this practice of setting out to make a profit off the work of the poor, even if to give charity to other poor, which I was unwilling to continue.

The word 'alternative' was first used in relation to our concept for Bridge Co-operative, a proposed partnership of producers and consumers controlled by both in their joint interests. Our present marketing organization, One Village, is committed to the same partnership ideal.

Roy Scott
One Village,
Oxford, UK

Some charity
The views expressed in 'Changing Charity' (NI 228) will certainly not encourage greater accountability within management of voluntary sector organizations.

Superficial comments on the emerging 'professionalism' disguise and leave unquestioned many employment practices of some non-religious aid agencies where it is not uncommon for unionization to be viewed with hostility; summary dismissal to occur following personality disputes with managers; sex-role stereotyping in recruitment to go unchallenged and award wages not to be paid.

Before voluntary sector managers can claim credibility for their 'crusade' in the south, they must first reorientate their organizations at home to ensure non-exploitative and fair employment practices.

Lydia Holmes
Footscray, Australia

Impure heroines
Geoffrey Fox, who wrote about Latin American soap operas in the Update section (NI 227) has got some of his facts wrong. In Brazilian tele-novelas the heroines are usually far from being pure and virginal.

The heroine he mentions, Dona Beija, is in fact a prostitute and a murderer. Her story is based upon the real life experiences of an eighteenth century woman from Minas Gerais who, at the age of 15, was abandoned by her fiancé after being raped by an important politician.

Rejecting the two options open to her - to become her assailant's mistress or to enter a brothel - she did something unheard of at the time: she became an independent prostitute.

She was very successful, but she remained plagued by her continuing and frustrated love for her ex-fiancé, who had meanwhile married someone else.

In a fit of jealousy, she had him murdered, then repented, retired and became the benefactress of the Church and various charities. Hardly, I would say, a woman who 'remained predictably pure'!

Clara Allain
São Paulo, Brazil

Visual pessimists
It's a pity, the content of the NI is innovative, courageous, positive, great. But the visual presentation does not correspond with this at all.

Why is your journal so full of black bars, black lines, black rectangles, black ink? Is your view of the world pessimist? I don't have this impression: the text shows hope, possibilities for action, change. After the redesign the pages became slightly clearer - but the mood is still heavy.

Felix Küchler
Natitingou, Berlin.

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

Letter from India

An international GATTastrophe
Fancy eating food laced with DDT? Or bits of dead dolphin in your tinned fish? You'll have no
chance to say no thank you' if GATT gets its way. Man Marcel Thekaekara explains why.

GATT. General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It's enough to turn you off and let your eyes automatically move on to a more interesting headline. But STOP. This concerns YOU. GATT is dangerous. It seeks to control your life so that a number of already rich people can get richer.

Concerned people from most countries of the world are attempting to fight this new menace. But the vested interests involved are extremely powerful. And since the mere mention of trade talks makes most people yawn, they have succeeded in keeping from the public at large news of a process which is like a revised hi-tech form of colonialism.

Their intention is to make the world economy a friendlier, safer environment for multinational corporations, particularly those from the US, Japan and rich EC countries.

GATT aims to remove all non-tariff trade barriers, which means every country gives up its right to determine what should or should not enter its borders. For example Britain and most European countries have stricter controls on injecting hormones into meat than the US. And these would be lifted as they are a barrier to free trade.

Environmental laws everywhere would be revised as GATT wishes an international (GATT) code to take the place of current, more stringent rules won after years of hard work by environmental and consumer lobbies. Among other regulations GATT has already attacked are the Danish recycling laws, a US asbestos ban, a Canadian fish conservation programme, the EC's meat hormone ban, Canadian provincial-level reforestation programmes.

Environmentalists had succeeded in getting legislation passed in the US that banned fisherfolk from using a method of tuna fishing which also killed dolphins. Now Mexico has gone to GATT complaining that the ban on the dolphin killing method is an unfair restriction on Mexican trawlers. And even a US Senator known for his conservatism joined the fight against GATT, furious that a US law could be overturned by Mexican or other GATT representatives.

Cultural or religious bans will not be tolerated either, so Islamic or Jewish populations will no longer be able to restrict the entry of pork products into their countries.

And the people of the North are about to lose a big battle against safe foods. GATT seeks to impose a set of standards which are consistently weaker than those of the US or EC countries and which will mean that Americans and Europeans will be forced to accept food laced with DDT.

Congress Watch activists, frustrated at not being able to make their point - neither US Senators nor Congress persons wanted to read boring GATT reports - dumped broccoli on every Congress person's table one morning with a note saying that after GATT regulations take hold, 'the broccoli you eat will contain 33 times more DDT, 21 times more Permethrin, three times more Aldrin and five times more Heptachlor'. Only then did the politicians sit up and read the report.

None of this however seems to bother US trade representatives who have turned their guns on those developing countries that have maintained that allowing US multinationals free entry would damage local enterprises. The US accuses India of not observing US patent rights. Among other things these stipulate that if a US scientist produces a drug, no Third World manufacturer can attempt to produce this medicine even if they arrive at the product through their own ingenuity. Instead they have to buy it from the US at US prices. And here comes the crunch; India and developing countries simply cannot afford US medicines. Indian medicines are about ten times cheaper. Under GATT regulations, however, such countries will have no alternative but to cough up.

The same is true of food grains. Western scientists take indigenous seed from Asia or Africa, experiment with it in their labs, and voilà, it's their invention and they patent it. Asian and African farmers must buy it back for extortionate sums. And under GATT this situation will worsen.

Already people from every nation have united to fight GATT. It has to be a world campaign. Join it. Your life depends on it.

Mari Marcel Thekaekara has been working for seven years on a project she and her husband started for native people in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

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