New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 353

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Letters

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NI 352 - Get it right! Joy is precious
Regarding the pictures on page nine of Get it right! (NI 352). Here, for all to see, were the faces of people who have dreamed the dream of wondrous things, and have awoken to find them a reality. The picture filled my heart with an overwhelming optimism, that at last beautiful things are starting to happen in our world.

David Harvey
Chippenham, England

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Different take
Thank you, thank you, thank you for the look at the US (The Other America, NI 351). All my adult life I thought I wanted to get out of my country, live anywhere but there. I hate being associated with the policies of the Government. I do not want to belong to the nation that is justifiably seen as the world’s bully. I haven’t voted since 1976 because there’s never been a clean candidate, someone I could vote for rather than against. My sense of despair and anger has only increased since 9/11. I’m tired. I’ve done this before, worked for peace and justice, and it’s like I never bothered.

I’ve been living in the UK for the last two years, trying to masquerade as a Canadian because I can’t bear to be seen as an American. Nor did I have the evidence that there were many others who feel as I do, who know the election was stolen, who do not support war. I know we’re there, but I can’t prove it to people who only see the media images of gun-toting, knuckle-dragging, chest-beating so-called patriots. You’ve looked at my country the same way you’ve looked at other dictatorships – and found the voices of dissent. I’m so grateful.

Karen R Adams
Warwick, England

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NI 351 - The Other America Brainwashed
NI 351 is only a limited picture of the ‘other America’. Yes, there are dissenters but for the most part US citizens do not dissent. A former schoolmate of mine recently wrote ‘being an American is pounded into our heads from Birth to Death... As Americans we all feel Democracy is the only way to live in a country. Without it you have nothing, no freedoms, no rights... materialism and captialism... will always be our way of life... it’s really the American Way and the American Dream.’

In effect, my friend is saying they are ‘brainwashed’ and he accepts it because he has money and the benefits that go with it. He values ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’, but he has neither and doesn’t realize it. He is locked into the rhetoric of his government. Yet the majority of citizens don’t even bother to vote. Not only because the choice is only between two ‘autocrats Tweedledum and Tweedledee’, but because they know their opinions don’t really count. As long as they get certain material benefits they are content.

Joe Hanania
Nouic, France

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The right to dream
NI’s continuing attraction as a living testimony to the right to dream was discreetly illustrated to me in a beautiful and poetic fashion while devouring with gentle rapacity the refreshing and contradicting (necessarily so) issue on the other America (NI 351). Robin Kelly in particular highlighted the humanist search outside all categorizations of post-colonialisms, neo-colonialisms, Leftisms, activisms, fanaticisms, lost-isms. Poetic knowledge, as Professor Kelly calls it, is that imagination, that effort to see the future in the present. My eyes losing focus on the page, I suddenly flipped the pages back to the inside front cover and read again a quote from the upcoming issue by Raymond Williams: ‘To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.’

While the NI Co-operative has at times made us despair, I feel that it remains a radical tool for a movement that needs to dream some more, forgetting for just a moment the dogma from both sides, all sides, of battlefield Earth. While Robin Kelly, like Eduardo Galeano and so many other thinkers and activists, continues to dream, I hope that the NI continues to travel with them.

Chris Curnow
Georgetown, Guyana

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The other Americans
How about distinguishing between residents of the US and other ‘Americans’? It feels most unsatisfactory to talk about ‘Americans’ without meaning to include Canadians, Jamaicans, Peruvians, Costa Ricans or any other American population. Can anyone help me with a more appropriate and sociologically sensitive term for residents of the US? It is after all, just one of many countries that make up the Americas.

Having said this, I can only wonder about the impact of righting this grammatical wrong. Would any proud citizen of South America, Latin America, the Caribbean or Canada, really want to take ownership of the adjective ‘American’?

