issue 221 - July 1991
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
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Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
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You confuse fiscal issues with those of income distribution (Taxed to death NI 220). Tax only goes wrong when it is used for purposes other than raising revenue for government. You rightly criticize the tax authorities when they allow companies tax breaks in order to promote certain types of growth and investment. Yet you recommend a series of tax measures that would radically redistribute income. Worse, you go on to recommend the manipulation of taxes for such purposes as environmental protection.
These are not the purposes of tax. It is just as dishonest to hide this kind of policy in the tax system as it is to use tax for the other purposes you criticize. To thinly disguise it all as a detective story just compounds the dishonesty.
Anton Gratz Calgary,
Yes, Peter Hardy, Vietnam is beautiful and yes, smiles and friendly faces will be an abiding memory of my visit (Letters NI 219). But other memories include the ceaseless toil wherever we went - like the cleaner who cycled 40 miles a day to earn a pittance - the squalid living conditions with rats everywhere, and throngs of children trying to touch us because of the superstition that touching a Westerner means that one day they too will be able to leave Vietnam and come West.
Money and material goods do not bring happiness but neither does poverty. Hanoi is poorer than Saigon but there was no evidence that people were happier. Development will inevitably have undesirable consequences - environmental problems and materialism. But how can we deny the Vietnamese a standard of living that we ourselves are not prepared to give up?
It may be hell without a hammock in the Amazon (NI 219) but you ignore the undeniable superiority of the hammock to the bed. Simple, cheap, beautiful, portable, durable, airy, hygenic, sociable, conducive to abstract thought and (for the expert) tender procreation, the hammock easily beats the bicycle as the best example of human creative genius. It could and should abolish the private tyranny of the bedroom and transform the shape of modern, urban civilization as we know it.
I will not take seriously the politics of anyone who disagrees with me.
Marian Laring's 'despair' about Third World support for Saddam's invasion of Kuwait is unfounded (Letters NI 219). People of the Third World are very aware of Saddam's ilk - see Pinochet, Pol Pot, Amin et al. But Saddam inspired support because he appeared to challenge the Northern control of resources. In the words of the Conservative Straits Times (of Malaysia) he 'burst in upon the rich man's (sic) banquet'. The support that this inspired around the Third World reflects the opposition that exists to the North's exploitation of the South.
Your Letter from Tamil Nadu (NI 219) was depressing. One does not expect to see apologies for nationalism in a magazine which calls itself 'internationalist' . Just because Mari Marcel's nationalism is grudging and reluctant does not make it any more acceptable. In fact it smacks of a rather nauseating hypocrisy which is absent from a more honest form of jingoism. Like all Indian nationalists Man Marcel endorses myths about Pakistani aggressive intentions, assumes without question that Kashmir is an integral part of India, and supports massive increases in defence expenditure when millions of Indian people are close to starvation. With friends like this, who needs enemies?
It is fitting that NI is printed in black and white since that is how subjects are presented. I am referring to the naive review of Dances with wolves (Reviews NI 218). It is just as foolish to assume that all Indians are noble and wise as it is to imagine that all US soldiers are obnoxious, cowardly rednecks. Many people think of Indians as lazy, violent, alcoholic bums. Others prefer to view them as oppressed martyrs. Indians are just people. In countering negative stereotypes with positive ones NI resorts to inverted racism. And if we are to overcome racism we must learn from the past - not re-write it.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Your comic issue Starve trek (NI 218) saddened me by abusing the image of the Buddha. To millions of people this image is holy - myself included. And much as I would like to have read the magazine, the trivialization of the Buddha was too overpowering for me to concentrate on what you had to say about starvation. I do hope you did not intend to cause offence.
Leamington Spa, UK
Judy Gahagan raises several valid points (The end of nature NI 217) but I have reservations regarding her statement that 'the seeds of ideas past, present and future from all cultures lie dormant in all of us' and can be reawakened at will to reintegrate Nature into a new cosmology for the West.
While it is true that the process of rationalization has resulted in the disenchantment of the world, it is less evident that a new cosmology which reintegrates Nature can be easily constructed through the revival of past cultures and mythology. Once cultures and myths are disenchanted they are not easily reawakened. The Nazi effort to do so in the 1930s and 40s by creating an organic community, resulted in a nightmare. While I agree with the principle of breaking away from the dry rationalism and uncontrolled materialism of modern society, we should not deceive ourselves about what is possible.
Clayton, Victoria, Canada
The great majority of our chronically ill have eaten themselves that way. In fact there are few progressive illnesses that cannot be reversed by dietary understanding and adjustment along with other life-style changes. The 'Protect yourself' Information Sheets that the Self-Health Association produces analyse worldwide researches that can be of practical use in-the home. People who have changed their diet and found definite relief are invited to send a summary to The Secretary, Self-Health Association, 30 Dalmeny Road, Bourne mouth, Dorset BH6 4BW. In this way others may be helped by self-help methods.
