New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 377

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Letters

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Abortion and understanding
I agree with Daniel Bampton (Letters, State of Fear, NI 376) that abortion is part of a wider issue of social inequality and I don’t feel that to be anti-abortion is to be ‘anti-woman’. He talks about abortion as though it exacerbates problems for women. I don’t think that is true. Abortion is not available to women in many countries where inequalities between men and women are most prevalent. I don’t feel that discriminatory abortion on the grounds of gender, for example, can be judged the same way as abortion as a result of bad timing. As an ex-youth worker running personal development programmes for young people ‘at risk’, I have seen so many teenage girls, many of whom were starting to turn their life around, drop out due to pregnancy. Some of these girls are happy and supported and proud; but many more are not in a position to cope, often suffering from depression and giving up their plans for the future.

State of Fear, NI 376

So he is right, it is a bigger issue; it’s about equality and responsibility and empowerment... but society isn’t there yet. Women will have sex before they are ready, they will have sex for the wrong reasons with the wrong people and without feeling that they can insist on contraception, they will get drunk, they will get raped, they will be unlucky, they will be foolish... and until these ‘problems’ of society are remedied, abortion is a necessary option for the happiness and mental health of many women (and men). As someone who had an abortion as a result of a pregnancy in which I had no choice, and during which time nothing had ever felt so ‘wrong’, I really feel that it is impossible for others to understand what is essentially a very personal and difficult situation.

Clare W London, England

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Clout at the UN
Reforming the UN (The UN at 60, NI 375) could actually begin in one country. There is an opportunity for the UK to use its permanent seat (hard to justify as it stands) in a truly powerful way by placing it at the disposal of the Commonwealth – one of the few international forums in which North and South meet on equal terms. The UN delegation from the Commonwealth could be elected from constituencies of equal size, and given the power to elect and direct the holder of the permanent seat.

It would carry far more influence than all the other permanent members, being the legitimate representative of around a billion people including some of the poorest on the planet. And it would not be entirely altruistic on our part: the British people would be closer to international institutions than ever before.

Alex Lawrie Stoke sub Hamdon, England

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Token elections
I read with interest The Unreported Year 2004 (NI 375).

In your ‘Middle East’ section for March you correctly noted that the Saudi Shura council announced women would be allowed to vote in municipal elections. However, you did not note that in September this permission was cancelled. It is surmised that because women were putting themselves forward to stand for election that permission for them to vote was annulled.

It is also worth noting that it was for the first time in 40 years that men were given the right to vote in these same municipal elections. However, the elections were delayed until November for Riyadh, and February for the Eastern Province and into March for Jeddah and the Hejaz.

The general excitement generated within the Kingdom over this resulted in disparagement of the potential significance of elected municipalities and the unlikelihood of their ever being influential over anything more important than the placing of street lights – that is, if they could obtain funding for lights in the first place.

Name and address supplied

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We have people here who believe that this should be 'a Christian country' and anyone who doesn't agree should just 'get out'

Creationism
1
Re Andrew Foster’s letter (NI 375), in which he expresses disapproval of the tone adopted in a Seriously column concerning the promotion of creationist theories in the US. I can appreciate his concern about allowing people to express their religious beliefs; however, I don’t think he understands how insidious the Christian Right in this country is.

It’s important to discriminate between people who merely identify as Christian, and those with a conservative political agenda who use Christianity (or at least, their definition of it) as leverage to impose their beliefs on the rest of the country. The latter group is very consciously trying to shape this country in a certain image – a rigid, moralistic, judgemental paradigm where there is absolutely no room for anyone who doesn’t adhere to their way of thinking.

We have state-funded schools here where evolution is taught as merely a ‘theory’, and creationism is given as a plausible alternative. We have people here (and I have met plenty of them) who believe that this should be ‘a Christian country’ and anyone who doesn’t agree should just ‘get out’. Whatever happened to freedom of religion?

The promotion of creationism in the Grand Canyon sends the message that the US Government sanctions evangelical Christian beliefs over all others. Do you think the Christian right would tolerate the distribution of creation myths from other religions and cultures at the Grand Canyon?

Jennifer Smith Chicago, US


2
The freedom to express religious beliefs often entails the promotion of intolerant, sectarian or misogynist doctrines. Creationism, which Andrew Foster cites as harmless, deserves ridicule not only because it is a fantasy with as much basis in fact as any other folk tale, but because it helps foster an atmosphere of credulity.

It causes harm to others as it encourages the dangerous belief that people ought to accept whatever they are told without evidence. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why that is a bad thing.

Pól MacReannacháin Strabane, Ireland

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Judeophobia (NI 372)

Thoughtful summary
We would like to express our thanks for Judeophobia (NI 372) – an excellent and thoughtful summary. The issue was very timely and needed: we also appreciate that this was a brave publication given recent trends in the overt and covert expression of anti-semitism. Jewish people – whatever their views on the need for a Jewish state – need allies in order to fight all forms of racism: this is the case for Jews working on the Left as well as for others.

Susie Jacobs (Manchester Jewish Socialist network and Manchester jfjfp [Jews for Justice for Palestinians]) with Ruth Abraham, Jo Bird, Rica Bird, Sue Cooper, David Graham, Clem Herman, Robert Lizar, David Marks, Abbie Paton, Adam Jacob Trickey

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Nuclear dumps
For 30 years the British Government had the sensible policy of never allowing their green and pleasant land to become a dumping ground for the nuclear rubbish of other countries.

Here, in South Australia, we know that feeling.

