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Cover of the NI issue 335 Perfect pitch
It would seem self-evident that ‘Lower taxes mean more petrol sold’ (Editor’s letter, Mired in crude, NI 335) with the attendant problems of more pollution and congestion. However, it does not follow that increased tax is the best instrument to restrict consumption. Far from it. Fuel duties give governments a stake in high consumption as they are pitched at levels that will maximize revenue and thus minimize the dependence on progressive taxation.

Economic growth fuels consumption as higher disposable incomes generate increased demand for fossil-fuelled transport.

Paul Thomson
Sale, England

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Government forces are ruthlessly clearing the way for oil

Sudan oil campaign
I was very pleased to see the June issue (NI 335), dedicated to exposing the terrible human-rights abuses, corruption and environmental damage caused by the oil industry.

Christian Aid recently published a report called Scorched Earth – Oil and War in Sudan, which describes how the presence of international companies is fuelling the war in Sudan. Eyewitness accounts show that Government forces are ruthlessly clearing the way for oil over an increasingly large area by killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese. Roads and airstrips built to serve the companies are also used by the army as part of the war. The million dollars a day that the Government of Sudan earns from oil is equivalent to the million dollars a day it spends fighting the war.

Christian Aid, along with 56 other organizations, has signed up to a European Campaign on Oil in Sudan. The Campaign requests a ban on investment in the Sudanese oil industry and suspension of commercial activities in Sudan, until there is a just and lasting peace agreement.

For a copy of the report call Christian Aid +44 207 523 2248. To get involved in the European Campaign on Oil in Sudan, e-mail [email protected]

Georgiana Treasure
Christian Aid,
London, England

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Microcredit organizations are filling a huge unmet need – giving the poor access to credit

A credit to the poor
Your article about microcredit organizations getting too big for their own good misses the point (‘Local heroesNI 332). These organizations are getting big because they are filling a huge unmet need – giving the poor access to credit. They are even doing it cost-effectively, covering their costs and becoming less dependent on foreign aid – a radical concept indeed. Many microcredit organizations are improving their delivery methods, cost-recovery methods and ability to target those most in need.

I’m much more interested in whether a microcredit organization is actually providing credit opportunities to enable poor people to help themselves, than the size of the building it operates from.

Maree Nutt
Mona Vale, Australia

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Keep it parked
I am surprised that your list of remedies for oil dependence (NI 335) didn’t include reducing the use of personal motor transport. This would also have the advantage of dramatically improving many people’s quality of life.

The use of hydrogen for vehicle fuel would improve our air quality, but it wouldn’t help combat climate change unless it was produced from renewables, and I suspect that for the next few decades we’ll need all our renewables output to phase out the use of fossil fuels for electricity production.

Simon Norton
Cambridge, England

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GM optimist
Has the NI become a propaganda tool of green ideology (Essay NI 333)? As much as I admire some of the work that they do, Greenpeace were put on trial for theft, and were found guilty. These people do not seem to realize that genetic modification has been going on in Britain since the Agricultural Revolution, and that the modern scientific method is simply more precise. Greenpeace not only knows nothing about modern GM (they ignore the fact that GM food has been in production for the last 20 years in the US), but they also want to stop people in Britain finding out about it – via criminal methods.

NI has also failed to point out that GM doesn’t only have one purpose, that of nasty corporations making money. People in the Third World are going blind from vitamin A deficiency and GM food is a practical cure. This is one example among many that makes the GM debate a Western luxury.

Nick Collet
Maidstone, England

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Cover of the NI issue 334 Faith restored
I was extremely pleased to see you offering Oxfam an opportunity to answer its critics (Essay, NI 334). It seems the media in general find it all too easy to criticize international charities, especially when the nature of their work is often very sensitive and can be remote from people’s understanding.

Oxfam, and a large number of equally vital agencies around the world, are fundamental to the societies in which we live today, as is the public support that those charities depend on in order to carry out their work. As an Oxfam fundraiser and in light of the media battering we’ve recently been subjected to, I wish to thank the NI for rebuilding my faith.

Stuart Riddle
Bristol, England

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Beyond South: the debate

In NI 334 you request alternatives to the geographically inaccurate term ‘South’ and the vague description ‘Majority World’. The ‘Third World’ cannot exist after the demise of the communist ‘Second World’. All countries are ‘developing’ in some sense.

I prefer ‘less industrialized countries’. This description is not pejorative. It is accurate. It is even hopeful, since the more industrialized countries are finding that industry undermines their futures. While they despoil the planet, the less industrialized conserve it.

John D Anderson
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Jon Sobrino, a theologian and partner of CAFOD, the agency I work for, suggests that we should begin to talk instead about ‘crucified peoples’. Whilst this is metaphorical language it does convey the historical enormity of the disaster which is befalling the Majority World and its meaning for us in the Minority World. The cross means death – and death caused by poverty generated by great injustice, or death caused by war to control minerals and natural resources, is what many in the Majority World are subjected to today. The point of acknowledging the ‘crucified peoples’ as such, is that to be crucified is not simply to ‘die from natural causes’, but rather to be ‘put to death’. It means there are victims and executioners. It means there exists in our world very grave wrong and very grave injustice. It means we must reflect on the extent to which we collude or even actively participate in these executions – and tackle the structures of injustice and evil.

