new internationalist
issue 161 - July 1986


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TV or not TV
Cover of the NI issue 160 In your issue on lifestyles you argue that the Ladakhis were happier before their lives were polluted by the West. This is presumptuous and patronizing. Who are you to say that they should not have the TVs they want - especially when you probably all have them yourselves?

Most communities accept the degrees of modernization they want because they see them as an improvement on what they already have. The ideal of the primitive innocent community with which angst-ridden Western neurotics can identify in their spare time is a familiar liberal smokescreen.

Your whole issue seems to have been written for people who want to enjoy the benefits of a capitalist consumer society and also enjoy wringing their hands about it at the same time. If nothing else it sells more copies of the NI.

Eileen McCarthy
Toronto, Canada

Post-apartheid aid
In post-apartheid South Africa the questions facing the new government are going to be numerous. They will include: how will the many diverse opinions and positions of the South African people be dealt with? How will support from all population groups be achieved?

The international community will then have to define a role for itself. This could include the promotion of civil rights for all population groups and international co-operation to ensure that the majority government is supported by more than one side of the East/West conflict Whether or not the international community should provide development assistance to post-apartheid South Africa is a more debatable point Can this new society be called a Third World developing country'? Can the international community support the new government as it wrestles with the problems of poverty, unemployment and an acute shortage of housing. educational and health facilities? Let's hope so.

Anne Mitchell
International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa
Ottawa, Canada

Skin problem
The face of South Africa seems to have a skin problem but I, like Chris Brazier (NI 159), found after my first visit to the country that its problems are much more than skin deep, and had my convictions if not tipped upside down then shaken. 'Racism' has become the convenient term that the rest of the world can call simple selfishness, without cutting its own throat.

Why has South Africa become a scapegoat for the western world? South Africa is a magnifying glass on the world poverty situation, but we all seem to have grasped the wrong issue. After all, haven't we got our own apartheid? It may not be law but it's just as real and just as effective, when every day we put the 'unpleasantness' of poverty out of our minds.

Elizabeth Thomas
Wye, UK

Forgotten Scots
Thank you for NI 159, which gave space for the voices of black people in South Africa - a much-needed perspective! I was, however, disappointed to find no mention of any Scottish-based pressure groups in your action guide. Please do not forget all the activists in Scotland.

Rowena Arshad
SEAD Campaigns
29 Nicolson Square
Edinburgh, UK

Radioactive god
May I make a suggestion for a solution to the nuclear waste disposal problem?

Although the radioactive wastes from nuclear reactors last for thousands of years, the time involved should not bother us. What is important is how we store the stuff. The answer lies in good old individual and personal responsibility.

How? Well, working on the principle that everyone should be individually responsible for their own garbage, we should agree that every person who uses electricity generated by a nuclear reactor would store a proportionate amount of radioactive material on their property.

The radioactive plutonium would be delivered to each property owner and put in vaults in the garden. Special shrines would be created where we could more intimately worship the god we now admire from afar. We should ensure that, as a religious shrine which we would hand down to our children (and their children to the nth power), governments would place no inheritance tax on it and nor would that portion of our property be subject to municipal taxes.

Think how grateful our mutant descendants will be to us in a hundred or so generations from now, for having preserved such a priceless heritage. They will be radiant with joy.

As someone once said 'The meek shall inherit the earth - after we're through with it'.

David Weston
Centre for Urban Design
Oxford, UK

Decoding porn
I noted with interest NI 158's item Understanding Porn, but on reflection I have found it no help to one wishing to 'decode pornography'. Labelling people 'abolitionists' and 'libertarians' will surely only create further divisions among those who reject pornography and its backing ideology. The space devoted to these labels seems most inappropriate when points about the effects of the media and the 'Great Porn Giants' are not developed and the juxtapositioning in the tabloid newspapers of so-called 'soft porn' photos and daily rape / abuse stories is ignored.

Finally I despaired at the last section. The author felt the need to protect the NI reader from written porn, while instead offering us empty images of the victims of pornography and suggesting we flick through various magazines for our further education. If one seriously wishes to decode pornography the most appropriate place to start would surely be in its language in the written form.

Articles such as this one seem to offer more confusion and division - something I am not used to finding in the pages of an intelligent journal like the NI.

Andy Brittan
Portsmouth, UK

Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Refreshing Muhammad
As a follower of Islam, I found it refreshing to see the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad reported as in opposition to the 'tribal' dogmas of many Muslims. Unfortunately over the years most of the Western (Christian) media have promoted the propaganda that the 'backsliding' ideals mentioned in NI 158 are part of the teaching of the Qu'ran.

I do object to the generalized reporting that Muslims are obsessed with their power over women's bodies. To a true believer, nothing is further from the truth. I must also point out that many ludicrous customs, such as the displaying of bridal bedsheets, are perpetuated by followers of many Christian sects as well as by some misguided Muslims. In the opinion of many followers of Islam, the fanatical ideals of the Shi'ite may well be equated with those of the fundamentalist Christian sects.

All power to your efforts in seeking justice and equality.

