New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 344

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Letters

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World Parliament
Click here to read this issue. I strongly support the calls made in George Monbiot’s article ‘A Parliament for the Planet’ (NI 342). However, he does not mention the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (www.ipu.org), the international organization of national parliaments. It is the main focal point for worldwide parliamentary dialogue, working for peace and co-operation among peoples and for the expansion of representative democracy. Over 100 national parliaments are currently members.

The IPU works on a number of global issues, from sustainability to international peace and security and human rights. Over the next few years the IPU’s reach will extend to cover the Bretton Woods Institutions and it should have fully ratified Observer Status within the UN in the next few months, a position it already holds with the World Trade Organization.

I firmly believe that the parliamentary election process leads to the highest possible level of representation. This type of representation can, and should, be extended to a global level.

Tony Colman MP
London, England

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Don’t reinvent the wheel
You have two truly great, even persuasive, articles in Another World Is Possible NI 342. First, George Monbiot’s brilliant piece in favour of the sheer necessity of a ‘world parliament’ to take on the now rampant power of US multinationals – especially, he might have added, the arms industries. Second, your own collective updating of the principles of the planet’s greatest revolution, the 1789 French one.

But instead of paraphrasing abstract ‘world governance’ utopian academics, why does not Monbiot build on Tony Benn’s admirable sense of practicality and advocate the democratization of the UN General Assembly and a wholly revolving Security Council? George’s alternative of totally new world constitution meetings would be a recipe taking years to achieve.

As far as the French Revolution goes, as internationalists we should not repeat its mistakes. Only the Girondin section under Brissot and some of the Parisian sans-culottes championed women’s rights and women leaders such as Madame Roland. And many of them were either executed or declared clinically insane for their social demands for equality in the fields of education, careers and so on. Our 2002 revolution for new internationalism in fulfilment of the lost 1789 spirit must be gender and children’s-rights specific.

Larry Iles
Brighton, England

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Rationale for war
It is obvious that the goal of the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon is to force the United States to withdraw from the Middle East. They believe that if the United States can be forced to withdraw from the region, they could easily overthrow pro-Western regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states and impose their version of a theocratic state in the Middle East as they did in Afghanistan. But any independent observer knows that any American withdrawal from the Middle East would immediately be followed by a new invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. The second Iraqi conquest of Kuwait would raise the fear of Iran, which was a victim of Iraqi aggression before and would be prompted to strike at Iraq. Others might also join. States in the Middle East would be at each others’ throats, endangering global oil supplies. Most European and non-oil producing Third World countries would face an economic catastrophe.

Mr Bush clearly understood this when he made war against terrorism his main goal. He knows that unless he nips terrorism in the bud, it might grow into a monster to threaten the entire global security.

Mahmood Elahi
Ottawa, Canada

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No UN mandate for Bush
George Monbiot’s article (‘A Parliament for the Planet’, NI 342) states ‘[George Bush’s] attack on Afghanistan was retrospectively legalized by the United Nations Security Council’. This is incorrect, for the Security Council has never passed a resolution supporting the bombings. There have, however, been widespread media reports that Security Council members expressed ‘unanimous support’ for the air strikes and that Kofi Annan ‘expressed approval of the strikes based on the UN Charter’ for the military action.

the Security Council has never passed a resolution supporting the bombings

None of these reports have a basis in fact. The Security Council has never passed a resolution stating it approves of the attacks, as can be verified by visiting the UN website at http://www.un.org/documents/scres.htm . Kofi Annan has never ‘approved’ of the airstrikes, nor has he ever stated they conform to the UN Charter, as can be seen by examining his statement on the air strikes at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2001/sgsm7985.doc.htm Despite the media spin, the UN has never ‘retrospectively legalized’ the military action.

