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Fortress Europe
Cover of the NI issue 283 You were courageous to have dedicated an issue (Field of Dreams NI 283) to the plight of refugees when Fortress Europe is building ever strong-er walls to protect its luxurious and peaceful cities from the few refugees that may reach its shores.

Many of us have seen the emanation of very restrictive immigration laws. These mainly affect the welfare of refugees who by necessity rather than choice have sought refuge and asylum in the civilized economically developed countries which claim to be observers of basic human rights. How about an issue on the situation of refugees in Europe?

Mohammed M Ali
Bromley, England

Prison writing
Your issue on Criminal Justice (NI 282) was excellent, identifying that the more materially advanced countries of the West and North have little reason to feel complacent about their penal policies. Here in Britain our government has chosen to emulate the most punitive aspects of the North American system, accepting ever higher costs for more prisons, whilst cutting back on education, health and social welfare.

Your short directory of the ‘Prison Press’ could not possibly include all the excellent prison-based writing in circulation, but mention should be made of ‘Prison Writing’, a high-calibre British publication with international contributions. For example, the most recent issue contained poems by Ken Saro-Wiwa and Javier Tuanama Valera, a journalist detained in Peru for alleged terrorism. More information from PO Box 478, Sheffield, S3 8YX.

Laura Kerr
Sheffield, England

Invisible islands
I was surprised to find Richard Dawkins’ River Out of Eden (Classic’ NI 283) presented as the only alternative to the religious Right’s creationism. It is no more that than Reagan-Thatcher-Gingrich are the only alternative to creationism. Dawkins is using his imaginary battle with the creationists to slander his real foes – biologists who are developing a new, less mechanistic understanding of life. The real world is both messier and more creative than Dawkins suggests. Organisms are just as physical as machines, but unlike them, are capable of regeneration and reproduction.

Contrary to Darwin and Dawkins, evolution comes less in gradual adaptation and selection than in bursts known as ‘Punctuation Equilibrium’. The emergence of complex intelligent creatures (elephants, whales, humans) is less the outcome of struggle and competition than a by-product of other processes such as increasing size and prolonged childhood. We are neither inevitable nor purely accidental.

The difference makes a difference. Recognizing that evolution consists less of ‘invisible hands’ than ‘invisible islands’ means developing a model of political ecology vital to an alternative approach to our political and social problems.

David Keppel
Essex, Connecticut, US

Imperfect science
Len Clarke (Letters NI 283) appears to believe that the natural extinction of species disproves the existence of a loving God, whilst conveniently overlooking the inclusion of (for instance) the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah within the Bible. Religion has never claimed that the Lord does not destroy.

Similarly, his comparison of ‘solid’ science with ‘unproven creeds’ is not without fault. Not only does he forget that science is unable to provide perfect and unchanging explanations for everything, but he also ignores the historical evidence which reinforces the Bible story.

Religion is not exactly a leap in the dark; Einstein said the thumb alone convinced him of God’s existence. In any case, the fact that you cannot ‘prove’ God’s existence does not disprove it; if Mr Clarke does not believe me perhaps he should try to prove to others that he is alive – it is not actually possible.

Calum Proctor
Glasgow, Scotland

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Children in prison
Here in Honduras, the Constitution prohibits children being jailed together with adult prisoners in the same cells. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child does too. But it doesn’t seem to matter – the judges do it anyway.

Over the past 18 months, hundreds of boys – some as young as ten – have been raped, tortured and murdered by other male prisoners and prison authorities as they are warehoused with hardened adult criminals. Despite Casa Alianza (see NI 276 on Homelessness) having taken the State of Honduras to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights there are still dozens of children in jail.

The Honduran authorities have threatened to shut us down. We continue to fight. NI readers are supposed to be activists, so please help us. Write a polite, short letter to President Reine, Casa Presidencial, Teguci-galpa, Honduras or e-mail [email protected] and ask why they are making their children suffer so. And please, send me a copy.

If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.

Bruce Harris
Casa Alianza, Honduras
( www.casa.alianza.org )

Beyond Beijing
Thank you for the positive review of our video Beyond Beijing (NI 282). Readers might like to know that our contact number is (44) 171 737 6824 and not the one printed in the reviews. They might also like to know that a Spanish version is now complete and is available in both PAL and NTSC formats.

Shirini Heerah
Producer, Beyond Beijing
London, England

Zapatista violence
In an issue (Join the Resistance! NI 279) filled with inspiring stories of people around the world who have united in non-violent response to oppressive and corrupt ‘powers-that-be’, how could you include the Zapatistas (EZLN)?

While the Zapatistas fight against scourges that destroy human dignity they are a force that took up arms as the only solution to the woes lived on a daily basis in Mexico. They have always been an autocratic organization that has disparaged those indigenous community leaders and citizens in Chiapas who opted for the peaceful path. They are feared by the populace. They co-opted 35 years of peaceful, non-violent and creative work of solidarity and initiative led by Bishop Samuel Ruiz.

