New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 360

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Letters

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In it together
Professor Glasbeek (‘The invisible friend’, Corporate Crime Wave, NI 358) pins almost every crime on almost every corporation and holds that ‘major’ shareholders should be held responsible. By all means let us have a lot more vigilance but ultimately all the money which sloshes around stock exchanges is the money which was put there by consumers. There simply is not other money. As such the ‘major’ shareholder which is in cahoots with the corporation is probably your insurance company or your bank, your pension fund, your broker, your car manufacturer, your supermarket or any other body whom you paid for their goods and services. We supposedly have a democracy, so if the judgments are manipulated in favour of corporations it is being done by those whom the majority selected. Do not hold the thief responsible for the leniency of the sentence. Blindly lashing out at corporations is not going to promote any promising debate, although it will go down a bundle with the window-breaking mob.

HGW Pierson
Tenerife, Spain

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Corporate Crime Wave

Truly global
It’s kind of George Monbiot to mention my book One No, Many Yeses, as he expands his new proposals about how to save the world (Essay, NI 358). It’s a shame, though, that he doesn’t seem to have read it properly – not for my sake, but for the sake of his own understanding of the global justice movement which he criticizes. My book and, more to the point, virtually everybody involved in this millions-strong global movement makes it very clear that this is not, as Monbiot appears to believe, a movement of people who propose solutions which can be effected only at the local or the national level.

It is, on the contrary, the most global political movement in history and has for years been proposing strong and imaginative international means to achieve global democracy and remake the world economy. It thus seems very strange that George appears to believe that no-one else but him has thought about this. It is also remarkable that he has managed to write a manifesto for a new world order without even attending the World Social Forum, where this year 100,000 global justice activists spent a whole week discussing just the sort of global solutions he says he wants.

By all means criticize the contradictions and weaknesses of the movement; but do try to base the criticisms on fact.

Paul Kingsnorth
Oxford, England

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Thinking sustainably
I think George Monbiot is correct in pointing out that organized and globally co-ordinated action is essential if the present socially and environmentally destructive money/business power network is to be replaced.

For this to be possible, however, a very large number of people will be required to back the effort. I don’t think this can happen before many more people are prepared to think critically about human society and to revise their ideas of what constitutes a good and sustainable lifestyle.

It seems to me that the process would be helped if we were more consciously aware of how our genetically inherited predispositions have influenced social evolution and contributed to the emergence of a dominant minority. This minority was then able to influence the attitudes and manipulate the behaviour of the majority to their advantage by stirring up hatred of others, promoting and rewarding selfishness and greed, and discouraging co-operation.

IA King
Newmarket, England

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Cuba isn’t perfect
It seems that Cuba is not perfect and so disappoints Eduardo Galeano (‘Cuba hurts’, View from the South, NI 358). I can sympathize with his absolutist view regarding capital punishment, as did many in the Cuban leadership. However, these three men kidnapped a boatload of people, putting all their lives at risk. Moreover, the lack of co-operation by US authorities meant that copycat highjacking was beginning to threaten the Cuban population as a whole.

As for the ‘dissidents’, they were simply mercenaries living affluently in the pay of Washington so long as they fomented unrest. I agree with Galeano that they were not important in themselves but they were being used as a Trojan horse by the US to set up Cuba for criticism and possible future invasion.

As Galeano puts it, the Cuban revolution has ‘survived as it could and not as it wished’. In this instance, I trust that the Cubans have done what they had to do and not what they wished to do. Their profound achievements must be defended.

Peter Weitzel
Ashfield, Australia

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the Indonesian military is more adept at terrorism against unarmed civilians than it is in seriously engaging an armed enemy

Terror in East Timor
Re: ‘Legally lethal’ (Currents, NI 358) – given its history of genocide in West Papua, East Timor and the Moluccas, the behaviour of the Indonesian military (TNI) during its recent renewed war against the Free Aceh Movement was entirely predictable.

The cold-blooded murder of a young group of boys by the Special Forces Group (Kopassus) at a village near Bireun is yet another indication that the TNI is more adept at terrorism against unarmed civilians than it is at seriously engaging an armed enemy.

