issue 211 - September 1990
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I was disappointed that your latest issue (Fundamentalism NI 210) did not defend Salman Rushdie. It is outrageous that he should fear for his life because a group of extremists disagree with ideas he has expressed in a book. Whether or not you agree with his ideas is irrelevant: he has the right to express them. Free speech is our main defence against fundamentalism because it means the right to ask questions, to explore new ideas to value diversity.
Yet even in the West our freedom to speak our minds is being eroded by constraints on the press, legalized phone-tapping etc. Freedom is not a gift, but a prize that must he fought for. And free speech can only be won if we constantly, collectively and publicly assert our right to it. For this reason we all have an obligation to defend Salman Rushdie. And I am surprised to find that the NI is not in the front line.
Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
July's edition (NI 209) carried an advertisement for a magazine called The Adventurers travelling the World independently, which made me feel extremely uncomfortable. 'We don't only bring you the personal stories of British adventurers, we bring you tales of France, Spain, Germany or Italy,' says the publicity. It makes 'tempting offers' like a cash discount or a free bush jacket. so that 'for a few pounds a year you can become part of the adventurous crowd'. 'This,' they say, 'is a far better way to relax than lying on your back and roasting on the beach.' Is it'? The impression I get is of a Eurocentric view which sees the world's people as potential 'exotica' for an elite to exploit.
Newtown, Devon, UK
David Gibson's letter (Letters NI 209) stating that nuclear power is the only practical and safe solution to the energy crisis is blatant misinformation. Nuclear power - already demonstrated as unclean, unsafe and inefficient - is still publicized as a viable energy source only because it keeps political and economic power centralized in the hands of a few and makes a lot of money for them. It is inextricably linked to the sick military-industrial complex.
And what are we to do with the lethal wastes it produces? I urge interested readers to look at Fritjof Capra's book The Turning Point. This shows that the technology already exists to supply the world with safe, renewable energy. But it will not be used unless enough people become aware of this fact.
Thank you for printing Naomi Roberts' article about her experience of being a volunteer (Endpiece NI 209). Although my experience in the Maldives during 1984 and 1985 was different, many of her comments struck a chord. For me the positive aspect of VSO was that it raised my consciousness and made me realise that the problems of the Third World are situated in the First World. Learning this at first hand was extremely painful and left me feeling very negative about myself. Perhaps the way to view it is that the real contribution we make is not so much what we do overseas, but what we subsequently do at home or abroad?
Newbury Park, UK
I enjoyed reading your issue on The fear of madness (NI 209) and applaud your attempt to confront this fear which lies at the heart of social life. Madness is the potential we all possess for breaking through rigid barriers of conformity that make us suppress our emotions and harm our well-being. It can provide deep insights into life and be a powerful force for healing by releasing blocked energy. We don't need to eliminate it so much, as to integrate it into ourselves, instead of walling it off in our minds or in mental hospitals. The more we are able to accept madness as a creative part of ourselves, the less extreme its expression.
On reading your issue about madness I learned that NI has reached the same conclusions as I have about mental illness but I didn't get much further in finding out about psychosis (Fear of madness NI 209). Every time it was mentioned the writer said. 'for example schizophrenia' or 'like schizophrenia'. know schizophrenia is a psychosis but what else is? Also nobody seems quite sure what schizophrenia is - except it is a psychosis. All I can determine is that when you feel desperate but are still keeping your head together you can said to be neurotic: hut when distress engulfs you utterly you are probably psychotic.
St Leonards-On-Sea, LK
Burden of guilt
In his article Guns, idiots and screams George Ayittey condemns African elites for destroying Africa (Africa in the 1990s, NI 208). But the faults he accuses them of are just as prevalent in the West. What multinational gives a percentage of its profits to peasants? How many Western millionaires distribute their wealth equitably? And who is to blame for the deaths of 800,000 people in Uganda - Idi Amin or the Western arms producers who made their fortunes selling him guns'? The guilt is ours. For the Idi Amins of Africa were trained in our Western military academies. And our entire lives are founded on the immense benefits which the West has accrued from unfair trading with Africa over the years.
I was disappointed that your issue on Africa in the 1990s (NI 208) did not mention the Western Saharans who have been struggling since 1975 to liberate their country from colonial occupation by Morocco. The indigenous population of Western Sahara - the Saharawi - are either in exile or living under a vicious colonial regime. With the winds of change blowing in the southern part of the African continent is it not time that the conflict in Western Sahara started to attract some attention?
I was appalled to learn that in your view (Reviews NI 207), racism directed at middle class, professional people is somehow more shameful and disgraceful than racism directed against ordinary people who may be a different colour and from a different class
This 'selective racism' accords ill beside your claimed solidarity with the Third World few of whose people belong to the class that NI staffers obviously feel more comfortable among.