Stuart Riddle
Bath, England

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Documents of control
When I saw your October issue (Refugees, NI 350) I was thrilled. I am thankful that you make such a good case for open borders and an end to all this statist garbage about ‘undocumented illegal aliens’. I have long been very sceptical of so-called ‘proper documents’ and the ideologies behind them. Maybe at some point in time some authoritarian bugger will think I’m an ‘illegal alien’ because I don’t have ‘ID’. I’m more likely some sort of anarchist with serious doubts about the validity of claims to power and authority.

Stewart Jamieson
Yukon, Canada

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Democracy’s problem
The mention of Peter Davis’ suggestion in NI 350 that ‘detained asylum seekers should be used for “live target practice”’ made me wonder about democracy. Davis has been democratically elected mayor of Port Lincoln. Most Western nations would have some democratically elected MPs or public figures whose views are protectionist, nationalist and probably racist. Where are you going to get a majority of voters who will want to sacrifice some of the benefits they have, even if these gains are bought at the price of exploitation of other nations? I have been brought up to value both democracy and all human beings – whether they be of my race, sex, socio-economic status, geographical location or not – yet sometimes it seems hard to reconcile these values.

Rachel Langham
Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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Would it work?
Re Teresa Hayter’s article on open borders (‘The new common sense’, NI 350). How would a country’s social-security system work if unlimited numbers can move in? Will the people with most need flock to countries with the more generous benefits while the people with the most money move to tax havens thus making benefits impossible to sustain? Individuals in desperate poverty may have difficulty emigrating but what is there to stop governments putting unwanted people on a plane with a one-way ticket? This form of assisted emigration could be quite tempting in places where rapid population increase puts unbearable pressure on natural resources.

As for whether immigrants ‘swamp’ local populations and cultures – Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians, the many tribes and peoples that Survival International have campaigned for would surely answer ‘yes’. Does immigration really ‘improve job prospects and the wages and conditions of workers’? More workers could mean lower wages. US agriculture ‘heavily dependent on immigrants’ pays very low wages (indirectly putting British farmers out of business – Britain has an Agricultural Wages Board). Open borders would undoubtedly be good for some, but some very difficult situations could be created.

Pam Jones
Gloucester, England

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Increase aid
The arrival of refugees is a symptom of a much wider problem involving far more than the trickle suggested by Teresa Hayter (NI 350). Most will never be able to escape their own country. Some, like the Kurds, Armenians and Palestinians, are persecuted by governments, while others have become victims of an equally heartless economic system or an unstable climate.

If we are to solve these problems we must increase our aid programmes to disadvantaged countries via finance, expertise, training and family planning. We may have to risk creating hostility with other countries by demanding human rights for their oppressed populations or supporting their dissident nationalists. Used in isolation, a policy of rejecting or accepting refugees cannot work in a world where the population is expected to grow to nine billion.

Don Owers
Dudley, England

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the only solution to the current conflict in Israel and Palestine is ‘the end of Israeli occupation and settlements’

Deal with reality
I agree with Tony Howard (Letters, NI 350) that the only solution to the current conflict in Israel and Palestine is ‘the end of Israeli occupation and settlements’. The comments of your other correspondent David Galbraith (also NI 350) condemn and trivialize the pain of an oppressed people by pointing the finger at a ‘possible’ situation had the Arab countries won and carried out their threats almost half a decade ago.

That didn’t happen and so the reality of ‘right now’ has to be considered. No peace can be achieved by dragging up the wrongs, rights and maybes of the distant past. Forget the past when the disinherited Palestinians were supported by their aggressive Arab neighbours and consider the present where the Israeli Government is being supported by the might of the US. Third parties in a conflict always aggravate the situation – for example the Irish situation in which England has dabbled for its own ends.

Margot Salom
Brisbane, Australia

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Letter from Lebanon

‘Mama, it’s me!’
Reem Haddad witnesses a very public reunion.

