New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 301

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

NI magazine 299 Modern-day vultures
Your issue on Mining (NI 299) exposed a culture of greed and exploitation which is synonymous with the mining giants like Rio Tinto or South African-Anglo De Beers and their like. These corporations are strangling developing countries around the world with their ‘couldn’t-care-less’ attitudes when they are invited to mine these countries. This neo-colonialist approach – worshipping the almighty Dollar regardless of the people, their culture and the environment – has got to stop.

I am glad your magazine touched on the mercenary movement. These hired guns are acting like modern-day vultures over the African deserts. One of these groups, Sandline International, tried to enter the conflict in Bougainville but were chased away by the South Pacific people.

I hope your magazine continues to expose the dirty linen of some of these mining companies for the world to read about.

Ray L Anderson
Brunswick, Australia

Pointless gag
Why the pointless and gratuitous reference to ‘stone-deaf’ in your otherwise informative issue on mineral extraction? (Mining NI 299) It’s not a nice (nor a much-championed) disability and the gag is only going to encourage perceptions of the deaf and partly-deaf as somehow acceptable butts of humour. It also encourages the idea that people with this disability are somehow remote and hardened.

As a drinker of black coffee I have become tediously used to being lectured on implicit racism by the well-meaning fellow-NI types when I ask for one. I’m rather disappointed then that NI has not seen fit to extend its monitoring of material to cover hearing disability and implicitly accepts joke-making against it in a way which it would never consider in feminist, age or culturally related issues.

David Rowett
Grimsby, England

Changing the world
My mother has been supporting the NI for about four years and although I applauded her actions and beliefs I never actually read any of the reports. I’m not sure what compelled me to read the issue on human rights (No hiding place NI 298). It could have been moral responsibility but it was more likely boredom. And I have to say I was… what? Shocked? Surprised? What I felt is too hard to describe, but anger, shock and agony surrounded with an absolute disbelief at the monstrosities that are occurring.

The only amusing thing about this is the argument I’ve just had with myself about doing something to change the world. One side was arguing that I couldn’t change anything even if I tried, and the other side reprimanded me for being selfish.

I now realize that if the people at the NI had had the outlook that one person can’t make a difference, then all the wonderful work you have done wouldn’t have been accomplished.

So I’m determined. I’m not just going to turn over the page and forget about what I’ve read. I’m going to try and do something to change how people think and act.

Kim Sarah Holt
Sheffield, England

Impure language
Your issue on Western Sahara (NI 297) includes a helpful historical survey. There we read that the local people ‘shared the same language, Hassania (one of the purest dialects of Arabic now spoken)...’ If Hassania is a language, why is it described as a ‘dialect’ of Arabic? If it’s one of the ‘purest’ dialects, who speaks the most ‘impure’ dialect? Not the Moroccans, I hope.

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of making aesthetic or even moral judgements about language, and this is usually harmless enough, but such judgements are almost always incoherent. There are serious dangers when they are allowed to spill over into implied cultural, social or moral judgement about speakers of languages. While we must condemn attempts to denigrate or discriminate against people on grounds of language or dialect, we must never lurch into the opposite and equally irrational extreme of assuming that the linguistic system of an oppressed people is somehow superior to that of their oppressors.

Andrew Spencer
Colchester, England

Cartoon by VIV QUILLIN
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Fair cop
Ali Qassim advocates an International Criminal Court (No hiding place NI 298) to try, convict and punish offenders against human rights. This process would be appropriate, he suggests, ‘when three factors converge: the crimes are grave; the international community has a deep interest in seeing them prosecuted and punished; and when national judicial systems are unable or unwilling to bring the perpetrator to justice.’

One such criminal, he tells us, is Saddam Hussein. But Saddam Hussein is not likely to walk out with his hands up, saying, ‘It’s a fair cop, guv’nor’ and submit to whatever punishment the ICC awards.

What then? Armed intervention? Sanctions? The previous article by Felicity Arbuthnot had just characterized sanctions in support of human rights as ‘carefully planned and stage-managed hypocrisy’! So how will the ICC enforce its condemnations? By expressing moral indignation? We all do that, for what good it does.

The reason I read the NI is because it brings to light issues like these, discusses them and encourages people to think about them. But it also has to be pointed out that where intransigent dictators are concerned, there are no easy options.

Charles Phillips
Bromley, England

Full picture
When I read it, I thought your issue on Globalization (NI 296) was as good as I could get and that the NI would have served me as well as anyone in coming to terms with these matters.

In the past couple of weeks, however, I’ve chanced on several articles in other journals which have been 1) incisive yet simple 2) accessible yet packed with analysis 3) educative without a hint of condescension. On balance, they gave me a much better handle on understanding globalization than the entire edition of the NI. They also portrayed the issue with an openness and balance that represented all political and economic realities, issues of justice and redistribution of wealth rather than a supercilious liberal censoring or rewrite.

