issue 164 - October 1986
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : [email protected]
Allow me to pick on an omission in the NI's otherwise excellent issue on Peace and Justice (NI 163). Nowhere do I see any mention of the role of the United Nations. In your eyes, as in the eyes of so many others, it might as well not exist; when not ignored it is ridiculed as ineffective.
This suits our rulers as they carry on the old jungle game of power politics. In the early days of the UN it was usually the Soviet Union's veto (Molotov's 'Niet') which prevented the adoption of UN resolutions. Nowadays it is more often the United States, the United Kingdom and states friendly to them who veto, vote against, abstain from and ignore UN decisions that would make the world a safer place - and no-one knows and no-one cares.
Michael Shallis's article The end of intelligence (NI 162) struck me as a kind of 'technophobia'. He describes machines and systems as cold, inhuman, alien and sinister his choice of adjectives is how he makes his points. Somewhere in the welter of frightening words there must be a few facts. I couldn't seem to find them, though. And I do get shirty when I read lines like:
'Computer technology. is a product of the linear, mechanistic and reductionist thinking which has characterised Western society for around three hundred years.
This leaves out all the thinking that has gone into the arts.
It also leaves out the kind of thinking which goes on at the kitchen sink in every home every day. Computers are surely as much a creation of emotional imagination as they are of soulless science.
Shallis's article is itself an example of the kind of thinking and ordering which he so distrusts. So are these comments of mine; linear, mechanistic and reductionist thinking is ever so useful. I may write plays in a discursive, organic and expansionist style, but it ain't the best to write a recipe. 'Human values' are not always pleasant - a fact which romantics tend to overlook - and often get things cruelly wrong. This is why we have to resort to 'mechanical values' like those of civil law and reasoned argument and medicine and so on. What is more human than a lynch-mob or more mechanical than an alarm clock?
The NI guide to some of the world's worst terrorist regimes (NI 161) rightly includes Ethiopia, but misrepresents the war in Eritrea as a 'secessionist battle'. The Eritreans are neither 'secessionists' nor 'rebels'; these are fraudulent terms used by both the Ethiopian military junta and by Haile Selassie's feudal regime before it, and adopted by much of the foreign media. Like the East Timorese, the Eritreans are fighting to regain their independence from an invading foreign power. Calling Eritreans rebels is like saying that the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France actually wanted to secede from the Third Reich.
The most prominent portrait in your 'WANTED!' rogues gallery (NI 161) should have been that of Reagan, not Khomeini.
The US is a world terrorist. Since World War II it has bombed defenceless civilians in Vietnam and Kampuchea, killing and maiming thousands, and laying waste the land. Many cruel regimes, noted for torture, owe their existence to the machinations of the CIA.
The US has recently been condemned by the World Court as 'state terrorist', defended only by Britain and Japan. If the 'I' in NI still stands for 'Internationalist', you should support the Court's decision.
I was perturbed to read what I believe to be a crude discussion of the complex Palestinian question in the July issue. Wayne Ellwood writes 'the problem of more than two million stateless Palestinians is the real core of Middle East violence'. Are we really to believe that the statelessness of the Palestinian people is responsible for one of the most murderous wars in history between Iraq and Iran, for the deaths of countless numbers of Kurds in Iran, Iraq and Syria, or for the present conflict in South Yemen? If Mr Ellwood believes that Palestinian statelessness is one cause of Middle East violence, then he must write what he means. Throwaway sentences help neither Jews nor Arabs in the search for peace and justice.
Anarchy rules OK
Individualists and libertarians the world over must be sick and tired of both left and right wing media using the terms 'anarchy' and 'anarchists' to denote chaos, terror and insanity.
The NI is as guilty as the rest. Witness the short change you gave libertarian socialists in your review of Socialism (NI 153), not to mention the usual loose terminology in the Terrorism issue (NI 161).
Libertarianism transcends traditional left/right boundaries and deserves a better press. Let the NI be where it gets it.
Your issue on Terrorism (NI 161) did a splendid job on debunking the myths and clichés surrounding this subject. But why, on why, did you use the cover photo you did? Is not an Arab, in a keffiyeh, clutching a Kalishnikov, every non-thinking person's favourite idea of a 'terrorist'? Surely the choice of this photo for an issue on terrorism only reinforces the stereotype?
NI in WI jam
I was outraged by Kim Taplin's description of the Women's Institute (WI) (NI 161) as 'groups of staid English country women who channel their surplus energies into making jam'. I was also very disappointed that the NI could print such an unfounded, bigoted view. The WI has 350,000 members in England and Wales and is frequently consulted by government and by pressure groups. At our AGM in June we passed a motion calling for a moratorium on nuclear-power development. Hardly the action of women whose only interest lies in the kitchen.
Why is it that the NI, so willing to condemn the imperialists in Washington and Pretoria, sits by in stony silence refusing to criticize the imperialists in Holsworthy, Devon and Sydney, Australia? (Letters, NI 160).
