New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 333

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Letters

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Gay and lesbian clergy
Reading through the Factfile on Religion (NI 331) I was disturbed to read what was written about sexual minorities. Unfortunately it is true that a majority of Christians do not have a policy of accepting gay people. However, all Christians are NOT from the right wing. Some of us seek actively to overturn 2,000 years of injustice and to embrace justice and acceptance for all.

… all Christians are NOT right-wing …

The church which I belong to, the United Church of Canada, is one of Canada’s largest Christian bodies and has an explicit policy of not only accepting but also ordaining gay and lesbian clergy. I hope that the many other churches in Canada and around the world can follow this example of inclusivity and cease to equate Christianity with homophobic righteousness.

Jennifer Wushke 
Project Peacemakers,
Winnipeg, Canada

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Moving hearts
I have subscribed to your magazine for the past year. I have been impressed with the magazine’s coverage of social justice topics and I share your views on many of these.

I subscribed, in part, because you included comments from religious leaders like Archbishop Tutu in your promotional material. So it is with some dismay that I read the subtle and not-so-subtle digs at religion in Factfile (NI 331) and Worldbeaters (NI 327). There is no question that there are terrible things done in the name of religion, but that is only one side of the story. How about devoting an article or two to the positive contribution that religion has made in moving people’s hearts to fight for social justice?

Marc van Beusekom
Toronto, Canada

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(Un)clean machines
You apparently subscribe to the belief that electric-driven trams and trolley buses are a ‘clean’ form of transport (NI 331). This is only true where the electricity that drives them is generated by hydro-electricity or other renewable sources of energy. Where the electricity is generated by oil or coal-fired power stations, pollution is only transferred from one place to another.

JP Lethbridge
Birmingham, England

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Marlboro Manoeuvres
Cover of the NI issue 331 Albena Amaudova (Peddling Dangerous Dreams NI 331) reveals the disturbing creativity with which the tobacco giant Philip Morris addicts a new generation of young people in Eastern Europe. Here’s some more sobering information: while it manoeuvres to push its tobacco agenda throughout the world – an effort spearheaded by the Marlboro Man, arguably the world’s largest source of youth tobacco addiction – Philip Morris spent a staggering $142 million on ‘feel-good’ corporate image advertising in the US to convince consumers and policy-makers that it is a good corporate citizen.

Despite the slick PR, growing numbers of consumers are joining Infact’s boycott of Kraft Foods, which is owned by Philip Morris. The Network for the Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT), a network of over 50 NGOs in more than 30 countries, is mobilizing to ensure the ratification of a binding treaty – the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – currently being drafted at the World Health Organization (WHO).

For more information on the Kraft Boycott or the Convention write to the address below or e-mail: infact@igc.org
Sangita Nayak
Infact International Organizer,
46 Plympton Street, Boston,
Massachusetts 02118, US

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Latest, greatest measure
David Werner’s article Elusive Promise (NI 331) makes much sense. It is true that Health for All has been horribly diluted and that the World Bank’s involvement in health planning has polluted public health – the fox guarding the henhouse.

However, I wonder at his criticism of the use of DALYs (‘disability adjusted life years’). Certainly the World Bank has been a sponsor of much of the research into this area but to claim that it ‘invented’ DALYs to measure economic productivity demeans a useful health tool.

Since the 1960s work has been done to attempt to find indicators of non-fatal health outcomes – to broaden our indicators beyond simple under-five mortality and life expectancy. DALYs are the latest and greatest of these indicators. Far from merely considering economic productivity, DALYs take into account the effect disability has on several areas: procreation, occupation, education and recreation. This is part of an ongoing search by WHO and the Harvard School of Public Health to improve our measurement of the suffering incurred by living with sickness.

John Kennedy
Tamworth, Australia

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Fiddling while Rome burns
Present-day governments appear more and more like contemporary Neros. One of the most glaring examples is the recent failure of The Hague talks intended to consolidate the Kyoto agreement on greenhouse-gas emissions. It was hoped that the world would see a move towards curbing emissions and a consequent reduction of global warming. Instead, citizens were treated to a display of squabbling and discord.

turning citizens
into little Neros

As long as governments are tied to the apron strings of finance and business their efforts will always be constrained by consideration of profits. Our Neros do not want an intelligent and active citizenry who will challenge them to change and act. Their capacity to carry on as they do depends on citizens’ passivity and quiescence – hence the repression at Seattle and subsequent protests. Governments and leaders of industry and finance rely on turning citizens into little Neros with the help of a banal and sterile media which tells little and stimulates less. If, as anticipated by the Gorbachev Foundation, we move to the 20:80 society the 80 per cent will be kept complacent and pliable by what Zbigniew Brzezinski termed ‘tittytainment’.

Graham Roylance
Bridgewater, Australia

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Sorry (for the small things)
Your Culture of Apology essay (NI 329) provokes the question: if Japanese are so quick to apologize humbly to other Japanese for the smallest of daily oversights and altercations why hasn’t Japan, as a country, been able wholeheartedly to embrace the idea of a genuine apology for cruelly invading and subduing so many foreign countries and causing so much unnecessary pain to those POWs from China, Malaya, Australia, the US etc?

