New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 317

new internationalist
issue 317 - October 1999

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

Girls beat boys
Cover of the NI Issue 315 In your August edition on Education (NI 315) Chris Brazier describes how in most countries the big education problem is the exclusion of girls from school whilst in the countries where boys and girls have equal school access the problem is the tendency of girls to outperform boys.

Isn’t there a logical connection between these problems? Isn’t it because those in charge, both past and present, guessed that given equal access, girls would tend to outperform boys? Sexual inequality doesn’t happen by accident, but out of intention.

Malcolm Verrall
Wolverhampton, England

Three clichés
Chris Brazier seems unaware of the real scandal in the Great Education Scandal (NI 315). You surely broke your record for the number of clichés in one issue. I mention three:

‘Education is life.’ Well, hooray! It may have been true simply by definition for thousands of years, but it stops being so when Western-style education takes over. ‘Fundamental human right’ (to schooling). What does this mean when the result is compulsory attendance?

The message of your issue was that when a culture has been thoroughly undermined by Western economies it should then be saddled with a Western education system – which we hope will have different results from any such system in the past. What actually happens is that indigenous oral traditions, beliefs, customs and even language disappear.

So here’s the third cliché: ‘Who is selling the world’s children down the river?’

Ken Regelous
Kilgetty, Wales

Y2K Wash
The ‘Red Alert!’ pull-out section (NI 315) was much appreciated. Two similar initiatives are the Nuclear Weapons De-alerting Letter and the Y2K World Atomic Safety Holiday (Y2K WASH).

A letter calling for the nuclear arsenals to be taken off ‘launch-on-warning’ status during the critical rollover period was sent to Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin on Hiroshima Day, 8 August. The letter was signed by many politicians and over 270 organizations. The campaign is being organized by John Hallam of Friends of the Earth, Sydney (Tel: +61 2 9517 3903, Fax: +61 2 9517 3902, E-mail: nonukes@foesyd.org.au).

Y2K WASH supports the de-alerting of nuclear weapons systems. It also calls for reactors and nuclear-processing facilities to be taken off-line and reliable back-up power systems to be in place from 1 December until the crisis is over. The campaign is being co-ordinated by Yumi Kikuchi in Tokyo (Tel: +81 3 5345 5618, Fax: +81 3 5345 5613, E-mail: yumik@awa.or.jp).

An e-mail list has been set up to facilitate information exchange and planning between activists who are working on the two campaigns. To subscribe send a blank e-mail to: y2k-nuclear-subscribe@egroups.com

Paul Swann
London, England

Good PR
I’m glad you tackled the subject of propaganda (NI 314) but it leaves a lot of questions. If I were running a business, I would get some PR advice, because I can’t trust the media to do a fair job of reporting the truth – they are too concerned with their own sales and ratings. Can’t there be good PR, which tries to ensure you get a fair hearing? Can’t even the big and powerful have good PR? I would have liked some criteria for this.

Yes, I do need to be helped to think for myself. But big issues like the war in Kosovo are complex and the information specialized and often restricted for security reasons. Surely in a democracy we appoint some of our most gifted and able citizens to make better decisions for us than we would make ourselves? When the press hound our leaders’ every move in order to create cheap headlines, democracy easily degenerates into popularism, driven mostly by emotion. No war today is going to be popular once our soldiers start getting killed. I reckon that it’s popularism that forced the policy of safe-distance bombing.

I think your treatment was too kind on journalists. But then, as journalists you’re part of all that. Are we really so safe in your hands? I trust a lot of what you write in the NI – should I? You didn’t help me think for myself about THAT.

David Muir
Long Eaton, England

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Bad language
I am writing in protest at the use of bad language in Mind Games (NI 314). Adam Porter’s article uses the phrase ‘boy are these f***ers poor’ and also describes a cab as costing f***-all to hire. Both he and the editor use the phrase ‘pissed off’ which although less offensive still grates.

It is not just that I find this use of words offensive but it is also distracting (from the main point of the article) and unnecessary. A good journalist can make a strong statement without resorting to expletives. I also find it amazing that a magazine that prides itself on respecting the people of the South should describe Manila’s street children as f***ers.

Please keep this sort of language out of future issues – it does not enhance your reputation for high quality journalism.

Shirley John
Huntington, England

Hanoi hope
In your issue on Green Cities (NI 313) I was very disappointed with the article ‘Green Odyssey’ and in particular on the section about Hanoi. I have lived in Hanoi for different periods of time since 1989. During that time I know that the People’s Committee struggles with the problems of development and maintaining a liveable city. The article did not take into account many of the initiatives the city is trying to instigate.

Briefly, some of these are: having only very small, efficient taxis; increasing lakes for run-off and parks for people; clean green agriculture trials near Hanoi; tree planting extensively in the city (partly for Hanoi’s 1,000th birthday in 2010); preservation plans for the Old City; new satellite towns; a better public transport system; special lanes for bicycles. Having received no war reparation, Vietnam struggles more than many other countries to stretch its money across essential present and future needs. It is certainly trying to prevent Hanoi becoming like Bangkok.

I wanted to read a well-researched article – not these ‘tourist impressions’.