It is ironic that this event occurred just a year after East Timor celebrated its official independence from 24 years of TNI brutality which saw a third of its population liquidated. In the same week yet another Indonesian general was cleared of human- rights violations. Brigadier General Tono Suratman was in charge of the TNI in East Timor during the last orgy of violence and terror in 1998-99. At least 2,000 people died and over 80 per cent of East Timor’s infrastructure was destroyed.

The TNI has firm political control in Indonesia and it will not be challenged even when it has carried out the grossest of crimes against humanity. Its victims can expect no justice. The lack of criticism by the US, British and Australian governments indicates that they are very selective about which terrorism they will combat.

Because the TNI is the largest force for terror in the Southeast Asian region all people who want to see peace here should demand a UN campaign to halt all military co-operation with the TNI until the war criminals in its ranks have faced justice before the International Criminal Court.

Andrew Alcock
Chair, Australia East Timor Friendship Association (South Australia) Inc,
Adelaide, AUSTRALIA

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Eco food options
I must comment on the somewhat simplistic assumption that a vegetarian diet is an ecological choice (Climate Change Solutions, NI 357). Most vegetarians I know consume a large amount of dairy products (exactly how is this vegetarian?) and rely heavily on both imported fruit and vegetables and highly processed or packaged products. With the average pound of North American food travelling some 3,000 kilometres (1,875 miles) from producer to consumer, food transportation contributes greatly to CO2 emissions. Dairy farming is extremely energy intensive.

In my 15 years as an organic producer, both for my family and commercially, I have come to believe that the small mixed farm is by far the most efficient and ecological method of producing food. Traditional agriculture, with its reliance on animals for both food and energy and its focus on locally available produce required only half a calorie of energy to produce one calorie of food. Our so-called modern systems of agriculture, heavily dependent on machinery, processing and distribution require 10 calories of energy to produce a calorie of food. We need to look at returning to small, self-sufficient economies – as the people of Gaviotas have done so incrediby well.

Janette Haase
Kingston, Canada

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The liberation of Latin America

Fuel tax
I read with interest your small piece (‘People power’, NI 357) on running a car on cooking oil, and began a little research on the possibilities. I discovered that although in Britain this fuel is much cheaper than diesel, you are wrong to state that it is not subject to tax. In fact, last spring a motorist in Swansea paid a £500 ($800) fine for non-payment of fuel duty. In France a business producing vegetable-derived fuel was forced last November to pay 10,000 euros ($11,500) in duty and fines for having sold 10,000 litres of their product. So fuel of this type is not exempt from tax (although it almost certainly should be) and if you are going to use it, you should get the necessary tax-return forms first to avoid expensive brushes with the law.

SJ Lees
Gratiet Salazac, France

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... it is mainly through ‘humour’ and ‘creativity’ that female exploitation operates...

Flipside
I refer to the ‘female exploitation’ dispute regarding the cover image of a scantily clad demonstrator (The Other America, NI 351). Proudly ‘heterosexual’ Tim Jones (Letters, NI 357) is ‘dismayed’ that Tamara Koziar (Letters, NI 355) is too ‘straight-laced and humourless to admire the demonstrator’s creativity’.

Yet it is mainly through ‘humour’ and ‘creativity’ that female exploitation operates – in advertising, publishing, the media and mass entertainment. Beneath all the creative wit and glamour are serious undercurrents that the culture refuses to address and which have little to do with eroticism. Public nakedness is commonly used as a weapon of psychological degradation during wartime, in prison environments and in interrogation procedures, to name a few. Similarly, the increasing saturation of the Western public with images of naked and semi-naked females subliminally assaults the privacy of all women on a continual basis. As a weapon of power, the Western obsession with women’s bodies (though often funny and imaginative) is really the flipside of the practice in some societies to forbid women the right to show any flesh at all.

Stephanie Kells

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Letter from Lebanon

Taking the veil
Reem Haddad on why Lebanese women are covering up.

