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new internationalist
issue 321 - March 2000

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]

Sticky fingers
Cover of the NI Issue 319 on Weather. The issue on Weather (NI 319) is a timely reminder that we cannot go on indefinitely squandering the planet’s resources and polluting the atmosphere.

In 1720 the South Sea Company’s speculative mania ended in disaster. It was called the South Sea Bubble. Now we have a Pan-American Balloon which is being steadily inflated and which we call the global market.

Unlike the South Sea Bubble the forthcoming disaster will not be purely economic in its effects. Ecological and environmental catastrophe may well ensue unless we elect politicians brave enough to face up to these unpalatable facts and prepared to tackle the monstrous power of a relatively minute number of super-rich business people whose primary thoughts are on ever-expanding world trade and ever-increasing profits for themselves.

A genetically modified money system might help. It would spend itself more evenly around the world and all forms of money would be supplied with a special salve which would prevent those with sticky fingers holding on to more than their fair share.

I won’t live to see it as I am 88 but I can still dream of a better future.

FA Beal
Cardiff, Wales

Aceh’s problem
Your issue on Indonesia (NI 318) failed to convey the core of the problem in Aceh: the massive human-rights violations that have been the lot of the people of Aceh throughout the 1990s and the utter failure of the Jakarta authorities to bring to court the members of the security forces who are known to have been responsible.

This is what lies behind the growing alienation of the Acehnese people from Jakarta and the strength of the movement now calling for a referendum. This led on 8 November 1999 to a mass pro-referendum rally attended by at least a quarter of a million people, a quarter of Aceh’s population. And it should be stressed that this was organized by a coalition of non-governmental organizations, not by GAM, the armed movement.

Everything we have heard and read from our partner organizations in Aceh shows that the tens of thousands of Acehnese fleeing their villages and now congregated in many mosques and school buildings deserted their homes out of fear of military operations under taken by units of the Indonesian army or police. Your correspondent’s article, based almost entirely on a visit to a single refugee camp, failed to provide your readers with a comprehensive account of what has been going on in Aceh for more than a decade.

This is all the more unfortunate at the present moment when Aceh has become one of the major political issues confronting Indonesia’s Government. The people of Aceh need the support and solidarity of the international community as never before. I fear that your article will have done little to help.

Carmel Budiardjo
Tapol Indonesian human rights campaign,
Thornton Heath, England

Grow not rant
As a professional agrologist and a certified organic farmer in a world with an ever dwindling farm population (of their own volition in the Northern hemisphere) producing high quality, inexpensive food for a burgeoning world population, I am angry to hear M Harrison’s inadequately informed, over-simplification of an incredibly complex situation (‘LettersNI 318). If I respond in kind to the question ‘Why do the world’s farmers not raise fewer cattle and grow more soybeans instead?’ Simple. M Harrison and millions like them would rather rant than grow.

I invite M Harrison and anyone who agrees with him/ her to come and work on our farm as a manual labourer for a season. We will gladly accept all help preparing, planting, hand-weeding and tending our certified organic small acreage.

We will even help plant one acre of soybeans to explain why we don’t cultivate all our land. We will also offer practical instruction in topics including labour management, crop rotation, pest control, soil management and biodiversity .

Andrea Gunner
Armstrong, Canada

Surplus value
In my country, Brazil, ‘bananas price’ is an expression to say that something is very cheap. What a surprise then to discover that this fruit is at the core of the social-political destruction of an entire country, Guatemala (NI 317). In a discussion about the implementation of the MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment) with MP George Foulkes, I asked him if the Agreement would affect the fact that the producers in Southern countries usually receive the smallest percentage of the final prices of their products, no matter if this production represents most of the work related to that product (unfair-trade). The answer was obviously no.

I wonder if the unwillingness to change this situation is generally shared by the population of the Northern countries and if this is so, how much it has to do with ignorance of the facts involved. How influential can the NI be in terms of suggesting or even producing a TV documentary on the subject, for instance? Or you could use ‘The Facts’ in every issue involving such economic relations to show more detailed information on profits.

André Andrade
Glasgow, Scotland

For more information on bananas, see the Update section of this issue or the NI’s website (www.newint.org). Next month’s NI is on Fair trade.

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

HIV awareness
UK Prime Minister Blair addressed Commonwealth Governments in late 1999 to raise the importance of HIV. But HIV is with us all, all the year round, all across the world. Worldwide there are more than 33 million people with HIV. Most do not have access to clean water, adequate housing or basic healthcare. Many children live in households with HIV where whole generations are being wiped out by starvation and war. We need to redirect resources, so that there is a basic level of economic, environmental and health infrastructure in the developing countries, which could then enable us to begin to build specific care for people with HIV, including children.

