New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 376

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Letters

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Plunder
Call it free trade, IMF, NAFTA, FTA, FTAA, World Bank, IMF... it all comes down to the same: First World nations plundering Third World countries for the benefit of First World thieves.

Vera Gottlieb British Columbia, Canada

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The cost of disunity
For developing countries to be disunited plays into the hands of the developed nations. Countries that are united can through co-operation create an infrastructure independent of the IMF or WTO. When these countries have commodities in demand by the Western states they can bargain for a fair trade value through a central auction house as used by the Dutch to sell their plants and flowers. Since weapons and explosives are useless to build with, they should not be taken in payment. What would be acceptable are deep well pumps, wind generators, tools and new construction equipment at Wal- Mart prices.

Hans Schepers Guelph, Canada

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Humanists and religious believers don't have to spend their time yelling at each other

We shall overcome
Les Reid (Letters, NI 374) misreads my article 'Who needs Religion?' (In the name of God, NI 370). Nowhere do I argue that we should 'stick with the old tribal organizations that religions are, instead of joining forces with the Humanist movement'. His words, not mine. Nor do I argue that Humanism itself is 'blinkered and anorexic'. If I thought that, I would not be the active Humanist I have been for 30 years.

But Humanists and religious believers don't have to spend their time yelling at each other across their defensive barricades. As a Humanist and a nontheist Quaker, I reject dogmatism, whether religious or secular. There is good religion as well as bad religion, and bad humanism as well as good.

What I have described as 'an anorexic Humanism' is the dogmatic insistence that all religious culture and every instance of religious humanitarianism is to be devalued simply because its expression is religious. That kind of dogmatism among some of my fellow Humanists reminds me uncomfortably of my childhood in the Exclusive Brethren. Humanitarians need all the allies they can get. The NI is read, valued and used as an empowering tool by those who share a vision of a better world. Some are progressive religionists, some progressive Humanists. Let us by all means continue a courteous dialogue about our theoretical differences, but let us also value what we have in common: our faith in the power of the wholly human spirit, however we choose to name it, to 'overcome some day' and build the republic of heaven.

David Boulton Dent, England

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Evangelical hijack
Reem Haddad is right on target ('Dangerous Times', Letter from Lebanon, NI 374). Don't let the Armageddon-hungry US fundamentalists hijack the term 'evangelical', which is usually translated into French, German, Spanish, etc as 'Protestant'. All Christian churches are evangelical, though I hesitate to use this term for the very fundamentalists who want to identify with it while they teach and live the opposite.

The Israelis I know who want peace are very embarrassed by the Christian Zionists who think they 'support' Israel - in fact the latter encourage a Judeophobia of their own making which is especially demonic.

Henry H Bucher, Jr Sherman, US

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Defend life
Women's rights (NI 373) falls into the contradictory trap of confusing abortion with issues of rights and equality. Abortion is often a result of inequality, sexism, poverty, social prejudice, disempowerment, social expectations and male-oriented structures. By presenting abortion as a solution, these problems are reinforced, often leaving women to deal with abortion alone while others, often men, walk away and social issues remain unaddressed. This is neither progressive nor feminist.

Abortion involves discrimination and violence against the unborn, which many supporters refuse to confront whilst ducking behind the rhetoric of 'choice' and branding anyone who disagrees as 'anti-woman'. Ironically, in the same issue, the NI refers to the sex-selective abortion of female babies as 'violence'. In reality abortion means that those deemed to be unwanted, due to disability, sex, poverty, being conceived at the wrong time, social shame or pressure are aborted. Do the lives of the poor, the disabled or females matter less when it comes to abortion?

Being pro-life is neither rightwing nor anti-woman - many early feminists were pro-life. We need to be supportive, socially and economically, of people in difficult situations rather than promoting abortion. What is needed is a reappraisal of the Left's approach and a consistent commitment to defending life as the basis of justice, through opposition to all things which degrade it, be it war, abortion, infanticide, poverty, weapons of mass destruction or capital punishment.

