New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 234

new internationalist
issue 234 - August 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

Beautiful bodies
Cover of the NI Issue 233 Able-bodied prejudice against disabled people (Disabled Lives NI 233) is rooted in the attitudes of self-hatred that many of us have towards ourselves and our own bodies.

This is perpetuated by the images of able-bodied men and and women which appear in advertisements and films as 'ideal types' - standards against which we must measure ourselves. In this 'competition' many of us come to see ourselves as deficient.

It is vital that we unpick our patterns of self-hatred. Because only when we truly love ourselves will our fear and prejudice disappear.

Gillian Walker
London, UK

Mistaken identity
What Wolfgang Sachs actually does in your Development issue (A Guide to the Ruins NI 232) is in the tradition of German 'critical theory' of the so-called Frankfurt school. Each chapter is concerned with a concept which is then subjected to criticism as being one-sided, simplistic and distorting of reality. This theoretical approach derives from Hegel, and is useful to an extent, but there comes a point when it is in danger of turning into sophistry.

For example: Sachs argues that in societies not built on wealth accumulation the economy 'does not stamp its rules and rhythms on the rest of society'. But surely it does: for example in a horticultural society, human action is ruled by the rhythms of the seasons and climatic change in the economies of food production. The very distinction which Sachs tries to make between 'economy' and 'culture' may not be valid in many societies, with the result that the rhythm of the 'economy' is the rhythm of the society as a whole.

The villain has been wrongly identified here: it is not economics which are at fault but capitalism. How are we ever going to arrive at an adequate understanding of the world system unless we identify the problem correctly? And how can we ever deal successfully with capitalism unless we give more serious attention to the task of economic analysis and explanation, which 'culturalists' like Sachs so blithely dismiss?

Peter Somerville
Manchester, UK

Culling girls
The article Aborting Girls Increases (Updates NI 230) invites us to be shocked by the practice in India of aborting female fetuses. Although NI may otherwise defend the right of every woman, whether pregnant or not, to determine the fate of her own body, the article implies that these decisions are being made by chauvinistic Indian men.

Yet ultrasound and other methods of prenatal sex determination are available only to the Indian rich, among whom women's views are respected, especially in family matters such as child-rearing. It is precisely these middle-class women who decide to abort female fetuses because they have known how it was to have been an undervalued girl in Indian society.

And while the idea of gender selection by abortion is distasteful, two desirable consequences might follow. First the cost to parents of a girl's dowry would decrease, and the practice might even die out. Second, if more males are born, Indian parents may no longer consider it necessary to conceive so many children in order to guarantee them sufficient sons to care for them in their old age.

John Stevens
London, UK

Clash of views
Chris Brazier's review of 'The Clash' (NI 229) was an interesting snapshot in time of one generation of rebellious youth. Brazier seems disappointed that the reality behind this rebellion was apolitical. I say good! The problem with subcultures isn't that they sell 'sex, drugs and rock and roll'. It's that they sell identity.

Subcultures are an ersatz community in the mass market. The denizens of these subcultures NEED the great unwashed outside in order to feel a false sense of superiority. They deliberately, even if unconsciously, exacerbate differences to provide the necessary distance. This is the precise opposite of what a political movement should be doing.

By coincidence your review of Daphne Hampson's 'Theology and Feminism' was placed right next door to the Clash review. That she 'shows her sympathy' with 'many attempts to re-establish new rituals and mythologies' is not to her credit. These attempts degrade feminism to the level of a cult. They serve the needs of the existentially dead, not the needs of the general population.

Dr Pat Murtagh
Winnipeg, Canada

Challenging question
When are all the politically correct people going to tell us to call non-developed countries 'developmentally challenged'?

Mark Pack
York, UK

VIV QUILLIN cartoon
cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Victory
According to the article by Chris Phillipsborn (Updates, NI 229), the Stone Container Corporation struck a deal with the Honduras Government. I wrote a letter to a local provincial newspaper on this matter since we have the Stone Consolidated here in Bathurst.

According to an article published in reply to my letter, the Stone Corporation no longer has a deal with the Honduras Government. The Honduras Government cancelled the deal due to pressure from local environment groups and other pressure groups. A little victory against a multinational corporation and a strong regime.

Gilles Halley,
Development and Peace
Bathurat, Canada

Backchat
In your article dealing with the Oxfam-Québec scandal (Changing Charity NI 228), I am quoted as saying that 'all non-governmental organizations work in a deteriorated climate and are going down the drain'. The use of the word 'all' is not accurate and does not reflect the general discussion I had with your reporter at that time. The fact that I am the only named outside independent source used in this article tends to cast a very dark shadow on many NGOs who are doing responsible jobs in international development.

