new internationalist
issue 239 - January 1993

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
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : [email protected]

Hard lesson
Cover of the NI issue 238 God knows, when you're staring the situation in Somalia straight in the face it's hard not to flinch and find a sudden excuse to find out what films you're reviewing this month. But I thought you did a pretty good job of finding enough hope to set against the horror in your issue on The Horn of Africa (NI 238).

I find the Eritrean and Tigrayan struggles inspiring for what they have achieved against all odds and for the way they seem to be avoiding the old traps set for revolutionary victors. But what is the lesson we're supposed to learn from their success? Should disenfranchised minorities all over Africa be taking up arms as they did to assert their own independence? Surely that will only create more of the conflict and famine you describe?

Lisa Erhardt
Leuwen, Belgium

No more fantasy
Please do not do any more paranormal issues (Magical Mystery Tour NI 237). The normal ones are quite good enough for me.

Photographs of materializations have been shown to be fakes. Ghosts have never been detected by proper scientific equipment. Levitation always happened some time in the past. Apparent confirmation of astrology could be due to the operation of other factors, not the stars, but the weather and/or food eaten at particular times of the year. The NI will come into disrepute if it publishes, as the November issue does in the centre spread, fact and fantasy side by side.

By the way, if Nina Silver experiences the universe as a loving force there is work for her to do with (male) soldiers in Bosnia and Somalia. They hardly seem to experience it as such.

Allan Tuffin
London, UK

Sexism not Satan
I found your issue on the paranormal (NI 237) very interesting and open-minded. I do agree with Susan Blackmore that the paranormal might be normal after all.

Satanism indeed! My unbelief in Satan (an Anti-God) as real cost me my first girlfriend long ago! Evil and sin are another matter to do with power, sexism and racism; nothing to do with a Mr or Ms Satan.

All this makes me lateral think: when Jesus said that he was fed up with his contempo raries, did he mean that he was fed up with playing the 'Paranormal Wiz Kid'or 'Miracle Worker'.

Rev Cesar Guidi
Cowley Road Methodist Church,
Oxford, UK

Evolution evidence
Your issue on the paranormal (Magical Mystery Tour NI 237) demonstrates confusion, scepticism and gullibility in roughly equal measures.

The true test for paranormal 'powers' like telepathy, telekinesis, levitation, precognition and so on is not, as Richard Broughton suggests in his article, elaborate doubleblind trials which produce results only marginally above statistical chance, but whether there is any historical or archaeological evidence for them. If these attributes had existed, they would have conferred an evolutionary advantage on their possessors which would have enabled them to out-compete everyone else and thereby ensure that the entire human species would long since have become telepathic and telekinetic too.

But it is not - which clearly suggests that the paranormal is not genuine, but rubbish, wish-fulfilment and self-delusion.

Joseph Nicholas
London, UK

photo by VIV QUILLIN

White lies
Your Country Profile on South Africa (NI 237) falls rather below your usual standards. It should have mentioned that the 'focal point' of apartheid, the racist 'homelands', still exists. Your section on culture gives the impression that whites settled first whereas the Zulus and their nguni ancestors had been settled for several centuries before the whites arrived. Such facts are vital, for it is by grossly falsifying them that the white regime has for 30 years tried to justify apartheid, as well as those fake 'homelands'.

Len Clarke
Uxbridge, UK

One vote each but...
Your Country Profile on South Africa (NI 237) should be commended because it gives a healthy indication of the complex nature of the situation South Africa faces in the post-apartheid era.

A centralizing unitary state will be unable to absorb the many contradictory social strains and tensions currently emerging in South Africa. Only a federally based diffuse structure of government, centred upon one person one vote, can provide the checks and balances and safety valves which are such a necessity to ensure that a future South Africa is not only democratic, but proves that no one group can ever exploit another again.

Marc Gordon
International Freedom Foundation,
London, UK

Outlawed gay
Speaking as a gay male I suggest that Eric Stockton (Letters NI 236) keeps his ideas to himself and allows nature to take her/his course. He/she has done quite well so far! Homosexuality is still illegal in Tanzania so please omit my name if you publish this.

Name withheld

Catholic convert
I read your issue on Population (Sex, lies and global survival NI 235) with considerable unease. Not many years ago I was a fervent Catholic who spoke and wrote against artificial birth control. I have a conscience now about many of my actions then. I am still a Catholic (of sorts) but a very critical one, and most critical of the Church's stance on birth control. To me, the murder of children on the streets of Rio de Janeiro is a direct consequence of the Church's teaching.

