issue 217 - March 1991
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
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It's ironic that your issue on Vietnam (After the Storm, NI 216) should have arrived on my doorstep at a moment when all other media are concentrating on the effects of a rather more recent US-led conflict. As it was I couldn't help reading the magazine as an indirect commentary on the Gulf War, documenting as it did the damage done to a country by the US in its role as global chief of police.
The US (with Britain always poodling along behind) seems incapable of seeing that violence begets violence. Just as economic sanctions would have been the sane way to tackle Iraq your issue makes clear that an economic blockade has been infinitely more effective than warfare in winning Vietnam away from hard-line Stalinism. And if they'd offered aid to Ho Chi Minh instead of the French colonists after the Second World War, the Stalinism would never have arisen in the first place.
Human guinea pigs
It was good, if harrowing for me, to read the accounts of animal torture (Animal rights and wrongs NI 215). But it is a shame that natural medicines which have not been tested on animals were not more strongly promoted in this magazine. The link between drug companies and animal laboratories can be broken if people become aware of the availability of safe and effective alternative therapies, such as homeopathy which is tested only on human beings. Healing ourselves with natural medicines will help heal our cruelty towards animals.
How could you run a feature on animal rights (NI 215) and not include something about veganism? There can be no excuse: until May 1990, the UK Vegan Society headquarters was only a two minute walk from the NI office! Admittedly your two animal rights raiders described themselves as vegan but that's as far your coverage went.
Veganism is a life-style which seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation of animals - be it for food, clothes or any purpose. In dietary terms, it involves dispensing with all animal produce - including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, non-human animal milks, honey and their derivatives.
(General Secretary of The Vegan Society)
Christine Schaffer misses the point (Letters NI 215). I too have close male relatives - two brothers, two sons, a father and a husband - and I know they don't hate me as an individual any more than I hate them. But generally speaking men do hate women. How else could they create a patriarchal society with sexual and racial exploitation instead of developing a world where caring feminine values are more in evidence?
I disagree with George Lewis (Letters NI 215) that men are brutalized by their social role while women are protected from the harsh things of life. Many women try to share their innermost thoughts and feelings with men who are often unable to reciprocate and switch off rather than make themselves vulnerable (in male terms) by exposing their less masculine qualities. I believe our socialization process is at fault and it is up to men as well as women to challenge the system which forces us all into lonely roles. Instead of castigating women George might consider joining a men's group and encourage other men to do something positive.
Wake up, George
I do not know which privileged, protected women George Lewis (Letters NI 215) refers to unless he means those attached to wealthy white males, that is those men who seek to dominate and control the rest of us for their own profit. Surely George doesn't really think women are unaffected by war? Bombs and nuclear fallout take no account of gender.
Indeed women have also taken an active part in conflict and continue to do so in Palestine, Africa and South America. On the domestic front they also face childbirth, domestic drudgery, rape, wife-battering and poverty. Often they raise families alone. Protected? Come on George, wake up.
Celia Kitzinger's letter (Letters NI 215) attacking episiotomy operations made me see red. As a female doctor training in obstetrics and gynaecology, I would like to know the significance of episiotomy being the only operation not done with a scalpel? How else do you cut through a distended perineum without incising the baby's head? Of course a first degree tear heals better than episiotomy as Kitzinger points out. But I have seen normal labours without episiotomy where the whole back wall of the vagina has practically gone. It is not acceptable to let women bleed to death, somehow the mother has to be stitched up. That may well be tight as a virgin but not through choice. Having babies can mutilate women s bodies. But to blame medical practice for that is illogical.
Dr Emma Gorton
Celia Kitzinger (Why men hate women NI 212) makes hostile and unfair references to modem obstetric medicine. As a medical student doing a rotation in this field, I understand that the clumsy doctor must warm the instruments before inserting them into the vagina. Manual and instrumental examinations are minimised if there is a risk of infection. Callous doctors are not only found in obstetrics; callous people are not always doctors, and callousness is becoming visible as a female trait as women follow careers previously reserved for men.
Juan C Chirgwin
I found your review of the Karate kids (Reviews NI 214) rather disturbing in its implication that the sexual abuse of children is justifiable if a condom is used to minimize the risk of AIDS. I consider that this message is totally unacceptable. If the villain in the cartoon offered to use a condom, would he be transformed into a hero? Surely not.
Amorey Gethin (Endpiece NI 214) says that 'language puts unclean bonds on thought even before the thought has got freely going'. This anti-language thesis might be a little less unconvincing if Mr Gethin could present it without relying on language himself. When he tells us that language is a distorting, false mirror, presumably he means he has a better mirror to offer: a medium in which thought can get freely going without language's unclean bonds. Why doesn't he tell us - non-linguistically of course - what it is?
Take it easy, Mac
'Macintosh computers are called after a popular American apple,' you stated at the end of your article 'Electronic sweatshop' (The secret life of the apple NI 212). It ain't so. The Macintosh is a Canadian apple. When John Macintosh, a United Empire Loyalist, fled to Canada in 1797, he settled on a farm in Upper Canada (now Ontario) and there found 20 apple trees that bore extraordinary fruit. From these few came the apples that bear his name and are now a popular variety throughout North America. New Internationalist is good, but a bit of nationalism is in order occasionally.