Dr John Touchie
Brisbane, Australia

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We need alternatives
I strongly disagree with Jeremy Seabrook (‘Unchaining Captive Hearts’, NI 342) when he denies the need to define an alternative to global capitalism. We may not need a ‘watertight, all-embracing paradigm’. But we need ideas. Because the apostles of global capitalism do share a common set of values which is transforming our world, fast.

Global capitalism does not believe that the rich and powerful have any responsibility towards others. We used to think otherwise: we called it solidarity. Present-day corporations just use their workforce and the communities where they operate to make as much money as possible. Not long ago businesses took pride in ideas of responsibility and mutual dependence. We used to take for granted that the provision of good public services for all was sacred. It seems now that the freedom of the markets must take priority. Politicians were expected to have a vision. Now it seems natural that they utter whatever inanities will get them elected, then push their true agenda. A whole set of standards we used to take for granted (however imperfect their practical application) has been quietly disposed of by the champions of global capitalism.

We must devise an alternative set of principles for our world. Those old-fashioned ideas (solidarity, responsibility, public good, meaningful public debate) seem to me a good starting point.

Miguel Sopena
London, England

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The right to dream
I read with interest ‘The Right to Rave’ by Eduardo Galeano (Another World is Possible NI 342) though at first I could not comprehend why we should ask for a right to rave or dream.

But later, when gathering some information on the Palestine-Israel conflict I came across Noam Chomsky’s ‘Towards a New Cold War’. He vividly describes the story of a Palestine owner of an art gallery whose exhibits were confiscated by the Israeli security forces as offensive materials. The gallery owner lamented that they would soon pass a Dream Security Law and throw us in prisons for daring to dream about liberty and independence – and the prisons would be filled with Palestinians.

In this way I came to understand the very good reasons for demanding the right to dream!

Mahinda Hattaka
Colombo, Sri Lanka

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Dear Mr Bush,
We wish to congratulate you for the achievements of your ‘war on terrorism’.

With rising tension in the Middle East, and between India and Pakistan, and even the possibility of a world war, how skilfully you have made the world a safer place.

Your remark, ‘You are either with us or against us’ made a blessed start for a new era of McCarthyism. Your Patriot Act allows non-US citizens suspected of terrorism links to be tried before a military tribunal with the power to withhold evidence from the accused and their lawyers, and impose the death sentence.

It has indeed been a jolly good war. Keep up the good work, Mr President

Four new US bases have been added in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, offering control of the oil in the Caspian area. The National Missile Defense project allows a US president to destroy any installation in the world from space stations. You have abandoned the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty. By expanding your ‘axis of terror’, you have justified the biggest defence spending in two decades.

Your main objective in the ‘war for civilization’ was to bring the perpetrators of 11 September to justice. So far all we have seen is bin Laden ‘looking haggard’ in his last videotape. It must be sensational for you, Mr President, to make uncounted thousands of innocent Afghan citizens pay the price for this triumph with their lives. Maslakh is the biggest refugee camp in the world with a population of 800,000 and growing. Most have no tents and many are dying of hunger in the freezing nights. Most come from provinces where aid was stopped after the bombing started. Others who fled into remote rural areas risked bitter deaths from starvation and cold.

However, Mr President, the people of Afghanistan will never forget your meaningful food drop of yellow ration packs. Nor that you made the Afghan women so happy by getting rid of their veils (no matter how many of them are widowed or starving as a result of your bombing campaign). Nor will many forget how you have helped these dear Afghans to fly kites and listen to music.

It has indeed been a jolly good war. Keep up the good work, Mr President.

Usama Al Shabibi
Edgware, England

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Letter from Lebanon

Mesmerized
Once a taxi-driver, Elias Badawi now makes icons of transcendent quality in his kitchen.
But even he doesn’t know how, as Reem Haddad discovers.

No-one has figured it out. Not his wife and children nor even himself. But 72-year-old Elias Badawi has suddenly turned from taxi-driver to master icon maker.

