New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 342

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Letters

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Sticky routes
Click here to read NI 341. If sense is to be made of current goings on, George Caffentzis’ scenario (‘Oil and the Islamists’, Essay, NI 341) must be extended beyond the borders of the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. There are two other enormous oil and gas reserves in this wide region - the Caspian Basin, and Somalia with the Indian Ocean off its coast. These will become more important as the North Sea and the Gulf begin to run out. But events will move long before that, because the consumers, mainly North America, western Europe and Japan, need competitive access to a variety of sources in order to hold prices down. They also need friendly authorities controlling both the resources and transit routes. Meanwhile the corporations have been preparing the future contracts.

The US threat to invade and/or bomb Somalia is not an idle one, and it has little to do with the possibility that terrorist elements will take refuge there - though that will provide the necessary cosmetic excuse. As for Afghanistan, the original problem was that if Iran and Russia were unfriendly then the best route out would be through Afghanistan, to the Arabian Sea via Pakistan. But the oil corporations now hope that the US Government will come round to accepting Iran as a shorter, cheaper route, as well as the new ‘friend’, Russia.

Dr Sidney Holt
Crickhowell, Wales

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Where’s the alternative?

how can we destroy their wealth and power except through terrorism?

1
Terrorism, no matter how repugnant, is an attempt to give the voiceless a voice and the powerless power. How else can the Majority World fight against a ruthless, amoral, totally selfish, immensely rich and powerful enemy? What peaceful means do we have to achieve justice? Despite many voices raised against US aggression and economic globalization, the power is still in the hands of people who don’t give diddly squat what happens to others so long as they themselves get richer and more powerful. What can we do but attempt to destroy their wealth and power? And how can we do that except through terrorism?

Hating terrorism is just words unless we can offer something better.

Mtumiki Njira 
Limbe, Malawi

Click here to read the Twin Terrors issue. 2
Treating the terrorist acts as a crime against humanity rather than as an act of war is an exercise in semantics that achieves nothing. The Keynote article ( Twin Terrors, NI 340) states, ‘bin Laden and other co-conspirators must be brought to trial before an international court of justice’. But how would this be achieved without military action against the Taliban? It is all very well to criticize the US in its use of military force but it is a hollow criticism if you offer no alternative. It is naive in the extreme to think that the Taliban would ever hand over bin Laden, no matter how much international diplomatic pressure is exerted.

Mark Bovill
Perth, Australia

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The two Bs
The world’s reaction to Islamic terrorism should involve no more than sensible, practical precautions in population centres, the closure of all terrorist sanctuaries, largely through economic and financial starvation, and the disarming of all horror weapons of mass destruction. If Messrs Bush (B1) and Blair (B2) are truly serious about sending terrorism to its grave, they will commit their nations to destroying stockpiles of these ghastly, inhuman weapons as will all other possessors of these weapons.

The rapid demise of the Taliban now poses a big problem for B1 and B2. Even if Mr bin Laden et al escape death or capture in Afghanistan (highly unlikely), they have no new sanctuary in which to re-establish their madness. The real danger now is that B1 and B2 will invent additional terrorism sanctuaries to justify their continuing use of military options, at huge cost to innocents.

Tony Hosking 
Nakara, Australia

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Tacit refusal
The so-called Arab world (re ‘Bitter, bitter tears’ by Reem Haddad, NI 340) seems to revel in its unwavering disregard for the Palestinian people, as for other minorities living in a Muslim-dominated country or, for that matter, any moderates living under the gaze of more extreme puritans.

If the Arab world is so concerned about Palestinians and the establishment of a Palestinian state, why haven’t they assisted financially, diplomatically and professionally to assure a successful transition from repressed and occupied Third World annex to thriving sovereign nation? The Palestinian Authority has been mired with a severe lack of resources, incompetence and corruption, yet those purportedly concerned for this fledgling nation have been conspicuously silent, their hands firmly wedged in their pockets.

If the Arab world refuses to address the plight of their repressed, subservient and often poverty-stricken family on a global scale, it is absurd simply to resort to racism and violence on their behalf. It is equally absurd to play America’s game of colonization and repression, instead of forging independence using one’s own desire for liberty.

Danny Blay
Darwin, Australia

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Closed Islam
Just as Sharon, Zeevi and many Israelis would like to see the Muslim Palestinians ‘go back to Mecca’ (Zeevi), Osama bin Laden and millions of Muslims would equally like to see Israel liquidated - no new-fangled liberal concepts of coexistence here then!

the totalitarian nature of Islam is an impediment to progress

Unfortunately, such a view is likely to persist as long as the satanization of Israel (and the US) persists. And this Manichean view will continue as long as Arabs/Muslims refuse to acknowledge that the Muslim Nation, like any other secular/religious nation, has also committed genocide and other crimes against humanity; that the current situation is as much a result of Islamic imperialism as it is of Zionism; that the closed, reactionary and totalitarian nature of Islam is an impediment to progress, a cause of poverty and a source of tyranny - whether America existed or not. It is against this background that we should examine 11 September.

A Lambe 
Switzerland

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Inspection time
My warmest thanks for your clear, concise and so helpful explanation and discussion of why the world finds itself in such a dangerous situation. It is surely well beyond time for the US President and his advisors to take a long, hard look at their ingrained attitudes towards the rest of the world. Are they up to it and, if so, what fundamental changes can they make which will ensure the essential greater equality and well-being for all peoples right across the board?

Derek Wilson
Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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Double standards
A little victory - in the war against world disease. The World Trade Organization is having to recognize that double standards are untenable. If the US ‘war against terrorism’ means they can give their population Cipro, there is, patently, no argument supporting the stranglehold on other, essential, medicines for the 90 per cent of the world’s population living in poor health, whose illnesses are exacerbated by poverty, debt, starvation… and war.

