new internationalist
issue 226 - December 1991

The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : [email protected]

Feeding the few
Cover of the NI Issue 225 Your magazine on Food (NI 225) was an interesting way to introduce some of the people and issues behind world food. But I found it lacked punch over the issue of vegetarianism.

True the 'main meal' and foods in the magazine were not meat. But surely the only answer to the world's food problems lies in a rejection of meat and the wasteful, cruel, environmentally damaging intensive-farming methods in the West - now increasingly being exported to developing countries.

About 90 per cent of the protein available in plant food is lost when it is converted to meat. Globally, over half of all crops grown are used as animal fodder, and one quarter of the world's fish catch is eaten by domestic animals.

Since we in the West eat far more than people in developing countries and have a range of alternative foods and the money to buy them, we should stop eating meat now.

Jane Ashworth
Crewe, UK

Legalize drugs
I have for a long time thought that drugs should be legalized and rendered cheap and easily available (The Crazy War on Drugs NI 224). I read nothing in your magazine to persuade me otherwise. The advantages would be: there would be no major profits to be made from drugs, and therefore no incentives for organized drug trafficking and associated crimes; addicts could maintain their habits cheaply and would therefore have no reason to commit crimes; the glamour of addiction would vanish; and the vast expense of trying to eradicate and control the 'problem' would be saved.

Drugs would be sold by a government agency at knock-down prices with no restriction to anyone. And that alone would probably be a bigger discouragement to users than any number of police 'swoops' and 'crackdowns'.

Mr PA Evans
Newnham, UK

I was released from prison two weeks ago as a result of pressure from Amnesty International. And I owe a debt of gratitude to you and everyone who stands up for people like me.

Thank you for your valuable help; your magazine teaches me everything. I'll never forget that there are always people who try to help others.

Mashrouhi Dahbi
Mellah, Morocco

Meat greedy
I was pleased to see T Bussey's letter (Letters NI 223) expressing disappointment that NI promote and sell a non-vegetarian cook book. NI is acting irresponsibly by condoning meat-eating among affluent people who do not need meat, especially when it has been cruelly and unsustainably factory-farmed. Surely such meat-eating runs counter to the values NI aspires to?

Rob Preston
Nottingham, UK

Neglected refugees
I am concerned that The Dispossessed (NI 223) makes no mention of the Cambodians. Their situation is in many respects a microcosm of the whole refugee scenario, with a combination of human rights abuses, lack of democracy and socio-economic factors which produced and continue to fuel the dual reality of people locked in camps, and an embargo which undermines Cambodia's capacity to develop.

The erosion of human rights of refugees on the Thai-Cambodian border is both cynical and repulsive. And while refugees are still held in closed camps, facing the danger of being forcibly relocated, Khmer Rouge leaders are now scheduled to fly back to Phnom Phenh within the next few months.

Norah Niland
Dublin, Ireland

Clean slate
With reference to the letter from Martyn Rogers (Letters NI 223) I am pleased to report that Volkswagen AG and its subsidiaries, Audi AG and Seat, are not involved in the manufacture of trucks used for towing cruise missiles.

These vehicles are produced by MAN AG, an entirely separate company from Volkswagen AG, which is based in Munich. Although Volkswagen does supply some components to MAN AG, these are for the smallest vehicle in the MAN range, which has no military applications. The largest vehicle in the Volkswagen commercial vehicle range is a five-ton parcel van.

Edward Rowe
Audi Public Relations Manager,
VAG UK, Mifton Keynes, UK

illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Missed out
Congratulations on your issue on The Dispossessed (NI 223). My only criticism is that the Council for Education in World Citizenship is not included in your list of campaigning organizations. We provide speakers for meetings, have local groups, support schools and teachers, have a library and produce many publications on refugees. Our address is: Seymour Mews House, Seymour Mews, London W1H 9PE.

Patricia Rogers
Head of the Council for Education in World Citizenship,
London, UK

Invisible women
This month's edition of NI (The Dispossessed NI 223) leaves the mists of invisibility continuing to swirl around women, even though Change has done much to publicize the particular problems facing half the world's refugees: women.

In 1985 we published, with the World University Service, Shaming the World: the needs of women refugees by Lucy Bonnerjea, complete with recommendations for further action with a vital amendment to the UN definition of refugee status to include persecution on the grounds of gender. Change exists to make women more visible, and we need responsible magazines like NI to move on from token paragraphs on women to recognize gender perspectives on every issue.

Rachel Wilson
London, UK

Overwhelming fear
I am so disgusted with your issue The Dispossessed (NI 223). I quote: 'Most Western governments seem to be doing their best to extinguish the lamp of asylum'. I should hope so. Europe and particularly the UK are much too densely populated. A continued influx of political refugees will lead in time to such a serious break-down in law and order that nowhere on this planet will be safe to flee to. Then what will you do?

