New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 341

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Letters

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‘Us’ against ‘them’
Cover of the NI issue 340 Upon reading Twin Terrors (NI 340), I felt that I had finally encountered some heart and sense after being worn down by a mainstream media barrage of self-righteous indignation, which urged me to pledge my allegiance to Bush and Blair’s good, civilized, democratic and free world rather than the evil, uncivilized and oppressive world of the terrorists. I still wonder what this evil world is. Sadly, it would seem that it is all those countries that do not conform to the economic, political, cultural and spiritual aspirations of the West. Eduardo Galeano’s ‘The Theatre of Good & Evil’ gave powerful expression to this awkward position that we all face, and the near absurdity of being put in the position where we feel that we must take sides in this now hateful atmosphere of us and them.

Nick Taussig
London, England

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Fundamental problems
Dan Bailey (Letters, NI 340) suggests that the attackers of New York ‘must have had some pretty compelling motives’. Yes – to neutralize America’s influence in the Middle East and replace it with something actually rather worse: a form of Islamic fundamentalism far to the right of the corrupt Saudis and dogmatic Iranians. These people don’t give a damn about the ‘legitimate grievances of millions’; Islamic fundamentalists that I have had the misfortune to meet at protests against Israel in London have been crude anti-Semites who would impose on the Palestinians (many of whom are Christian) a form of Islam alien to the region after visiting a ‘second holocaust’ on the Israelis (their words).

US foreign policy has often betrayed the great democratic ideals on which the US was founded, and its attitudes to Kyoto, bio-weapons, an International Criminal Court, Israel and the global free market are foolish. A true ‘war on terrorism’ certainly requires rethinking those issues. But misunderstanding the nature of Islamic fundamentalism does not help the fight against injustice.

Richard Bartholomew
London, England

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Unequal values
For the families of the 7,000 people murdered, the events of 11 September are an overwhelming tragedy. However, the reactions to these events are quite disproportionate when we consider what has happened in the past and what is happening now elsewhere in the world.

The sad thing is that the rest of the world does either value Americans more or is afraid to say otherwise

How did the world react when a million people were massacred in Rwanda? Or when 250,000 were murdered in Bosnia? Or when the US-sponsored dictatorship of Suharto slaughtered 700,000 Indonesians and 200,000 East Timorese? Or when the US’s puppet regimes in Guatemala and Nicaragua murdered 70,000 and 50,000 people respectively? How does the world react as thousands of civilians are killed each year as a result of wars waged by armies supported and supplied by the US? How does the world react as millions die each year as a result of the economic policies initiated by three US-led organizations – the IMF, World Bank and WTO?

The reaction of the US since 11 September shows that it expects the rest of the world to value the lives of Americans more than that those of non-Americans. The sad thing is that the rest of the world does either value Americans more or is afraid to say otherwise.

K Kumaralingam
Maidstone, England

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Western mindset
Bhutan (Country Profile, NI 340) is closer to true democracy than Britain. The monarch can be deposed by a two-thirds vote in the National Assembly. This has not happened due to the present king’s popularity. The National Assembly delegates decision-making and budgets into the hands of the Districts, and these delegate decision-making and budgets into the hands of Geogs (villages). Each is responsible for the decisions that are appropriate at their level and advise the higher level of their needs; this is close to Gandhi’s prescription for a people’s democracy. The star ratings you ascribe to the country are rooted in a Western development mindset and bear little relation to basic human needs.

James Bruges
Bristol, England

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Vital fiction
Peter Whittaker is right to highlight the power and importance of fiction as a vital part of cultures around the world (New Writing from the South, NI 339).

In many parts of the world local publishing is on a very small scale or absent altogether. This effectively denies authors in many nations the opportunity to reach out and tell their stories to their own communities or indeed to the world. It also means that readers in these communities do not have reading materials on subjects that are of greatest interest to them.

This is a need that Book Aid International, a British charity working to support education, seeks to meet. We buy African published books and distribute them to libraries and schools on the continent and we also support capacity building for publishers and booksellers.

Nicola Cadbury
Book Aid International
,
39-41 Coldharbour Lane,
London SE5 9NR, England.
Tel: 020 7733 3577.
Fax: 020 7978 8006.
Web: http://www.bookaid.org

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Radical recommendation
I enjoyed reading New Writing from the South (NI 339). However, I’m disappointed to see you promoting large companies like Blackwells and Amazon, especially Amazon which has a woeful labour-rights record and bans trade unions. Why didn’t you suggest NI readers order their books from independent and radical booksellers? Not only are they supportive of the NI’s concerns, but readers may also get better service from them.

Please think before you recommend union-busting transnationals next time.

Rachel Aldred
London, England

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Eye opener
From 11 September onwards I was listening and watching and reading about the events which so dominated our lives, so that I did not even look at that month’s NI (Faces of Global Resistance, NI 338). Now I realize that this particular issue should be accessible to everyone, so that the fundamental reasons for so many summit protests are really encountered, and the frequent questions ‘Why should this happen? Why do they hate us?’, raised and answered daily in the media, revealed as determined myopia.

I would like to suggest that copies be placed in as many libraries as possible, where presumably people are thinking and perhaps willing to face charges of sedition.

Shirley Beynon Bennet,
Charlbury, England

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Slavery concerns
I commend the NI on devoting an edition to slavery (NI 337). However, I believe that there should have been more coverage given to the issue of African slaves who were sent to America and the need to consider reparations for African-American descendants of slaves, as compensation for their forced and unpaid labour.