Saying sumi ma sen to POWs may mean phenomenal payouts from a country where business is boss. While apologies are good for human relations, reparations are a bad form of business.

Rob Buchanan
Keri Keri, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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Ritalin repression
Stalin or Hitler could learn much from the modern totalitarian education/state, which prescribes ritalin to a whole generation of children as if it’s a crime to have abundant energy. Not one voice of opposition! The crime is with the adults who have failed to lead that abundant energy towards fruitfulness, preferring to stifle it for a façade of educational order.

What will remain in 33 years when the natural attrition of vitality that comes with age is compounded with this stifling and addiction?

Mark McDougall
Elermore Vale, Australia

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Irradiation fear
I am concerned about food irradiation. Apparently some of these foods are on our shelves already, cloaked by clever wordsmiths in such small-print phrases as: ‘This product has been electronically pasteurized’; ‘Treated by cold pasteurization’; ‘This food has been sterilized with E-Beam technology’ (all from The Times).

In institutions food is bought in bulk: as mass-cooked food products become more centralized there will be little control over the use of irradiated foods. China already uses irradiation in a significant way: when will the first signs of vitamin deficiency be observed, who will recognize the symptoms?

As GM foods have been imposed on many helpless countries so will irradiation. You have a lot of work to do to ensure that nutrition in the form we know and understand is not swept away and destroyed.

John Stanley Coduri
Pontypridd, Wales

Letter from Lebanon

Message of war
Reem Haddad visits the terrible past of Israel’s new
Prime Minister in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatila.

Nouhad Srour didn’t look too pleased at the arrival of yet more journalists to get her story. Since Ariel Sharon became Israel’s new Prime Minister, reporters have been flocking to the Sabra and Chatila camps. This was the site where over 2,000 people were butchered 19 years ago. ‘It opens wounds every time I talk about it,’ said Nouhad. After a few seconds of silence, she looked at me.

‘And now Sharon is back,’ she said. ‘The devil is back.’

Sharon, known in Lebanon as ‘the butcher of Beirut’, was already a name which Arabs – Palestinians in particular – loathed. It was his visit last September to the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount, holy to both Muslims and Jews, which ignited the current Middle East crisis.

I urged Nouhad on. Upon learning that my mother was originally Palestinian, Nouhad smiled.

‘Palestinian?’ she said as she grabbed my hand warmly. ‘Then you will be able to feel our suffering. Any Palestinian coming to visit us is like a breath of fresh air.’

And then, slowly, she began recalling that day in September 1982. Nouhad, then 16, gathered with her ten family members and two neighbours inside their home in one of the poverty-stricken narrow alleys of the Sabra and Chatila camps.

Unbeknown to them, Sharon, then Israeli Defence Minister and architect of the invasion of Lebanon, permitted the entry of Lebanese Christian militia into the camps. He claimed that 2,000 Palestinian fighters remained in the camps, though 10,000 had been evacuated from Lebanon a few weeks earlier. On the night of 16 September the militia went in as Israeli troops cordoned off the camps and fired flares to illuminate the skies for the operation.

Illustration by Sarah John When the family heard some noise outside, Nouhad’s pregnant neighbour and nine-year-old brother went out to investigate. Two shots were fired and both were killed instantly. The militia burst into Nouhad’s house and shoved everyone against the wall. As the horrified family listened, the men discussed whether to kill their victims inside or outside the house. As one soldier hesitated, another quickly machine-gunned the family. Nouhad was holding her six-month-old baby sister in her arms. ‘I felt something beginning to slide down my arm,’ she said. ‘I looked and I saw the baby’s brains fully exposed. She fell to the floor and tried to crawl towards my mother screaming for her. They shot her again and her voice just stopped.’

Nouhad herself fell. She was shot in the elbow and shoulder. She pretended to be dead until the militia departed. She then crawled to various family members to see who was alive. She felt her mother and her sister, Suad, stir. But 17-year-old Suad was bleeding profusely and couldn’t move. Nouhad and her mother rushed off to find help. Instead, they found the alleys of the camp filled with mutilated bodies. Many women had obviously been raped as their skirts were pushed up to their waists.

‘My friend’s aunt later came upon my best friend,’ continued Nouhad. ‘They had hung her from meat hooks thrust into her naked breasts.’

Once Nouhad was outside searching for help, Israeli troops prevented her from returning into the camp to retrieve Suad.

‘My sister spent three days on her own surrounded by bodies. When we found her, she was crippled and had gone mad.’

The massacre lasted for three days. Over 2,000 men, women and children were butchered.

In Israel, an investigation into the massacre found Sharon indirectly responsible and he was forced to resign as Defence Minister in 1983. ‘Often I think of my little brothers and sisters,’ Nouhad said, grasping my hand again. ‘I wonder what they would have grown up to be.’

For Palestinian refugees, the fact that the Israelis voted Sharon into office could only mean one thing: ‘They don’t want peace,’ said Nouhad. ‘What would be the message that you would get if you were in our shoes?’

Other Palestinians feel like Nouhad’s husband, who said: ‘Sharon and Barak are all the same.’ Nouhad, however, shuddered.

‘No, I’m more scared of Sharon,’ she says. ‘I know what he is capable of.’

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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