Daniel Bampton Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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Build the trust
Re: 'Democracy is dead' (Essay, NI 373). Genuine people power could begin with acceptance that money is an illusion. It depends on community confidence. It can evaporate as it did in 1929 and in Argentina more recently and it can grow exponentially. It can depart the country in a nanosecond. Capital growth, unearned income, mortgages, superannuation, investments and income ultimately depend upon consumption and depletion of the resources of the earth, which is the only capital which is not an illusion. We need something more solid in which to put our trust for the future. Putting our trust in money is shortsighted, but where the investment goes is of major concern. Profitable corporations are major contributors to damage to the environment. They are often the cause, directly or indirectly, of hunger, lack of health services and infrastructure, and poverty wages in the Majority World. There will never be peace in the world while chronic hunger exists and wars are created to sell arms.

We have enough problems with natural disasters without multinationals, the World Bank, IMF, WTO and our local corporations creating additional human misery. We, in the developed world, must reappraise our investment decisions in the interests of peace and our long-term security.

Michael Bell Gordonville, Australia

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Despot rulers
To what extent do developed Western countries have authentic democracy (Essay, NI 373) or are we really in a monarchy without fully realizing it? It seems like we are living a new monarchy era, where corporate and monetary bodies are the despot rulers with no real accountability and elected officials are symbolic figureheads to do their bidding. At least in the old days people could more easily identify who was oppressing them. Somehow something better needs to be achieved.

Tim Mattimoe Toronto, Canada

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We are all implicated, whether Jewish or not, in the suffering of the Shoah, by virtue of our common humanity

Vicarious responsibility
On the one hand, Lucy Michaels ('Fear and loathing', Judeophobia, NI 372) wishes to differentiate herself from 'the Israeli state' and its actions against Palestinians; on the other, she wishes to identify herself with the whole Jewish people through history, speaking of ' our experience of persecution' and 'our consciousness throughout history'. She cannot have it both ways: if she wishes to claim vicarious implication, in the Shoah, merely by virtue of being Jewish, she must also be ready to bear vicarious responsibility for the actions of the Israeli state. (I would prefer her to do neither.) At one moment she criticizes those who make 'huge generalizations about "the Jews" or "the Palestinians"', at the next (three sentences later), she is saying that: 'As Jews we have been left with deep patterns of behaviour as a result of centuries of oppression including its most recent terrible manifestation in the Shoah.' If that is not a 'huge generalization' about the Jews, I don't know what is. Like her, I read Anne Frank's diary as a teenager and was deeply moved by it, but I do not think that I have any special access to the suffering that she, not I, endured. We are all implicated, whether Jewish or not, in the suffering of the Shoah, by virtue of our common humanity. Cheap attempts to appropriate this suffering on the grounds that 'it might have been me' only devalue it.

Jill Mann Cambridge, England

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The Free Trade Game

Sophistication and sophistry
I do wish that people would stop peddling the (should be) now hackneyed idea that the developing world's problems are due to the selfish developed world's cruel bullying. You give a crude interpretation of the role the IMF plays in keeping the poor poor.

In 'Can't pay, won't pay' (The Free Trade Game, NI 374) Roger Burbach says that Argentina defaulted on nearly half its $180 billion repayment in 2002. Am I being over-simplistic in thinking that even if the IMF is charging interest at 100 per cent, they must have lent Argentina in the region of $40 billion? Surely an injection of that amount of capital would go a long way to improving the Argentinean economy. What motivates the IMF is surely to improve poor countries' economies so that they are able to make their repayments. The 'nasty IMF' scenario does not take in the whole picture. Whilst I have no doubt that developing countries are not able to meet the repayments and keep their economies from going under, I would like to have a better picture of what is going on. If so many billions don't help relieve poverty in countries such as Argentina then what is the point of buying the Band Aid single or adopting a child? Obviously something more than just a lack of money is keeping the developing world poor. What is it? Can we have a more sophisticated analysis please?

