New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 289

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

Building bridges
Cover of the NI magazine Issue 287. Your article ‘Daring to Dance’ (NI 287) about the Zagreb conference ‘Women and the Politics of Peace’ mentions women from three projects building bridges between ethnic groups in areas of conflict: Medica Women’s Therapy Centre in Bosnia, Bat Shalom in Israel and the Women’s Support Network in Northern Ireland.

Perhaps I might add that these three projects are currently building yet another bridge – between each other. They have been brought together through an action-research project and representatives met last September to explore common issues. From this a display of photos and text has been produced, which is available on loan. Anyone interested should contact me at 83 Bartholomew Rd, London NW5 2AH.

Cynthia Cockburn
London, England

Dunblane tragedy
It saddened me that the appalling tragedy in Dunblane did not figure in the ‘Chronicle of 1996’ (NI 287). That 16 small children and their teacher were murdered in such a manner beggars the belief of the people of Scotland.

I was informed with apologies that this was an oversight. That deepened my sadness. It merely served to highlight the sheer number of violent and tragic events happening throughout the world that our tragedy can be lost among so many others.

Catriona Whitton
Dunblane, Scotland

Domestic violence
As a new subscriber I did not read Nils Christie’s comment on the issue of domestic homicide but I would like to take issue with Dr Sheila Cunningham’s letter on the subject (‘Letters’ NI 287). Statistics show that in England and Wales over 50 per cent of female homicides are committed by a partner or ex-partner and more than one in four women are victims of violence. The home is indeed a dangerous place. But only 50 per cent of these cases involve alcohol.

A number of women I interviewed in my year-long research did perceive that alcohol was the cause of violence. But this influenced them to stay with violent partners in the hope that if the batterers became free of alcohol they, the victims, would be free of violence.

Domestic violence and homicide has its causes in the wider society which teaches male power and control through violence and a judicial system which upholds these values. Suggesting that alcohol is a significant factor merely reinforces many victims’ misconceived notions that alcohol is an external force and not part of the person. Some will not live long enough to realize their error.

Justina M Newman
Gainsborough, England

Human fellowship
You failed to explore the depersonalisation which technology creates in your issue on that subject (NI 286). Electronic communication is less personal than face-to-face communication and therefore both less complete and more dangerous. Technology creates social isolation and fragmentation as machines decrease the opportunities for shared labour. To the extent that human lives are filled with machines they are empty of human fellowship. Non-mechanised work and entertainment are almost always communal. Here in Malawi, the decrease in communication brought by television is very dramatic.

You also failed to deal with environmental issues. Only muscle-power is non-polluting and completely renewable. All technological developments beyond that create pollution, deplete resources and destroy habitat.

Let’s have another issue on the subject that penetrates more deeply!

Stewart Lane
Limbe, Malawi

Cartoon by VIV QUILLIN
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Physical dangers
Your issue on Technology (NI 286) raised several issues I had not thought of, but I felt it didn’t deal enough with the dangers to makers of computers. We have people in Albuquerque who were affected by toxins in producing computers. They were not told they were working with toxic materials nor were they given protection. I have also read about the women who work with small microchips who begin to lose their eyesight in their 30s.

Dangers like carpal tunnel syndrome are also a worry to those who use computers all day. It is not just the philosophical and educational aspects of computers that should concern us.

Marjorie Williams
Albuquerque, US

Where is our heart?
David Ransom and Maggie Black (The Poverty of Aid NI 285) both need to re-define humanitarian aid in terms of remediation out of its basic cause: ancient human tyranny which dominates among whites because of their superior economy. And we who are their heirs must acknowledge that any differences between our respective estates require the moral imperative that we do all in our power. Suddenly I am tired of the NI’s statistics. The beautiful photos of suffering. Where is our heart?

We have models: Christ, Thoreau, Gandhi. ‘Give away all that you have.’ I myself find it quite practicable. Before I assign any money to buy, I challenge: ‘Is this purchase really necessary?’ And now that I am old, I apply the same standard to time schedules. Whatever moments are left to me are insufficient for all the study and application needed for remediation of the destruction we have wreaked by our uncaring.

The corporations and governments do big, bad things. But we, the little folk, who buy their products, who invest in their stock, who are silent when our united cry of protest could shatter their diabolic structure, our culpa is much more malignant.

Ann Morris
Los Angeles, US

Misleading terms
It’s so simple. Using any term associated with the word ‘developed’ necessarily implies a misleading judgement that then informs or directs all future language and therefore the ‘dialogue’ that might otherwise have led to understanding. The same can obviously be said of ‘First World’, ‘Third World’ etc; terminologies that communicate ranking and therefore quality.

After years of involvement in North-South issues (which now, more than ever, transcend any kind of political labelling) the only almost-satisfactory labelling I ever encounter is: ‘industrialized/less-industrialized’. These terms still put in order of rank technological levels but its better than judging entire cultures or peoples.

