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new internationalist
issue 242 - April 1993

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]

Blood wanted
Cover of the NI Issue 241 At last! With the March issue (Paradox in paradise NI 241) New Internationalist seemed willing to focus on a success story instead of the usual guilt-inducing fare of hunger, war, misery and inequality. Better still, the entire magazine was in full colour.

I was particularly interested in the vastly superior status of women in Kerala compared with those in other parts of the developing world. So I turned eagerly to the article entitled ‘Respect and respectability’ – only to find it focused almost entirely on highly educated women complaining about the poor status of women!

Why did you not focus on ordinary, uneducated women? Is it because you could not find them in Kerala – and if so does that not speak volumes about how good things really are?

I’m sorry but I couldn’t help feeling that there was an element of whingeing here. Is there no limit to the demands of feminist women, either in the North or the South? What more do they want? Blood?

J Bowen
Stratford, UK

Helping girls
Your article ‘Maids of all work’ (Girls NI 240) by Judith Ennew showed the desperation of young girls caught in a vicious circle of poverty. I can hardly imagine what it must be like to be caught in an existence which offers no hope for a way out.

Ms Ennew’s article really does bring home the shocking facts. But although it showed that there are people working to give the girls hope and understanding, it left this reader feeling powerless.

What can I do? Could you please give me information about the Passage House and suggest other ways in which these girls can be helped?

Luisa Osborne
Plymouth, UK

Editor: How about supporting or joining one of the campaigning organizations listed in the Action section of NI 240? For more information about the Passage House contact Womankind, 122 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7PT.

Christ the adulterer
Having lived in Pakistan for about eight years, during the course of my Islamic theological training there, I can only endorse the truth of social and religious discrimination against Christians described in the Letter from Lahore in NI 239.

It would have been better still if connections had been made with other forms of discrimination along the lines of gender, class, caste and race. For example, the fairer Goan Christians are not subject to the same discrimination as the darker- skinned Punjabi Christians.

However the Letter’s allegation that the Muslim priests or maulvis said that Jesus was ‘not a prophet, but an adulterer’ is incredible. Anyone remotely acquainted with Islam and Muslim society will know that the question of Jesus’ prophethood and holiness is basic to Muslim belief and universally accepted. This comment would not come from an illiterate villager – let alone a maulvi.

Maulvi Farid Esack
Birmingham, UK.

Culture cure
Thanks, NI, for the education you are giving me – and us. I am of mixed Angolan and white South African parentage and only since leaving school have I seen how much of the history of the world I was denied. I feel very alienated when I see and experience the daily repercussions of that history in racial discrimination. But at black consciousness meetings I have found people coming together with knowledge and experience and becoming re-educated and empowered. These black community movements are a wonderful example of how misinformation can be dismantled by young individuals – not only through books and facts but also through culture and entertainment.

With NI turning to full colour I think this would make a wonderful topic for an issue. Ours is a rich growing culture which – like a scientific culture – can help cure the world’s diseases.

Sister Thardiwe
London, UK

Naive softie?
I support NI as a magazine that tries to expose myths, but I get so morose reading about injustice, waste and cruelty. Sometimes I have to force myself to read all the articles, like an act of penance.

Is it not possible to lighten up a little and focus occasionally on the positive, progressive and encouraging developments in the world? Or am I being a naive softie?

Peter Stevenson
Reading, UK

cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Hard words
Your Hard Work issue (NI 239) was visually compelling but intellectually unchallenging. The real story, which you only lightly touched on, is the psychological aspect of work – how it shapes our beliefs and the way we see ourselves and others.

David Blais
Ottawa, Canada

UN-backed barbarism
When a British soldier was recently killed in Bosnia, it was said that a murder charge would be brought if the killer could be found. Israel has had no difficulty in avenging murders – often with multiples of countermurders and destruction.

Would it therefore be reasonable for the families of the two women receptionists killed at the Al Rashid Hotel in Baghdad to seek so-called ‘justice?’ Perhaps they could bring civilian charges, if they were able to trust the US judges. Or perhaps, ‘Tel Aviv’ style, they could simply kill anyone who belongs to the United Nations.

These gross acts of barbarism committed by the US, Britain and France could never be construed as legal or moral and there is no evidence to show that they have the support of world opinion. When will the UN have to account to a properly constituted authority – instead of being accountable only to its economic pay-masters?

Philip Barker
Redlynch, UK.