John Nicholson 
Manchester, England

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Israel and terrorism
Why does the list of ‘other political targets’ in ‘Two Terrors’ (NI 340) exclude acts of terrorism committed by Western states? Also, Israel has committed scores of terrorist acts which square with an acceptable definition of terrorism (in the words of the Israeli Centre for Terrorism) as ‘the threat or use of violence against civilians for political ends’. The state of Israel was founded on what we would now call ethnic cleansing - the fleeing of 700,000 Palestinians away from 35 major massacres and the demolition of 530 villages - as called for by David Ben-Gurion in 1948 when he told his forces to ‘strike mercilessly, including at women and children’.

In 1953 Ariel Sharon led the massacre of the unarmed villagers of Qibya. In the invasion of Lebanon in 1978, Israeli Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur said: ‘We killed the civilian population consciously because they deserved it.’ In 1982 the invading Israeli forces besieged Beirut and then facilitated the massacre of the civilians of Sabra and Chatila - yet the General in charge is now Prime Minister of his country. In 1996 Israeli forces shelled the UN’s Qana camp and killed over 100 civilians in an attack which reports by Amnesty International and the UN concluded was deliberate. Why doesn’t NI call such acts terrorism?

Neil Sammonds
London, England

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Encore
Bill Speakman (Letters, NI 341) has a point. The US’s hangman-like game of destruction does indeed spell out ‘ELVIS (I)S KING’. However, the missing ‘I’ is not Iraq, but Indonesia, where the US armed, financed and trained a right-wing faction in the Indonesian army which, under Suharto, took control of the country in 1965 and killed between half and one million people, 5,000 of whom were on the US embassy’s hit-list.

Frank Richardson
Banten, Indonesia

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Letter from Lebanon

Peddling poison
Reem Haddad gauges the fallout when pesticide
companies become agricultural advisors.

For the first time in a month, Issam Hamdanieh forced himself to walk through his fields in a small village in the fertile Bekaa valley. He only agreed to do so because he wanted me to understand what had happened to him.

He stood in the middle of his crop and sighed. All around him, yellow-looking and dried-out plants swayed gently in a light breeze. Barely peeping from the cracked soil, beetroots had been attempting to make an entrance.

‘But suddenly the crop became sick,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know who to turn to so I went to a pesticide company for help.’

The firm promptly sent an agricultural engineer to inspect the harvest. The problem, concluded the engineer, was the spread of harmful insects and the only solution was to douse them with pesticide.

‘And so they sold me several kinds of pesticides, but in the end none worked,’ said Hamdanieh. ‘I lost my entire crop. All 15,000 square metres of it. A whole year’s work and all my savings went into this land. All for nothing. I haven’t been able to walk through here since then.’

It was too late by the time the farmer realized that it was a plant disease and not insects which had afflicted his crop. ‘The pesticides probably made it worse,’ he reflected.

Like most farmers in the Bekaa, Hamdanieh had resorted to one of the few sources of agricultural guidance available to him: the pesticide companies. In theory, the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture should be providing the necessary advice. But the cash-strapped Government has other priorities. Finding the perfect hassle-free market, pesticide companies have stepped in, routinely sending around their engineers to farms.

Not surprisingly, their advice is always the same: douse the crop with pesticide.

While the Government seems to be absent from the scene, a handful of agricultural engineers are desperately trying to teach the farmers otherwise. Their work at the Agricultural Research Centre in the Bekaa is supposed to be purely research. But the abundant misuse of pesticides in the area has also turned them into advisors - often making rounds to as many farms as they can reach.

‘Come and see for yourself,’ said one engineer as he invited me into his jeep with his partner. ‘It’s frightening.’

Hour upon hour, we visited farmers. Patiently, the engineers tried to reverse the advice of pesticide companies.

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Illustration: Sarah John

‘No, no,’ they said. ‘You don’t spray your strawberries every day. And you do not pick your produce a few hours after they were sprayed. Have you ever noticed a white ring inside the cucumber? Well, that’s dead cells full of pesticide that you’re eating.’

But despite the long hours which the Centre’s engineers are putting in at their own expense, their work remains limited to only a few farmers who are within reach of roads.

All along the main road, pesticide companies advertised their wares and outlets. In one shop, the owner was busy prescribing the use of a pesticide over the phone.

‘These days farmers only look for the cheaper pesticides which are usually made in China,’ he explained. ‘This means they have to use it many times before it takes effect. But if the problem is very big, we have the company send in an engineer.’

The engineer then ‘advises’ farmers and opens credit accounts enabling them to obtain a variety of pesticides.

Judging by the huge amount of pesticide containers in garbage dumps, in the fields and by the side of the roads, farmers are easy prey for the companies.

‘If it weren’t for us, nobody would check and extend credit to farmers,’ said an engineer from a pesticide company. ‘We are the ones who are checking up on them. We are the ones advising them about new technology and helping them find solutions to their problems. Nobody else is doing what we do for them.’

And nobody seems to be supervising pesticide companies either. For a long time, farmer Ahmad Monzer faithfully followed the companies’ instructions. ‘I did everything they told me,’ he said. ‘But the pesticides were not taking effect. So I kept using more.’

One day, however, he took a closer look at the label on the pesticide container and peeled it off. ‘Underneath was another label with an expired date. All this time they must have been selling me expired chemicals, but they obviously forgot to take off the label on this container before pasting on a new one.’

His complaints led nowhere. For a while he refused the companies’ help. But eventually he had to go back to them. There’s no-one else to offer him the guidance he needs.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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