Dr TH Crouch
Vietnam was not 'a lesson in the failure of old-style communism', as Chris Brazier suggests (NI 216). It was a lesson in the determination that Western-style 'free-enterprise' capitalism has that no other economic system should be given a chance to succeed. Valient efforts have been and still are being made by a caring government in Vietnam to look after those most in need; and this in a hostile, grasping world and after the unprecedented ruthlessness of US aggression.
Bishop's Castle, UK
With respect to the letter by Amina Sadler (Letters NI 215) on the virtues of women in Islam, may I be permitted to say first that I am sure Colorado Springs is a nice place for Muslim women. And second I am equally sure Amina would find it different in the back streets of Calcutta or in a farming village up the Nile Delta. I hope she realizes that she is lucky to have been able to make the choice to 'convert'. Had she been a Muslim wishing to convert she would have found things a little different - except of course maybe in Colorado Springs.
Australia is experiencing a crisis in its farming industry and sheep farmers are being forced to destroy between 20 and 50 million sheep a year because of the lack of a market. With Africa entering a severe famine, this is sheer waste; the humanitarian thing would be to use the sheep to feed these people. During the 1960s in Laos while war raged, canned meat was dropped free to both the military and the huge refugee population - so it can be done.
My geography class is concerned that the Antarctic Treaty - which exists to protect the environment, maintain peace and ensure that resources are used with care in the region - is to end this year. Our class feels that no hazardous wastes should be deposited on the continent and that there should be no territorial claims made on it.
Adie Moinaei, year 10 student
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
In silence and shame
Why the written word? Mari Marcel
Thekaekara answers an old man's query.
Nestling amid the forests and rippling streams of the Nilgiri mountains of Tamil Nadu, South India, are little settlements of tribes-people. They are the Todas, the Kotas, the Irulas, the Paniyas, the Moolakurumbas, the Kattunaickens and the Bettakurumbas. They have lived here since time immemorial. Today they are termed adivasis by the Government, meaning the first settlers or original inhabitants.
The philosophy of these people has remained unchanged for centuries and is similar to those sentiments expressed by Chief Seattle when he asked the President of the United States in 1855: 'How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land, the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water?'
The tribals passed this reverence for nature down from generation to generation, from grandparent to grandchild - until various 'civilized' people entered the tribal stronghold: ruling British rajas, the Indian Government and marauding pioneers came to stay. Homelands were bought and sold over tribal peoples' heads: no-one even thought it necessary to consult them. And so they lost their land while they lived on it, just like the Red Indians in the US, the Aboriginal people of Australia and other indigenous people around the world.
On the tribal project where I work with my husband Stan, we decided to encourage the younger tribal leaders to start asking 'Why?' 'Why are we poor people, malnourished, ill? Why have we lost our lands, our forests, our pride, our culture? Why?'
We came across hundreds of cases where people had signed away their land having been misled into thinking that the paper they were signing would give them ration cards, government pensions or title deeds. Very few had documents to show possession of their lands. Their logic was simple: 'It is my land. Why do I need a piece of paper to prove it? Is my word not enough?'
Slowly we realized that the tribals were totally disinterested in learning to read.
At the time the Government and various voluntary agencies were trying to popularise a literacy drive. And we ourselves were forming work co-operatives or sangams in all the villages.
One day we held a meeting at our office to teach a group of Bettakurumba tribals how to keep the sangam accounts and write their books. Stan set up blackboard, chalk and duster. But when the group of fifty had finally settled down, he realized with a shock that only two people were literate. Hastily he put away chalk and papers and began a general discussion on the state of things in the tribal villages and tribal society.
This group of tribals lived deep in the forest and their simple way of life had remained intact for centuries, uncorrupted by outside values and standards. Gradually the discussion veered towards money and accountability. Stan tried to explain gently that many sangams had been utterly ruined because of unscrupulous leaders misappropriating official funds. This had led to chaos and the destruction of the villages concerned. The hard work of months could be destroyed by one crooked leader if the people were not vigilant. Thus he argued the case for literacy.
Mathan, an old Bettakurumba man, turned. His skin was parchment-like and weatherbeaten. He looked Stan full in the face and spoke deliberately and gently, as to a little child:
'The chief is my leader. My tribe and I have appointed him our headman. Could he have achieved this position in our society if he were dishonourable? Are we fools to elect a thief as head of our people? And is he an imbecile to throw away the honour, prestige and dignity of his Chieftainship, the respect of his people, the veneration of the young ones, for a hundred rupees?
'You attach so much to written figures. Do people lack honour in your world that the spoken word has so little importance? Why so much value, so much worship for the same words merely because they are transferred to a slip of paper?'
We could not answer him. In silence and in shame I wondered how I could convey his wisdom to our literate millions.
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.