I first saw them on television. It was a live satellite broadcast of two women, one older and one younger, crying hysterically. They were obviously in different countries. Suddenly, the older woman fainted and television crew members rushed to her.

Illustration: Sarah John Intrigued, I kept watching – along with thousands of viewers across the Arab world. As the woman was revived, I soon learned that I was watching a mother and daughter seeing each other for the first time in 24 years. They were Palestinians separated during the 16-year Lebanese civil war. And now the mother was in Gaza in the Palestinian occupied territories while the daughter was in Beirut. The television station, run by the Lebanese Shia Muslim Hizbullah organization, had brought them together through satellite. A few weeks later, I saw them again on a live Abu Dhabi television broadcast. This time, the women were in the same studio, hugging each other dearly and crying out against the misfortunes which had separated them.

A month later, I heard that mother and daughter had been reunited again in Beirut. The cameras were absent this time. The mother, Rihab Kanaan, had managed to come to Lebanon by joining a delegation from Gaza who were touring the country to exhibit photographs of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. The daughter Maymana, a Beirut resident, was spending every waking moment with her. I found myself drawn to the exhibition to meet the women.

Their disbelief in being together was obvious as they continually touched or embraced each other. Suddenly, a worried look came across Rihab’s face.

‘When am I going to see her again?’ she asked me. ‘I am only here for one month. It may be years before I hold my daughter once more.’

Twenty-four years ago she had kissed Maymana, then six, and her four-year-old son Maher goodbye, promising to see them every day. Rihab and her husband had just divorced and Muslim law dictates that the children remain in their father’s custody.

But the Lebanese civil war was in full swing. The children and their father were forced to move around the country hiding from shelling and violence. Rihab, who had remarried, could no longer locate them.

In August 1982 Rihab’s new husband, who was a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization movement, was exiled – along with Yasser Arafat’s entourage – to Tunisia. From there, Rihab kept up her efforts to locate her children. When no word came, she returned to Beirut in 1986 to continue her desperate search. But with the ongoing shelling in the capital, it proved to be an impossible task. Dejected, she returned to Tunisia.

Soon after, she came across a magazine recounting the horrors of the Lebanese war. She stared at one of the photographs. It was her son, Maher, then 12. She read that he had been killed by a sniper’s bullet. The years passed and she remained clueless about the fate of her daughter.

Illustration: Sarah John In 1995 Rihab and her husband moved to Gaza. Five years later, Rihab found a telephone number for a relative residing in Beirut. On impulse, she called the number and asked for help in locating her daughter. Two days later, she received a telephone call. Thinking it was a friend she had been expecting and who was late, she picked up the phone and began chiding the caller. After a brief silence, the caller yelled out: ‘Mama, it’s me. Maymana.’

That year Israel withdrew from south Lebanon after a 22-year occupation. The women arranged to meet at the border. For a week after Israeli troops withdrew from the south, hundreds of Palestinians congregated on both sides of the border where they were able to greet each other through the fence.

Maymana showed up carrying a sign identifying herself. But the day passed and her mother didn’t appear. Unbeknown to her, the Israeli authorities had refused to let Rihab reach the Lebanese border. As Maymana watched other families reunite, she broke down in tears. She felt doomed never to see her mother again.

Two years later Rihab met a journalist in Gaza who worked for the Hizbullah television station. She told him of her plight. On 21 March, on Mothers’ Day, the station arranged for mother and daughter to see and speak to each other via a live satellite broadcast. A month later, Abu Dhabi television invited mother and daughter to the United Arab Emirates for a televised reunion.

In Beirut, their time together was limited. Travelling for Palestinians is difficult.

‘I missed so much in her life,’ said Rihab. ‘But I found her and that’s all that matters right now.’

As if fearing that her daughter would vanish, Rihab held on tightly to Maymana’s arm.

‘I now believe in miracles and hope when I didn’t before,’ said Maymana. ‘I have finally found a mother’s love.’

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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