New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 248

new internationalist
issue 248 - October 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

Cover of the NI Issue 247
Biter bitten
You point out that history is hijacked, used and abused by people to suit their own agendas History (NI 247). You say we should have a more sceptical approach which asks: who is selling us this particular line and why? Okay, I’ve taken your advice. So what the hell were you doing getting a Croat to write about the history of Serbia and a Pakistani to write about Hinduism?

Anton Gratz
Avonport, Canada

Ten years too late
Congratulations and thank you for your excellent issue on multinationals (NI 246). However, as a relatively new subscriber to NI, I was appalled to learn that it had been 10 years since an issue was last devoted to the subject. Large corporations own and fund most of the world’s media and fund most Northern political parties. It seems to me that their power has increased over the last decade through globalization and the resultant loss of democratic control. The NI’s evasion of tackling the power of big business head-on for so long is a depressing mirror of the mainstream media’s blindness to the one ‘special interest’ that really does control our world.

Perhaps optimistically, I think people are becoming aware of the similarities of oppression in the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ world. Publications such as the NI can only help this. I just hope I don’t have to wait another 10 years before the pernicious impact of multinationals is explicitly tackled in the NI.

Tim Davis
Eccleshall, UK

Ed: We covered Multinationals from another angle in June 1987 by focusing in depth on one corporation, Unilever.

Change from within
While you highlighted the power of multinationals (NI 246), you had few solutions to curb their excesses. Perhaps we in the West should take advantage of their globalization – we can buy shares in these companies, attend the meetings which appoint directors, criticize decisions as ‘owners’ and change the corporate culture. Individual shareholders are often powerless, but if a network of like minds can be created they can circulate information about the companies and ensure that executives are answerable. Or is it more pleasing just to boycott Nestlé?

Ruth Crossley
Bristol, UK

Money markets
May I add to what Doug Smith (NI 246) writes about the $700,000 million (some authorities put it even higher) which sloshes around the foreign-exchange markets day by day and 24 hours a day, travelling with the sun from Tokyo to London to New York and then back to Tokyo?

Nominally this market exists to finance international trade but that is true of only about one-twentieth of the transactions. The rest consists of the dealings of currency speculators like George Soros, who is reckoned to have netted a billion dollars by speculating against the pound sterling last autumn. In other words, the scum is 19 times thicker than the good liquor it floats on top of.

Healthy world trade depends on stable currencies but the currency speculators thrive on instability. They are parasites whose operations are putting the world’s trading system at risk.

One way of curbing those operations would be to impose a tax on currency dealings. But how is that to be agreed on? Perhaps the IMF should tackle the job.

Peter Little
Henley-on-Thames, UK

Men’s affairs
In your Update in Tourism (NI 245), David Robie informs us that the cabinet minister responsible for women’s affairs in Papua New Guinea is a man. His opposite number in the UK is David Hunt.

Russell Smith
Leatherhead, UK

VIV QUILLIN cartoon
photo by VIV QUILLIN

Misleading figures
The Update ‘Miracle massage’ (NI 246) contains inaccuracies and wrongly implies underhand behaviour.

Purchasing Power Parities (PPP) have been calculated for more than 25 years to attempt to give a more accurate picture of relative national incomes. The shortcomings of ‘traditional’ or adjusted Gross Domestic Product figures as measures of economic development are widely accepted, but so also is the validity of the use of PPP as conversion factors.

The ‘jump’ from 18 to 43 per cent of world output does not imply an improvement over time. Rather it is the change as we move from measuring national incomes using GDP to the adjusted figures using PPP. This still means that the Third World is in a much worse position than the First, since its 43 per cent of total output is shared by 84 per cent of the world’s population. This implies that the rich world has seven times the income of the poor (including middle-income countries such as Brazil and Saudi Arabia), and the converted figures show that the richest of the rich, Switzerland, has 70 times the income of the poorest of the poor, Ethiopia.

You may criticize the IMF for its ‘structural adjustment’ policies, but please take care not to mislead about the figures it uses.

Geoff Bright
University College of North Wales, UK

Women Welcome Women
I was disappointed when I read your article about women travelling (NI 245). Women Welcome Women is not ‘a network providing cheap or free accommodation’. Putting it that way brings in all the people who just want to use other women for their cheap travel.

