New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 329

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Letters

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Evil under the sun
Cover of the NI issue on Torture Whilst NI deserves credit for tackling the massive subject of torture throughout the world, it is a great pity that your map of ‘Evil under the sun’ (NI 327), based as it was on Amnesty International’s 1999 data, is so full of omissions.

A glaring case in point is Iran, to which all 9 incriminating symbols are applicable, yet it only received 3. Particularly regrettable is the absence of the little blue figures symbolizing brutalization of children, an area in which this regime, which practices 174 different kinds of torture, is a world leader.

Boys in their thousands continue to be recruited every year into the Islamic paramilitary forces and played a key role in suppressing the mass student uprising of July 1999. During this same uprising, scores of schoolchildren as young as 13 and 14 were bussed off to already overflowing prisons, from which many have still to this day not returned.

. children are imprisoned
with their parents .

Iran is the country of chillingly specific laws and fatwas against the families of so-called ‘enemies of God’, inciting the Iranian public to torture, rape and even kill ‘infidel’ children. There are plenty of cases today of children being imprisoned with their parents, where they might be subjected to torture and rape under the heading of ta azir, ‘purification’; or they might end up in a children’s prison, another Iranian speciality, or on the streets.

Neither Amnesty nor the UN High Commission are allowed inside Iran, which may account for gaps in their data. So please, dear NI readers, paint Iran’s thousands of brutalized children into the map at once, plus all the other missing symbols.

Belinda McKenzie 
Iran Aid Support Committee
London, England

Ed: There are undoubtedly other such cases which our map did not highlight. Based on Amnesty’s Report 2000 which covers data for 1999, it acknowledged problems of limited access to reliable information about torture (which most governments attempt to keep hidden) and suggested the situation could be worse in some cases.

Sexual majorities
Cover of the NI issue on Sexual Minorities You, like every other political person (including many who are bisexual), lump bisexuals together with lesbians, gays and transgenders as a minority (Out South NI 328). However, the majority of bis do not consider themselves bi. Only a short time ago, a married woman declared that she made love only to her girlfriend (other than her husband) and that didn’t count! Many people don’t discover their love for their own sex until they are 40 and older. Which is more important: what people do or what they say they are? If you conducted a survey for people older than sixty, you might find that the majority had had sex at least once with someone of the same gender, making them bisexual in my book. And you might find that the rest had at least wondered about it.

Vicky Ebert
Ayr, Scotland

Debt relief
Your article ‘Impact of angels’ (NI 326) angered me with its sweeping generalizations. The author allies Western NGOs in Africa with the IMF and World Bank as part of some covert re-colonization programme. I have no doubt that some NGOs have made mistakes in their methods. But what about organizations under the Jubilee 2000 banner who have been campaigning tirelessly for Third World Debt Relief, and coming up against heavy opposition from both the IMF and World Bank? If their campaign is not about long-term development, with the aim to make African and other highly indebted countries economically autonomous and self-reliant, then I do not know what is. Jubilee 2000 clearly states that the finances freed up from debt relief should be closely monitored and distributed by NGOs – not Western NGOs but NGOs from within each indebted country. The author turns the whole Western world with all its multiple and competing forces and ideologies into a unified colonial bugbear. This is as crudely inaccurate as the blinkered view about which Chris Brazier writes: ‘Africa is reduced to one single, terrible reality: violence’.

Katherine Hodson
Sheffield, England

Poisonous bouquet
Referring back to your superior pesticide reporting (NI 323), your readers would want to know that cut flowers are among the products most highly contaminated with pesticides. The flower has become a poisonous gift: from the women who work in the industry, whose health and that of their children has been compromised; to the imported flowers which must be free of insects, fungi, etc at the borders; to the soil which is forever contaminated by the production of these flowers; to the ozone layer diminished by methyl bromide use; to the rivers and lakes drained for the highly intensive irrigation; to the agricultural loss in developing countries where food is sacrificed for export commodities…

The flower has become
a poisonous gift

How many people who are careful to eat organic meals have adorned their tables with the ‘snow white’ fillings of their flower vases? In the United States a greenhouse cannot be replaced without also excavating the soil beneath it, due to the use of chemicals. First World entrepreneurs have taken their market expansion to Third World fields where the chemical regulations are less strict or less enforced. The good news is that there is a ‘green label’ (Florverde) but it is little known in the US market.

Gwen Curtis 
Cornell, US

Consuming Africa
Your issue on Pan-Africanism (NI 326) included comment by US Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice. Ms Rice seems to be propagating the views of her white American bosses in the State Department. As always with the US Government, the political, cultural and trade interests of the United States are paramount.

Ms Rice mentions Africa’s young, who she appears to hope will become, like many millions of youth around the world, the prey of the ‘Coca-Cola’ cultural imperialism of US media and multinationals with their message of consumerism and corporate greed.

How do I know, as an Australian, that the aim of the US is to ‘Americanize’ African culture and gain control of the business sector (and through that, politically influence African governments)? Because that is the way Australia is today after many years of heavy American influence.

Chris Yates
Canberra, Australia

Colombian kidnappings
We have just received the terrible news that Tristan, the grandson of Jenny James (‘Letter from Colombia’ contributor NI 295 - 300) has been kidnapped and possibly killed in the area of Hoya Grande, Tolima, Colombia.

Tristan was 18. He was about to come to Ireland, but first went into a dangerous area to say goodbye to friends. He disappeared at night, along with a Colombian boy, Javier, who has also been part of our group.

