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new internationalist
issue 245 - July 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]

Whingeing wind
Cover of the NI Issue 244 ‘The Vienna Conference re-presents a great opportunity to wake up the world.’ ‘Keynote’, (Waking Up the World NI 244). Oh sure. If you don’t know what’s going to happen at the World Conference on Human Rights then I’ll tell you now. There will be a great deal of common sense talked (by Amnesty, among others) – but at the alternative conference which precedes the main event. The Summit itself will be full of posturing and whingeing but will produce not a single concrete result. And we’ll all feel even more depressed about the potential for change than we felt before. You can be forgiven for wanting to sound more positive but I shall reserve my own human right to remain cynical.

P Coulson
Paris, France

World Vision
I was more than a little surprised to see Peter Scott’s letter (Debt NI 243) extolling World Vision’s work in Cambodia. Maybe if World Vision had not allied themselves to the US Government’s subversive and destabilizing actions in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, but instead had spoken out against them, massive humanitarian aid would not be needed there now.

In his book, The New Radical, Jim Wallis describes how he heard Stanley Mooneyham, president of World Vision, speak of: ‘My good friend Lon Nol...leading his people in their heroic fight against communism.’ Jim Wallis then describes Lon Nol as the corrupt military dictator installed in Cambodia after the CIA-aided coup over-threw the legitimate government of Prince Sihanouk.

Hilda M Buckley
Middlesex, UK

Sadat not Nasser
No doubt your mail bag is full this month from people as disappointed as me to read so gross an error in your ‘Country Profile’ on Egypt (Debt NI 243).

It was Anwar Sadat who was assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists after his treacherous sell-out to the US and Israel. Nasser died of ‘natural causes’ in 1977 and was mourned by millions.

Thea Khamis
Durham, UK

Green intuition
Lloyd Smith (‘LettersCambodia NI 242) is right to debunk the claims and hopes of uncritical enthusiasts for re-cycling. Recycling projects have to be considered strictly on their specific merits. To turn rubbish into something useful costs energy and the result may not be a net environmental gain. Only hard science can tell you whether it’s worth it or not. ‘Green intuition’, however sincerely felt, is not a dependable guide.

Eric Stockton
Orkney, Scotland, UK

No fair comment
Warm congratulations are in order for the Cambodia issue (NI 242). The articles by John Pilger, Joan Healy and Ben Kiernan were informed, lively, lucid and thought-provoking. Not only was the writing of a high standard but the presentation of the magazine and the imaginative use of colour photographs make this, in my opinion, the best issue to date.

Chantou Boua’s criticism of the UN appears in this case to be unsubstantiated; the sending of 21,000 UN officials and soldiers does not necessarily lead to a plague of AIDS. ‘Peace in exchange for AIDS’ is not fair comment.

Andrew Mallinson

Girl Guides
We were disappointed to see no mention of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) in the Action section of your issue on Girls (NI 240).
For your information, WAGGGS is an educational organization for girls and young women, consisting of 118 national organizations and with a membership of eight million.

One of our major aims is to provide girls and young women with opportunities for self-training, responsible citizenship and service in their own and world communities. Through community, literacy, environment and health projects we also tackle many issues directly related to the status of girls and women.

Barbara Mathieson
Girl Guides Association
London, UK

cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

A disarming plea
Your issue on Cambodia (NI 242) scared me. Can we go on re-arming one side to protect itself against a more heavily armed force? Surely there must come a time when an international institution disarms the planet? A campaigning issue might get the ball rolling, but please do not promote a re-arming exercise as you did in this issue.

Walter Phipps
Cumbria, UK

A good life
With Third World incomes how can Kerala (NI 241) provide First World life-quality? As the ideological managers of 200 years of economic growth, both Marxists and Keynesians are confounded.

Our Western experience of resource plenty has entered our thought-system, our language. Efficiency is defined as performance ‘within a minimum expenditure of time and effort’. In a future world, people-plenty and resource-short, the Kerala example will necessarily dominate as it allows for a good life with a minimum expenditure of the earth’s resources. The next NI on Kerala should ask: ‘Does Kerala provide us with lessons for human survival?’ The answer will be ‘Yes’.

Can any other culture do as well in the twenty-first century? Show me.

William Alexander
Earthwatch, San Luis Obispo, US

Realism and idealism
In the ‘Updates’ section of the Kerala issue (NI 241), you published an extract of the editorial from The Nation, highly critical of the US intervention in Somalia. I assume the NI supports this view.

The NI is a very idealistic magazine, but the world is not ideal. There is no obligation for richer nations to help poorer. There is only political pressure to make governments act in accordance with the consciences of the electorate. The US had no obligation to go to the aid of the Somali people. But given the complete breakdown of law and order and the widespread use of weapons, the US was determined to do two things to make a successful humanitarian mission and to ensure the safety of US troops. Would the NI rather have no intervention or failure of the mission? Idealism has to be coupled with realism if the NI is to maintain its credibility.

