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It was with breathless incredulity that I read Neil Bissoondath’s critique of Canadian multiculturalism (Migration NI 305). He buys in to the myth that a country formed through immigration has an unvarying monoculture that all citizens should strive towards lest they be accused of lacking allegiance and commitment to their new home. It should be patently clear that the culture of such a country is an evolving fluid entity which is a function of time and the ethnic mix. The culture is the actual mix; not a selective part of the mix – which not surprisingly often ends up being that of the original colonial invaders.
The resurgent forces of bigotry in Australia echo many of Mr Bissoondath’s claims of the divisiveness of multiculturalism, whilst ignoring that the root cause of this divisiveness is their cultural chauvinism and ethnic bigotry based on the perceived monoculture. A mature society is the sum total of all its ethnic and cultural parts, and that is what multiculturalism attempts to foster.
The ‘Update’ on the Dalai Lama’s ban of Dorje Shugden (NI 305) showed clearly the suffering that this is causing both exiled Tibetans and Western Buddhists.
The Tibetan government-in-exile is in a period of crisis and transition. Its policy of seeking ‘limited autonomy’ within China is deeply unpopular with Tibetans and it needs to create a popular consensus to deflect growing criticisms of its lack of democracy. Since 1996 its ban on the practice of Dorje Shugden has enabled these issues to be submerged under a state-sponsored purge. Religious freedom has been severely curtailed by the exercise of undemocratic authority vested in the Dalai Lama as the ‘god-king’ of Tibet.
From a legal position the Dalai Lama is neither the political nor the religious leader of the Tibetans – how much longer can he continue to
justify this disastrous policy?
In his letter (‘Letters’ NI 305), Anthony Grivas seems somewhat annoyed at the NI for tackling a subject as mundane as ‘jeans’. Did he actually read the issue or did he prejudge it by its title? ‘Inconsequential’ topics all have their part to play in greater matters, such as environmental damage and human rights.
For example, I was not aware that a quarter of the world’s pesticides are sprayed on cotton which causes a million cases of human poisoning every year. These sound like pretty suitable world issues to be aware of. Not to mention sweatshop economics and corporate behaviour. For the record, thanks to the issue on jeans I have finally got my copy of the Hemp Union catalogue and am saving for my next pair of ‘jeans’.
West Calder, Scotland
My enthusiasm for your issue on Cocoa (NI 304) is somewhat tempered by information that I have access to which highlights the significant health problems associated with chocolate. First, high caffeine and theobromine content (both methylxanthines) plays havoc with the nerve system, makes your heart beat faster and upsets your stomach. Methylxanthines have also been connected with fibrocystic breast disease.
Second, chocolate is one of the most common allergens. In one test, 17 per cent of a test group were allergic to chocolate. Third, the oxalic acid content of chocolate blocks the body’s ability to absorb calcium. So if you add chocolate to milk the nutritional value of the milk is destroyed.
Would it be possible for the folk in Ghana to convert to carob production?
The health information is taken from the Carob Cookbook by Lorraine Whiteside.
Coleraine, Northern Ireland
I work in indigenous health in remote parts of Australia. News is highly desirable and I look forward to the NI every month. My concern is the cover of the issue Of Woman Born (NI 303). I feel that it denigrates motherhood and breastfeeding. Yes, women around the world need respect whatever their childbearing status. Yes, women need more choices in regard to contraception as well as conception. Yes, women in the Majority World need access to better antenatal and birthcare.
But this should not detract from the vital and fantastic role that both motherhood and breastfeeding play in all human societies.
The cover represented a detached, uncaring woman with children in an entirely parasitic position. I found the impact offensive to women.
When I saw the title ‘Abortion, the big debate’ on the front of your issue on reproductive rights (NI 303) I thought that at last I would read a reasoned article with equal attention and regard given to both sides of the issue. I should have known better. Why is it that readers of the NI, people who are interested in human rights, freedom, equality etc are expected to come down on the ‘pro-choice’ side of the abortion debate? In my case, the philosophy that inspires me to campaign for justice and human rights, namely a fundamental respect for, and love of, all Human Life, also makes me a ‘pro-lifer’.
Abortion, as the title of the article states, is a moral question. It is also a social issue and perhaps it is as such that it should be addressed. I believe it is a symptom of a larger problem in a society where so much of true value is trivialized. It is not until our attitudes to life, love, sex and other people begin to change that we might agree on the way ahead. As another article in the same issue suggested, Respect is an important word.
I write to protest against the reference in ‘Letter from Mongolia’ (NI 304) to the ‘old ladies sitting on benches and gossiping about the author’s visits to her students. This is mindless ageism and mindless sexism combined in one sentence: the sort of thing one hopes not to encounter in a publication like the NI!