Our federal government, however, was determined to foist a nuclear dump upon us come what may, although they affected a fond sensibility, calling it by a gentler, less alarming name: a repository for low-level nuclear waste.

For years they kept up an unremitting campaign to overcome mounting local resistance until, earlier in the year, with a touch of pre-election willies, they called the whole thing off.

Now we learn that the British Government will bury Swiss, Swedish, Spanish, Italian, German and Japanese waste, as a profit-making scheme to finance the dumping of its own growing mountains of radioactive clutter, even though it lacks a suitable site!

Could these two government about-turns at opposite ends of the earth be related in some way, one wonders? And why is it that nobody wants this lovely stuff?

Dave Diss Glengowrie, Australia

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Other results of the Spanish-American War were the US occupation of vast areas of Mexico and the occupation (lease?) of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - both of which continue today

US occupation
I wish to support George Richards (Letters, NI 375) in his call for an article on the US conquest of the Philippines in 1899.

During the Spanish-American War of the late 19th century, US forces helped the Filipinos to conquer the forces of colonial Spain that had occupied the Philippines for nearly 300 years. Then, on 4 February 1899, US forces turned their guns on their Filipino allies, causing great bloodshed.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan, an American eyewitness of the US aggression, wrote a book to protest against US actions at the time.

He wrote: ‘The Americans in 48 hours slaughtered more defenceless people than did the Spaniards in two centuries... These people [the Filipinos] fought for their freedom on the American side, vanquishing at every point and at every zone the common enemy, the Spanish nation; and in return what have they received? Treatment worse than Spain inflicted in all her centuries of occupation; cruelties, which no civilized power in the world could approve, and of which the American people will be ashamed.’

It should also be remembered that other results of the Spanish-American War were the US occupation of vast areas of Mexico and the occupation (lease?) of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – both of which continue today.

When we look at the current behaviour of the US Administration in Iraq, it must surely lead us to the conclusion that some things never seem to change.

Andrew Alcock Forestville, South Australia

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Correction
In the world map included with the UN issue* (NI 375) we inadvertently omitted Lebanon. We deeply regret the error.

*Paper edition of NI.

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Letter from Lebanon

Motherland
A rude shock awaits Reem Haddad in a government office.

I stared at the woman in frustration. ‘But I am Lebanese,’ I said. ‘I was born in Lebanon and raised in Lebanon. My daughter was born in Lebanon and is being raised in Lebanon. I don’t understand.’

The woman nodded sympathetically. The walls of her drab office were bare except for a mandatory picture of a smiling Emile Lahoud, the Lebanese President.

My daughter, Yasmine, had only been born a few months earlier and I had come to apply for her Lebanese nationality. Yasmine was rejected.

‘You, my dear,’ continued the Government official, ‘are a woman. And when a Lebanese woman marries a foreigner she cannot give her husband or her children Lebanese nationality. It’s just how things are.’

I married a British national five years ago and although I am entitled to UK citizenship through him, I cannot offer my husband Lebanese nationality. The most I am allowed to do by law is grant him an annual residence visa to live in Lebanon.

Illustration: Sarah John I consulted a lawyer but there was nothing he could do. Anyone born of a Lebanese father – whether the child was born in Lebanon or abroad – has the right to Lebanese nationality. The mother, however, doesn’t enjoy the same privilege.

And yet women have made great strides in the country. An estimated half of college graduates are women and the number of working women make up 30 per cent of the total labour force. Three seats have been taken up by women in the 128-seat parliament. There is speculation that one of the women MPs could one day even run for the presidency.

But that same woman could not have given Lebanese nationality to her children had she married a foreigner.

My irritation subsided somewhat when I met Hanan – after all, her situation was even worse. As a Lebanese married to a Palestinian, her children have been denied citizenship. While she has access to government healthcare and services, her three youngsters can neither attend government schools nor benefit from any services. And since Palestinians are barred from working in over 60 different kinds of skilled jobs and from owning property, their future seems bleak.

‘I can’t believe I can’t give my own children the same privileges that I have,’ she said. ‘What is to become of them?’

I recall when my friend Saria had a big row with her family. She had fallen in love with a Palestinian and wanted to get married. But Saria’s family took a firm stand against him.

‘Your children will have nothing,’ yelled Saria’s father. ‘Nothing. Do you hear? They will be Palestinian.’

The father prevailed and the couple separated.

Women’s rights movements have been lobbying vigorously to have the antiquated law overturned. But like everything in Lebanon, the decision is a political one – and it takes time. The fear, as a high-ranking politician explained to me, is that Palestinians will take advantage of the relaxation of the law to marry Lebanese and remain in the country. The Lebanese have long been concerned at the prospect of the Palestinian refugees – today estimated at 350,000 – settling permanently in Lebanon and becoming assimilated into Lebanese society.

Since the end of the war in 1990, the Palestinians have remained confined to their camps surrounded by Lebanese soldiers. The result of this uncompromising policy has condemned many Palestinians to a fate of grinding poverty and despair.

My son, Alexander, was born last October and like his sister will grow and love a country which will never accept him as one of its own.

I admit my worries are selfish ones. My children will always have the right to live in Britain – a privilege desired by many Lebanese. But I am a typical Lebanese mother who wants her children around her for as long as possible. I want them to attend university here. I want to see them marry and settle down near me. I want to live near my grandchildren.

But as non-Lebanese they might not be able to do that. As ‘foreigners’ they will require expensive residency and work permits. They will be barred from unions and many jobs. Their future is almost certainly abroad.

The loss of my and other such children – well educated and trained – will surely be Lebanon’s.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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