‘I don’t know how I do it,’ he tells me after he and his wife warmly welcome me into their small three-room flat. Dozens of his icons – mostly made out of golden threads creating Madonna, saints and Jesus figures – adorn the walls of the flat. ‘I’ve tried to explain it to my family but I can’t. I just do it.’

His wife describes a kind of trance once her husband is immersed in icon making. ‘He doesn’t hear anything or anybody,’ she says. ‘He goes into another world.’

Art or handiwork has never been a trait in the Badawi family. Until 1985 that is. While driving his taxi looking for customers, Badawi suddenly suffered a massive heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital and underwent open heart surgery. His recovery, physicians told him, depended on his giving up the strenuous work of a taxi driver.

Boredom with sitting at home and worry about his lack of income soon began to gnaw at Badawi. In frustration, he prayed. And then he remembered a trip he took to Russia in 1955 as part of a Lebanese football team. In one of the churches, he had stood mesmerized in front of an icon.

‘It was the most beautiful icon I had ever seen,’ he says. ‘It was a style that was only made in Russia.’

For an inexplicable reason, he found himself determined to create icons as gifts for the physicians who saved his life. To his family’s surprise, he bought some slabs of wood, gold threads and material. Setting up a small table at home, he set to work.

‘I didn’t know how I was going to make it,’ he recalls. ‘I just knew that I could.’

For hours, Badawi worked on the icons. ‘I couldn’t stop,’ he says. ‘There was shelling all around us those days. But I heard nothing and felt nothing. I just knew I had to keep working.’ He only knew that he had been working throughout the nights when his wife showed up in the kitchen in the morning hours.

Weeks later, two icons were completed. On impulse, Badawi decided to show off his work to his brother, a priest, before presenting them to his physicians. His brother, Father Nicholas, was stunned. He refused to return them and instead sent Badawi off to produce even more icons. Several months later, Badawi had completed 35 icons. Father Nicholas immediately seized them and insisted on holding an exhibition in his church.

‘I became so nervous,’ recalls Badawi. ‘What would people say? I began to tremble with anxiety.’

[image, unknown] His fears were put aside, however, during the exhibition as people came up to him, hugging him and shaking his hand. Before he knew it, bids to buy his icons began to pile up. The thought of selling his work had never occurred to him. But friends stepped in and priced the icons.

‘And that’s how it happened,’ he explains with enthusiasm. ‘Suddenly this became my profession.’

Years passed and Badawi acquired a wide reputation, attracting many personalities to his exhibitions. As always, the strongest encouragement came from his number-one fan: his brother Nicholas.

But in 1990 tragedy struck. As the priest was walking to his home, he was killed by a stray bullet. Distraught, Badawi turned even more fervently to creating icons. ‘It was my one comfort,’ he says.

Badawi falls silent. After a few minutes, I awkwardly ask to see his workshop.

He suddenly smiles.

‘Workshop?’ he laughs. ‘Well, come and see it.’

And there in the midst of the couple’s tiny kitchen is a small table. His tools nestle in a rusty biscuit box. Some kitchen drawers behind the table contain the golden threads and material he uses.

‘That’s all I need,’ he says. And this is where he sits hour after hour, mesmerized ‘until my wife taps me on the shoulder and makes me eat’. His doctor has advised him to cut down on the hours, but Badawi can’t. ‘It’s in me,’ he says. ‘I can’t stop.’

On impulse, he takes out some material. ‘Would you like to see how I work?’ he asks.

He sits and begins. And there, slowly but surely, the golden threads begin to show the figure of Madonna.

Badawi looks up at me and sighs.

’I am getting old now,’ he says. ‘I would like to pass this on to younger generations. I have tried to teach both my sons but I couldn’t do it. I myself don’t know what I’m going to do until I sit down and do it. I guess I’ll be taking the know-how with me when I die.’

He continues to work for a few minutes in silence. Then suddenly he stops and smiles, his eyes brightening. ‘But it’s nice to know I’m leaving my icons behind, isn’t it?’

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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