Anyway, how did Louisa Waugh know that the people concerned were gossiping about her? Perhaps they were talking about something else. Perhaps, if they were talking about her, they were simply interested in her as a (to them) exotic-looking foreigner.
In your issue on Cuba (NI 301) we are informed that ‘Moscow had installed 40 nuclear missiles on Cuban soil. The US threatened war unless the missiles were removed: in the end the Soviets backed down in exchange for a promise from President Kennedy not to invade.’
The last statement is historically incorrect. The true facts of the Kennedy-Krushchev agreement have been omitted or buried in some scholarly tomes. Recent studies confirm the facts available in the Left press in the 1960s.
The US had deployed Jupiter missiles to Turkey in 1957 aimed at the Soviet Union. Kennedy did not want it known that he had made a ‘secret trade’ with Krushchev to remove the Soviet missiles from Cuba in exchange for the removal of the Jupiter missiles from Turkey.
New York, US
Editor’s note: NI would like to point out that Howard Davies did refer to Tibet rather than China in his original interview (NI 302) and that the error was editorial.
The views expressed on the letters page are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist.
The death of Kalim
It is hard to be young, male, unemployed and a Kazakh in Tsengel village, reports Louisa Waugh
My friend Ayush and I were wringing out our washing when we saw the procession snaking up the hill towards the ancient cemetery that stands above Tsengel village. Silent men and women picked their way through the intricate clay and wooden tombs until they came to a freshly dug grave.
‘It’s the funeral,’ said Ayush calmly. ‘His father hasn’t even arrived from Kazakhstan. But the Kazakhs always bury their dead the next day.’ She bent her head and continued rinsing her sheets. I stared at the small crowd across the rocky hillside and thought again about the rage and despair that killed Kalim.
‘I went to school with him,’ she told me later that afternoon as we sat in her small wooden house drinking bowls of tea. ‘He really was one of the brightest in the whole year. Maybe that was his problem. There wasn’t anything to occupy him here.’ I nodded, drumming my fingers slowly on the table. ‘What happened after he left school – what did he do then?’ Ayush shrugs. ‘He went to the old Kazakh capital, Alma Ata, to study. Lots of the Kazakhs do. He came back here to Tsengel, got married, I don’t know. He didn’t work.’
She lowered her voice, though there was no-one else in the room and it was her house. ‘That’s when he started drinking and they began,’ she gestured, ‘you know, fighting. His wife Kulgan left him once a couple of years ago, after the first child. But they got back together again and he promised to change.’
Ayush is Mongolian, but our small village and the surrounding mountains and deserts of Bayan-Olgii province are home to most of Mongolia’s 90,000 Kazakhs. Traditionally nomads, they herded here in the far west of Mongolia before anyone thought of international borders, tending their camels, goats and sheep in these barren mountains, always living on the edge of Mongolian society. Many of them don’t even speak Mongolian. They don’t want to belong to Mongolia – the strength of their own identity leaves room for no other.
Many, but not all, Mongolians despise the Kazakhs and don’t want to work or socialize with them. So most of the Mongolian Kazakhs have kept to these remote western mountains, as far from the capital Ulaanbaatar as possible. In the early 1990s, lured by the promise of a new, more prosperous life, thousands trekked back to Kazakhstan. But they didn’t feel welcome back ‘home’. In Kazakhstan they were ironically identified as Mongolians and treated with subtle, unnerving contempt. Life was hard. So many returned to Mongolia and continued to play their beautiful, haunting music, and worship Allah in exile. Kalim was amongst them.
I’d only met him a few times. We’d been introduced when I’d just arrived in Tsengel village. Kulgan told me her husband was a driver. But Kalim wasn’t working – because like most people here, he didn’t have a car. Ayush and I saw him again a couple of weeks later. He was coming out of a narrow shop doorway as we were entering. He reeked of vodka and had a swollen black eye.
At the beginning of the summer he and Kulgan fought again bitterly, shouting through the night. Kalim was drinking heavily, cheap local vodka. He didn’t stop when Kulgan left the house early that morning for her teaching job. He could have slept it off, nursed a hangover – they could have made it up once more. But Kalim took down a wire clothes line and hung himself from the wooden rafters of their house. Their neighbour was walking across the yard to the communal toilet when he heard Kalim choking to death. He was just too late.
Kalim’s suicide disturbed me because I realized what a terrible place Tsengel could be. The men have hardly any work here; the small clinic and the school are mostly run by the women, who are also constantly busy raising their children, cooking and cleaning. The men spend their time hunting and then hanging round the village square, trading wool or skins. There’s little else to do.
For Kalim, aged 27, bored, clever, drunk, without money, unable to work and unwelcome anywhere else, Tsengel was all he had – and it just wasn’t enough.
Louisa Waugh is a freelance writer who lives and works in Mongolia.
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