I acknowledge that this terminology could never be of universal application in our secularized society today.

Greg Collins
Dartford, England

It all depends on the context. When it is about distribution of wealth, poor-rich is clearly the best terminology. If it is about economic exploitation: exploiters and exploited. If it is about sexual minorities: to say that Muslim gays from, let’s say, Egypt share the same characteristics as those from Bangladesh is clearly ludicrous. Of course there are countries where gay people are oppressed: but what has the North-South divide to do with it?

On the other hand, I feel a bit sorry for you all. We are all ethnocentric, there’s no two ways about it – only you get scolded by your critical readership.

Peter Bontje
Kobe-shi, Japan

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Letter from Lebanon

Martyr in the making
Reem Haddad gets a glimpse into the mind of a Hizbullah fighter.

In a way, I wish I had their level of faith. I stared hard at the young man in front in me. As he spoke, he edged forward on his chair and his brown eyes looked deeply into mine.

‘We don’t want to die for the sake of dying,’ he said. ‘It’s not like that.’

He wanted me to understand. And I was trying hard.

‘Our land and homes were occupied,’ he said. ‘You have to fight to get them back. And if you die for a good cause like that then you become a martyr. And to become a martyr is the greatest honour anyone could have.’

My new friend would only give his name as Abu Ali – his nom de guerre. At 34, he was among the veteran fighters of Lebanon’s Hizbullah, the Party of God, having first taken up arms against Israeli troops in 1982 when Israel launched its invasion of Lebanon.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Abu Ali had conducted countless military operations against the Israeli Army which occupied a swathe of south Lebanon until it withdrew in May 2000.

The walls in Abu Ali’s office were decorated with the yellow flags of Hizbullah and pictures of the Shi’a Muslim sheikhs who comprise the organization’s leadership.

‘Everything we do, everything, is based on our faith,’ he said. ‘You reach a level so deep and so strong, that dying for a just cause and becoming a martyr becomes a fervent wish.’

The Shi’a brand of Islam holds the cult of martyrdom very dear. Muslims believe that when killed in a Holy war or Jihad, the soul goes straight to paradise. It is this strong belief which has frightened many of Hizbullah’s enemies. ‘We go on military operations wanting to become martyrs,’ said Abu Ali. ‘But our enemies don’t want to die. This is our greatest advantage.’

Hizbullah’s social wing provides the families of martyrs with free education and healthcare for the rest of their lives. Abu Ali himself was almost killed in the 1980s (he won’t state the year lest his identity be traced by his Israeli enemies) when he led a military operation against an Israeli position in occupied south Lebanon. Of the group, only Abu Ali survived. Wounded and bleeding profusely, he crawled for two days among the mountains before he reached safety. ‘For some reason, God didn’t want me to become a martyr,’ he recalled.

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Illustration: Sarah John

He was silent for a few seconds. I prodded him to continue.

‘I was thinking of my friends who were martyred that day,’ he said. ‘Before we went off, like always, we sat together in a circle and talked. Our feelings were intense and we felt so close to each other. We asked each other to send greetings to loved ones in paradise if they ended up being martyred that night.’

Abu Ali wouldn’t tell me any more. Secrecy is of the utmost importance to Hizbullah. Only his family knows that he is a fighter. I continued to stare in fascination at Abu Ali. I remembered as a child hearing of a small group of disgruntled farmers gathering and declaring to the world that they would take back their homes – no matter what it took.

Little did anyone know 19 years ago that this group of farmers would rise and wage a bloody – but successful – war of liberation against Israeli troops occupying predominantly Shi’a Muslim south Lebanon.

Hizbullah appeared in the wake of the 1982 Israeli invasion. For the next 18 years, the Israeli troops fronting the hilltop outposts in south Lebanon were subjected to increasingly sophisticated and effective guerrilla assaults by Hizbullah fighters. Their efforts paid off. In May 2000, then Israeli Premier Ehud Barak ordered a unilateral troop withdrawal from the south of Lebanon.

But Hizbullah’s fight continues. A narrow strip of territory running along Lebanon’s southeast border – known as the Shebaa Farms – remains occupied. The Lebanese Government claims that it is Lebanese land and demands that Israel withdraw. The Jewish state, on the other hand, insists that it is Syrian territory which Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

In the aftermath of Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon last year, the United Nations ruled that the land was Syrian and that Israel was not obliged to withdraw from the Shebaa Farms to satisfy UN resolutions calling for a withdrawal from Lebanon.

Unwilling to leave an inch of land under Israeli occupation, Hizbullah has embarked upon a new campaign against the Israeli troops in the Shebaa Farms.

‘It’s not over,’ said Abu Ali. ‘We saw what the Israelis did to the Palestinians. We saw them taking their homes and kicking them out of their own land. This will not happen to us. We will keep on fighting until every inch of Lebanese territory has been liberated. And Israel knows that.’

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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