Rosemary Morrow
Katoomba, Australia.

Prejudiced profile
I was appalled to find your ‘Country Profile’ of Guyana (NI 310) replete with blatant prejudice against the few foreign investors in gold-mining and forestry, and misinformation, distortions and rhetoric about the effects of their operations on the forest environment and Amerindians. The Canadian and Malaysian investments were each a godsend, certainly whilst the world prices for gold and plywood were favourable.

Guyana’s motto is ‘one people, one nation, one destiny’ and this includes the Amerindians. The country’s main hope of escaping the poverty abyss is to make use of opportunities to cash in forests (on a sustainable basis) and minerals. And since Guyanese have neither the technology nor the money they must inevitably rely on and compete for foreign investors.

It may be that real self-government is a distant dream for Guyana and other heavily indebted countries. This is not because of foreign investors, but because of the new imperialism and the action of those who would jump on its bandwagon in making these countries forever impoverished, because of restrictions on development and trade as the price for aid and debt relief. A 100-per-cent debt relief for Guyana, though allowing greater expenditure on health and education, would not immediately improve its per-capita GDP of $454 (compared with $3,600 for neighbouring Trinidad and $7,000 for Barbados).

Daoud Yamin
Croydon, England

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

Letter from Lebanon

Lost in Shatila
Reem Haddad meets a young man who survived the massacre
in the Palestinian camp 17 years ago.

It wasn’t the first time I had seen him. As a journalist for a Lebanese newspaper, I had been to the Palestinian camp of Shatila in Beirut on several occasions. And every time, a young man, about 22 years old, was shuffling aimlessly along the camp’s narrow, sewage-ridden streets. Unlike many others who stared at me – a stranger who obviously had not come to help them but simply to observe – the young man came up to me and inquired:

‘Are you lost?’

It’s funny, but I was just thinking the same about him. His empty brown eyes stared into mine. I found myself staring back, unable to answer. Never in my life had I seen such a look of despair in someone so young.

‘I am Mohammed,’ he finally said. ‘I see you are a journalist. Perhaps I can show you around the camp.’

Mohammed was a good guide. His voice was clear and his manners polite. But for some reason, I kept waiting to see him smile. He never did. Hesitantly, I asked: ‘Are you not happy, Mohammed?’

‘Happy?’ he replied and became silent. After a long while and just when I was chiding myself for apparently insulting him, he pulled out a shabby wallet from his trouser pocket. He grabbed a folded but wrinkled piece of paper and handed it to me. Unfolding it, I found myself looking at a magazine picture of several mutilated bodies.

Mohammed looked away.

‘The last time I remember laughing was when I was five years old,’ he said. He took the picture back and carefully folded it into his wallet. ‘That was my family,’ he said.

Mohammed was five years old when the Israeli army accompanied by its Lebanese Christian militia allies attacked the Shatila camp in 1982, massacring more than 2,000 people.

‘At first we heard shelling and shots but my father didn’t think it was serious,’ said Mohammed, pausing between every memory. ‘We joined my uncle’s family downstairs and played cards and laughed. There were 15 of us.’

Suddenly, a woman who was bleeding profusely barged in on them and the family heard screams from the camp.

‘We all ran into a small room to hide. It was tiny and we could barely breathe. Our old neighbour went outside to see what was happening. He was shot. His daughter followed him and she was shot. My parents told us to be quiet so the soldiers wouldn’t hear us.’

One baby, however, began wailing, alerting nearby soldiers.

Upon finding the frightened family, they seized the men and marched the women and children to a plot of land just outside the camp.

‘An Israeli soldier grabbed me and gave me a biscuit. He asked me what my father was wearing,’ said Mohammed. ‘I knew he wanted to know whether my father was a fighter. I didn’t say anything.’

The soldiers pushed the women and children into a large pit in the ground.

‘They were about to bury us alive when some explosions went off nearby and they ran to investigate. We ran away.’

Three days later, Mohammed and his mother returned to the camp. His father’s and uncles’ bodies were lying in front of the house, severely mutilated.

‘My mother couldn’t take it and died a short while later,’ he said.

Since then, Mohammed has been on his own. Fending for himself, the boy continued to attend a school funded by the United Nations. He later enrolled in a vocational school.

‘I thought if I could get an education and learn a skill, I could somehow get my life going again and forget the past,’ he said.

For the first time since he started his story, Mohammed looked at me. The pain in his eyes silenced my journalistic enquiries. I knew as well as he did that he could only look forward to a desolate future. His education will not serve him to ‘get his life going’ as he said. He will never be able to find a decent job. He will never be able to travel as he wishes. At 22, his future is bleak. Like all Palestinians in Lebanon, Mohammed is barred from working in any skilled profession. As a descendant of Palestinian refugees, he is himself still considered a refugee, and therefore in the eyes of the law, has no rights in the country.

‘Happy?’ he said. ‘I just exist. I hate my life. I hate myself. I just want to leave this camp and this country. I want to start anew somewhere else. But I’m only a Palestinian. Who would help me?’

Reem Haddad is a reporter for the Daily Star in Beirut.

Photograph of the Shatila massacre by Tony Clifton and Catherine Leroy (God Cried, Quartet 1983).

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