New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 328

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Letters

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Angel impact
Cover of the NI issue 326 Thank you, thank you, thank you for 'Impact of Angels' by Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (Africa United, NI 326). He said exactly what I felt, but couldn't say, when I was an angel. I worked for the Sudanese Ministry of Education and for the US Government in Zaire. In between I was briefly an angel in Sudan. The relationship between the angels and the locals was of master and servant. There was no true camaraderie. The angels had the privilege of driving hundreds of miles to collect supplies of alcohol in an alcohol-free and fuel-deficient country. The lucky locals got jobs as angels' servants.

Susan Quick
Hebden Bridge, England

Angel empire
Hurrah for 'Impact of Angels' (NI 326). What is that slogan about giving people a rod rather than a fish? Surely, if NGOs were giving skills, training and ideas, by now locals ought to be making their own decisions and mistakes.

The insidious and friendly-faced
colonialism of NGOs is no different from
that of the World Bank and the IMF

The insidious and friendly-faced colonialism of NGOs is, unfortunately, no different from - if not worse than - that of the World Bank and the IMF. When will it ever end? The 'Third World' desperately needs justice and fairness in trade. Why, why is the impoverished world expected to support the rich world? Keep your armaments and your youth and let the youth of Africa and others grow and develop and be free.

Rose Tuelo Brock
Rahoon, Ireland

Angel cure
Perhaps a cure for the 'Impact of Angels' (NI 326) is offered by the Charities Aid Foundation, which has lately set up CAF India with Indian trustees and staff. CAF is also in partnership with the South African NGO Coalition and South African Grantmakers Association to stimulate fundraising there.

DWB Baron
Ludlow, England

No short cuts
Africans can't go on forever blaming the colonial powers for everything (NI 326). If we try to help we're interfering - if we don't we're ignoring our responsibilities. Come on! Who invented democracy, trade unions, human rights? It sure wasn't Dingaan or Cetewayo.

There is ample wealth in Africa. If it's in the wrong hands and being used for the wrong purposes, Africans must find their own way to correct that, mount their own 'peasants' revolts'. There are no short cuts to true freedom.

Charles Philips
Bromley, England

Whale of a life
Cover of the NI issue 325 Whale of a life I was dismayed by your Fish issue (NI 325). If you are so unconcerned about the effects of over-fishing that you insist on cramming a corpse into your mouth, then we'd rather you advocated eating part of a whale than any other sea creature. When someone eats part of a whale they eat less than a ten thousandth of a life. With most other sea creatures they eat perhaps a quarter, a half or all of the animal. So more suffering goes into a tuna sandwich than a whale steak. Since most people would rightly balk at the idea of eating whale, perhaps it is time for you to examine the ethics of eating any sea life.

Andrew Butler
PETA, London, England

Kosovo victim
I have read Mr Alan Shipman's letter 'Kosovo Stance' (NI 325). Contrary to his assertions, there have not been many European independent journalists reporting massacres in Kosovo because there have not been such massacres. Of the 196 found dead by the Spanish team, only six had been shot and these were inmates of a prison. NATO bombed the prison and killed about 90 inmates. Others found by the Spanish team appear also to have died as a result of NATO bombing. Far from being a triumph for enlightened citizens, this war was a triumph for propaganda. Mr Shipman is one of the victims.

Nick Angelopoulos
Cambridge, England

Utterly false
I was pleased to see the focus on fisheries in NI 325. I confess, however, to being surprised that you did not invite the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to comment on the feature by John Kurien.

Conspiracy theories are always good for
readership figures. Accurate reporting may
be better for the marine environment

The MSC has never suggested that the market alone can provide the solution to all the problems faced by fisheries. Neither Unilever nor WWF continue to provide core funding. They do not sit on our Board. We are largely funded by charitable foundations and small corporate sponsorships.

The impression conveyed by Mr Kurien was that we are a Unilever-dominated, Northern conspiracy to continue the denuding of developing-world resources for the benefit of the rich. That suggestion is utterly false. Conspiracy theories are always good for readership figures. Accurate reporting may be better for the marine environment.

Brendan May
Chief Executive,
Marine Stewardship Council,
London, England

There's only one...
Your 'Factfile' on hemp (NI 325) says: 'Hemp is a distant cousin of the cannabis plant.' No. Hemp is the same species as the cannabis plant. There is only one species, which has been cultivated for so long that it doesn't really exist in the wild. Distant cousins of hemp would be mulberry, figs or Indian rubber plants.

John Wells
London, England

Perfect mediocrity
Democracy (NI 324) requires proportional representation, but PR doesn't guarantee democracy. Australia has compulsory preferential voting which, in effect, compels all to choose between two major parties - both essentially Tory and, by many, despised. We have oligarchy, not democracy. Perfect democracy would guarantee mediocrity at least, and that would have been an improvement on all Australian governments to date, with the exception of the Whitlam government which, though flawed, attempted to do the right thing. Democracy is a bad form of government, but the least prone to abuse.

Harold Taskis
Margsville, Australia

Sane asylum
In July I collected signatures for a petition to protest at the abuse aimed at asylum seekers in Britain by sections of the national press. It was community politics on a street corner, with a rickety table and a handful of leaflets curling up in the damp. I was nervous at first and then amazed that most people were thoughtful and open to a different interpretation of 'the facts' - Britain takes fewer asylum seekers than Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Ireland and Canada. An African Caribbean woman told us of her daughter's distress when teaching English to Kosovan women and hearing their stories of trauma. Only two people refused to sign, and even they took a leaflet.

