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Click here to subscribe to the print edition. [image, unknown] New Internationalist 335[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] June 2001[image, unknown] Click here to search the mega index.


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Time for a new agenda
Cover of the NI issue 332 As well meaning as it may be, aid cannot solve the multi-layered problems of countries like Bangladesh (NI 332). First, because the aid givers have their own agenda and often decide the ‘whats’ and ‘wheres’ of a programme. Second, donor countries usually aim to institute social reforms in Third World countries within a short period of two to three years – reforms that were brought about over decades (or centuries) in their own country. And third, aid programmes often do not deal with fundamental problems such as the inequitable distribution of power, wealth and resources, the bedrock of social injustice.

It is by no means deplorable that First World governments have slashed their aid budgets. After all it is a well-known fact that at least three-fourths of the aid money goes back to the donor country via salaries of technical experts and specialist equipment (the annual wage of one technical advisor could fund the running of a 750-bed hospital in Bangladesh for at least three months). What is deplorable is that aid agencies have become the soft-approach-cultural-change agents opening the doors for economic globalization, as on the back of every aid programme arrive several businesses. What is even more deplorable is that the First World countries acquire Third World products at extremely favourable prices – products like tea, coffee, sugar and cocoa, all subsidized by the poor of the world. What people of Bangladesh and other countries of the South need is fair prices and fair wages – not charity or aid. They need scope for self-determination and self-reliance.

And yes (despite desperate conditions), there are successful examples here: the village of Panskitta, where people have combined to sustain an acceptable livelihood, community health facilities, sanitation and a strong sense of their own well-being. Or the very poor island of Hatiya, partly eroding into the Bay of Bengal, where a local NGO called Dwip Unnayan Songstha (DUS) has worked over the last 10 years to create mothers’ groups, mount health action days and grow nourishing plants.

Organizations such as these flourish on local/mutual support and are shining models of self-sustaining, ecologically aware local development, combining the best of traditional and modern initiatives. Policy-makers in Bangladesh and outside should pay heed.

Mridu Thanki
Dhaka, Bangladesh

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Kosovo and Ireland
Cover of the NI issue 333 John Pilger claimed that the Kosovo conflict was a ‘civil war not unlike that in Ireland in the 1970s’ (‘The Crusaders’, Megalomedia NI 333). It might be instructive for your readers to judge this assessment in the light of the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic made by the UN war crimes tribunal (available at www.un.org/icty/ind-e.htm).

In the background to the indictment, the tribunal states: ‘The United Nations estimates that by mid-October 1998, over 298,000 persons, roughly 15 per cent of the population, had been internally displaced within Kosovo or had left the province.’ This was before the ‘official’ war even started.

The main indictment gives details of the wholesale destruction of villages and the displacement of over a third of Kosovo’s population. Those who claim that the West’s and the Kosovar refugees’ fears were unjustified conveniently ignore the strong evidence for the Milosevic regime’s complicity in the well-documented massacres in Bosnia. I would like to know, in the light of all this, how John Pilger justifies his analogy with Ireland? Even though I agree with much of the rest of his article, I don’t think he’s a credible commentator any more; sadly the NI’s credibility is diminished too.

Sasha Clarkson
Saundersfoot, Wales

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Questionable equality
So the Hill People of Chittagong are ‘an egalitarian people. Please don’t impose your notions of hierarchy upon us; these are alien to us.’ (NI 332) Profound words and ones worthy of applause. However, while the Hill People may not recognize hierarchies of nation-states, surely Amena Mohsin’s unnamed activist is not trying to suggest that they are an egalitarian society?

Please don't impose your notions of hierarchy upon us; these are alien to us.

For as the article goes on to explain, during the construction of the Karnafuli River dam: ‘Even the royal palace of the Chakma chief went under water – a huge psychological blow for the local population.’ What sort of egalitarian society retains notions of clan chiefs and royalty?