I remember a time, not so long ago, when wearing a veil was seen as unacceptable – at least in certain social circles. Educated women, it was thought, did not wear veils. Only five years ago, when a friend decided to don one, it was the main item of gossip in town. In hushed and shocked tones, friends spread the word that Samia tahajabit (put on a veil). Many felt awkward around her and Samia sought new friends.

Two years ago another friend who lives in the US suddenly decided to turn religious and donned the veil. In a fury, her mother flew across and talked her out of it. ‘No daughter of mine puts on a veil,’ she told me sternly.

But since 11 September 2001 things have begun to change. It has become more acceptable for middle- and upper-class women to wear veils. As one put it: ‘With all this anti-Islam in the world, I began to take more of an interest in my religion. And one of the duties of Islam is to wear the veil.’

Yasmine Dabbous, who is 26, couldn’t agree more. There was a time when she wore shorts, tanktops and swimsuits. Exploring her religion, she made a point of wearing long skirts. Then she began covering her arms. Finally she donned the veil. (In Lebanon, veiling is restricted to covering the head and hair – the face is usually left uncovered).

‘This is a personal decision,’ she said. ‘No-one has forced me.’ Her father was livid. ‘He thought my veil would tarnish the family’s image. He saw the veil as primitive and barbaric.’ So she held off until she got married. Her sister soon followed suit.

‘It’s beginning to be acceptable now,’ said Yasmine. ‘I don’t think the events of 11 September are the main reason for the change in people’s attitudes. But it’s certainly part of it.’

Her husband, who was studying in the US at the time, grew a beard as if to challenge the anti-Islamic feeling that swept the country. He immediately shaved it off upon returning to Lebanon.

Illustration: Sarah John
Illustration: Sarah John

The new shift in attitude is completely unnoticed by Nabil, a taxi driver, who frequently chauffeurs me around the city. To him, all Muslim women should be veiled. ‘It’s their duty,’ he told me. ‘My wife is veiled.’

He had been asking his teenage daughter to don the veil for several years, meeting each time with refusal. ‘God is certainly frowning on me for letting my daughter leave the house with her head uncovered,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what to do.’

One day, Nabil picked me up, his eyes shining. ‘My daughter has agreed to wear the veil,’ he said in excitement. ‘Her only condition is to wait until after she is married. I have agreed.’ A few months later, the 17-year-old girl was wed. A month later, she donned the veil. ‘I am so relieved,’ said Nabil. ‘I have succeeded as a father. God will reward me.’

I never really understood the pride that accompanies wearing a veil until I met 13-year-old Nawal Youssef. Her poverty-stricken family lived in a Palestinian camp crowded into two small rooms. They only had one bed and this was given to Nawal. The child had brain cancer and was paralyzed after a faulty operation. She could barely mouth a few words. A few weeks before she died, Nawal asked to be veiled.

At her funeral, her father couldn’t stop talking about it and seemed to draw comfort from it.

‘No-one expected it,’ he said. ‘She was a very sick little girl. But she insisted. So we got her a veil. She even fasted during Ramadan. We begged her not to but she was a believer. I know that God has welcomed her into heaven. I’m so proud that my daughter wore the veil.’

It hadn’t occurred to me to ask my unveiled Muslim friends why their heads were uncovered. When I did, Rula stared at me blankly. ‘Well,’ she hesitated, ‘I don’t know. It’s not something I ever considered or thought about.’

She called her mother over. Afaf, in her late fifties, is a practising Muslim who prays and fasts but is not veiled.

‘I would be miserable if my daughters wore the veil,’ she said. ‘There is absolutely no mention of the veil in the Qur’an. This is all about men containing women. The men were in charge of making the laws. It’s all about power, nothing more.’

As the veil becomes more popular, new businesses have crept up: stylish clothes tailored to the veiled woman, scarves decorated with new twists and even a sea resort where men and women are segregated for swimming then reunited for dining and family activities.

But a word of warning from Yasmine. ‘Wearing the veil doesn’t mean fundamentalism,’ she says. ‘I am against it. Islam preaches moderation not extremism. We are still the same people. We’re just veiled. That’s all.’

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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