In the case of Ethiopia which we discussed in our interview, many NGOs went through a rapid growth crisis and were sometimes unable to inform the Canadian public about what was really going on in the country: war, corruption, the diversion of aid. But some NGOs did understand the necessity of giving a critical account of what was going on in Ethiopia.

As your article underlines, the Oxfam-Québec scandal is a very good example of concerns about public control and accountability in matters of aid. Unfortunately, many NGOs did not want to go on the record to comment on this scandal. It is clear that the Oxfam-Québec scandal has hurt the aid community; over the last few years, Quebecers have become less and less generous towards international aid campaigns.

I believe that both the practices and messages of Oxfam-Québec and other marketing agents of human misery must be changed.

Yvan Patry
Montreal, Canada

Environmental idiocy
Is it not time that we persuaded the Americans that their attitudes towards the rest of the world can no longer be tolerated? Surely there can be no-one left alive who, having seen President Bush's attitude towards the Earth Summit in Rio, could possibly believe that the US gives a fig about the social and environmental conditions of any part of the planet (including its own)?

While it may be a little hard to sanction this dinosaur of a superpower as it continues to hold the rest of the world to ransom, we could all play a small personal part by boycotting many US company products. The economic damage done to monopolies like Coca-Cola and McDonalds may be small initially, but I don't believe that either of them would enjoy the prospect of being tarred with the same brush of environmental idiocy as the Bush administration.

Or have we all been bought and paid for...?

Glenn D Barker
Peterborough, UK

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

LETTER from LAHORE
Letter from Lagos

Gun law
Encountering strangers on a dark Street can be frightening.
But, according to Maria del Nevo, they are even more
to be feared if they are in police uniform.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY A few years ago when I was living in Lahore I travelled by public transport and although I was warned that it was not safe after dark, the warnings only vaguely worried me: there were usually many people around to protect me.

When I returned at the end of last year, the warnings were more serious. I heard stories of how couples were stopped at gunpoint by groups of boys who held down the man while they assaulted the woman. I heard of dacoits and muggers, who owned the streets after dark... but most worrying are the activities of the police who are supposedly countering this crime wave.

I had only been back a few weeks when a journalist colleague of mine, Zareen, had to cross the city by night in a rickshaw. She was stopped about a kilometre from her house at a police barricade.

A police officer opened the flap door of Zareen's rickshaw and questioned her repeatedly. They let her go after about five minutes. But when she eventually reached her road which is lonely and dark, lights flashed in the rickshaw mirror and the driver slowed down.

The same police officer got out of a van in which eight other constables were sitting holding on to their kalashnikovs. He peered in at Zareen and asked the same questions. She was scared. When silence fell he fixed his eyes on her and she briefly wondered if she would ever get home.

She was eventually released but she had good reason to be fearful. The police in Pakistan have become notorious for bribery, mistreatment and violence. All too frequently you hear of people being tortured in police cells and the incidence of rape in custody is causing increasing concern.

A few weeks ago a Christian couple were in a rickshaw when the police stopped them and accused them of carrying alcohol (which is only against the law for the Muslim majority). They pulled the couple out of the rickshaw and beat up both in broad daylight on a busy main street. No-one dared to intervene.

Shortly afterwards something similar happened to a group of boys who were returning late at night from paying their condolences to a bereaved family. They passed through a police picket on the Sherpao Bridge and drove on despite being signalled by the police to stop. Almost five kilometres on, outside the Governor's House, the police mobile squad came up beside the boy's car and fired at it. The 22-year-old driver, Yaseen, got out with his hands up, imploring them not to fire because he was unarmed. But the police shot him in the chest three times, killing him instantly. And when the other passengers clambered out they were shot in the legs and left bleeding in the road.

Following this cold-blooded killing, the police did a fantastic job of confusing public investigators. There had apparently been another mobile squad out that night, cruising the same area, so there were problems of identification. And the two squads accused each other while they all claimed innocence. The chief of police defended the crime by saying that 'the police shot when Yaseen got out of the car because they thought he might be armed'. The incident has not been forgotten, but no-one expects justice any more.

Last year a young boy drove into a police picket in the dark and was killed. After the incident the Multan Bench of the Lahore High Court declared police barricades illegal. But a subsequent news item reported that the police had been authorized to shoot anyone who passed through a police picket when they were hailed to stop.

More worrying still, police powers were recently augmented by the Terrorist Affected Areas Ordinance, under which a local magistrate is empowered to declare any area 'terrorist affected' if the number of listed crimes is on the increase. Police constables (who can be recruited here on the basis of just a single matric pass) are then entitled to search without a warrant and to shoot a person 'suspected' of being about to commit one of the specified crimes.

The fear grows. Almost daily we hear of more atrocities committed by the police. Many families stay in their homes at night. It is like we are a people under siege by our own law enforcers.

Maria del Nevo is a former NI staff member who now lives and works in Lahore.

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