New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 375

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Letters

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Deadly subsidies
The Free Trade Game (NI 374) was very informative, but you did not cover the subsidies currently paid to the arms trade. Weapons are specifically excluded from free trade agreements, and G8 governments all subsidize their export. See, for instance, www.caat.org.uk which estimates a subsidy of about £900m per annum for the arms trade by the UK alone. Exporting subsidized agricultural produce is bad enough, but using our money to subsidize weapons exports, often to countries with atrocious human rights records?! The ‘justification’ for this is often ‘jobs’, yet other industries are allowed to fold when they are not ‘competitive’. The real justification must be to help keep our Western puppets in power. Without them, and the occasional war, how could we possibly maintain our decadent lifestyles at the expense of the world’s poor?

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Mark Ingram London, England

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Religious rights
I was surprised at the superior, mocking tone adopted in Seriously (NI 374), referring to plaques espousing creationist theories at sites such as the Grand Canyon.

You rightly condemn some of the actions of the American Government. But to widen this to a condemnation of Americans and their faith does not seem many steps removed from, for example, widening a dislike of the actions of the Israeli Government into antisemitism.

I personally do not believe creationist theories. But I do believe in the right of a people to express their religious beliefs where this causes no harm to others, and especially so in their own homeland.

Andrew Foster Southampton, England

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Men for change
As a man working towards ending violence against women I was excited to hear of other projects and individuals who are trying to engage men in this issue (Women’s rights, NI 373).

As Michael Kimmel explains (‘A Black woman took my job’) men benefit from gender equity. I think it is also important to add that men have a responsibility to work towards gender equity as a function of seeking a just society.

Some organizations are finding ways for men to take on this responsibility and change themselves and the communities they live in. I would have liked the NI to identify organizations like Project Respect (www.yesmeansyes.com) and Men Can Stop Rape (www.mencanstoprape.org) as hopeful examples of this kind of work.

Tuval Dinner Victoria, Canada

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Add it up
In presenting the ‘masculinization of wealth’ as the neglected side of the ‘feminization of poverty’, Michael Kimmel (NI 373) can make an even stronger case for demonstrating male privilege by fixing the math: if US women earn 70 cents for every dollar US men earn, then men earn $1.43 for every dollar a woman earns. But more importantly, thanks to Mr Kimmel for pointing out that the privileges and constraints of gender are largely invisible to men, and that working for gender equality is in their interest.

Elaine S Booth Irvine, California, US

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States of engagement
Although I find myself broadly in sympathy with Paul Kingsnorth’s argument (Essay, NI 373), there is one aspect of it that does not help his call for political engagement. Like many critics of global capitalism, he conflates markets (global or otherwise) and capitalist economic relations. Markets far predate both capitalism and democracy and have historically been a social institution that allocates resources through the medium of money. What is required is democratic pressure on the state to shift the regulatory and legal structures that allow markets to exist and function for capitalists. While I agree we must move on from seeing democracy as merely being periodic elections, the state must remain a key target for political action, as it has only been through the state (and the collective social action it represents) that markets have been shaped and utilized for significant social goods. Furthermore, although currently not so obvious, it has also only been the state that has been able effectively to establish the non-market sphere that allows other values to be pursued (such as social welfare).

Christopher May Portishead, England

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Painful debate
While living in London in 2000-01, I was often embarrassed by expressions of antisemitism in internationalist and radical Left circles (Judeophobia, NI 372). When I objected, I was told that I was only ‘Jew-friendly’ because of the history of my home-country.

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In Germany, there has been a painful debate about antisemitism in the radical Left. The issue has clearly divided the scene, cutting deep into activist groups, alliances and even into alternative housing projects, up to the point of violence. For some time now the debate has run into a dead end, as so-called ‘Anti-Deutsche’ (‘Anti-Germans’, considering antisemitism the main characteristic of all German discourses) and classical Anti-Imperialists (focusing mainly on the Israel-Palestine conflict and denying all forms of antisemitism) have dominated the debate, silencing all differentiated thinking about the problem.

Still I consider the debate necessary, because manifestations of antisemitism in the new radical Left have been frequent ever since the 1970s and even more so since the beginning of the second Intifada. Being blind to antisemitic traditions in their own thinking means to lose all credibility in the fight for a world free of injustice and racism.

Alex Veit Berlin, Germany

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Running the risk
I strongly support your effort to combat antisemitism (NI 372). I also support security for Israel as well as justice for Palestinians.

But it’s wrong to call former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin antisemitic for his comment that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had undue influence over the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq. As Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker, Sharon set up a special intelligence unit in his own office, to bypass the Mossad. This office communicated directly with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, which produced alarming reports about Iraq that the CIA did not necessarily find credible. The FBI is currently investigating contacts between members of the Office of Special Plans and the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which allegedly fed secret US information to the Sharon Government.

It is true that these connections risk fuelling antisemitism. But we must acknowledge them, while distinguishing Sharon from many Israelis. Simply to label explosive truth-telling ‘antisemitic’ is the most dangerous response, because bigots then imagine that all their prejudices are true.

David Keppel Bloomington, US

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Questions of identification
I enjoyed the Judeophobia issue’s Keynote essay and found in it much I agreed with, but I must take issue with one rather fundamental point. This is the assumption that the ‘likening [of] Sharon to Hitler’ and the condemnation of ‘Zionazis’ represent not just a ‘distortion’ but an offence for ‘Jewish sensibilities’.

