issue 224 - October 1991
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We in United Nations Association warmly welcome the close link which has been forged between the International Broadcasting Trust – of which we are a member – and the NI over the issue of refugees and asylum-seekers (The dispossessed NI 223).
May I plead that we all campaign vigorously to secure a real commitment by our governments to support just, humane and progressive policies towards refugees, displaced people and asylum-seekers. The 1992 Single European Act looks certain to move official policies against the interests of such people. And if this is allowed to happen, not only will a reversal be harder, but governments will be even less likely to adequately support the United Nations’s High Commission for Refugees, which offers refugees such unique protection. These, surely, are attitudes which no NI reader can sit down and take passively?
Malcolm Harper, Director
United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,
The chronology of disasters (Assailed by the Cyclone NI 222) omitted the 200,000 East Timorese people murdered by the Indonesian army between 1975 and 1979. The reason for the omission must be that the US government publication used withheld the facts. The US and Indonesian governments are staunch allies.
Your article on famine in Africa (Assailed by the Cyclone NI 222) contains an error typical of your reporting on Malawi. We have not suffered ‘internal chaos from civil war’ since the slave raids of the 19th century. Neither the pre-independence disturbances in 1958 nor the cabinet crisis in 1965 would fit that description.
In the same article your idea that a controlled press fosters famine gives the press far more influence than it has. Real news travels very efficiently by word of mouth. And the controlled press is not so much a result of the desire to limit knowledge or to squash dissent as it is of a deep-seated cultural reluctance to discuss unpleasant truths publicly, especially when outsiders are present.
The helpfulness of the recent issue (Assailed by the cyclone NI 222) was marred by the unnecessarily grisly front cover depicting a litter of corpses. While tragedy and death is a sad fact of life which we ignore all too often, such scenes should be relegated to an inner page. I prefer my young children not to stare at dead bodies over breakfast and do not think my enthusiasm for NI is best served by needing to hide the magazine.
I must congratulate Anuradha Vittachi; she may not have found anything helpful to do about all these disasters, but by golly she’s found a way of feeling ever so much more comfortable about it (Assailed by the cyclone NI 222).
I know it’s unforgivably ‘end-gaining’ of me, but I have this strange desire to do something practical to help.
Anuradha Vittachi’s piece – Our Boys, Our Toys (Bang, bang you’re dead NI 221) – ploddingly details all the clichés and banalities of US attitude towards and involvement in the Gulf war. It then meanders into a rambling sexist diatribe that reads more like a dykes’ charter than an original and rational debate on the arms trade. Sorry I’m white and male; pardon me for breathing.
Nether Headon, UK
NI readers responded with several creative solutions to the question of who murdered the illustrious tax consultant Professor Stanislaus Rakowski in the June issue Taxed to Death: the Great Revenue Robbery (NI 220). Thanks to all who joined in the hunt. The grand winner of a two-year sub to NI is Jan Tagart of the Cook Islands. Here is Jan’s solution:
Immediately I saw it: the murderer was a left-wing activist, concerned that Radowski’s proposals would improve the social environment sufficiently to postpone the Revolution yet again.
Roger Bowles was the man. He had the oppressed background. He consorted with French anarchists and probably heard the rumbling of tumbrels in his sleep – if he slept.
And yet… It was too obvious somehow, and not his style. French anarchists – or Liverpudlian Commu-nists for that matter – don’t push people off balconies. Bombs, yes. Balconies no. Compulsory high-jump merchants belong to the Mafia, or the CIA – cold, hard men with ruthless, gimlet eyes.
I searched through the mugshots again, looking for gimlet eyes, and lighted on two pairs: Per Johanssen and Chester Stone. Either of these would make a more ideologically-satisfying criminal. ‘We don’t like lobbyists,’ period. ‘And we despise lily-livered, middle-aged, work-within-the-system civil servants.’
Chester I eliminated after a moment’s thought. How could somebody who LOOKS like a member of the CIA actually be in it? Wouldn’t they have insisted that he changed his haircut? That left Per, and the motive seemed thin.
Murder because of misunderstandings I don’t like. It lacks dramatic integrity. And yet… I looked again. Those eyes. It HAD to be the Swede. I searched his resumé for a clue, and then it hit me, like a pancake, smack in the face. His name, of course. Per Johanssen. Why had I had trouble getting it right? Swedes pronounce ‘J’ like ‘Y’: Per Yorhansen: per your hands then: by YOUR hands then. I was the murderer! The trail had led to me, the Gumshoe himself. Who would gain most by solving this murder? Me, of course. I could write a book about it and solve my tax problems forever.
I flipped to the front of the mag and looked at the Editor’s portrait. Gimlet eyes peered back at me. Here was the culprit, right in front of my nose. Right up my nose, in fact.
