New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 352

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Letters

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So much to give
I cannot read my copies of the NI without weeping. At times I am engulfed by frustration, rage and sorrow. The faces of people haunt me; their fear, their resignation, their hope.

I live in a wealthy capitalist country which prides itself on allowing a few Somali refugees, or a few (carefully chosen) Afghan refugees to live here. We have a tiny population, rich resources of land, timber, clean water - we have room for so very many more. I am ashamed to have so much when so many people of the world have so little and I am ashamed that my country does so little to give aid.

At times I am engulfed by frustration, rage and sorrow. The faces of people haunt me

I am ashamed that my sisters and brothers around the world are starving, being tortured, denied the medicines they need while I live here in safety and comfort.

I read that on 11 September, which we remember as the day the twin towers fell in New York, 35,000 children around the world died of hunger. Are the deaths of these children less important? Perhaps we should all remember the words of the poet John Donne: 'Any man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.'

Nola Rankin
Christchurch, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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Refuge in Jordan
I am surprised that you failed to mention (Refugees, NI 350) that more than 50 per cent of Jordan's population is made up of Palestinian refugees. Jordan conferred full citizenship on these refugees. This despite the fact that Jordan is not a rich country and has few natural resources. There has been a lack of international will to protect Palestinian refugees.

Barbara Wilson
Coulsdon, England

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The noble qualities of resiliance and initiative are twisted by the media into opportunism

The courage of refugees
Refugees are often portrayed as passive and helpless by well-intentioned people in Western society. Yet refugees take initiative and act upon situations of oppression. Only a small proportion of the citizens of a country would be strong-willed enough to leave everything behind and start again in distant places like Australia.

It is only upon reaching Western countries that this initiative is restricted by barbedwire fences and imposed economic subordination through food vouchers and the like. The noble qualities of resilience and initiative are twisted by the media into opportunism and even potential terrorism. Why? Because a good citizen is a passive citizen.

Anne O'Brien
Sydney, Australia

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Gaudí's identity
The Essay on the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (NI 350) failed to reflect the cultural and political awareness that one would expect to find in the NI. He is introduced as 'the Spanish architect Antonio Gaudí'. But like many Catalans, Gaudí felt no more Spanish than the West Papuans or East Timorese feel Indonesian. From some point onwards he even refused to speak Spanish, and in his old age he was arrested for trying to attend an 11 September mass in memory of the Catalans who died during the Spanish invasion of 1714 (Barcelona fell to the Spanish troops on 11 September 1714). Even his name, Antoni, is misspelled (Antonio is a Spanish name). Throughout the rest of the article this blunder persists, giving the Spanish version of the original Catalan names of a number of places and people. It looks as if the author's sources came from Franco's times (when Catalan names were banished) or from the new reactionary tide rising from Madrid.

Jordi Pigem
Dartington, England

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Life expectancy in Zambia
Zarina Geloo's Country Profile of Zambia (NI 350), rightly highlights the calamitous decline in that country's life expectancy in the last 10 years. However, this is not 'entirely due' to the HIV/AIDS pandemic as the article suggests. Since the early 1990s the imposition of structural adjustment and economic recovery programmes, whether insisted upon by multilateral donors or fashioned internally, have had a disastrous impact on the living conditions of the great majority of Zambians. Consequences have included a rapid rise in the price of staple foods, a reduction in government spending on public service projects such as water purification and sanitation and the introduction of fees for medical services. These factors, combined with Zambia's continuing debt-servicing burden, the resurgence of malaria and increasing levels of unemployment as newly privatized industries downsize their operations, also help us to understand why life expectancy has dropped so shamefully in the past decade.

