issue 165 - November 1986
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I read with great interest Anuradha Vittachi's article Help the parent free the child (NI 164). It should of course have read 'Help the mother free the child' because we know that throughout the world women have the major responsibility for children. Women also have little access to the wealth that might keep their children, or to the centres of power which make vital decisions affecting them.
The depressing fact is that women are as poor and as powerless in Britain as they are throughout the rest of the world. Our family structures are changing faster than in many other countries but the trends are moving in the same direction. Wherever women begin to claim a better deal, a dislocation of traditional family life takes place. In Britain we now have nearly one million one-parent families, and of these million parents over 90 per cent are women. The majority of them survive on welfare benefits at around or below the poverty level. The chances for their children are not encouraging,
Women have to join the ranks of the decision-makers if those who run our institutions are to adapt to the new realities and to change their approach. Currently the fundamentalist moralisers want to punish women and children living outside the popular myth of the family (now only one household in 20). If they win their crusade, it will be a disaster. You are to be congratulated for so eloquently putting the case for change.
National Council for One Parent Families,
Chris Brazier's response to the US bombing of Libya (NI 163) perfectly expressed my own feelings on that morning. I was in New Zealand on the eve of returning home after a year away when the news filtered through. I was shocked and angry and had visions of war preventing my return. I took it personally that my native soil had been used to launch the strike. Nobody had asked if I wanted to be involved - but then nobody will ask before pressing the button on all of us.
I have long been influenced by the media to consider the USSR as aggressors and the US as the keepers of liberty. The more I hear of Reagan's sabre rattling and rejection of Gorbachev's peace talk initiatives, the more I begin to doubt what I have been told. I fear that in a 'High Noon' confrontation it will be Reagan who is too quick on the draw.
Gunning for the right
In view of NI's stated editorial purposes - printed on the inside front cover - it's not surprising that the magazine speaks so persistently and persuasively for peace. And long may it do so. Its pacifism does, however, sometimes come across as one of the knee-jerk reactions of people intent on saying the right things and being seen to be reasonable, regardless.
That's why I found Lindsey Hilsum's article on the need to take up arms against injustice so refreshing (NI 163). 'What we needed was a couple of helicopter gunships to protect the trucks': this recommendation is based on a deep understanding of the nature of right-wing terror and the only effective way of responding to it. There is still only one way to block the Contras and Renamo and Unita, and it is not by sermonizing. Those guys think nothing of cutting people's noses and ears and balls off.
I was concerned that the reference quoted by Chris Brazier (NI 163) giving locations of ongoing warfare excluded East Timor. According to Jose Ramos Horta, the UN representative of the Democratic Republic of East Timor, around 1,200 Indonesian military personnel have been killed there each year since September 1983, when Indonesian operations were stepped up. Casualties on the Timorese side include thousands of victims of intensified aerial bombardments, mass executions and continuing starvation and disease.
In the face of the tightening news embargo imposed by most sections of the Western media on the war in East Timor it is vital that NI gives publicity to the hideous crimes being committed by the terrorist government of Indonesia against the citizens of another country.
I fear that most of your readers who have not studied Computer Science are in danger of being misled by Michael Shallis's view of Artificial Intelligence (NI 162).
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is saddled with an unfortunate name which can give the false impression that its aim is the creation of an ultra intelligent machine. In fact most research in this field is carried out by socially conscious individuals who, having experienced the inhumanity of computers, are trying to redress the balance before human beings begin to resemble computers. For example, much AI research has medical applications such as the automatic analysis of X-rays, blood cells, etc.
Dept. of Computer Science,
Sheffield University, UK
Your keynote article on Terrorism (NI 161) does a grave disservice to the many anarchists who have struggled against state and right-wing terrorism for peace and social justice and the abolition of ruling elites.
Listing anarchy as an ideology supportive of terrorism is less than accurate. Only a minority of anarchists have even advocated terrorism and fewer practised it.
Auckland, Aotearoa (NZ)
The butterflies and the orchid (Endpiece, NI 162) was a moving and thought-provoking article. However, I must strongly object to the closing paragraph: 'An atheist could never understand Nicaragua'. To imply that atheists are 'prejudiced by the selfish consumerism of western society', whilst Christians are not, is unjust. Atheists must question all values in order to come to their minority viewpoint. Many of their Christian counterparts will adhere more blindly to the models around them. Not all atheists are valueless, apathetic or negative. Indeed it takes courage to be an atheist and it can be part of an extremely positive, questioning and unprejudiced attitude to life.
John Tanner's article about the return of Tigrayan famine victims to their homeland (NI 161) captures the enthusiasm felt by these people for the tasks that lie ahead of them. He ponders whether this enthusiasm can overcome lack of rain, civil war and poverty - I would say undoubtedly yes. The ability of these people to adopt new methods of farming - all embarked upon by the indigenous development agency - fills me with admiration. The very way the return home was organized on a shoestring budget, without support from the usual agencies, speaks volumes for the Tigrayans' capacity to help themselves.