Jim Petkiewicz
Oaxaca, Mexico

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

Cartoon by Jim Needle
Jim Needle
1942-1997

Jim Needle, a local Oxford artist/cartoonist who was for many years a regular contributor to the NI, has died at the age of 55.

A huge, bearded, genial man, Jim often joked about how he would break out in a sweat as he entered our building. We made him jump through ideologicial hoops, always demanding a reasonable quota of women, ethnic groups and disabled people in his drawings. He never complained, just wiped his brow and returned a few days later with a set of highly-crafted cartoons.

He will be greatly missed by all of us at the NI and we offer our deepest condolences to his family.

[image, unknown]
L E T T E R [image, unknown] F R O M [image, unknown] C H E C H N Y A

After the war
Olivia Ward visits the camps where Chechens were held - and tortured.

Through all the grinding months of the war they were off limits to me, the notorious ‘filtration camps’ the Russian military created to separate captured Chechen fighters from civilians. Places I could point to but never enter.

Now in the first winter of peace, I stood in the ruined doorway of Grozny’s Camp Number One, a former service depot for dilapidated buses, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by two ageing men.

Inside the blacked-out corridors was a rubble of pop cans, cartridges, cigarette stubs, the detritus of daily life and daily death. That the two co-existed so closely and so ordinarily was a shock, like skeletal fingers suddenly grasping my hand.

‘We’ll show you all of it,’ said guard Lechi Aliyev defiantly, as though some Russian commandant were still looking over his frail shoulder.

In the beginning, said the generals, the civilians would be set free and the fighters detained or executed. ‘You understand,’ they said, ‘this is a war.’

Illustration by SARAH JOHN

But the camps spread and a horrible logic fell into place: War is business too. The military were broke but ingenious and the camps became sources of income. While reluctant Russian army conscripts were close to starvation, a private traffic in captives made dangerous tours of duty worthwhile for the special kontraktniki (contract) forces who volunteered to fight in Chechnya.

‘I sold everything I had to get my son back,’ said Opti, a man with eyes like dark stones. ‘They gave him back to me but he was dead. Even for that I was grateful because I did not have to live every day with his torment.’

Aliyev pointed to a floor covered with concrete slabs. ‘This is where they filled pits with water and made people stand in them,’ he said. ‘Those who died were taken away and dumped. We are still finding their bodies.’

It was war, said the generals.

On the second floor of the detention building were the regular cells, small filthy rooms divided by metal grilles like elevator cages. No washbasins, toilets or heating could be seen. Only the pathetic scribbles of prisoners who found some tool to scratch out the days of their imprisonment on the walls, to maintain some faint grip on normality.

But directly above them in a grotesque mirror-image, lived their tormentors, young Russian servicemen who also dwelt in squalor and oppression, fearful of the ambushes that came by night.

Like the prisoners they marked off their days in hell with comforting trivialities. ‘Volodya’s birthday,’ and the retroactive note, ‘big battle today’ to remind them that they had survived.

Below, said Aliyev, were two of the torture cells, supposed to extract confessions from fighters, but also used for ordinary people picked up in Grozny’s ruins.

Along a peeling wall ran rough broken wires, once attached to the notorious electrodes. In another room, even more sinister, huge metal spikes projected in an ‘x’ formation.

‘The crucifixion room,’ said Aliyev with the calmness of one who had exhausted all horror. He spread his arms to emphasize the point.

My stomach lurched. Did he mean, perhaps, that prisoners were shackled to the spikes?

He shrugged. ‘Shine your light on the wall,’ he said. ‘Look at the streaks of blood.’

Now shivering from more than the relentless cold, we moved down the corridor. Would we like to see more?

But I had seen enough. This was the place of my nightmares. The place where systematic evil happened amid the random catastrophe of the war. Where all hope of humanity had sunk down a black hole and disappeared.

During the war at least 50,000 people had perished. International observers condemned the savagery of the conflict which revived the blood-splashed days of the nineteenth century when Chechens fought Russians in a decade-long battle for independence. In the struggle both sides lost.

Now once again evil had melted into rubble, the perpetrators were gone and the only trace lay in the mud-covered fields where the victims’ corpses were buried.

‘There are 1,373 people still missing,’ said Kuresh Khosgariev, who has the painful task of documenting Chechnya’s dead and disappeared. More than 1,000 Russian soldiers are still untraced, and neither side was rushing to return the dead and captured.

Aliyev tramped alongside us as we made our way back to the road.

‘Remember this place,’ he said. ‘It shows the world how low politics can stoop in a search for power.’ He stood waving as the car pulled away, a lone figure in the bitter wind.

Olivia Ward is bureau chief for the Toronto Star in Moscow.

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