David Weatherly
Yeovil, England

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Click here to read NI 350 - Refugees Shut that door...
You argue that immigration to wealthy countries must be a good thing (Refugees, NI 350) because it fosters economic growth. Increased percapita wealth is good, but expansion through population growth typically reduces a society's quality of life. In south-eastern England, burgeoning population growth has pushed housing prices sky high. If growth continues at present rates (let alone increases through open immigration) then what's left of the English countryside will be sucked into a massive housing boom, while traffic becomes intolerable.

It is irresponsible to generalize that 'residents of wealthy countries fear a cultural invasion'. Most value the rich variety of cuisine, music, etc that immigrants have brought to their doorsteps. But immigration has been given a bad name by the small number who violently eschew the 'melting pot' and make the natives feel strangers in their own land. The vast majority of immigrants are hardworking, law-abiding, integrationist citizens - controls should be continually improved and strengthened to increase further the proportion that meet that description.

Most recent immigrants - the rich and the poor, the skilled and the unskilled, the legal and the illegal - tend to work like dogs. Good for them and good for their employers, but their co-workers rightly ask whether the company will start to expect it of all employees.

Clearly there is much room for improvement in the immigration controls that exist today. For starters, refugees admitted to wealthy countries should be allowed to work and earn their keep, rather than be forced to sit dejectedly in glorified prison camps, attracting resentment as burdens upon the State. And the process by which applicants are vetted must be improved. But you have not begun to make a credible case for throwing the doors wide open to all comers.

Loren Gerlach
A foreign national living in London, England

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...and the back door, too
Advocates of open borders regard those who oppose illegal immigration as lacking in compassion. But an open-border policy would not be viable in our times so immigration criteria have to be defined and applied. Within this reality it is not at all compassionate simply to accept at face value illegal immigrants ahead of other asylum seekers who may actually have a far greater need. True compassion requires objectivity, not a mere emotional response, so those who advocate proper assessment and processing of illegal immigrants in order to give equal opportunity to asylum seekers applying from outside a country are actually demonstrating far more compassion for those in most need than are those who advocate accepting any intruder who manages to get through your back door.

Peter Schaper
Biggenden, Australia

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The gates of hell
I and thousands like me are against a US invasion of Iraq. The idea of bombing innocent people sickens us, as it should any civilized nation. And those who do support such action are strongly opposed to a unilateral invasion.

Yet President Bush is intent on starting a war, despite the fact that Iraq's arsenal has been greatly reduced since the Gulf War, that there is no sound evidence that Saddam Hussein is planning to attack anyone with whatever arsenal he may currently possess, nor any evidence to link him with the 9/11 attacks.

Has Vietnam already become 'The Forgotten War?' We went into that conflict with great confidence. Years later, after dropping thousands of tons of bombs, after thousands of people (including many of our own) being killed, we were sick of the whole mess. I remember that war. I remember our anger and grief. Are we ready to relive such an experience again?

There is already enormous anti- American sentiment in the world today, not just in the Middle East but in areas such as Europe and Africa as well. The President has alienated this country from other nations and invading Iraq would not only increase this anger; it would spawn even more terrorists. As a Saudi Arabian official recently warned: 'If Baghdad is bombed, it will open the gates of hell.'

Rick Zabel
Cincinnati, US

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Human toll
War is murder. Granted, one side of the conflict might be a little more evil than the other, but the decision to go to war is never completely altruistic. If only it were so simple as 'the good guys versus the bad guys', but realistically, there are political and economic agendas as well.

My father, Glenn Alen Carter, went to war in Korea. He went to war because he was told by his government that it was the righteous thing to do. History tells a different story, however, deeming it a political fiasco. So why did he have to carry a metal plate around in his head and suffer unimaginably until his untimely death at age 30? I believe it was because the decision-makers in Washington feared the political winds and had little compassion or interest in taking into account the human toll of poor decision-making.

I really have to question the motives of all the political factions that would send us careering into a war with Iraq. What is this talk about war being good for the economy, creating jobs and such? At what price? Putting a price on the lives of our children is ludicrous.