We have tried everything possible to get more information about what happened. But as is the custom in fear-ridden Colombia, no-one will talk.

Jenny has gone on Colombian TV appealing for any information, and has said publicly she believes they are both dead. She has had to fight against the media not to let them use this tragedy against the FARC (the guerilla group who control that area), as there is no information that indicates their involvement. However, they are responsible for security in that area, and suspicion is pointed at a local group ‘Los Chaparales’.

Jenny and Anne are in Bogotá doing everything possible and making as much fuss in the media as possible, but have stated clearly that their deaths are not to be used to justify the US involvement in its so-called concern for Colombia – ‘Plan Colombia’.

We are appealing to you in this time of terrible tragedy within our own group to support Jenny and Anne, in whatever way you can.

If you can send them any donation for help with all the investigative work and cost of phone calls etc we would be so grateful. Or even just write to Jenny and support her in this very difficult time.

Her address: AA 241858, Bogotá, Colombia, S America.

If you can send a donation, it’s best to send a bank draft made payable to:-

Fundacion Atlantis Colombia.
Atlantis Affinity Group and Irish branch of the Colombian Radical Action Campaign
Cork, Eire

Puppet democracy
I saw the drawing of the ‘Festival for Democracy’ in a recent issue of your magazine (NI 324). I liked it. Then my mother told me that a man named David Solnit, a puppet-maker, was arrested when he came to Windsor, Canada in June to protest against the Organization of American States. The people who arrested him thought he was dangerous.

My question is: if a puppet is really light, how can it hurt someone? How can someone that makes puppets hurt anyone when he is busy making puppets?

Andabu Brownhill (aged 8 1/2)
Ontario, Canada

Letter from Lebanon

Message from a saint
Reem Haddad attends a children’s party and finds
herself in a strange world of incense and trances.

If I had known that approaching the little girl would lead me into a bizarre world, I would have been better prepared. But there she was, attending a children’s party that I was covering for my newspaper. She was about ten years old and dressed like a nun except that her habit was white and the headpiece blue.

‘Hello. Why are you dressed like that?’ I asked.

Smiling, she answered: ‘The Virgin Mary told me to.’

Oh.

Little girls who claim to see apparitions make good articles and so I invited myself over to her house. Nathalie, her two sisters and mother live in a tiny flat in a poor neighbourhood. The family had no doubts that Nathalie did indeed see the Holy Mother, Jesus and, most importantly, a Lebanese saint by the name of St Charbel.

To oblige me and put Nathalie in the ‘mood’ to go into a trance, the family began praying out loud.

A few seconds later, Nathalie fell on the couch. Her eyes were closed and she began speaking.

‘Love one another,’ she said. ‘Be good to each other.’

Her older sister immediately grabbed a pen and paper and wrote down everything Nathalie said. ‘It’s St Charbel talking,’ the family members whispered to each other.

‘God bless you all,’ continued Nathalie.

The repetition of common church blessings did little to impress me.

A few seconds later, Nathalie ‘woke’ up. From the look of the excessive attention her family was bestowing upon her, I could see the appeal of going into sudden trances.

Just as I was about to take my leave, a young couple in their late twenties entered the flat.

‘Have you gone through a trance yet?’ the woman asked Nathalie. ‘I’ve been in two already.’

‘Oh, I’ve had just one today,’ responded Nathalie casually.

I sat down and took my notebook out again.

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Illustration by Sarah John

The woman, Rania, led a round of hymns. Then she fell to the floor. Very much the sceptic, I approached and tried to raise her arms. They were very heavy and I had to let them go. Rania began speaking in beautiful Arabic poetry. It seemed St Charbel was in the room again. Suddenly, she asked me to come nearer. I obliged.

‘Why do you doubt, my daughter?’ she said in Arabic.

I decided to go along with her. ‘Can you speak to me in English?’ I asked.

‘In my village we don’t speak English,’ retorted Rania – or was it St Charbel? ‘Why do you need proof? Those who have faith don’t ask for proof.’

In spite of my doubts, I found myself rather entranced. A few minutes later, Rania woke up. She said that she didn’t remember anything. The group decided that they would prefer me to speak to their spiritual counsellor before writing up my article.

A few days later, I found myself facing a friendly old priest. With his white beard and long robe he looked as if he had stepped out of the Bible. He decided that I was worthy of being introduced to his followers and I found myself in another tiny flat – half of it turned into a shrine. Men and women were praying fervently in front of dozens of paintings of Jesus and the Virgin. In their midst, a woman of about 30 was leading the prayers. The priest beckoned her over. She opened her palms and revealed three tiny balls of incense.

‘These are from St Charbel to you,’ she said as she placed them in my hands. I stared inquisitively at the priest.

‘Every time Lana prays, incense balls appear in her palms,’ he explained.

Before I had chance to recover, the priest lead me to the midst of the praying group. He reached over, dabbed his finger in the oil on the paintings and – without warning – spread it over my mouth and face.

‘This oil is Holy,’ he said. ‘Look at the pictures, oil just appears by itself.’

I inspected the paintings and they were indeed wet with oil. By this time, I felt I had entered a strange world. Not sure how to respond to sudden appearances of oils and incense balls, I made a quick retreat.

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

But that day still nags at me. Were the incense, oil and trances just tricks to get attention or did I witness real blessings reserved only for the privileged few?

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