I am a Left-wing member of the Labor Party and am deeply committed to their core values. But I resist the notion that progress can only be made by being spoon-fed rather than exposed to the full picture – especially when it isn’t fashionable in liberal circles to admit errors.

I need and want the full picture and the open admission that our opponents sometimes get things right. I’m tired of the NI élite sifting the facts on my behalf.

Peter Marshall
Stanmore, Australia

Tibetan prisoner
The Brad Pitt film Seven Years in Tibet has the excellent side-effect of making people aware of the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the often-brutal suppression of Tibetan culture and religion since the 1950s.

Seven years in a Tibetan prison is what was handed down to Phuntsog Cheokyi, a Tibetan Buddhist nun arrested in June 1993 for taking part in a peaceful pro-independence demonstration against Chinese rule in Tibet. Amnesty International regard her as a prisoner of conscience. Of the 11 other nuns arrested with her, one died as a result of beatings in prison.

For further information contact Amnesty Mid-Down Group, who are campaigning for her release, at PO Box 6, Downpatrick, BT30 6UF.

John Price
Downpatrick, Northern Ireland

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

[image, unknown]

Mother Rock
Louisa Waugh starts the first of a new series of letters from Mongolia
with a visit to a sacred shrine in the steppes.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN The rumour started many years ago. Amidst boulders littered across the steppe 70 kilometres south-west of Ulaanbaatar, the Mother was healing and answering prayers in return for gifts and worship.

Mongolians flock to this bulbous, three-metre-tall rock, carved by the elements into the crude outline of a woman. They come weighed down with bottles of vodka and milk, food and the brilliant blue-silk scarves (hadags) they use to adorn temples, cairns and all things sacred and powerful. This worship of the land, the trees, mountains and the startling blue Central Asian sky is older than Mongolia itself and existed aeons before Buddhism was introduced here in the thirteenth century.

I visited the rock with my Mongolian friends at the end of my second winter here. We’d just spent a weekend horse-riding and camping with some local nomads. One of my friends, Tsetsge, suggested we detour to the Mother on our way home to Ulaanbaatar, as she wanted to pray for her 68-year-old father who’d become seriously ill.

‘Worshipping at Mother Rock and other shrines and Buddhist temples was outlawed for nearly 70 years after the 1921 socialist revolution,’ she told me during the grinding, roadless journey.

‘It was only when we got democracy at the beginning of the 1990s that we were allowed to return and practise our rituals. The irony is that Shamanism and Buddhism are becoming more important now, as though people need to make up for all that lost time.’

I was excited about this visit. Ever since I first briefly glimpsed Mongolia whilst on the way to China in 1993, I’d vowed to return to the steppe, to learn about the traditions of this still-thriving nomadic culture. I had been living in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, since 1996, writing, editing and teaching a bit of English.

And now we were heading through the heart of the mysterious steppe. As we sat crushed in the back of a dilapidated Russian jeep with three other Mongolian friends, we laughed at a herd of Bactrian camels meandering across the trail. The whole herd was shedding its winter coat. Sheets of matted brown fuzz trailed from them as they swayed in front of us. We mocked their scruffiness as they regarded us with haughty camel contempt.

Suddenly we dipped into a valley, and there she was – Mother Rock.

The stench hit me as soon as we scrambled out of our jeep. Littered with rotting food, fermenting milk and shattered vodka bottles, the shrine at first resembles a sacred rubbish tip. But I was enthralled – the Mother, swathed in hadags, was being encircled by a coil of Mongolians, including many young people. Everyone was carrying bottles and packages which they placed in front of the rock as others bowed their heads and murmured prayers. The shrine was enclosed by a crumbling wall made entirely of black tea: dried, compressed into bricks and stacked a metre high.

Tsetsge and I entered, pushing through hundreds of hadags tied to a makeshift wooden archway. Smoke rose from a small fire choking with incense as we picked our way through food debris towards the rock. An elderly woman, bent almost double by a life of herding and foraging, leant her forehead against the rock, wringing her hands as she prayed.

Tsetsge took a turquoise hadag from her sheepskin jacket pocket and delicately wrapped it around the neck of the rock. She whispered prayers for her father and gently laid a wedge of cheese and a small bottle of yoghurt on the heap of offerings.

We were surrounded by the devout and the hopeful. Students arrive at the rock en masse before exams and women desperate for a child visit and beg to conceive. Across the steppe there are Mother Trees and even a Mother Mountain in the southern Gobi desert.

Older people stubbornly held on to the beliefs of their ancestors and are now enjoying the freedom to worship, and they encourage their children to do the same. My landlord, Batbold, who’s a 32-year-old cancer specialist, has told me in all seriousness that visiting Mother Rock annually for three years ensures health and well being.

‘But only,’ he reiterated, ‘if you revere the Rock and present her with hadags, food and milk.’ Mother Rock demands – and gets – respect.

Tsetsge’s father, by the way, is doing fine.

Louisa Waugh is a freelance writer living and working in Mongolia.

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