Edgar Webb
Fareham, UK

Political aid
Chris Brazier's magazine Responding to Third World Disasters (NI 222) skipped some crucial facts. Public and media interest over famine in Africa has waned because the drought-stricken countries on this continent are of little strategic interest to the West. Hence famine has taken a back seat on the West's political agenda, and Western governments use food as an economic and political tool.

Take Ethiopia, which for years received a trickle of economic aid because it had a Marxist-led regime and therefore was not considered a Western ally. Prior to the recent political upheavals there, Mengistu managed to introduce some market reforms in farming. Yet the international community offered no help.

Christian Adomako
London, UK

Intimacy needed
Anuradha Vittachi's article, The myth of compassion fatigue (NI 222) tackles an issue I have been trying to deal with for some time, both personally and professionally. The problem of giving is partly one of scale, and partly one of proximity. People 'gee-whiz' at big statistics which illustrate poverty and child mortality, without really grasping the reality. The suffering of a single child however is experienced as a tragedy.

Similarly, individuals are more likely to help someone they know personally than an anonymous person. Not fair. But true nevertheless.

Paul Wachtel
Head of Creative Services,
World Wide Fund For Nature,
Gland, Switzerland

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from India

Learning from the wisdom of sages
If the native peoples of India have such an idyllic
way of life, why do they need outsiders to help them?
Mari Marcel Thekaekara considers the issues.

photo by CLAUDE SAUVAGEOT An NI reader's complaint has been sent to me saying that I was portraying 'the classic cliché of the noble savage'. Let's be clear. My husband and I certainly are trying to promote literacy. We also try very hard not to romanticize the adivasis' or indigenous people's way of life. However we believe that an intervention through our project is necessary to prevent the adivasis in this region from being decimated.

Our work - which includes teaching local people about their land rights - is frequently attacked by those who push for 'preserving the pristine purity of primitive people'. This is a quote from a former Minister for Tribal Welfare who declared publicly that he believed adivasis should be put into reservations à la America - pretty much as a nearly extinct species ought to be preserved, to create a museum for the rest of the world to enjoy.

Another visitor was appalled because many young adivasis who worked with us were clad in jeans and sneakers. This guest was disgusted by the 'modernization' process that had taken place since her visit in 1980. Then she had revisited the adivasi hamlet she had first surveyed in 1970 and returned shaken and distraught because half the young people who ought to have been in their twenties and thirties had died - mostly of malnutrition.

Of course the adivasis must have access to education and modem amenities. But even as we try to introduce these people into twentieth century mainstream India, we recognize that the process of transition, inevitable though it is, contains all the elements of a monumental tragedy.

Had the adivasis been left undisturbed, their environment would have provided everything they needed to live comfortably. Now they are forced to change their ways, to come to terms with a lifestyle they don't even begin to comprehend. The rules are dictated by an alien culture.

Take land. The adivasis never saw the need to own land. Now an alien government decrees that people must possess pieces of paper to prove they own land they have lived on for centuries - a bit like B Traven's sailor whose very existence is questioned because he has lost his passport.

Of course adivasis must learn to read and write, but the reason behind their need for literacy is tragic; they must arm themselves with the weapons of 'civilization' which will otherwise destroy them. This happened to the American Indians in the US, to Aboriginal people in Australia and South America, and all over Asia where indigenous people are victimized.

The same process is also happening in housing. A Moolukurumba house is a beautiful piece of architecture. Made of mud, bamboo and timber it is invitingly cool during the hot summer and warm and welcoming during the winter. Yet the people are clamouring for the ugly, concrete box-like structures that the government gives them. Modernity implies status of a sort. And the grasses and timber used to build traditional dwellings are less available since forests have shrunk. In one village the juxtaposition of modem and traditional houses is startlingly jarring.

A well-constructed modem house would be a blessing for any family. But tribal people are exchanging beautiful, graceful houses for substandard monstrosities. This is tragic. Our struggle is to find viable alternatives which combine the best of both worlds. Not an easy task to be sure.

In the course of it we must take care not to adopt the role of messiahs and conclude that we have all the answers. Our challenge is to continue the questioning process and know when to learn. Especially by listening, really listening to the people. Ordinary people everywhere can display enormous elemental wisdom.

Years ago an old West Virginian farmer in the US said to me: 'If Russia dropped an atom bomb here, there'd be nothing but charred earth. Any farmer can tell you that such earth would be no darned good to anyone, man nor beast. So why do their government and ours continue making bombs? Instead they could try to feed the poor in their countries. There's a lot of poor kids in West Virginia, I can tell you.'

Old Eddie Gillenwater will never be nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. He was apologetic about his lack of education and that he couldn't 'talk fancy', as he explained to me. But statesmen and scholars could learn a thing or two from him, just as they could learn from the tribes-people. Which is the point I was trying to make in the first place.

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.

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