Happy gullibility
Robert Jones’ letter headed ‘Garbage trailblazer’ (Letters NI 239) in which he sanctimoniously claimed to produce only two kilos of rubbish a year made me blazing angry until I realized it was a put-on and that the town address he gave, WhataWhata, was not in the Australian postcode directory.

Those who see recycling as the total answer to the problems of population and environment do come up with some bizarre inanities, ranging from ‘recycling toilet paper’ – which I actually heard on a talk-back show – to an engineer’s suggestion that we recycle ‘the backwashings from the municipal water treatment plant filters’.

It reminds me of a man whose garden was almost entirely taken up with a colossal water storage tank – although he lived in a heavy rainfall region. He let the house while on an extended holiday and returned to find a brick in his toilet flush tank.

Sensible recycling is just that – sensible. It is not the answer to our problems – despite media attempts to keep the gullible happy.

Lloyd Smith
Mullumbimby, Australia

Map omissions
Your Peters projection map of the World aims to correct the usual distorted world maps.

But why then is the independent state of Tibet, invaded by the Chinese in 1959, included in the People’s Republic of China? Tibet is named on the map – but then so is Manchester!

It seems to me that the map has little value if it cannot represent individual countries fairly and with due thought to the aspirations of the people there. And what about Kurdistan and Palestine? These too deserve representation on a politically correct map.

Gareth Taylor
Manchester, UK

Editor: We are passing on your comments to Arno Peters, the creator of the map. The idea of a ‘politically correct’ map which takes account of the regions you mention and presents the world not just as it currently is but also as we think it should be is an interesting one which we will be considering.

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

Letter from Lagos

Splashing out on the breadline
How can ordinary Pakistanis afford their lavish celebrations?
By giving banks a miss, Maria del Nevo discovers.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY Pakistan has one of the lowest savings rates in the world. According to a Lahore banker, less than one per cent of the population – known as the ‘elite’ – control banking, while less than eight per cent of the middle class use it. This leaves over 90 per cent who find the system virtually inaccessible.

Saving in the banks is generally unpopular because of zakat, which is an obligatory charitable donation of 2.5 per cent against a Muslim person’s total wealth. Saving at home is difficult because, with the average family ranging from six to eight people, consumption tends to outweigh the average wage and any money kept at home more often than not gets spent on various household expenses.

So from where do the majority of Pakistanis get the money to pay for the lavish weddings, dowries, birth celebrations and funerals which are so integral to their culture? The answer is through ‘the committee’, an indigenous saving system that goes back long before Europeans brought their banking system to the sub-Continent. And today it continues to operate effectively, with the complete confidence of those using it.

Any member of a community can start a committee and there are nearly always several running at one time, each for different sums depending on how much the members need. The committee can, therefore, go on for years. For example, if a family needs a sofa set, then they will join a committee which is set at something like Rs 2,000. Every month they will pay Rs 250 and a ballot determines which month each family receives the total amount. Every member continues making their monthly payments until the committee ends.

The ballot is not always final – if one family needs the money earlier then there can always be an agreement to swap with another member. And special provisions are made for anyone getting married.

‘I didn’t have to take part in the ballot,’ says Azhar, a 28-year-old computer technician who got married recently. ‘I just continued to pay the monthly sum and then a little while before my marriage date was set I informed the committee and received the money.’

Azhar is planning to join another committee once his wedding expenses are paid off – this time to buy a house. ‘We need a separate place now because once my five younger brothers get married we won’t all be able to live in these four rooms.’

Azhar and his family, like the many thousands of families in Pakistan, have total faith in the system. ‘Committees have really improved our standard of living. Before we used them we only had our father’s salary and a very tight budget. We had to borrow money from relatives when a wedding came along or when there were extra educational costs to be met. There were a lot of problems and worries about paying it all back.’

Joining a committee is the only way the average person can feel confident about saving and meeting huge expenses. ‘When you keep savings at home the money eventually gets spent,’ says Azhar. ‘When it’s in the bank, you can easily draw it out. But when it’s in a committee run by the neighbourhood then it’s safe. By joining committees you can start planning. Like our family has done.’

But with Pakistan’s widespread corruption and poverty, I couldn’t help wondering about the safety of committees; of the risk of someone getting paid the full amount early on, running off with the money and never paying it back.

‘No,’ says Azhar, shaking his head. ‘That has never happened to us. Committees are run within localities or with close relatives and friends. Everyone knows beforehand what the other earns. In this way, we are assured that each member will be able to pay up on time every month. You have to know the people well, you have to trust them.’

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

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