New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 246

new internationalist
issue 246 - August 1993

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

Hot pink
Cover of the NI Issue 245 The NI in hot pink! Your issue on tourism (NI 245) arrived just as I was going on holiday. I felt at first that your frivolous treatment of a serious subject was an insult to the very people whose lives you claim to be concerned about.

But when I handed it over to my boyfriend on the beach in Mykonos he felt the opposite. He said I’m a boring lefty and this issue got him interested in a subject he hadn’t thought about before. You’re treading a dangerous path so be careful! But maybe I should lighten up.

James Samsted
London, UK

Catholic-bashing
Greg Irwin’s mixture of sarcasm, abuse and anti-Catholic sentiment (Curiosities NI 244) is totally out of place in a magazine like the NI.

Such rhetoric, had it appeared concerning the Islamic treatment of women, would have taken a one-way trip to the waste-basket. However, it seems OK to join in the international sport of Catholic-bashing. Is this not hypocritical? Many Catholics such as me find it deeply offensive that this propaganda is allowed to obscure the work of organizations like CAFOD, as well as the message of peace, alms-giving and love which the church presents.

Of course discussion must take place over the equality of institutions; that is the NI’s mandate, but to drag it to the journalistic levels of The Sun would mean that the magazine would no longer be taken seriously.

Christopher Watt
Dunfermline, Scotland

Creatures of fantasy
I belong to your category of people who ‘can’t stand comics’ and found it utterly inappropriate to deal with problems of humanity in the way of Alice in Latasica (NI 243).

These problems are far too serious to be ridiculed by creatures of fantasy, creating the illusion that the problems are not applicable to relations between humans, and therefore not to be considered seriously.

I am not able ‘to give this one a chance... and it might just convert you’ – never!

HW Kobe
Auckland, Aotearoa / New Zealand

Class divisions
Susan George (NI 243) identifies the key issue in international relations today: are what she called ‘Northern taxpayers’ to be numbered among the oppressors or the oppressed? The North gains considerably from the favourable terms of trade which it enjoys in relation to the South, and ‘taxpayers’ benefit from this as well as bankers and IMF officials. In this sense, we in the North are all part of the problem.

On the other hand, the pauperization of countries in the South is clearly not in the interests of the North because it tends to destroy the capacity of those countries to trade at all. In this sense, as Susan George says, we in the North must be at one with the people in the South.

Excessive indebtedness and structural adjustment programmes can be explained in terms of the class divisions in both North and South, to which Susan George refers. Such processes benefit the ruling élites in all parts of the world. The result is the establishment of an increasingly regulated global capitalist system in which a fragmented working class will become less and less effective.

The only alternative is a global socialist organization to control élites and plan for a fair balance of world trade – and that is a long way off.

Pete Somerville
Manchester, UK

Pious mouthings
What an incredibly naive letter from Lilly Borg (NI 243). It is as if the Gulf War had never happened... surely nobody can believe that the UN is not being manipulated after such an appalling illustration!

Yes, the UN was founded with the best of intentions, but unfortunately the people who still hold to the original ideals are not the ones with the power. Independent development agencies of the UN are rapidly being disposed of – their research into the social and economic causes of conflict have proved a bit too much for the West!

Voting within the UN is now meaningless. With the institution of the US ‘Office of Multilateral Diplomacy’, many nations have realized that voting against US interests is a dangerous business... They stand to lose hard currency credits, or even food aid.

The UN no longer serves as the peacekeeping organization that it was intended to be. It has instead become an acceptable front for the warmongers of the Western world.

Pious mouthings about ‘UN bashing’ will do nothing to hasten the radical change which is so urgently needed within the UN.

Mary Roberts
London, UK

VIV QUILLIN cartoon
cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Cocoa confusion
I am confused after reading the small article on cocoa (Updates, NI 243). I was of course concerned at the condition of the (mainly female) pesticide sprayers – particularly when the image is contrasted with that of the (mainly female) chocolate consumers in the North.

But if the North were to stop consuming cocoa products in protest, this would surely only put the cocoa worker out of work and close down a large export market.

How can we continue to provide markets and stimulate repressed economies but also protect the workers? Is it really a no-win situation?

Lorraine Walsh
Perthshire, Scotland

Mixing up malaria
Oops! Back to your text-books Dr Barrett (Curiosities, NI 243). As any keen biology student knows, malaria is caused by the organism Plasmodium vivax transmitted by the mosquito anopheles. Plasmodium vivax is a protozoan related to the famous amoeba, neither of which have any connection with viruses. This may not mean much to non-biologists, but I’m sure you like to get your facts right!

Martin Cockcroft
Tayside, Scotland

Offensive word
I always read with eagerness and interest copies of the NI. I have been regenerated by its humaneness and socialist thinking.

The use of the single word ‘pariah’ on page five of the issue on Kerala (NI 241) marred the otherwise educative magazine. The word carries an opprobrium and to continue to give it currency would encourage the perpetuation of the pernicious caste system which is the cause of misery to large sections of people inhabiting South Asia.