Merrie Miller
US

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Letter from Lebanon

A legacy of learning
Reem Haddad's neighbour has wrought magic out of personal tragedy.

She's my neighbour and yet I never took the time to hear her story. I had heard a lot about the Danish woman and admired her. It was difficult not to admire Anni Kanafani, a foreigner who decided to live through Lebanon's vicious 16-year civil war for one reason: to keep her husband's memory alive and continue spreading his ideas in the Arab world.

Her husband was Ghassan Kanafani - considered one of the greatest Arab writers of his time. He had become a symbol of the Palestinian struggle in his lifetime. On 8 July 1972 he was killed in a car explosion. Anni was supposed to have been with him in the car that day but she decided to stay home with their two young children. Instead their young niece, Lamise, went with him.

A few minutes after the two of them had left the apartment there was the sound of a tremendous explosion. Anni ran outside. There she found Lamise's body - and her husband's leg. The car they had climbed into was completely destroyed. The blast had hurled the rest of Ghassan's body into a valley beside the family's home.

Six months later Israeli journalist Raphael Rothstein revealed in an article that Israeli agents had been responsible for the murder. Israel was implementing Operation: God's Wrath, under the command of Prime Minister Golda Meir's Special Adviser on Security Affairs, General Aharon Yariv. The operation's aim was to eliminate Palestinians capable of providing leadership to the movement.

A grieving Anni knew what she had to do. 'I wanted to show the Israelis that they might have killed Ghassan physically, but not spiritually,' she said. 'He was too important as a journalist, writer, artist and political analyst.'

She decided to remain in Lebanon and bring up their two children as Palestinians - as her husband would have wished them to be.

Illustration: Sarah John
Illustration: Sarah John

With the help of family and friends, she formed the Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation. The aim was to collect and publish all of her husband's literary work. Since his death, his novels, short stories, plays and essays have been collected and published in Arabic. His books have been translated into 18 languages and have appeared in 20 different countries. His best-known novel, Men in the Sun - the story of three Palestinian refugees trying to seek a better life in the Arab world - was made into a movie in 1972 and has won several prizes.

Born in 1936 in Acre, Ghassan fled with his family to Lebanon in 1948. News of the Deir Yassin massacre - where the Jewish militant organizations Irgun and Stern killed 254 villagers - had reached them. Ghassan turned 12 on 9 April, the day of the massacre. He never celebrated his birthday again.

Meanwhile in Denmark Anni's family were happy to learn that a Jewish state had been created. In 1960 she attended a conference in Yugoslavia where she met some Palestinian students. The discussions that ensued shocked her. 'We had no idea what had happened,' she said. 'It became clear to me that the world had buried the Palestinians.'

Intrigued by the Palestinian struggle, Anni travelled to Lebanon a year later. Here, she was given the telephone number of a newspaper editor - Ghassan Kanafani. She was told that he would be her best guide to the Palestinian cause.

A tall, thin 25-yearold man greeted her. Anni explained that she would like to visit some Palestinian camps. An adamant Ghassan replied that 'my people are not animals in a zoo,' recalls Anni. 'You must have a good background about them before you go and visit.' From there discussions ensued. Anni found herself drawn to Ghassan's ideas - and two months later the couple were married.

Anni began teaching at a kindergarten and Ghassan continued with his writing. In 1969 he became a spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the editor-in-chief of its weekly Al-Hadaf.

Two years after his death the Foundation opened kindergartens in refugee camps. 'I knew I could not continue his work the way he was doing,' says Anni, 'but I could do it in another way.' By 1999 the Foundation had opened eight kindergartens and two libraries in refugee camps across the country. Disabled children were integrated in 1986. Thousands of children have started their education in the Foundation's kindergartens.

'We are continuing Ghassan's ideas,' said Anni. 'He believed in giving the children hope for the future. He always said that this is going to be a difficult struggle and that he himself will never be able to go back home but the children will. They are the future.'

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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