new internationalist
issue 232 - June 1992

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Mirror image
Cover of the NI Issue 231 I guess it's better to be a prisoner of prosperity (The Rise of Japan, NI 231) than of most other things. For all that you make Japan out to be an unattractive place for people with western sensibilities, you don't really tell us why the Japanese might be passably pleased with the outcome. If we don't like what we see of ourselves in the 'distorting mirror' of Japan then we should at least acknowledge that it is not Japan that looks bad. The distance between conformity and cohesion may be small, but perhaps we in the West no longer know how to tell the difference.

Erica Old
Wellington, Aotearoa

Self interest
In your issue on Green Justice (NI 230) it is made clear that a transfer of wealth from North to South is necessary on moral grounds. But nowhere in the magazine is it spelt out why it is necessary on grounds of survival - for rich as well as poor.

It is not enough to realize that we have an ecological debt to the South; that it is, in a sense, subsidizing our profligate consumption; or that in 1990 the net inflow from poor countries was equivalent to $80 for every individual in Britain. We need also to appeal to our self-interest. Unless we do, world development and 'green justice' will hardly rate a mention in the popular media, let alone become an election issue. And without this the golden opportunity presented by the 'peace dividend' to create a fairer world will be squandered.

David Simmonds
London, UK

We in the West run the risk of being culturally supremacist and even racist by looking at India and criticizing its practice of aborting unborn females (Updates NI 230) while in this and other western countries the same practice applies to unborn disabled children.

It is legal in this country to abort disabled babies right up to birth. The implication is that it is cheaper to abort disabled babies than to enable them to have the same rights and quality of life as others. As things are, disabled people end up having to rely on awful, patronizing charities!

Alison Browning
Leeds, UK

US abuse
Congratulations on your excellent coverage of human rights in NI 229. I have been studying the abuse of human rights in the US and Matthew Reiss's article 'Inside Prison Walls' is most enlightening. State-sanctioned executions of US prisoners have increased dramatically in recent times. The US struts the world denouncing human rights abuses in other parts of the world, but keeps very quiet about its own abuses. If any protests are made the protesters are denounced as 'do-gooders' who are interfering in internal matters. The people being executed are 'criminals' - something we also hear from China, Burma and Indonesia. We cannot stand by and allow these killings to continue. It is high time the UN stepped in to stop them.

Stephanie Wilkinson
Seven Hills, Australia

Predator and prey
In the non-human world the animals become aware of the predators and learn to defend themselves very effectively by forming organized groups. So do human beings - so far as non-human beings are concerned, but not where the predators are members of the human race. Non-human predators do not have the advantage of literacy. So they cannot do what human predators do - inject into the minds of their prey ideas which are intended to obscure the real situation. A practice in which, unfortunately for their prey, they have been very successful so far in the course of history.

Cyril Cryor-Whitehead
Milton Keynes, UK

cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Skirting Serbia
You once again skirt what used to be Yugoslavia in your Human Rights Olympics (NI 229). You awarded 'votes of censure' without mentioning that a quarter of the people of Serbia - the two million Albanians in Kosovo - have almost no political rights at all. No political parties or demonstrations are allowed, and the use of Albanian on local television and radio is illegal. This fascism extends to areas occupied by Serbia in the war: Croats remaining in occupied Baranja have to wear red arm bands.

Where are the votes of censure for the wilful destruction of over a million dwellings in Croatia, in an attempt to prevent refugees returning and thus to create ethnically 'pure' areas? What of the right of the people of my city, Zagreb, and many other towns in Croatia not to have to spend days and weeks in air-raid shelters while the bombs and rockets fall? An estimated 30,000 people have been killed in this appalling war. What of their right to life?

Marc Jeffery
Zagreb, Croatis

Wake up!
For a magazine that 'exists to focus attention on the unjust relationship between the powerful and the powerless', your award of a Bronze Medal for housing to Sri Lanka (NI 229) is not only strange but positively perverse.

Sustained government bombing raids, which began in June 1990, have destroyed 6,025 houses, 37 temples, 33 schools and several hospitals. What is more alarming about the NI award (and not one 'vote of censure') is your parroting of the aid donors' argument that aid is used for development purposes. During the 1980s military expenditure has increased from two per cent to 12 per cent of the government budget, while the percentage for health and education has been halved.

NI once remarked that in ten years time the world would realize that the massacre in Sri Lanka was comparable to the genocidal reign of Pol Pot in Cambodia. But the people of Sri Lanka cannot afford to wait ten years for the rest of the world to wake up.

Campaign Against State Terrorism in Sri Lanka (CASTIS)
Manchester, UK

Mea culpa
I was intrigued to learn from Ms Roberts (Letters NI 228) that, as a man, I am personally responsible for everything that's wrong in the world. Perhaps she could furnish me with details of what I did, who to, and where and when I did it.