Violence begets violence. The institutional violence of a system that disparages its population begets the violence of rebel groups which in turn begets more violence and repression from various sectors of society.

Civil society in Mexico is beginning to reap the fruits of work begun in earnest after the massacre of students in Tlatelolco in October of 1968. Let the gathering force and moral weight of these organizations and networks work peacefully to bring about a just democracy and a society more attendant to the needs and desires of its members.

Please don’t raise up on pedestals the short-sighted responses to the ills of society.

Jim Petkiewicz
Maryknoll, Oaxaca, Mexico

Cathy Majtenyi (‘In your face’ in Criminal Justice NI 282) works for the Nation in Nairobi and not the Nairobi Herald. (Note: the online edition of Issue 282 has been corrected.)

Readers Survey Thank you!
We sent out a readers’ survey to a randomly selected group of readers. We have had a fantastic response – thanks to all who replied. Both the statistics from the forms and your individual comments will help us to fashion the magazine over the coming year.

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

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L E T T E R [image, unknown] F R O M [image, unknown] R U S S I A

Strange justice
It should have been an easy matter for Olivia Ward to pursue her suit against Sergei Grachev,
the driver who broke her bones in a car accident last year (see NI 276).
But she finds herself faced with an unexpected moral dilemma…

It was seven in the morning when the electric-shock buzz of the doorbell drilled into my weary eardrums. In front of the door stood a small elderly woman with a plastic bag. From it she drew a slip of paper, and with the satisfied grin of a hit-man who hashit his target, slapped it into my hand and disappeared.

‘You are summoned for an interview with the District Prosecutor,’ I read sleepily. ‘You must report under the law.’

What had I done? Visions of Cold-War style KGB journalist intimidation swam through my head.

The prosecutor’s chief investigator, a plump jolly young man, set my mind at rest.

‘You remember Sergei Grachev?’ he asked. ‘The man who injured you in the car accident last winter?’

My heart sank. While numerous vors – kingpins of Russian crime – kicked up their heels in the city’s most expensive nightclubs, the Moscow police were tireless in their quest to bring this faceless felon to justice.

It was, no doubt, ridiculous that I was so keen to close the case. After all, Grachev’s wild manoeuvres on an icy Moscow thoroughfare had left me with several broken bones and a mangled corpse of a car last winter.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN

Shortly after the crash, the traffic police told me that Grachev would not be charged unless I brought a suit against him. But as the pain disappeared and my anger faded, so did my desire for retribution.

What was the point of trying to wring a few roubles out of a penniless (and now jobless) deliveryman? A tidy sum to ease my recuperation in a sunny Tuscan retreat would have been welcome. But this was too little and too late.

For months it seemed that the police had forgotten the incident, one of thousands of near-fatal crashes they deal with each year. But surprisingly, the long arm of the law reached out to Grachev.

‘What you have to understand,’ said the investigator, lighting yet another cigarette, ‘is that if you don’t testify in court, he’ll go to jail’.

‘If I don’t testify against him?’

‘Exactly. The judge will say that there are no financial claims against him so he’ll have to be punished behind bars.’

Reeling from this strange information, I could barely smile at the irony.

‘Of course it’s up to you,’ said the investigator, with a shrug that dismissed the eccentric squeamishness of liberal Westerners.

Back in my office I consulted an ominous report that had been sitting on my desk for a week. ‘Crime, Criminal Policy and Prison Facilities in the Soviet Union,’ made queasy reading, and I had put it aside for a time when my stomach was feeling particularly strong.

Now I thumbed through pages detailing outrageously overcrowded, lice-infested, airless and evil-smelling dungeons where prisoners routinely asphyxiated, went mad or caught debilitating and fatal diseases. Some survived only to die after their release.

The verdict was in. A stretch in a Russian jail was a potential death sentence. Far too extreme for the feckless but not monstrous Sergei Grachev.

As luck would have it, my summons to court arrived dated one week after my annual holiday was to begin. Already packing for the trip, I was seized by a new bout of trepidation. What if they barred me from leaving the country until the trial was over?

‘Don’t worry,’ the judge’s clerk told me. ‘If you just write a letter confirming your statement to the investigator, everything will be fine.’

‘And Grachev?’

‘He’ll go to jail.’

I groaned. The thought of any human being condemned to a living hell, even indirectly because of me, was too much. Could I enjoy my holiday haute cuisine when this wretched man was picking cockroaches out of his gruel?

Cursing Grachev, not for the first time, I sat down to write.

‘This man may have had my death on his conscience. But I was lucky enough to survive. Now I refuse to have his death on mine.’

Returning to Moscow a month later, I called the court. Was my clemency plea taken into account?

‘Definitely,’ said the clerk. ‘Grachev was let off with a small fine. It was entirely due to your letter, which was very unusual.’

I felt a moment of sharp relief. But outside the window, winter clouds were gathering. Soon there would be ice on the roads.

Olivia Ward is bureau chief for the Toronto Star in Moscow.

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Issue 285 Contents
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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996

New Internationalist issue 285 magazine cover This article is from the November 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
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