In my view the rather essential fault in this kind of reasoning does not depend on the actual argument of whether Sharon is really Hitler-like or not, but on the fact that it falls – once again – into the trap of equating the actions of the Israeli Government with some kind of Jewish ethos. As an Italian, do I feel offended if it is stated that the Prime Minister of my country is a crass xenophobe, whose main aim is to protect his finances and a corrupt political class? I hardly think so. The particularity of Jewish history should make us beware even more the risk of identifying any criticism – however harsh – of a government with that of its population. Such identification is offensive for Jewish people in the same way in which I would feel offended to be assimilated with any actions of the government of my country of origin. It is a serious mistake that plays into the hands of the racist agenda promoted by Sharon and his allies.

Umberto Albarella Durham, England

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Right to respect
Judeophobia (NI 372) caused me to face my own prejudices. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is too often polarized in the media, especially with the rise in recent times of fundamental Christianity. Your articles reminded me that Jews have the same right to respect for their beliefs as anyone else. Thank you for helping rebalance my mind.

Dave Corstorphan Nudjaburra, Australia

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Philippine calumny
Before I file NI 371, I would like to deal with a calumny on the Philippines, in the Country Profile. 'Fairly benign colonization from 1898 when Spain ceded the Philippines to the US.'

This is a fair statement of colonial revisionism. The reality differs. Please check with any progressive Filipino community or, as a starting-point Mark Twain's Weapons of Satire.

The reconquest of the Philippines by the US would make an interesting article. The modern 'low-intensity conflict' techniques have evolved from this bloodbath. You are looking at Custer's Last Stand and Wounded Knee writ large.

George Richards Castlegar,
British Columbia, Canada

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Slave trade correction
Thank you for publishing my letter on the slave trade in NI 373. However, an error seems to have crept in, insofar as the date '1744' should have read '1774'. I'd be grateful if you could correct this, as I don't want people thinking I've got my facts wrong.

Roger Butters Stafford, England

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Letter from Lebanon

Asdghig's long march
Reem Haddad is seared by the pain and hope of lives scarred by genocide.

The book had been among my parents’ possessions for years. They couldn’t remember who had given it to them and they had never got around to reading it. Finding nothing to do one lazy afternoon, I began leafing through its pages. The sentences were short, the English rather simple. I couldn’t put it down. I never looked at Armenians the same way again. Every Armenian I met in Lebanon reminded me of her. I quizzed my father, a physician, about her.

‘Asdghig Avakian?’ he said. ‘I remember her well. A kindly elderly nurse. She would make us stop working to eat.’

Little did he know that behind the kindly face was a lonely woman who had managed to survive the Armenian genocide, make it to Lebanon and spend the rest of her life searching for a love that never came.

Having lived through the Lebanese civil war, I knew the fear of massacres. But these fears were always shared with family and relatives. Never had I been alone or felt unloved.

Born in the Kharpout district in east central Turkey, two-year-old Asdghig was placed in an orphanage by her mother following the death of her father. She was sent back to rejoin her family when her mother remarried. The next few years were spent under the care of a loving mother and abusive stepfather.

Then in 1915, with the Armenian genocide well under way, everything changed. In just over four years, 1.5 million Armenians would be massacred by Ottoman Turks. Hundreds of men, women and children were forced to take part in the notorious ‘death marches’, walking through the desert without food, water and shelter. Many of those who survived settled in Lebanon.

In an effort to save her daughter, Asdghig’s mother took her to the orphanage again, showered her child with kisses and fled. Asdghig never saw her again. She was presumably killed.

Illustration: Sarah John World War One was raging. The orphans were on the brink of starvation. In 1922, Armenian orphans were sent to Lebanon and placed in a Beirut orphanage. Before long, 15-year-old Asdghig was chosen by visiting American missionaries to be trained as a nurse at the American University Hospital.

Asdghig proved to be highly capable, earning the admiration of the hospital staff. She remained at the Hospital for the rest of her life. Despite a successful career, she never found the one thing she had always yearned for: someone to love her.

Resigned to a lonely life, she found solace in caring for her charges. ‘I can find love in comforting my patients, to pat them, to relieve the raking sadness and love in the world that I live in,’ she wrote.

I was in tears. I wished I could have met her. But she was long dead.

On impulse, I drove to the Armenian quarter, Bourj Hammoud, just 10 minutes from central Beirut and strolled through its narrow overcrowded streets. I may as well have left Lebanon. Armenian signs were everywhere and Arabic practically non-existent. I looked at passers-by curiously – each one a descendent of a genocide survivor.

About 200,000 Armenians currently reside in Lebanon. In a short time after their escape from the Turks, they managed to build for themselves sound communities all over the country. Skilled craftspeople, their shops of shoes, leather items and jewellery attracted Lebanese shoppers.

They also became admired for their music and cultural events. Lebanese parents – including mine – vied to get Armenian piano teachers for their children. Their active churches run social and educational institutions. Keeping their culture alive is one of their main aims. Parents speak only Armenian to their children and marriages to non-Armenians are frowned upon. The active Armenian community has seven deputies in the Lebanese Parliament.

I continued to wander aimlessly along the streets of Bourj Hammoud. I wasn’t sure why. I wondered if Asdghig had done the same.

A few days later, I met an Armenian woman and related Asdghig’s story.

After a few seconds of silence, she said. ‘Did Asdghig ever save any lives?’ I recalled from her book that she had.

My new friend sighed.

‘Sometimes horrible things happen but good things come out of them,’ she said. ‘Think of Asdghig’s good work at the hospital. Many people would have surely died without her nursing abilities.’

I did think of that. Asdghig’s book now takes a prominent position on my bookshelf.

Learn more about the Armenian genocide at www.armenian-genocide.org

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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