A contribution to world vaccine research is welcome, but Britain’s Government is still failing people with HIV. Asylum-seekers with HIV should not be deported to countries which cannot afford to treat them. And people fleeing from war or starvation may still find themselves ostracized and penniless, seeking asylum while benefits are removed.

John Nicholson
London, England

Lame Duck
I fully endorse the letter from Mr Podmore (‘LettersNI 314) where he expresses his concern about the Blair Doctrine of ‘Doubtful Sincerity’ which is based upon expediency and the national interests of the North. The United Nations is a lame duck, fledged by US/UK at times crucial to them. The UN Declaration of Human Rights which envisages a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone is not practised.

Twelve million people in Kashmir have been incarcerated within ‘ lines of control’ akin to walls of a prison for over 50 years! (No international borders for them). The wardens of this prison are the malevolent, hostile military forces practising genocide and dehumanization of the inmates, women and men, old and young.

Where is the Blair Doctrine in Kashmir? Is it the sale of jets? Is it the control of Indian waters against China and Russia or is it because India has allowed McDonalds’ burgers into their country? We must not accept institutions or ideas simply because they have been hallowed by custom or authority.

Dr Majid

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

Letter from Lebanon

Entering the American zone
Reem Haddad reports on the fast-food takeover of Beirut.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN Until 18 months ago, the cliff-top restaurant Nasr was the king of the coast. Its many customers ate succulent kebabs and fish while watching the waves of the Mediterranean crash against the rocks below. Now it has been taken over by TGI Friday (Thank Goodness it’s Friday) – serving good ol’ hamburgers. Across the street, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Baskin Robbins vie with Hardees to attract junk-food eaters.

The opening of McDonald’s this year with its valet parking and planned 12 branches nationwide has been heralded by teenagers as the ‘coming of civilization’. And no other city in the world can boast two Hard Rock Cafés – one American and one Canadian. After all, who wants to go to the cinema without first stopping at Mrs Fields’ cookie stand? (I can’t believe it’s not Ben and Jerry’s). Bar hoppers can get a thrill at Henry J Bean’s, Planet Hollywood and Sports Café. And just in case customers forget they are entering the American zone, waiters in many of the shops speak only English and entertain their charges by dancing to the music of ‘Greased Lightning’.

As older Lebanese look on doubtfully at the invaders, teenagers and those in their early twenties seem to be having a ball.

‘Finally,’ one girl said to me, ‘we can live like normal people.’

I nodded. A few years ago, I admit that I was just as happy when I heard an American chain was opening up and just as amused to have Lebanese waiters take my orders in English.

In time, however, Henry J Bean’s has lost its appeal.

The long-established, cluttered watering-hole that is Chez André, tucked out of sight off bustling Hamra street, seems much more comfortable, although it’s just a long bar with some old chairs strewn around. The corners are dominated by old timers carefully observing who’s entering or leaving. Most are well into their fifties. Some are poets, some are journalists and others are politicians – airing their views to whoever will listen.

Starbucks Café may be nice and dandy, but I prefer sipping my tea – made with real mint – at Kahwit Rawda on the seafront. Surrounded by trees and shabby tables, I can allow my thoughts to drift as I stare at the open sea. On Sundays, families take advantage of the open-air area, one of the few in Beirut, to let their children romp around.

My parents tell me that the city once had many such places. This is the only one left and rumors are already circulating that a businessman is trying to purchase it to develop the land.

But nobody could ever convince François Bassil to sell his little restaurant. Set among a cluster of old buildings on Gemaizeh Street, the restaurant was opened in 1967 and to this day serves the same homemade dishes – a different one each day. The room barely fits 30 people and all have a full view of Bassil as he prepares his mouth-watering food. For the equivalent of about seven dollars, customers can expect a delicious meal. Bassil’s son Charbel knows each and every customer by name and makes a point of memorizing the names of newcomers, whom he welcomes courteously in his white apron.

Just a few days ago, Charbel recognized a Frenchman he hadn’t seen in three years. The Frenchman looked rather overwhelmed after the affectionate greeting.

‘Once I meet somebody, I never forget him,’ Charbel told me as he served rice and chicken. No drumsticks, however. He knows that I don’t like them and takes the personal initiative of serving me only white meat.

Le Chef – as it is called – has managed to attract the foreign community in the country who also see it as a chance to mix with the locals.

‘We’re “cheffing” today,’ say my British colleagues at work as they make their way towards Charbel’s embrace.

The Bassil family is keenly aware of the popularity of their little restaurant. The ‘Americanization’ of Beirut has not affected them.

‘We’re the only typical Beirut restaurant left in the city,’ says Charbel proudly. ‘A lot of people like the old ways and don’t want to change so they come to us. We have no plans to change.’

All I can say is that it’s a pity we can’t bid Burger King goodbye and welcome in another Le Chef.

Reem Haddad is a reporter for the Daily Star in Beirut.

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