I was also concerned about the brief mention given to the idea of a social clause within the WTO mechanism (‘Going cheap’) as a possible counter-measure to forced labour. This is very much a view put forward by some in the rich/minority world. Many people believe that social clauses should not be contained within trade agreements under the purview of the WTO as this would lead to slavery and labour being made a commodity.

Kelly Dent
Colombo, Sri Lanka

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Oh, and the King
May I point out an extremely bizarre fact about the US’s wars and conflicts since World War Two ended? If you take the first letter of each country’s name – E and S from El Salvador (1981); L from Libya (1986); V from Vietnam (1964-75); two I’s from Iraq (1991 and again in 1993); S and K from South Korea (1950-53); G for Grenada (1983) and N from Nicaragua (1982-84), they spell out ‘ELVIS (I)S KING’!

The missing ‘I’ probably explains why they are continually hounding Saddam Hussein – so they can attack Iraq again to gain the missing letter in their hangman-like game of death and destruction.

Bill Speakman
Liverpool, England

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Crossword fix
What are you doing there? I wait all month for my crossword fix, and then, as hundreds of others have probably told you, you muck it up. Either it’s the wrong grid, or the wrong clues. Either way it don’t fit. If you want me to renew next year please sort it out.

Keith Williams
Northern Territory, Australia

Ed: Apologies to all addicts for printing the wrong grid for crossword 60 in our Twin Terrors haste. Here’s the right one. Sadly, special world crisis reports mean no crossword this month – but expect a Jumbo (with grid and clues that match!) next issue.

The fixed, fixed NI crossword 60.

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Letter from Lebanon

Unanswered questions
Reem Haddad comes away disturbed after meeting the father of
a man accused of being one of the 11 September hijackers.

[image, unknown] I was in the middle of an interview when I got a phone call from a friend.

‘Planes are falling from the sky into New York and Washington,’ cried a hysterical voice. ‘Go turn on the TV.’

I hastily concluded my interview and rushed out into the street. It was eerily empty. Just an hour ago, it had been jammed with cars. I called several friends to get the latest news – nobody was answering. Everyone seemed glued to their TV sets.

Finally, Zeina picked up her phone.

‘I’m watching the news,’ she said. ‘It’s terrible. It can’t be real.’

Like the rest of the world, the Lebanese were in shock. But all too soon a new fear emerged: was an Arab involved in this?

The next few days brought the dreaded answer, and with it, another understanding. The hatred of US foreign policy in the Middle East can no longer be controlled. Arabs are enraged by the US’s biased support of Israel, by the American-made weapons that kill dozens of Palestinians with grim regularity and the US-led sanctions against Iraq that kill hundreds of children each month. But for a group living amongst us, this rage has turned into evil.

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Illustration: Sarah John

‘Everyone wants the US to change its policies,’ said a colleague. ‘But certainly not in this manner. Yes, the Americans have been killing us all these years but that doesn’t mean we should do the same thing to them.’

And then another blow came: one of the hijackers, we are told, was Lebanese. Ziad Jarrah, 26, was on board the flight which crashed in Pennsylvania.

Hesitantly, I made my way to the Bekaa Valley where the Jarrah family was spending the summer holidays. I expected a poverty-stricken village where potential suicide bombers have little going for them in life. Instead, I arrived in a mixed Sunni Muslim and Christian village with middle- to upper-class neighbourhoods. The Jarrah house was two floors high and a Mercedes was parked in front.

Still, I braced myself to be shooed away by vicious-looking people. Instead, a well-dressed man, about 60 years old with a gentle face, answered the door. Smiling weakly, he bid me in.

‘You’re here because you want to know if my son is a terrorist,’ he said introducing himself as Samir, Ziad’s father. ‘They’ve made him into a terrorist. They are calling him a terrorist. But my son would never do anything like this.’

He began to weep. ‘Where is my son?’ he cried out.

His mobile phone is constantly at his side because he believes that a call will come through clearing Ziad’s name.

‘We were about to build Ziad a house on a piece of land that I bought for him.’ Ziad was due to be married next year as soon as he earned his degree in aircraft engineering. A student at the University of Hamburg, he was spending the semester in the US taking flying lessons. The wedding clothes had already been sent to Lebanon. Ziad was last here in February where he stayed constantly at his father’s side while Samir was recovering from open-heart surgery.

‘He drinks, he parties, he had girlfriends,’ said Samir. ‘He was not a fundamentalist Muslim.’

While he lived in Lebanon, Ziad was active in social work, volunteering for a disabled association and an anti-drug youth programme.

‘Does he seem to you like a terrorist?’ asked Samir, beginning to cry again.

I had to admit that Ziad didn’t quite fit the profile. Confused, I left Samir trying to come to terms with this tragedy.

Meanwhile, funerals were held for the seven Lebanese who perished in the planes and in the World Trade Center. And then the waiting began.

‘I’m scared,’ confided my friend Anis. ‘The Americans are sure to retaliate.’

The US attacks on Afghanistan have garnered little praise from this part of the world. The region expected the US administration to ask one question: what have we done that they hate us so much?

‘But they didn’t ask it,’ exclaimed Anis. ‘They just went ahead and bombed, killing all those civilians in Afghanistan who are so poor and deprived. I don’t understand them. Don’t they want to understand the frustrations of the Arabs so they can stop these people [the terrorists]?’

It’s a good question. Unfortunately, it’s a question which remains unanswered.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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