Alice Collins
Sheffield, England

Sneaking off
Cover of the NI issue 324 Does Richard Swift (Democracy - Is that it? NI 324) believe that if the people regain power from the 'suits' they will revel in it? For myself it's possible, if someone pays the phone bill, arranges transport, cuts the basic working day (but not its pay) and persuades me to use the extra free time on self-government rather than sneaking off to preferred pursuits, including idleness... I do wonder whether I am sufficiently clear-headed and hard-hitting, energetically communicating and sensitively listening, action-loving and positively thinking to be New Internationalist-reading - or self-governing. Not that I like the 'suits', you understand.

May Morris
Dorset, England

Deserving the truth
It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of the poet and writer Judith Wright on 25 June. Earlier in the year we had approached her, among others, to sign a letter asking the Australian Government to make public the information it holds on the Indonesian military and its crimes in East Timor.

A hundred thousand East
Timorese are still trapped in
Indonesia as virtual hostages,
and they deserve the truth

After 25 years of occupation, the East Timorese are still suffering. A hundred thousand are still trapped in Indonesia as virtual hostages, and they deserve the truth. This was, as far as we know, the last public statement by Judith Wright.

Stephen Langford
East Timor Association,
Paddington, Australia

Letter from Lebanon

Inside out
Inside out Reem Haddad entered a prison in southern
Lebanon just after the Israelis had withdrawn.

It was an unreal feeling. I was actually walking in the notorious Khiam prison where over 2,000 Lebanese men, women and children as young as 13 were tortured. Less than 12 hours before, Israel's proxy militia, the South Lebanese Army (SLA), had fled the prison when hundreds of villagers stormed it, tearing down its gates and barbed-wire barricades to free 144 detainees.

And here I was walking through the filthy cells. Nothing had been touched. A full bowl of rice stood on one side of a cell as if the prisoner were just about to have his meal. The smell of perspiration still filled the cells. 'God is just and is watching out for you,' a prisoner had written on the wall.

In the women's quarters a 21-year-old student of journalism, Cosette Ibrahim, had written in French: 'It is so much easier to dream my life than to live it.'

Up to 12 prisoners were crammed into each tiny cell. And for months many were isolated between two walls - I couldn't even call them cells - where there was standing-room only. It was pitch dark. There were no windows and no lights.

The jailers' rooms were eerily empty. Maybe they were going over who was on duty that day, as logbooks of prisoners and guards were strewn about. Posters detailing the guards' duties were hung on the wall. Even SLA uniforms were laid out on some mattresses.

Among the number of people wandering silently around the prison in obvious shock were a number of former detainees. Ali Khesheish, 38, wanted to show his children where he endured so much suffering for 11 years before his release four years ago. He held a pair of handcuffs in his hands - he found them in one of the interrogating rooms. He explained how guards hung him for hours on the prison gates, dousing him with scalding-hot and freezing-cold water. Meanwhile, the beatings never stopped. The worst were the electrical jolts.

Illustration: Sarah John 'They clipped wires on my genitals,' recalled 33-year-old Riad Kalakish who was one of the 144 detainees released as the Israelis withdrew. 'And every 15 minutes they sent a jolt through my penis. I bled so badly.' Riad was only 18 when he was snatched from his grandfather's house. He was accused of being a member of Hizbullah - the Islamic resistance party fighting to oust Israel from south Lebanon. And even though both his brothers were members, he repeatedly told them that he wasn't. He was taken to Khiam in the trunk of a car and was interrogated and tortured for two months.

'They began by repeatedly jabbing a screwdriver into my neck, kicking me in the shins and punching me in the chest,' he said. 'Several of my ribs were broken.'

He was refused water or food and was shaken when he fell asleep. Once the interrogations were over, surviving the filthy state of the cells became his next preoccupation. Prisoners were given little food and their toilet was a bucket that was emptied every two days. Once a week they were allowed ten minutes in the sun.

In 1995 the Red Cross intervened and conditions became a little better. Prisoners were given mattresses and blankets and the SLA allowed family members to send in a limited amount of food.

Technically, the prison was run by the SLA. Israel always denied responsibility for running it, arguing that the military it trained, armed and paid had sole jurisdiction. But, according to hundreds of detainees like Riad, 'the Israelis did the questioning and the SLA did the hitting'.

After 15 years in prison, Riad still can't believe he's free. He will never forget the first seconds when he realized that he was about to be liberated. On 23 May he suddenly heard distant calls of 'Allah Akbar' - 'God is great'. He couldn't figure out what was happening. The chants became stronger and stronger. The detainees realized that there were crowds just outside the prison gate. Prisoners banged on their doors shouting 'Allah Akbar' in response. Villagers then broke down the prison gates and ran to free the detainees. Their torturers pleaded for a safe-passage out. Silently, the crowd let them through.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
E-mail reem.haddad@dailystar.com.lb

Today the prisoners are gone and many members of the SLA have fled to Israel. But the repressive atmosphere of the prison remains strong. I could practically hear the screams that resonated through the nights - and found myself almost running back outside.

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