Simon Francis
London, England

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Ray of hope
I’ve been playing catch-up with past issues and I was delighted with the Africa issue (Africa United NI 326). I confess that over time since 1969 I had become one of the doubtful ones as regards the future of Africa. I worked in Kenya for three years and came home with a love for the people and their magnificent country. I was so naive in 1966 when I went there with an NGO. I learned so much and received far more than I was able to give, and it changed my life irrevocably. I’ll go to my grave being thankful for those three years.

Thank you for restoring some sense of sanity to my deep despair that they’ll never get it sorted. Of course they will. How dare I!

Kathryn E Moffat
Innisfail, Canada

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Bent arms
I was interested to note in the ‘Hazard Merchants at Work’ poster (NI 331) that guns only aid right-wing militia groups. I was not aware that they had political leanings.

Rosalind Wood
Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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Great divide in the land of the free
With 30 million Americans going hungry and 1 per cent of the richest Americans owning 50 per cent of the nation’s wealth extreme inequality is not confined to Bangladesh (NI 332).

‘At the peak of the longest economic boom in our history, over 30 million [Americans] live in households that experience hunger and food insecurity,’ said Larry Brown, director of the Center on Hunger and Poverty at Tufts University, Massachusetts, in a report published recently. Some 20 to 30 per cent of workers earn so little that ‘they’re making choices between rent, medical bills and adequate diet’. Minimum wages have not kept up with inflation, Brown said, and many jobs no longer include paid benefits.

Children are disproportionately burdened by hunger, the study showed: 15 per cent of all households with children are hungry. More than 40 million Americans don’t have any health insurance. The remedial measures called for are more progressive taxation, higher minimum wages and greater spending on public housing and healthcare – all taboo in George W Bush’s America where tax cuts to the richest have become the priority.

Only after wealth can be more equitably redistributed in America and hunger eliminated in the world’s greatest producer of food, can the problem of inequality be addressed in the poor countries like Bangladesh.

Mahmood Elahi
Ottawa, Canada

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Scotland scrapped it
I have just read and hugely enjoyed the Out South edition (NI 328). I was disappointed though that in her Keynote article Vanessa Baird gives the impression that no progress has been made in Britain on getting rid of Section 28 – the law forbidding ‘the promotion of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’ by local authorities.

Scotland has a devolved parliament which has been prioritizing equality issues of all kinds.

Scotland has a devolved parliament which has been prioritizing equality issues of all kinds, in a way that often contrasts with the British Government’s approach. The Scottish Executive repealed Section 28 last year – despite the homophobic sentiments whipped up by a well-funded campaign by a millionaire entrepreneur in alliance with the Christian Right. As a member of the (successful) campaign group set up to support the repeal and to challenge the public vilification of sexual minority people in Scotland, I was disappointed to find that the repeal of Section 28 in Scotland was not mentioned.

Natalie Morgan-Klein
Glasgow, Scotland

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Tilting the scales
Oh dear. Almost a whole column in your Letters page (NI 333) defending Christianity and complaining about ‘digs’ against it, while asking for ‘more positive’ comments about religion. Yet most Christian countries have 52 days each year when their media mostly spread Christian propaganda (to the almost total exclusion even of fair information about atheism, rationalism or humanism, much less other religions). Add to this their indoctrination of their children with ‘the Bible story’ before their kids’ mental faculties are capable of reasoned thought. And the 100-per-cent bias of some of their schools (of which I had 12 years’ experience) with massive propaganda claiming Christianity as perfect and totally true, with not one word on its mass exterminations of ‘heathens’ or of its hostile insults to other religions.

Yet still Christians complain that they are not given a fair hearing, even in a well-balanced international medium like the NI!

John Clarke
Uxbridge, England

Correction: a photo caption on Page 28 of the issue on Bangladesh (NI 332) claimed that the Chittagong Hill People's leader depicted was the late Manobendran Narayan Larma. It was actually his younger brother Shantu Larma. We apologize for the error.