But the horrifying accounts of locust swarms eating their way across vast areas of Africa in the most serious infestation for 60 years make me very apprehensive for the survival of millions throughout the continent. Tigray is not escaping the ravages of the locusts and it would seem that little help is being offered to potential victims of another famine which will surely follow.
Africans are resilient - they have to be - but why must they be on their knees before we express our concern in a concrete way?
Sex and Third World
The women's movement has helped in making us more aware that the personal is political. The way we relate to other people and the way our psychological needs and fears manifest themselves, translate into the wider political context. Aspects of the psychological make-up of an individual can be perceived in relations between countries. Industrialized countries often take advantage of and exploit Third World countries. Similarly, men with power conferred upon them by society exploit women. This begs the question - is the desire for control of and power over developing countries of a masculine nature?
In this context, I welcome NI's exploration of sexuality and human relations. Understanding our middle-class sexuality and relations with other people may help us to understand oppression as it happens in the family, in the workplace, in the bedroom, as well as in the global context.
Jane Roberts, in her letter Terrorist Thatcher (NI 163), says Britain remains here because it needs Northern Ireland as a defensive base and because of British national pride. Does the fact that elections prove that a majority of the people of Northern Ireland want to remain British not have some importance?
Ignoring realities will not solve anything or hasten the real changes in attitude and action which are necessary for an improved society here. Has Jane seriously considered the views of the majority in Northern Ireland or is she just an example of the sort of arrogance your magazine rightly deplores?
Belfast, N.Ireland, UK
We must all learn to call New Zealand by its Maori name of Aotearoa (NI 163). I'm game, but how on earth does one pronounce it? Ow-tear-oa? Ot-air-owa?
You're not the only person to ask. According to our Christchurch office we should try to make six short sounds out of the word like so: ah-oh-tay-ah-roh-ah. But though the sounds are separate they should still blend together easily. Any the wiser? All errors excused in the interests of internationalism.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Since I last wrote, I have spent two months visiting family and friends in Britain and the US. Returning to my new home reminds me of my reasons for choosing this site. Comparing my situation with my friends up north, I think: how much nicer to pick out a lovely and convenient spot to build and then design your new home, instead of poring over a newspaper worrying about mortgages and interest rates.
Besides the view, I considered practical points like: how far away is the spring? How far to the road? (could I push the bike there easily enough, or carry home a full gas bottle?) How exposed is the place to wind and lightning (a big killer in Zimbabwe)? Is the earth deep enough to dig a toilet pit? Do I have good neighbours? Will there be enough privacy? How close could the vegetable garden be?
Local people consider - before all else but the view - how visible their fields will be from the home in case of baboon raids, or straying goats and cattle. Then they think about how easily they can get water; and good grazing ground. For them the road and toilet would be less pressing needs.
In fact the kraalhead, a local leader, had suggested to me a site right beside the road where the local Methodist community were planning to build a church. Quite sheltered, overlooking the lake and close by the stream, it is a lovely spot. But living by the road has its drawbacks. Easy visibility to casual visitors makes breaks-ins more likely; it is exposed to noise from buses and lorries labouring up the steep hill; and there are constant greetings to exchange with passers-by on their ways to and from school, clinic, grinding mill, shops and beer hall. Were the church to be built, up to four times a week there would be long, riotous evenings, of preaching and singing - accompanied by rhythmic blasts of the kudu horn the beat of aerosol can shakers and many feet. Finally, a home across the road would be likely to become a favourite spot for beer parties, which can last two or three days at a time!
So it seemed a better idea on the whole, to find somewhere further from the road. The place I have chosen is flat and rocky, high above the valley where I used to live. It looks north-west to the lake, and is sheltered by a ring of trees from lightning and the prevailing south wind. (The Shona word for south means 'rot the beans', since the wind often brings late, damaging rains as it did this year).
When I showed her the place, my friendly neighbour Amai Tarisai ('Tarisai's mother') pointed to the knee-high remains of several round houses and told me and her husband had grown up on this spot. The houses had been built in the traditional way, using a ring of poles plastered with mud. Nowadays people usually build with locally moulded and fired bricks, which last much longer, especially when plastered with a mixture of mud and cement. Houses of stone are rarely built these days, though often in this area you come across a terracing wall or cattle kraal of milky grey granite blocks shaped by fire, water and hammer. These rocks are small monuments to the magnificent Zimbabwe, which was the spiritual and political centre of an ancient Shona trading empire.
No stone house for me: my bricks were moulded and fired last July. I asked the local elders and officials for permission to build. Now, only the task of finishing the building remains. And thoughts about that will fill another letter.