May I kindly request you to desist from using the term in future? If people cease to use the word, perhaps in the course of time it could be expunged from the dictionary.

T Muthiah
Galaha, Sri Lanka

Resemblance
I was struck by the resemblance of the Pakistani committee (Letter from Lahore, NI 242) to the origins of our British Building Societies. A few members of a community formed a savings group; when there was enough money to build a house, the payments, lotteries and building continued until all the members had a house of their own, and then the society terminated. As a worker in a modern building society I’m not sure that the changes over the past 250 years have necessarily been improvements!

Lynne Moore
Northampton, UK

Disabled Lives
Do survivors of incest, violence, sexual and psychological abuse inflicted on them as children not count as having ‘disabled lives’? (NI 233).

Freddie Monks
Derby, UK

Back issues
I would like to thank the numerous individuals and organizations who wrote to offer a good home to my NI back numbers. I sent the whole consignment to the first person who wrote to me. Since then I have received a number of letters and sadly can’t answer them all individually. I was delighted to have confirmed how much the NI is valued. Thank you to all the fellow-readers who wrote to me and, of course, for the journal itself.

Helen Tomkins
London, UK

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

Letter from Lahore

Smoke in the closet
Maria del Nevo lifts the lid on women smokers.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY Some years ago I was walking in one of Lahore’s most exclusive markets when I saw something which stopped me in my tracks. A woman, perhaps in her late thirties, was sitting in the driving seat of her parked car. Very casually she drew on a cigarette and exhaled the smoke through the open window, apparently oblivious to – or determined to ignore – the many people like me who stopped and stared.

I was shocked, then, because I had not been in Pakistan long. Before I left England I was warned that it was socially unacceptable for women to smoke, and since my arrival I’ve heard many a Pakistani man announce with great pride that ‘their’ women never smoke.

I came to know, in those early days, that women in Pakistan do smoke. It was Zubeida who enlightened me. Zubeida rarely leaves her home. Whenever her mother-in-law takes her out to buy clothes – which is very rare – the outing is regarded as a major event. But for household goods and groceries her father-in-law does the shopping and Zubeida is forbidden to roam the neighbourhood alleys, where local men will be free to look at her and women will have cause to gossip.

I arrived at her house as she was cooking for her husband and in-laws. Her house is a tiny one-up-two-down inhabited by six adults and four children. The kitchen is attached to the main living room. But that didn’t seem to bother Zubeida who seemed to be quite desperate.

Almost pushing me behind the door she told me in urgent tones to light up. ‘Hurry, hurry!’ she whispered. Zubeida is an old friend. Her in-laws, by that time, were quite used to me. As for my smoking in their house, they just shrugged me off as another foreigner with those kinds of habits. So I lit up and there Zubeida and I stood, behind the kitchen door, where I fed her my cigarette.

Ever since, when I visit, Zubeida leads me straight into her bedroom where we position ourselves on the bed in such a way that I can feed her my cigarette while watching out for any approaching in-law or child through the reflection in a glass cupboard beside the door. ‘I think you miss my cigarettes more than you miss me when I haven’t been to see you for a while,’ I tease her, and we giggle like mischievous school children.

One day Zubeida asked me to leave half the packet with her. ‘But what if your husband finds them?’ I exclaimed, and fear shadowed her face. ‘And where will you smoke them all?’ I asked.

‘In the bathroom,’ she replied, ‘or when they go out’. The bathroom is the one place in a Pakistani home where you can be assured of some uninterrupted privacy. And, I discovered, it is a haven not just for women like Zubeida.

Selma, another friend of mine, is in her fifties, middle class and married to a university lecturer. She works in the education department and supervises the government’s adult literacy programmes in the Punjab. Knowing that she is a smoker I offered her a cigarette when I went to visit her one evening.

‘Oh no, thank you,’ she said, ‘I only ever smoke in the bathroom’, and she and her husband chuckled as if at a private joke. ‘I got into this habit of smoking in the bathroom at my office, and I brought the habit home with me!’ Later, I noticed a paperback and a pack of cigarettes in her bathroom where, she told me, she retires after dinner and before bed.

In a large, open-plan government office, where the workforce is dominated by men, it wouldn’t do at all for a woman to sit at her desk filling up an ashtray. Therefore at work Selma refrains from lighting up until there is a tea-break or during her lunch hour, when she goes to the ‘ladies’ and can be assured of total solitude, and where she can smoke in peace.

‘One day,’ she told me, ‘the peon (office servant) came up to me. He said: “Madam, I know what you are doing in the bathroom.” I was taken aback and thought he would report me. But then he leaned forward slightly and whispered: “But don’t worry, Madam. I won’t tell anybody.”’ Selma sat back then and laughed merrily.

‘We are living in a patriarchal society,’ she explained later when we were sitting down to dinner. ‘Men here set the rules as to how women should behave. I don’t like it, this repression, but in order to function and to be able to go out and have a career I have to make a certain amount of compromise. That’s just how it is.’

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

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