Celia Hughes London, England

Ed: For further analysis of what motivates the IMF, see NI 365 More World, Less Bank www.newint.org/issue365/

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Get in touch
My poem 'You Get Proud by Practising' appeared in Equality (NI 364). I would appreciate it if you could mention my mailing address and website so that interested readers may contact me.

They are PO Box 9004,
Denver CO 80209, US
web: www.cripcommentary.com

Laura Hershey Denver, US

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Letter from Lebanon

Playroom of the Gulf
Lebanon's tourist boom leaves Reem Haddad out of pocket.

WE stared at the bill incredulously. 'Did we just pay $60 for a little bit of grilled meat and hummus?' I asked my husband.

Again we stared at the bill. The answer was all around us. The restaurant was packed with unquestioning tourists. Not just any tourists, but Arabs from the Gulf.

'I guess it's the season to hike up the prices,' said my husband. 'We came at the wrong time.'

You couldn't miss them last summer. Arabs from Gulf countries, known here as Gulfies, came to Lebanon in droves, booking all the hotel rooms, renting all the hire cars and filling the restaurants - great news for Lebanon, which is struggling with a debt of more than $40 billion.

Women in black veils browsed shops while cafés were packed with families staying up until the early morning hours. Money was no object. They had it and they could spend it.

With its Arab culture yet Westernized lifestyle, pre-war Lebanon had long been a favourite destination for Gulfies. But during the 16-year civil war, Europe and the US became the main holiday resorts. And they remained so until the attacks of 11 September 2001 when, overnight, attitudes in the West hardened against Arabs.

'They (Americans) hate us,' said a 24- year-old Kuwaiti man who was vacationing in one of Lebanon's mountain resorts. 'I still like to go to the US but they don't want us there.'

Arabs complain that the strict and sometimes humiliating security checks at US airports have become routine. Also, reports of anti-Arab harassment have reached all Arab ears.

'We may be detained in jail for God knows how long just because we look Arab, and that automatically seems to mean that we are terrorists,' the Kuwaiti tourist continued.

Illustration: Sarah John A recent Saudi travel report said that 90 per cent of the Saudi Arabians who used to spend their holidays in the US chose to go somewhere else. Last August alone, 212,000 tourists came to Lebanon, most of them from the Gulf.

Lebanese businesses took full advantage. One luxurious hotel in downtown Beirut charged $8,000 a night for its royal suite. It was booked the entire summer.

And since few questioned bills, many restaurants happily increased their prices (although if reported or caught, the restaurant would be closed down by the Lebanese authorities). I guess a few extra dollars for a meal is nothing when some are spending $50,000 for a 10-day stay. One prince reportedly spent more than $100,000 a day.

Huge amounts were spent on the oldest profession in the world. Hotel management found it impossible to control the flow of prostitutes. Employees were readily providing pimps with room numbers of single male Gulf Arabs. The guests were then solicited by phone.

'I am so shocked,' said a friend of mine who drives a taxi. 'These young girls, who look so wholesome, come into my car and I take them to their rendezvous. They look like anybody's daughters. It upsets me to hear some of them talk that they are about to lose their virginity and get paid for it. Apparently, virgins are the most in demand.'

Cabarets - better known as super nightclubs - had a great season. Russian, Ukrainian and other Eastern European women in skimpy clothes dance in these for a room full of men. While the men are required to have a drink with the girl of their choosing, they may not actually escort her out of the cabaret. But there is nothing to stop the pair from arranging a date outside working hours. Since such clubs are forbidden in the Gulf, men flocked to them all summer.

'I spent most of my nights waiting for my clients to leave the nightclubs,' said my taxi driver friend. 'We ended up going to several cabarets every night.'

While the return of the Gulfies has positive effects on the Lebanese economy, locals like myself end up paying some of the price. My husband and I have been trying in vain to buy a reasonably priced flat in central Beirut. Developers, however, barely give us a glance. They are building for wealthier customers. Much wealthier.

'Saudis, Kuwaitis and others want to own apartments in Beirut,' one developer told us. 'And they want the best. They are our main clients.'

Over and over again we heard it. 'Sorry, but there is nothing for you in this development.'

And so our search continues.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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