I sat back and lit a Camel, tossing my flip-top Ronson over my shoulder like a match. Now I could relax. I had solved the crime and the criminal certainly wasn’t going to get away.
And yet… my brow furrowed in uncharacteristic puzzlement. Something was not quite right… I crossed my legs and took a deep drag, thinking hard…
In your edition Bang bang you’re dead (NI 221) the articles by Anuradha Vittachi and Cynthia Enloe together with Joan Cavanagh’s poem highlighted the role of men in armed oppression. Whether viewed historically or contemporarily there is absolutely no point in trying to contradict this linkage.
The time is long overdue for us as men to examine and redefine the gender roles and stereotypes by which society has socialized and oppressed us, and which we have unfortunately almost completely internalised. ‘Masculine’ and ‘male’ does not have to mean ‘macho’, which carries an image and expectations that, I believe, oppress men even as they oppress others.
If there are other men who, irrespective of sexuality, also feel the need to explore masculinity and what it means to be male with the objective of bringing about change in the oppressive status quo, I would like to hear from them.
Letters to Tony Land can be sent c/o New Internationalist, Oxford. They will be forwarded.
I am both charmed and appalled by your editorial style. On the continent of Europe left-wing publishing has always caused endless theoretical and sectarian dispute, which makes your matter-of-fact and what-you-can-do approach refreshing to me. However your issues, though generally well-informed, usually conclude with a half-a-dozen simplistic recipes for change – if not childish vulgarities. When I finish reading them and see the T-shirt adverts on the back cover, I cannot help wondering if you are really serious thinkers and activists or just a bunch of well-intentioned Band Aid supporters.
João Paulo Monterio
|The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist|
The time trap
Mari Marcel Thekaekara wonders what we
could learn from the deadline-free existence
of the tribal people she works with.
A delightful old Simon and Garfunkel lyric popped into my head recently: ‘Time it was and what a time it was, it was a time of innocence…’ It came back to me when Roopa, a young doctor working on the project that my husband and I run for tribal peoples, remarked: ‘Whenever I go to the villages I realize we are working with two time frames. Ours, where we are always in a tearing hurry, and the tribal time zone where everyone has all the time in the world.
It always requires a mental switch to adapt to the tribal concept of time. Without it you get irritated, completely fed up. With it your whole perspective alters. You realize how enjoyable life can be when you give yourself time to stand and stare. Of course this is not conducive to meeting deadlines or hectic work schedules. But it is good for building relationships with people. It is also useful for picking up pointers about the tribals’ lifestyle – which for outsiders is not always understandable.
For two years we lived on a farm run by tribal people. The farm manager used to go berserk because people simply did not turn up at eight o’clock in the morning when they were supposed to clock in. Later we realized that their unpunctuality was due to a simple fact which did not occur to the manager – or to us. None of them owned a watch. They were gauging time by the sun. So during the monsoon and in winter when the nights were longer, people assumed that it was not yet eight o’clock because it looked earlier.
Likewise, people rarely work the mandatory six-day week demanded by tea estates, despite the wages being the highest in the area. We were bewildered by this at first, until an anthropologist pointed out that the tribals were adhering to the food-gathering patterns of their ancestors. The pattern? To forage for food from the forest and when they had found enough, to relax until the next hunter-gathering trip was necessary.
Non-tribal neighbours condemn this attitude towards life and consider the tribals to be lazy. Yet if more sophisticated urbanites suggest that a short-day week is necessary to relieve stress, they are not dismissed as shiftless or feckless. Neither are the people who clock into work on the dot – and then waste government time and money with innumerable extended coffee-lunch-tea breaks, gossip sessions or radio cricket commentaries.
I don’t want to romanticize the tribals’ life-style. Yet it did work well before the outside world caught up with them. The forest provided most of their limited needs. The unhurried pace of life was gentle.
Today there are still a few unspoilt tribal villages in the heart of vast tracts of forest land. Entering them is always an enchanting experience. There is a quality of timelessness and tranquillity which it is impossible to convey. Quickly you feel the strains and stresses of your normal work day falling away. The air is cleaner, fresher. Unpolluted. And so is the atmosphere.
But now, with the twenty-first century creeping up on them, cutting the earth beneath their feet, felling the giant trees that provided them with their protective, giving environment, any tribal who wants to survive has to compromise. There is no choice.
Probably the hippies had the same experience in the 1960s. The break with established systems was utopian – a necessary and wonderful experience which enabled them to stand back and observe a lifestyle they had rejected. But when you need the establishment and its systems to survive, in the end you are forced to work with it.
Try to change it. Try your hardest. And make sure you never give up.
But you can’t live in a prehistoric time zone, no matter how wonderful the experience. The reality of ordinary living brings one down to earth with a resounding bang. I think the trick is to keep a perspective … always.
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.