New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 238

new internationalist
issue 238 - December 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

Cosmic aid
Cover of the NI Issue 237 I'm sure you'll get plenty of complaints from people who feel the NI shouldn't have gone anywhere near a subject like the paranormal (Magical Mystery Tour NI 237). But this is not one of those.

No, my complaint is rather that the issue did not go far enough. Your editor was so busy trying to make up his mind how much of the field to take seriously that he failed to recognize the political dimension to much New Age spiritual activism. Many New Age activists are committed campaigners for the environment. Some would go further, as at the recent Alternative Earth Summit in Eastbourne, and claim that on 26 July this year there was a cosmic time shift which poured positive influences in from the 'higher planes' to help humankind confront the environmental crisis.

But even if you dismiss that as totally wacked-out you should still recognize that the best way to protect the planet is to encourage a holistic spirituality which makes the connections between us and the universe instead of elevating us into a superior species of modem conquistadors.

Devon Smith
Cirencester, UK

Sex sells
We at Commonground are great admirers and promoters of the NI. Yet increasingly we have begun to note your penchant for displaying young, attractive black women on your front cover. I reckon the cover of your population issue with its big-breasted feeding mother (Sex, lies and global survival NI 235) tends to confirm your willingness to indulge in that old marketing ploy - sex sells! Is this tactic becoming your version of World Vision's hungry big-eyed child?

Ed McKinley
Commonground Co-operative,
Seymour, Victoria, Australia

NI response:
We're not interested in selling through sex. But you may have a point that in our search for positive images of Third World people for our covers we too often light upon a good-looking young woman.

Excluded experts
Your otherwise excellent issue on population (NI 235) was marred by constant references to unidentified 'population experts' who appear to be obsessed with population growth in the South to the exclusion of all else. Readers might be forgiven for concluding that anyone who voices concern about rising human numbers is motivated solely by a desire to protect the North's overblown standard of living.

Such selfish 'experts' do exist. But their ranks do not include well-known writers like Paul Ehrlich and Jonathon Porritt, or organizations like Population Concern. All of these emphasize the need to restrain both consumption and population growth in the North and I wonder why their views were not mentioned, or why you did not explore, as Ehrlich and others do, the potential for individual and government action to achieve a gradual, voluntary reduction of the birth rate in Northern countries. Why the sudden reluctance to be controversial? I've never noticed it before.

David Carter
Cambridge, UK

Animal anxiety
Each of the last three issues of NI has shied away from animal rights at the very last minute. Disabled lives (NI 233) does not mention how the scientific medical system relies on cruel experiments on animals which distract attention and money from helping sick people; the UK-based organization Disabled Against Animal Research and Experimentation could readily have provided information on this. Equally Saving the sea (NI 234) refers to fish as 'a vital global protein supply' - ignoring the individual fish which suffer greatly from being caught and slaughtered. And in Sex, lies and global survival (NI 235), a photo caption refers to cows as being one of the 'three Cs threatening the environment'.

I realize there is pressure on space, but I am sure that you would not consider relegating women's rights or the suffering of people in poor countries to occasional issues dedicated to the subject.

Phil Sleigh
Exeter, UK

Graphic examples
My gripe with NI is that your graphics illustrate statistics in a very misleading way. This was touched upon by Richard Hellewell in NI 235, but it happens a lot. The worst example recently was in the comparison of aid in various countries which appeared in your Japan issue (NI 231). In this issue, aid as a percentage of Gross National Product in Japan was said to be $9 billion compared with Canada's $2.3 billion - a ratio of 3.9 to 1. However the comparative values of the money sacks which were used to illustrate these figures suggested a ratio of 41 to 1 - a gross exaggeration which is very misleading.

Andy Williams
Chippenham, UK

VIV QUILLIN cartoon
cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Population concern
Anuradha Vittachi's treatment of the human population explosion dismayed me (Sex, lies and global survival NI 235). She is guilty of using statistics in a manner that a politician would be proud of to support her single line of argument, saying for example that we Northerners consume 20 times as much as people in the Third World. This is patently true of say, energy. But what of food which is the most important issue for daily survival?

Moreover the definition of her created term 'anti-populationist' is unclear and smacks of an attempt to make anyone who advocates birth control appear somehow racist. She does not ask why the world's population has increased so dramatically. And she makes no mention of AIDS.

David Cousins
Munchen, Germany

Mutilated language
I take issue with your reporter's choice of words in Disabled lives (NI 233): the term 'female circumcision' is a euphemism for clitoridectomy and should never be used. Clitoridectomy is a mutilation of women's genitals performed for the sexual pleasure of men. It is also used to deprive women of sexual pleasure and sentence them to a lifetime of sexual dysfunction. It is the most savage form of child abuse among little girls - especially as a cultural or religious rite - and in many cases is not considered illegal, even I believe in Australia.