The anti-sealing campaign of the white middle class of the first world is a culturally imperialist assault on the dignity of natives in northern Canada, and the working-class of Newfoundland and Labrador. The sole determinant for cultural validity for Greenpeace and the other animal rights groups seems to be that the sensibilities of middle-class whites in Europe, the US and Australia not be offended.
The animal-rights movement is nothing more than an assertion of cultural superiority by bourgeois liberals, social democrats and greens. Any other class would have been condemned, and justly so, as racists and bigots.
Father Malcolm French
I enjoyed your issue on Lifestyles (NI 160) but what I thought was missing was an analysis of how change can happen.
Change to an equal and free society can only be carried out by the working class defeating the ruling class. Lifestyles, persuasion, and nonviolence may occasionally help this along, but they will also often divert attention and resources.
This is simple, old-fashioned Marxism, and (like simple old-fashioned maths or physics) still applies.
John C Mullen
I wish to take issue with Alan Long's article on vegetarianism (NI 160). Many animals kill to eat and humans generally do it faster and with less cruelty than most. Let Mr Long direct his criticisms at the economic order that destroys food rather than sending it to where it is needed. If it is killing that concerns him, then let him join many of us who deplore killing for vanity (harp seals, the big cats, and animals killed for musk perfume). Killing domesticated animals for food is the least of our worries.
Wellington, Aotearoa (NZ)
I recently went shopping at the local Co-op supermarket in Oak Lane, Bradford and found South African oranges and grapefruit on sale. In March 1985 a Co-op representative at the Anti-Apartheid Boycott Conference stated that the Co-op was to sell no South African goods. This move was congratulated by many AA supporters who felt relief that at last there was one store which was prepared to put justice and human rights before profits. Many of us continued to support the Coop, forgiving the extra expense and inconvenience of shopping some miles away.
To what avail? So that the Co-op can smuggle its pro-apartheid policies through the back door while still reaping the benefits of its 'courageous boycott stance'. Seeing those oranges made me feel sick.
The Co-operative. Wholesale Society confirmed its ban on South African imports, but says it supplies Co-op shops with only 50 per cent of their goods. Individual shops can still buy what they want. -Ed.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Margaret St Clare has been living and working in the Zimbabwe
Today, Saturday, is full moon so I have had plenty of time to sit in the moonlight and think about the successes and failures that surround me. My African neighbours have successfully adapted some parts of their colonists' culture - like Christianity - to their own ends.
My thoughts were prompted by the non-stop song, dance and preaching emanating from a meeting of local Methodists. The Methodists walked here from miles around. Yesterday three of my friends were busy cooking for their visitors. Last night as we sat round the fire In my neighbour's kitchen (I had gone over to borrow the cat for a night's mousing) we heard the African 'Oompah' of the kudu horn leading the local contingent up to church. Later still the sound of a chorus of voices travelled down to us easily on the still air.
When I took the cat back this morning (no mice were caught) two of the women who had been cooking (they are known here as Vatete the father's sister and Amai the mother) were brewing traditional seven-day beer. 'So we can get drunk,' said the aunt, laughing, frankly and without guilt.
Churchgoers are not supposed to drink beer or play, dance or sing traditional music. These forms of recreation are associated with traditional belief and practices and so are condemned as pagan. Even beads are suspect, and not worn by Christians. Yet it does not make much difference whether somebody gets drunk to a drumbeat around a fire or gets carried away in the schoolyard by the Holy Spirit, to the rhythm of women's and children's feet pounding to the horn. Perhaps the Christians' voices will be hoarser on Monday from singing, the drinkers' headaches worse.
Beer-brewing provides a model of traditional - and successful - African business. As well as providing an age-old way of getting high in company, beer-brewing is both a serious ceremony and the most popular form of rural income generation. There are often special family reasons for particular brewings. Perhaps someone is ill, or has lost their job, or there is something to be thankful for. On the other hand, maybe examination fees need to be paid, or there are plans to buy an asbestos roof for the house being built, or someone has to be sent to see relatives.
Raising money is a fine art here. I often buy milk from my neighbours who also sell tangerines by the basket to local girls, who sell them at the township to bus passengers and others. In fact another neighbour came over yesterday to borrow a container for peanut butter she was grinding to sell in Gweru when she goes there to visit her family.
Given all this entrepreneurial activity, it is disappointing to see how most rural development promoters have not acknowledged the skills which local people use to make money. Their blindness is all the more evident because they spend so much of their time talking about appropriate technology and grassroots initiatives. But their ideas of appropriateness are closely tied in to Western ideas: they believe everything should be done on a huge scale, planned by those who will not do the work and are divorced from African village life. Families brew beer, and indeed district councils build huge beer-halls to raise funds for road construction, but as far as I know there has been no promotion of beer-brewing co-operatives!
Instead rural Zimbabwe is dotted with unwieldy and uneconomic co-operative projects relying on expensive inputs, transport and large, reliable markets.
On its own, small-scale production will not eradicate poverty or hunger but rural development programmes must begin to take more account of people's existing skills and resources if they are to help prevent these evils. Small projects and co-operatives will be successful if they find local forms of expression, as has happened so exuberantly to Christianity.