Dick Bird
Ankara, Turkey

Due credit
I'd like to thank Maggie Black (NI 228) for setting the record straight regarding the founding of the Famine Relief Committees by a woman - Edith Page - in 1942. But credit is due to Oxfam for getting it right after 50 years in their Anniversary Resolution which states: 'Most poverty is man-made...'

Recognizing the problem can take us a long way to finding the solution...

Ann Gibb
Southampton, UK

A notable oversight of your Feminism issue (NI 227) was the failure to recognize that the women's liberation movement may have had its historic origins in India, and especially in Buddhist thought, rather than in Greece. Even if disputed, it is surprising that you should make hardly any reference to the extensive scholarly literature on the position of women in non-western societies. It would, indeed, be a pity if the NI were to succumb like many other publications to the obvious limitations of Eurocentric thinking, which tends to locate the origins of all knowledge in Greco-Roman thinking.

Prof DL Jayasuriya,
Perth, Australia

Is this progress?
A lady friend of mine, when faced with a decision, brightly proclaims 'I'll ask rabbit' or 'I'll ask bear'. This is something from one of the many New Age shaman gatherings. I would never dream of making fun of her or any woman who is taking one of the many paths to enlightenment. Erica Simmons, in her insulting article on the Bly-style encounter groups (NI 227) answers the question 'What will you do with your increasing feminine power?' with 'Why, grind the bastards into the dust, just like they've done to us'. This is progress?

John L Finley
Kodiak, Alaska, US

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

Letter from Lagos

The fixer
He learned his healing skills from wrestlers and he applies them to monkeys
and people alike. Maria del Nevo watches Baba Mannah at work.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY While playing in the narrow allies of Gandhi park, one of Lahore's poorer neighbourhoods, the children one day witnessed a fight between a monkey and a stray dog. The monkey was owned by a man who visited the area frequently to entertain the children with the animal's skillful tricks. But that day the children stood looking on in horror as the stray dog tore at the monkey's body with its sharp teeth.

'Take him to Babaji,' they shouted to the owner, once the dog had been scared off by the stones they threw. 'Babaji will cure him.'

So the monkey was carried off in the arms of its owner, and when Babaji saved the life of the monkey the children rejoiced. The news of Babaji's healing hands spread like wildfire.

Seventynine-year-old Baba Mannah came to Pakistan from Gurdaspur in India at Partition and stayed as a refugee in a village near the border, where he learned to fix dislocated joints from one of the older pehelwans (wrestlers) who are famous in Pakistan for their skill at fixing fractures. Baba Mannah learned fast and when he later reached Lahore he started up a practice which eventually brought him patients from far and wide.

He practices in a small room adjacent to his house where his wife, sons, daughters-in-law, daughters and grandchildren live. The room is filled with huge sacks of rice which he sells to supplement his monthly income. A charpoy (string cot) stands up against one wall and on the floor there is a disused sackcloth where he sits in his traditional dhoti, khurta and turban. Beside him a collection of jars and bottles is filled with lotions from the bark of the perhwan tree, ground linseed, cloves, jalatir (spice) and rattanjot (herb).

I crouch down in a corner and watch as Baba Mannah deftly bandages the hand of Khurshid Bibi, a school teacher. She has fallen and fractured her hand. She tells him how she is unable to make chapatti for her husband and finds it difficult to wash out heavy clothes or even write and prepare her classes. As she talks she receives sympathetic murmurs from Baba Mannah, who before finishing the treatment gives her gentle but firm instructions to rest and to try and persuade her husband to assist her by buying chapattis from the bazaar.

All day there is a stream of visitors knocking on his door: villagers from farmlands surrounding Lahore; professors from the city's colleges; business people; locals from his own neighbourhood and even women from the palatial houses of Lahore's suburbs, who crouch down in their fine silks on the sackcloth beside Baba Mannah.

They have complete confidence in his method of treatment. Many of them would never even consider going to hospitals, where waiting lists are long, treatment and prescriptions are expensive and the doctors are overworked and impersonal. 'Baba Mannah puts me at ease,' says Khurshid Bibi, 'and I trust him... The old styles are better.'

'People will always come to people like me,' says Baba Mannah with assurance, 'because our form of treatment is effective and they have faith in our techniques... Our style will never die out because we elders will pass our knowledge on to our offspring. Our treatment doesn't change with experimentation because we don't need to experiment... So the people trust us.'

As I leave Baba rests one of his strong hands on my head and recites a long blessing for my good health, safety and prosperity. He watches me walk away up the dimly lit alley of Gandhipark. Feeling wonderfully soothed by the old man's company, I understand why people still believe the old styles to be better.

Maria del Nevo is a former NI staff member who now lives and works in Lahore.

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