Jean L Menere
North Albury, NSW, Australia

Weedkiller worry
The article on banana production (Updates NI 234) states that Paraquat causes half the pesticide deaths in Costa Rica and remains in the soil for up to 25 years. I was concerned to read this as I occasionally use Weedol (made by ICI) which contains Paraquat, and they say on the packet that it has no harmful effect on the soil. Indeed, though it does not appear on the Weedol packet I have, I feel sure they used to claim this product was inactivated immediately upon contact with the soil. And they do say now that the area treated does not have to be protected from children or animals after it has dried. Can anyone comment on this?

DG Hannaford
Bury St Edmunds, UK

Manufacturing meanness
Paul Donovan's article on the Guatemalan clothing industry (Updates NI 235) rightly exposes the human-rights abuses of such manufacturers. However the guilty parties in this and similar abuses world-wide should also not be let off the hook. High-street retail chains will often play one manufacturer off against another in their demand for ever lower manufacturing costs and go wherever they have to in the world to find these.

As a customer you should demand that governments protect low-paid workers' rights and help stop the terrible exploitation and abuse. In the UK, the minimum-wage legislation of the European Social Charter was successfully opposed by the UK Government at Maastricht and they now plan legislation to abolish the Wages Council minimum-wage protection.

Robert A Badlan
London, UK

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

LETTER from LAHORE
Letter from Lagos

Ozzy and Hussain
As Heavy Metal, jeans and joggers sweep Pakistan the gap
between young and old grows wider, reports Maria del Nevo.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY Hussain sits at a desk in the corner of the library. He gazes with admiration at a magazine which he has propped up against the wall, his eyes shining, his mind far away.

'Baji?' (older sister) he whispers to me when he realizes that I am watching him, 'Have you heard of Ozzy Osboume?' 'The name sounds only slightly familiar,' I whisper back.

Undeterred by my ignorance he throws name after name at me, song after song, but I've heard of very few. He looks disdainful for a moment before his eyes are irresistibly drawn back to the picture in front of him.

At noon he comes to share the contents of his tiffin box with me. He talks of his studies and his internship at the local newspaper where he goes every day after lunch. 'Reporting', he says with great seriousness, 'is my passion.'

Talking of passions reminds him again of Ozzy Osbourne. 'I had over 20 posters of him and other rock stars all over my bedroom wall,' he says. 'But my father ripped them down in a fit of rage and threw them away. He said that I shouldn't idolize drunks and drug addicts... I should be indulging in something more suitable. But what else is there?'

Hussain isn't unusual for a boy of his 19 years and urban middle-class background. Like many of his peers he doesn't know what to do with his spare time. 'Most evenings,' he says, 'I just go to my bedroom with a friend and we listen to music or have a boxing match.'

There is no shortage of other forms of entertainment; theatre groups and cinemas abound, although Western films are usually censored to the point of obscurity and local films, according to Hussain, are 'obscene'.

But there are very few neutral meeting points where young people can relax and share their interests; only parks and a few sports clubs. 'And what's the point of going on picnics and outings when they are all-male affairs?' Hussain asks.' Even if a college girl did come she would end up constantly looking over her shoulder, afraid a family friend might see her.'

On public holidays, parks, zoos and funfairs are dominated by boys and men who cannot conceal their inner frustration. These places are out of bounds for girls, whose parents won't permit them to be exposed to possible danger or harassment.

The sexes have to find more devious ways to meet. 'There is always poondi,' says Hussain with a cheeky grin. 'For that we usually go to Liberty Market.'

Poondi roughly translates as 'harmless flirtation' and is a strongly rooted cultural pastime in Pakistan. Traditionally it took place between boy and girl neighbours on the roofs of houses in old cities. But today it is conducted in plazas and bazaars and consists of eye contact or pursuing a girl by moped to relay some romantic message.

'Some boys who do telephone poondi might even get a date with a girl,' says Hussain. But such triumphs are rare. When they occur the date has to be carried out like an undercover operation and often the girl backs out after a few meetings for fear of getting a bad reputation.

'In the West a boy of my age can make his own choices,' he explains. 'He can talk to girls, drink, listen to any type of music. We don't necessarily want to indulge in these things. But we do want the freedom to choose. And our parents don't understand - they feel threatened.'

The harmonious appearance of Pakistan's close-knit extended families often masks tension between young and old. While the older generation remains steeped in cultural customs, young people experience fashions and crazes swept over from the West via the satellite TV revolution. They are discarding their traditional baggy trousers and long shirts for jeans and joggers. And instead of listening to ancient poetic verses they are headbanging to Black Sabbath and blaring out rap from their car stereos.

'My father says I am free to express myself to him. But I can't because our culture dictates that young people do not assert themselves before their elders,' says Hussain. 'Heavy Metal is my only outlet. All my pent-up energy is released when I listen to it.'

Having aired his frustrations he gathers up his tiffin box. And tucking the picture of Ozzy back into his bag, he prepares to leave for his afternoon job.

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

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