Women Welcome Women is about friendship. It is about being friends with women from many parts of the world and respecting their culture, their country. It is about learning what makes that country tick from a very privileged position – the home of one of its people.

I would suggest that the most valuable reason for travelling is to meet other people, to learn from them, to share their joys and sadnesses, to help spread friendship around the world, and then return home a wiser person.

Frances Alexander
Women Welcome Women
High Wycombe, UK

East Timor ignored
I commend the NI on your excellent issue on human rights (NI 244). However, you failed to include any detailed piece on the continuing tragedy of East Timor, a country which, per capita, has suffered the worst genocide ever. Figures vary, but it is estimated that some 200,000 out of a total population of nearly 700,000 have died as a result of the Indonesian takeover in 1975. Massive human-rights abuses continue unabated; the Santa Cruz massacre in Dili was captured horrifically on film.

You could have included East Timor in your page on Western hypocrisy. Western treatment of Indonesia could have been contrasted with that of Cambodia. The former received and still receives diplomatic and military support from the West, while the latter, until recently, had a comprehensive economic and financial ban imposed on it.

Cormac O’Keeffe
Dublin, Ireland

Visa requirements
The callous attitude of Britain ‘imposing a visa requirement’ on Bosnians in 1992 and Austrians and Germany in the 1930s (‘Beyond these castle wallsNI 244) has also manifested itself in its refusal of visas to bona fide tourists in the Third World, particularly young females of marriageable age. Recently my grand-niece was refused a tourist visa by the UK High Commission in Pakistan. She had with her a return ticket, comprehensive holiday insurance, evidence of financial security, a sworn statement signed by me undertaking responsibility for maintaining her and ensuring that she does not get married and leaves the UK on the date shown on her ticket.

She was refused a tourist visa. ‘You are of marriageable age and we are not satisfied,’ said the High Commission. Satisfied with what! Only the Patricians know.

M Ashraf
Romford, UK

Delighted with Debt
I am sorry to differ with HW Kobe (Letters), but I really enjoyed the issue on Debt (NI 243). I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to read articles on worldwide finance and felt completely at sea with the complicated structure set up by Western governments. But the pictures in the comic issue really helped and I now feel that the next time I sit down to read an in-depth article I’ll have some basis for understanding. I’m now in the process of finding a more ethical bank.

Mary Ann Simmons
London, UK

Anarchy not anarchy
I am used to the mainstream media, in their ignorance, equating chaos, riots and destruction with ‘anarchy’, but the NI ought to know better.

Alice, your main character in the issue on Debt (NI 243) says that the hardship and anger brought about by retro-development and World Bank loans ‘sounds like anarchy’. No. Anarchy, which literally means ‘without leaders’, is more likely to be associated with non-hierarchical organization, co-operation and communalism. Anarchism today is most often linked with feminism, anti-fascism, human and animal rights, and environmental campaigning, in the lives of many people working for a better world.

Fiona Weir
Marsden, UK

PC is correct
I find it disturbing that NI readers and writers use the term ‘politically correct’ in a derogatory manner. Aren’t enlightened readers able to recognize the media’s attempt at thought control?

The mainstream media has scornfully named ‘politically correct’ those who advocate male-female or racial equality, gay rights, or the right to wear and eat what one chooses. To be an anti-racist is not the same as to ban Enid Blyton books as sexist and racist. The media, by terming both actions as ‘politically correct’ would have us think so.

Why not have an issue on political correctness? Come to think of it, you’ve had many.

Sheila O’Reilly
Guelph, Ontario, Canada

A new alphabet
After a great many years (I am now 93), I have developed a simplification of the English language (having a phonetic alphabet) which I suggest would be suitable as the language of the world. A lecturer in phonetics said that it was ‘the best possible compromise’. It would co-exist with all other languages - ideally everyone would be bilingual.

The problems of the world, we know, cannot be solved at national level. I contemplate a world ethical civilization and complete participation in world democracy using a common language. If anyone is interested, they are welcome to contact me.