We must stop relying on large-scale systems - particularly agricultural ones - to alleviate the earth's ills. Instead we should emphasise small-scale, decentralized ventures - like growing food in and around buildings. Buildings can be heat traps, windbreaks, trellises and so on. A totally new approach towards organizing society is to integrate dwellings, plants, animals, financial and legal systems so that power becomes decentralized and is once more in the hands of the people.
Jude and Michael Fanton
(The Seed Savers' Trust)
For years I waited for your Country Profiles to include Australia, UK, US, France, Spain and the USSR to name but a few. Now I notice that you are updating those countries you have already covered. Is this because you have somehow managed to draw an imaginary line between so-called 'developed' and 'developing' countries? Or is it really because to include them would betray, to your readers, the meaninglessness of trying to profile their own countries? For instance, how would you hide the enormous difference between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in the 'At a Glance' section for Australia? What photograph would you use to depict Australian people? You put the rest of the world in the 'too hard basket' and continue to build on our stereotypes of countries we are not too familiar with.
Ed: We debated whether to profile readers' countries but decided against it: the purpose of the section was always to give readers a thumbnail sketch of Third world countries they might otherwise never read about. We could never offer more than a glimpse in such a short space but would certainly hope to challenge stereotypes.
I was disappointed that How to turn down the heat (NI 206) did not mention the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth. Wales, where a variety of wind- and solar-powered energy systems are on display.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Pills and politics
Susanna Rance explains why botched
abortions beat birth control in Bolivia.
Been to the birth-control clinic lately? Most Bolivians would think you were mad if you have. In 1968 The Blood of the Condor, a film by Bolivian director Sanjines, dramatized reports of indigenous women being forcibly sterilized. Since then 'birth control' has been associated with coercive programmes aimed at cutting the population's birth rate. Churchpeople and left-wingers insist that the country needs a bigger population and that contraception is irrelevant to most people.
The notion of voluntary family planning has only recently come into vogue and few people have information about it, let alone access to modern contraceptive methods. However, curiosity on the matter is growing. Questions like 'How old are you?', 'Are you married?' and 'Have you got children?' are often followed these days by 'Why not?' or 'What do you do to stop having more kids?'
My 20-year-old niece, Esperanza. is the eldest of six children, brought up in a traditional mould. 'My mother was worried when I started going out with my first boyfriend.' says Esperanza. 'But she never told me why. "Just you be careful, now..." was the only advice she ever gave me.
Esperanza, herself born when her mother was single, now struggles to work, study and bring up a three-year-old daughter on her own. 'My friends and I all wanted to be mothers some day,' she told me, 'and we heard that the Pill could cause all kinds of problems. Anyway we were too embarrassed to see a doctor about that sort of thing. Natural methods sounded better to us, but we weren't too successful with them...'
While fear and rumour still surround the idea of contraception, Bolivian women have the highest birth rate in Latin America, with six children as the national average. But times are changing. Nowadays, urban women are choosing to have one child less than their counterparts did a decade ago. In the city of La Paz. four kids are now the norm, compared with eight in isolated rural Pando. With no national family-planning programme yet in existence, how do they manage it'?
The answer lies mainly in backstreet abortion, which is an increasingly common way of limiting family size. In a recent survey half the women interviewed admitted to having terminated at least one pregnancy. 'One of my friends got pregnant three times,' remembers Esperanza. 'We used to go with her to the doctor's and take her home afterwards... she was really depressed. But we never gave a thought to how she could have avoided the situation... we just took it as a matter of course.' The cheaper the operation, the higher the cost to health: half of the country's gynaecological wards are occupied by patients suffering the consequences of botched abortions.
'We started to get more and more women coming to us who'd had their health damaged that way,' recalls Rosalia Castro, a community nurse I talked to in the mining town of Potosi. 'We got so many cases that we started offering sex education and then both men and women asked for family-planning services. We were a bit nervous about providing contraception as there's been so much trouble about it in the past. But in the end we couldn't just shut our eyes to the need for it.'
Many people claim abortion is just an urban problem but traditional healer Juliana Poma told me of her experiences in the rural communities where she collects medicinal plants and dispenses herbal remedies: 'When I see women who've had lots of children,' she says, ' I advise them, 'You should take care, your body is getting worn out". But they just cover their faces and giggle, they don't want to listen. Then they mess themselves up taking really strong infusions or going to doctors who get rid of their babies with injections and things like that.
'They get infections and then they come to me and say, 'I'm bleeding, it won't stop, what shall I do?' t tell them, 'You should take care beforehand, not afterwards. Sometimes they can't even walk. Some of them do it because they have too many children. Others don't want any kids at all. That's how it goes... Then there are women who can't get pregnant. Their husbands say, "What's the point of me working'? Why should I live with you'? If we can't have kids we might as well separate.' It's a real shame. That's not the kind of problem that should be allowed to spoil people's lives - having kids or not having them.'
Susanna Rance has lived and worked in Bolivia for several years.