Faris abou Jabal
Rathdowney, Australia

Man-made religion
Enver Carim writes (NI 158) that as regards women 'the teachings of the Qu'ran and the Prophet Muhammad are revolutionary'. Yet this is simply not borne out by what is written in the Qu'ran. Take the following quotations. Surah IV 34: 'Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, Because God has given the one more than the other . . . Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient' Surah II 223:

'Your wives are as a filth unto you; so approach your filth when or how ye will.'

This sexism is not exclusive to Islam but is a common feature of all the man-made religions of the Middle East.

Mike Lank
Manchester, UK

Birth strike
I am a grandmother, mother and nurse. Recent events in the Ukraine have upset me so much that I am prompted to put my thoughts into print.

Women of the world have now as never before the power to say they refuse to bring into the world another generation to become victims of the nuclear age either through wars or the 'peaceful' use of this unmanageable force. Remember the adage 'the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world'.

World politicians should consider what would happen if the population was threatened by a 'birth strike' just as devastating as a 'nuclear strike' to their ambitions.

Margaret Hedge
Picton, New Zealand

Breathless world
Lucky inhabitants of Mexico City having to live in an atmosphere of only 23 per cent oxygen (Endpiece NI 158). The rest of us have to survive in the Earth's normal atmosphere which contains 21% oxygen.

R F G Nash
Ashford, UK

Unfair stress
I should like to congratulate you on the excellent programme Man-made Famine, which will do much to increase understanding of a problem we must all address if we are to become a truly humane society.

I would, however, like to ask you as producers whether it was really helpful to put so much emphasis on the unfair burden borne by African women in relative contrast to African men. Is there not a danger that people will be encouraged to think 'it's up to them', rather than to act on the links between famine and economic pressures from the West?

Max Dixon
London, UK

Fresh air
I thought your TV programme Man-made Famine was magnificent, if that is the word. It was concise, clear, powerful and a breath of fresh air for this very important debate about the exploitation of the 'Third World'.

Ms J E Darville
London, UK

Thank you for the many letters of praise we have received about NI's first independent TV film. This has as yet only been broadcast in the UK, but we are working hard to make it available in our other readers' countries.

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The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

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Yvonne St Clare has been working as a secondary-school English teacher
in the Zimbabwe countryside since January 1984. This month the needs
of four separate visitors compete with her need to write and reflect.

One thing about sitting down and trying to write in a rural situation is that, unless it is after nine at night, you are liable to be interrupted.

Yesterday , while I was writing to my sister, there were four different knocks at the door. Just as I began, a young friend came to ask me to buy a school shirt for him next time I go to town: he gave me $12 - price of the shirt - from his monthly wage of $20. He works in his uncle's butcher shop - seven days a week, 14 hours a day, wage non-negotiable, since it was a 'family favour' to give him the job. We agreed that he would come with me and that we would make a day of it next week. Although the town is only one dollar's - or one hour's bus ride away, it will be only his third visit ever. We drank some tea and ate bread and tomatoes and then he left to walk down the one and a half hour-long path around the mountain.

As soon as I settled down again with my pen, Mercy called by to remind me that she wants to visit her relatives on Monday - I had agreed to pay her bus fare. In return she later agreed to help the family of a friend of mine to carry a huge load of grass for re-thatching their kitchen. The grass had been stored in the branches of a tree and had to be taken - on foot, an hour's walk up and down a steep hill - to a spot where the ox-cart could come and collect it.

While she was still with me, Mr Sibanda, the teacher who lives in the next house to mine, knocked on my door. Beer bottles in hand, he invited me over to admire his new four-piece suite. I had been surprised the previous day by the unfamiliar sound of a delivery van driving over the grass past my house, and was glad of an opportunity - my first - to see inside his house.

The new furniture took up most of the central room: two very smart, square mini-sofas and two matching armchairs - $1,500 with ten months to pay. Next, he told me, comes the kitchen unit. The trouble is, the room is full already.

I sat comfortably on the firm foam rubber, feeling the rough, tweedy texture of the upholstery and discussing the need for washable covers (which, he said, his wife will deal with when she polishes the cement floor) and I realized how accustomed I have become to seeing these jarring juxtapositions - between Mercy's lack of bus fare and the teacher's sitting room, bulging with new furniture - of basic needs and flaunted surplus. At first I felt nauseated all the time. But I have had to learn to live with such crude contrasts. And I am beginning to appreciate that these conspicuous symbols of inequality are, in fact, only simpler - more innocent even - signs of the inequalities that underlie our whole economic and social system.

The fourth interruption, soon after I got back to my letter, was Blessing, the headmaster's maid, who is studying for her O' levels. She was returning a novel she had borrowed and asking me for a replacement. I gave her a copy of Equiano's Travels, a 200-year-old narrative written by a West African man captured into slavery as a child, who educated himself while still a slave, and finally bought his freedom, to spend his later life campaigning against slavery.

The thing about these interruptions is that their demands are so concrete and direct. I can't ignore them; they push my writing aside and make me ask myself what is so important about what I am doing. Indeed, can anything be more important that these day-to-day encounters with other people sharing a struggle to survive, progress and make sense of our lives.

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