Jori Nelson
Box 340, Thame, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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

Letter from Lahore

Dupatta or not dupatta
Maria del Nevo explains what happens when
Pakistani women dress in a non-conformist way.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY My husband didn’t take me to meet his mother until after we had married. This was rather unconventional and I was very nervous about the whole thing. But I needn’t have been in the slightest bit worried. She greeted me warmly, smothered me in kisses and continually blessed me throughout the evening.

‘I am glad to see that she is wearing Pakistani dress,’ she murmured to my husband, and she adjusted my dupatta (long scarf), which was the largest one I owned and which was draped rather untidily across my chest.

‘Did you ever wear mini-skirts in England?’ she asked.

‘No,’ I said emphatically.

‘Good girl,’ she said with a fierce nod of the head. ‘My own daughter.’

At the time I had thought it a harmless lie. My acceptance into the family had, in fact, depended a lot upon it. But ever since, that lie continues to niggle me and the dress which I had always loved and found comfortable yet elegant, has begun to seem increasingly less so.

Now that summer has come and tempers are prone to fly, I realize that I am not alone in this discomfort. Beena, a 30-year-old journalist, comes striding into the office every morning, her face flushed and her eyes flashing with anger. ‘This damned thing!’ she curses loudly, and ripping off her dupatta she flings it over the back of her chair.

Our male colleagues glance up from their work for a moment and I murmur sounds of sympathy. We frequently share our experiences, the frustration of walking on the roads in Lahore where men whistle, blow kisses, stick out their tongues and occasionally move just a little too close for comfort. There must be few women who don’t have similar stories to tell.

‘Things are getting worse here every day,’ Beena declares when she has caught her breath. ‘It never used to be like this. Men just don’t want us to come out of our homes.’

Memories of General Zia’s Islamization, when the idea of barring women from driving cars was even discussed, are still vivid. But on the surface things do seem to be changing for the better. Women are no longer restricted to ‘acceptable professions’ like teaching. They are appearing as lawyers, doctors, in banks, in the media and in big business.

But, as Beena frequently points out, women still can’t walk down the street to work without being harassed. They still have to conform by wearing the dupatta.

Neelam, another colleague, often does leave hers at home. But as a result she faces numerous unpleasant situations when moving around Lahore. She is from a more conservative home than Beena, who was brought up in Karachi and did her higher education overseas. And unlike Beena, who chose her own husband, Neelam’s parents would like to arrange her marriage for her. ‘But,’ she states, ‘I don’t want to live a life of slavery like my mother. And if I ever do get married it’ll never be to a Pakistani man.’ But Neelam has to have a lot of courage to live the life she has chosen for herself.

‘One day,’ she tells me, ‘I was walking to work. This man – I think he was a maulvi (priest) – was cycling by. He stopped when he saw me and shouted: “Woman! Where is your dupatta?” I was so angry, and asked him why he was even looking my way. Then he was embarrassed. “No, no,” he said, “I am only saying this because I am like your father.” So I told him that one father was enough for me, and he cycled away!’

The dupatta is in fact an integral part of a Pakistani woman’s dress, and even in the confines of their homes, women can be seen adjusting it, slipping it over their heads at prayer time or when a man enters the room, without even a second thought. Most women would not feel fully clothed without it.

But essentially it is the symbol of modesty and this is why, in a society where a family’s honour is dependent upon a woman’s virtue, the dupatta has become an issue for women like Beena and Neelam who see it as fundamental to their struggle for emancipation.

Last year in nearby Faisalabad the Education Department advised young girls and women to cover their heads when travelling to and from schools so as to prevent sexual harassment on the roads. There was an uproar when the news reached our office.

‘See what we are up against!’ cried an outraged Beena. ‘If we are raped or assaulted then we are to blame for not covering our heads!’

I think I realize now how women are the victims of a cruel, yet very subtle, form of emotional blackmail, and how a virtue like modesty is used against them to reinforce the indestructibility of a patriarchal system. Perhaps this is because I am no longer standing as a spectator on the periphery of a culture.

Maria del Nevo is a former NI staff member who has been living and working in Lahore. Next month will see the start of a new Letter From Lagos by Elizabeth Obadina.

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