Letter from Lebanon

Quest for Attidel
Searching Tripoli’s streets for a girl an NI reader met six decades ago,
Reem Haddad comes up against unexpected barriers.

The task seemed impossible. For the fifth time, I read the letter again. It was from a British NI reader who had been following my ‘letters from Lebanon’. His name was William Birch and he was asking me to trace the whereabouts of a little girl he once knew when he had been stationed with the British Navy in northern Lebanon in 1942.

Included with the letter were three pictures. Two of them of the girl as a child and another as a teenager. The girl’s name was Attidel Fallah and she lived with her family in the northern coastal city of Tripoli.

‘The mother used to do the washing at the naval base for the men and so earned a little towards the upkeep of her family,’ the letter said. ‘I never knew the father. They had five children.’

Ten-year-old Attidel was the favourite among the staff and officers. Although she had no schooling ‘she was very bright, cheerful and intelligent,’ Birch continued. ‘In our spare moments, my friend and I (teachers before the Second World War) taught her English and how to write it. She picked it up very quickly. She was an excellent pupil, easy to teach.’

After his return to Britain, Birch continued to correspond with the girl and that’s when she sent him her photograph as a teenager. But the two soon lost touch.

And now, almost 60 years later, Birch wanted to locate her. ‘She was a delightful girl,’ he wrote. ‘I’ll never forget her.’

I assumed that Birch was about 80 and Attidel probably 70. And after a 16-year civil war which created hundreds of thousands of refugees, finding Attidel seemed impossible.

But there was a genuine plea in Birch’s letter which I couldn’t ignore. And so, armed with the three black-and-white photographs, I set off for Tripoli. The first task was to find where the British sailors were stationed in the 1940s. Several elderly men pointed to what looked to be a run-down old building. A closer look, however, revealed a majestic two-storey sandstone structure set in a semicircle. It was a khan – an inn – where hundreds of years ago, travellers used to lodge their horses and shelter in the rooms above. An old, beautifully carved wooden door, filthy and almost off its hinges, opened into it. I doubted I would find a clue to Attidel’s whereabouts but I went in anyway.

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Illustration: Sarah John

The khan was littered with debris and filth. A walk through it revealed that more than a hundred poverty-stricken families were living in its crowded rooms. Not surprisingly, they knew nothing of the naval base. All were squatters who had taken over the rooms during the civil war. And even if they did, who was going to remember a little girl from 1942?

I wandered aimlessly around the town and stopped every elderly person I saw in the streets. They looked at the pictures politely and shook their heads. By this time, word of my search had spread quickly through the town and I had a small curious crowd following me around.

Hours passed and I wasn’t any closer to finding who or where Attidel Fallah was. As I was about to give up, I came across a pharmacy. On its door a sign said Fallah Pharmacy.

It was the last chance. No sooner had I shown the pictures to the pharmacist than she declared: ‘That’s my aunt Attidel.’

She listened to my story and read Birch’s letter with great interest. ‘Well,’ she said. ‘Aunt Attidel is married but lives in Jordan.’

And then quite suddenly she became quiet. My questions about the name of Attidel’s husband and a contact number in Jordan went unanswered.

‘I don’t know,’ she repeated stubbornly.

Annoyed, I tried to contact the rest of the family. But the answer was the same. ‘We don’t know.’

A call to the Lebanese Embassy in Jordan went nowhere. Yes, they said, they have a file on an Attidel Fallah, but the file is empty. ‘We don’t know the husband’s name so we can’t trace him,’ they said.

Weeks would pass before I found out the reason. I had stumbled on a very traditional family who were shocked that a man was asking after a woman – albeit a 70-year-old woman. Attidel would not be told about our quest.

With great regret, I had to inform William Birch that Attidel was alive but unreachable.

A year has passed since then and I still wonder about Attidel. She never knew that her childhood friend and teacher was asking about her. Sadly, being a woman in a traditional society had denied her the right to renew an old friendship.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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New Internationalist issue 335 magazine cover This article is from the June 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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