The land will not support increasing population; the surplus moves to the cities; the cities expand over the land leaving even less land to support the increasing population. Your issue does not face up to this problem.

Frank Dineen
Eaaex, UK

Garbage trailblazer
Population is a problem - it is not the only problem and not (yet) the biggest problem, but it is a problem. That other concerns - social and economic justice for all peoples, for example - exist and must be dealt with does not negate the importance of stabilizing the earth's population at or near (preferably below!) the current level.

On the other hand Anuradha Vittachi (Letters NI 235) is clearly right that people in the North consume far too much and produce far too much waste. In the course of reading her articles I became curious about the precise amount of my own rubbish production. I find that in two-and-a-half years I have produced less than two kilograms of rubbish - a level I have maintained for most of my adult life. I can't help thinking that almost everyone else could do the same. I am appalled at the number of activists who 'can't be bothered' to recycle.

Robert Jones
Whatawhata, Auatralia

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

Letter from Lagos

A faith apart
Christians in Pakistan have always had the dirtiest jobs but now they
feel under physical threat too, according to Maria del Nevo.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY Bhansa, Mahana and Mangal sit on a dry patch of grass in the shade of a tree. All three men bear the name Masih, which denotes their faith - it means 'Christian'. They are talking about work when I join them, probably a frequent topic of discussion given that they depend on occasional day labouring. 'You even have to pay bribes to do government-paid sweeping now - up to 20,000 rupees ($750)!' says Mangal. 'If we had that kind of money we wouldn't have to sweep, we could start a business.'

Their tales of woe are familiar, common to the majority of Christians in Pakistan. These people work as bonded labourers on the brick kilns, live in isolated clusters of villages where they toil on the land, or, like these men, are packed into urban ghettos where they can only expect jobs as sweepers or sanitation workers.

A crowd gradually forms around us under the tree. I have come to talk to them about another threat to their well-being. Last year the Federal Shariat Court, Pakistan's highest Islamic legal body, amended the blasphemy laws and promised the death penalty for anyone found guilty of speaking out against Islam or the Holy Prophet.

Besides encouraging Muslims to report a Christian who has insulted the Prophet, the Court's decision has also given free rein to fanatics who are deluded into believing that by killing a member of a minority group they are fighting some kind of holy war. There have already been horrifying repercussions.

Earlier this year Naimat Ahmer, a teacher and Punjabi poet, was stabbed to death in his office in Faisalabad by a 16-year-old youth, who confessed that he killed Naimat following a poster campaign alleging that the poet had spoken against the Prophet. The youth was arrested- but not before his action had been openly praised by religious leaders.

An independent investigation by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, however, later revealed that the accusation of blasphemy had been used by local Muslims to oust Naimat from his school because he was a Christian. In July another man died under mysterious circumstances in Lahore Prison where he awaited sentencing for having converted to Christianity. No official investigations into his death have been pursued.

Bhansa, Mangal and Mahana tense a little when I turn the conversation to the topic of Islam and the blasphemy laws. 'There's a Muslim colony just over there,' says Mahana in a lowered voice, glancing over his shoulder. 'There's never really been any trouble but we can expect it now.' They talk with a tone of foreboding, although they shake their heads when I ask if they have heard of the murder of Naimat Ahmer.

Later that day I visit Padre Samuel and the local community council president, David Paul - two of the few formally educated people in the Christian colonies. 'Muslims and Christians can live side by side,' Padre Samuel tells me, 'we have done so peacefully for many years.

So where does the trouble come from? 'From the mosques,' he says. 'The maulvis (priests) preach over their loudspeakers, saying that Jesus was not a prophet but an adulterer. They shout about the infidel West and in doing so try and work up a fever of hatred against Christianity and Christian people.'

'Education is the only answer for Muslims too,' says David Paul. 'Most of them don't trust the maulvis themselves. It's only the uneducated who will be affected by the propaganda.'

There is a note of urgency in his words. In the past the maulvis' preaching has merely added to Christians' humiliation. Now, with the changes to the blasphemy laws, the danger is more acute.

'We've set up literacy classes,' Padre Samuel tells me. 'That's important because while our people remain ignorant they remain defenceless. They must be aware of laws which directly affect them.' I sit in on one such class in which women of all ages and both faiths are learning to read together. My spirits lift - but only a little. After all there are only 30 women here. I think about the saying that there is strength in numbers and about Naimat Ahmer who was savagely murdered because he had the audacity to work outside his own community.

'This is the only way,' Padre Samuel says beside me, as if reading my mind. 'It will be our only strength. If we retaliate in any other way then there will be a mass bloody slaughter.'

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

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