It was interesting being on the receiving end of your opinions and prejudice in the issue on Fundamentalism (NI 210) Until now I thought of myself as a normal, free-thinking, caring, intelligent Christian person. My mistake it seems, was to personally experience the love and fellowship of God the Father and Christ his Son, and worst of all, the power of the Holy Spirit. I should have known that it was only a figment of my psychological insecurity, as it is with the other 1,230 million people who are also Christians. But I mustn't joke, because Christians don't have fun - that's their biggest problem. Do you have something against balanced reporting? Or are you afraid of finding a truth that you can't handle?
Wellington, Aotearoa (NZ)
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
My sympathy for Saddam
President Bush and the allied forces in the Gulf War claim to represent
the world. Yet many people in the Third World resent the US more than Saddam
Hussein. Mari Marcel Thekaekara offers a view from the Indian hills.
JANUARY 17 1990. Today the bombs fell on Baghdad. It wasn't a surprise really but we were all stunned just the same. Everyone expected deep down inside that somehow sanity would prevail even at the eleventh hour. After all, hadn't we arrived at 1991 in spite of everything?
The BBC interviewed a Western journalist who echoed the sentiments of many Indians. Sure Saddam Hussein needed to be kicked in the pants. But who the hell was Bush to do it? Bunched around a radio, we listened to Bush's monotone on why Kuwait 'had' to be liberated. America's duty to 'mankind'. 'The sheer hypocrisy makes me want to throw up!' I yelled in disbelief and disgust.
'You're surprised?' a friend asked. 'Americans are the most hypocritical race on God's earth, you know.' 'They're not the only ones though,' someone else put in. 'All politicians are the same. The Americans are more powerful and can do these things but probably if Saddam Hussein or Gaddafy had the power that Bush has they'd be ten times worse.'
I thought about that a lot. And about my irrational sympathy for Saddam Hussein. Nobody could support his takeover of Kuwait. Nor his evil genius in continuing to kill his compatriots in an eight-year war with Iran. Still, the image that emerges in these parts is of a plucky little guy (albeit a madman) standing up to Uncle Sam's might. And everyone wishes him luck. There were jokes all around about Uncle Sam being Saddamized. And there's unsuppressed glee at the thought. It was the same with Gaddafy. Though the stories about him made your insides churn, when Rambo struck there was the same wave of irrational sympathy.
This sympathy has nothing to do with Saddam's being an Arab. Asians by and large do not love their Arab employers. This is probably due to the fact that in spite of the lucrative (by Asian standards) wages earned in the Gulf there is rampant exploitation of Asian labour - as a workforce they are treated like dirt, as worse than second-class citizens. There is an atmosphere almost of apartheid where white professionals doing the same jobs as Asians are paid three to four times as much - the rationale being that whites are used to a higher standard of living in their countries.
So Asians don't adore Arabs - and anyway there are Arabs on both sides of this war. But there's an all-pervasive anger at the high-handedness of powerful countries which makes people glad that there are Saddam Husseins and Gaddafys to try and put up a fight.
Although people equate arrogance with power the Soviets and Chinese get away with their Lithuanias and Tibets largely because no one expects any better of them. This is ironically due to the Western world's highly successful campaign against Communism. The Americans succeeded like no-one else in telling the world that the Russians and Chinese were the bad guys and you don't expect bad guys to reform. So when they attack Lithuania or Tibet, people shrug their shoulders in disgust but don't really expect anything else.
But the question remains: how come the Americans didn't bomb Russia or China or Israel? Good guys just have to be right. Fair play. Justice. Democracy. Aren't these American catchwords after all?
The more important word in the end, it seems, is oil. Something which has always amazed me is the blatant about-face which the Western media produced when Arab countries struck oil. When I was a child deserts were all about Arabian nights, Lawrence of Arabia, wonderful, exciting, adventurous places. As a teenager I remember reading good old Mills and Boons where there were dashing Arabs in flowing robes, exciting souks, the smells of spices, oases, snow-white English virgins rescued by sunburnt Arabs (who had to be half-English to civilize them but it was the barbaric half which made them exciting).
Then came the oil boom. Arabs hit the headlines. Harrods and the Dorchester were bought up. Nowhere was sacrosanct any more: the Arabs had arrived. Suddenly the dashing Bedouins turned into filthy lechers, corrupters of young boys, ravishers of innocent blondes.
Okay, I too have seen decadent Arabs in the Kuwait Hilton and Dubai Sheraton with beautiful blondes slobbering all over them for a price. And I've thought them dirty beasts. But that just leaves me confused. Hasn't there been another Western media switch? Aren't these oil-richest of all Arabs the self-same plucky little Kuwaitis the US is now so eager to defend? Is it for this handful of people that Bush has bombed Baghdad? He should at least know that the worldwide consensus he claims to represent does not extend to this corner of India.
God help the parents who will weep for their children.
Mari Marcel Thekaekara has been working for the last seven years on a project she and her husband started for native people in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.