AJ Heath
Lusaka, Zambia

Credit to Cuba
During three months’ voluntary work in Cuba, I found many similarities with Vanessa Baird’s impressions of Kerala (NI 241), with several important exceptions; Cuba has very little unemployment, no sectarian violence and no problems with ‘economic ladder climbing’.

Isn't it about time that the heroic struggle of the Cuban people against US imperialism was given some recognition by your magazine?

Paul Hanson
North Humberside, UK

Nameless girl
The picture on the cover of Girls (NI 240) is beautiful, priceless. It's worth a million – not 1,000 – words. So why not tell us her name? Please tell us the little girl's story.

Lloyd Wagner
Kelvington, Canada

Editor: We have contacted Magnum, the agency who supplied Steve McCurry's photograph, but they were unable to tell us any more about the girl, apart from the fact that her picture was taken in 1985 in an Afghan refugee camp on the Pakistan border.

NI on tape
I’m very grateful to have your cassettes. Thank you for putting the NI on tape. Thank you too for describing the photographs. I am able to see the big ones but I can’t see the detail, and your description was very helpful.

Leonetta Mason
Plymouth, UK

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

Letter from Lahore

Sperm on the market
Maria del Nevo reports on the frustration of being a working
mother in Pakistan – even in a progressive household.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY Nusrat and I were sitting on her bed with her two-month-old baby daughter, Umrao, who lay between us. Nusrat’s husband, Imtiaz, lounged in a chair across the room. It was early evening.

‘I’ve been sitting on this bed for two months without a break, attending to my child,’ Nusrat said. ‘This little baby needs my constant attention.’ She looked up then at her husband, who was gazing out of the window. ‘And what’s his role?’ she asked vehemently. ‘His sperm only!’ Umrao began to cry. ‘I wish,’ said Nusrat as she took the baby to her breast, ‘that I had got the sperm from the market. At least I could then say that the baby was all mine.’

Imtiaz chuckled. And so did I, simply out of pleasure at listening to such frankness, something which is quite rare between husband and wife in Pakistani society, especially in company. Such talk was in fact one of the things which had drawn me so often to Nusrat’s home, a place where I felt anything could be discussed without reservation. They had known each other for many years. Imtiaz, the former leader of the Pakistan Communist Party, had been jailed for six years during President Zia’s martial law, and he had turned to Nusrat, a psychiatrist, for treatment. A friendship developed. Non-practising Muslims, they were always known as a couple with strong progressive ideas, ideas which they tried to put into practice by not succumbing to social or family pressures.

Eventually, in their late thirties, they married, and a year later Umrao was born. Although parenthood came as a real joy, as professionals they were also finding it difficult to adjust. Both have demanding jobs, and their work has always come first. Nusrat is about to finish her two- month maternity leave from the Lahore Mental Hospital. Ever since she gave birth she has worried about her patients. In addition there is the Hamara Ghar (Our Home), a half-way house for destitute women who have been mentally ill, set up by Nusrat and which she helps run with a group of psychiatrists and social workers.

‘I can’t survive without my work,’ she said. ‘But what to do with this child? It’s so difficult to find help. I’ll probably have to leave her with my mother during the day, but she’s elderly and it’ll be difficult.’ I asked her about Hamara Ghar, where she used to spend several hours in the evenings. ‘I visited the other day,’ she said. ‘The women there need me. They need me like this baby. But when I came back Imtiaz shouted at me. He said: “Do you want to kill my child?” And I was only gone for two hours!’
‘Okay! Okay!’, said Imtiaz with a demonstrative wave of the hand. ‘I swear on my daughter’s head that I will give her her mother’s name. Satisfied?’

‘In Pakistan,’ Nusrat said, turning to me, ‘working women get no help when they have a child. We just get maternity leave. In China they have creches. Here there is no concept of such a facility. Why? Because it is not considered important. Professional women are simply not valued.’

Hospitals, Nusrat told me, regard women doctors as a waste of time. Because once they become mothers they will have to give up their work completely. And those few doctors who do manage to keep their jobs are forced to put their babies on formula milk. ‘This is why we need the support of our husbands,’ she said. ‘Besides practical help we need their emotional support. They have a good role to play. But they do nothing.’

Imtiaz had heard enough.‘No woman can be happy even if you try to fulfill all feminist demands,’ he stated with another wave of the hand. ‘Why? Because she wants to play the male role. She aspires to be a male. If she was married to a real patriarchal, feudal man, then she would realize!’

‘He has only exposed himself,’ Nusrat said condescendingly. ‘Men are all alike. In Pakistan we have a saying baccha mera khoon hai (a child is my blood).’ I asked her what this meant. ‘Pakistani men,’ explained Nusrat, ‘often don’t have a good relationship with their wives. But they develop a good relationship with their children because, they say, those children are ‘of their blood’, whereas their wives are not. So you see,’ she concluded, ‘men are all alike. Whether they are liberal or not.’

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

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