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Cover of the NI issue 337 on Slavery. Northern omission
How can the NI run 20 pages on slavery (The Burden of Slavery, NI 337) yet not find room to name and shame a single Northern perpetrator, other than a few cursory references?

Recent full-length articles in the Spanish press have highlighted ‘the story of EU-supported slavery’ within its own borders – where apartheid conditions (no legal protection, below-subsistence wages, restrictions on movement, corrupt police, coercion by local politicians) are underpinning the economies of more than a few Mercedes-strewn, brothel-filled Mediterranean agricultural towns. A stroll into Barcelona’s more affluent suburbs reveals a sea of Chilean, Peruvian and Filipino faces, slave women forced to work as domestic servants and child carers to middle-class residents.

Andrew Millar
Barcelona, Spain

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Quest for truth
Congratulations to Maggie Black for bringing out the poignant story of the people of Narmada Valley (NI 336).

I write this to bring to your notice the misinterpretation of the word Satyagraha. Satyagraha is not ‘sit-in’ (Article: They only 'Hold pen'). Mahatma Gandhi who first coined the term and used it so beautifully and powerfully has said ‘Satya means truth and Satyagraha is literally holding on to truth and therefore is truth-force. Since truth is soul or spirit, satyagraha is also soul-force. Satyagraha is a relentless search for truth and a determination to reach truth. Satyagraha excludes the use of violence in any shape or form, whether in thought, speech or deed. There can be no satyagraha in an unjust cause. Satyagraha is utter self-effacement, greatest humility, greatest patience and brightest faith. It is its own reward. Satyagraha is gentle, it never wounds. It is the direct opposite of compulsion and conceived as a complete substitute for violence.’

Anltha Sharma
Trivandrum, India

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Symbolic persuasion
As an ex-Fiji MP where the environment is being ravaged even as I write, I was deeply touched by the courage and simplicity of Medha Patkar (Do or die: Narmada, NI 336).

I suggest her followers name her Dam-Mata Medha. Mata is Hindi for Mother. To dissuade her from her threat to take her own life by drowning, her followers should symbolically drown her effigy with mass attendance, speeches, flowers, prayers etc, very much like bathing the holy statues, and pray that she accepts this symbolism, and continues the unfinished struggle. Such actions repeated in rivers and streams all over India would send a powerful message to the rest of the country.

Karam Chand Ramrakha
Sydney, Australia

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Disruptive dams
Maggie Black, introducing the Narmada issue (NI 336) claims not to have a general opinion about dams, only opinions relating to the relative merits of specific areas and projects. I would be interested to know if she can name one dam in which vast areas have not been flooded, displacing human communities and/or thousands of species of wildlife already threatened by modernization and development, and disrupting natural water systems above and below the dam. There are many other less wasteful methods of storing water and generating electricity.

Many of the current floods passed off in the press as natural disasters are the direct result of dams further up bursting or being deliberately opened after heavy rain, causing the sudden and catastrophic devastation we now see regularly. Mozambique and, as I write, Orissa in India are just two examples where global warming has caused heavy rains, and the breach of dams has caused floods hundreds of miles away in low-lying areas.

K Goaman
London, England

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Cover of the NI issue 336 on Narmada Dams. Only connect
The damming of Narmada (NI 336) epitomizes the conflicting development paradigms that presently divide humanity – those who believe that a healthy social and physical environment is dependent on a growing economy, and those who believe a healthy economy is dependent on diverse social and physical environments. Short-term operators, including governments, lean toward the former. They fail to appreciate that the economy is a subset of society, which is a subset of the environment.

Australia’s Fitzroy Basin, in Central Queensland, has also been embroiled in a debate about big dams. In 1999 the Queensland Environment and Natural Resources Minister ignored the advice given by government-appointed scientific and community advisory panels, when he and his cabinet colleagues gave the green light to let a foreign company build Nathan Dam and control public water. The proposed Nathan Dam would degrade water quality by reducing environmental flows and greatly increase the likelihood of salinity problems. Yet despite broad opposition across the Fitzroy Basin to the proposed Nathan Dam, the Deputy Prime Minister now wants to subsidize its development, making a farce of his Federal Government’s $1.4-billion National Action Plan on Salinity and Water Quality.

The damming of Narmada epitomizes the conflicting development paradigms that presently divide humanity

The purpose of our public institutions is to serve our collective interests; yet many, including myself, would argue that the institutions themselves have become part of the problem. By reinventing our public institutions we could help to bridge the divide between a healthy economy and a healthy social and physical environment. Governments need to stop saying ‘we are listening’ and begin to act with integrity and vision.

Bood Hickson
Rolleston, Australia

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GM stir
Nick Collet’s letter about Genetic Modification (NI 337) displays the ignorance typical of those who argue blindly in its favour. Genetic modification should not be confused with the selective breeding that humans have practised since the earliest development of agriculture – a process in which nature is always the final arbiter. GM takes genes from entirely different species and forces their conjunction, using viruses to carry genetic materials between them (eg genes from flounders implanted in tomatoes), and then employing antibiotics to track their progress. Nature has no say here and monsters are created. The evidence of allergic reaction to newly created proteins – there have been many deaths – the accidental creation of potentially fatal new viruses and other GM failures over the last 20 years is overwhelming. The only geneticists who argue in favour of GM are either employed by the industry or receive their funding directly or indirectly from it.

Peter May
St Céré, France

It was disturbing to read Mr Collet’s comments about the wonders of GM food, quoting the need for vitamin-A-enhanced rice to prevent blindness in the populations of developing countries. We really must get back to the question of why these people are so poor as to be malnourished in the first place. Biotech ‘consumables’ – in line with most Western problem-solving strategies – only tackle symptoms rather than causes.

As for GM being a more precise form of selective breeding – well! Crossing two breeds of potato to yield a better spud is not quite the same as splicing human/fish/rat/primate DNA into fruit, vegetables, rice etc and then marketing the results as an economic cure for blindness caused by poverty. Or am I missing the point?

Steve Hutton (Green Party)
Todmorden, England

The use of genetic modification commercially – for example, sterile cereals being sold to the poorest farmers, requiring repeated purchase – I find completely immoral. Mr Collet is not disagreeing that ‘nasty corporations (are) making money’ but I contend that there are readily available cheap foods providing vitamin A without the need for genetic modification to provide this.

Diane Collins
Bracknell, England

Calling NI readers – give us your dreams
Ever get the feeling that the ills of the world are frustratingly familiar, but the cures vague and out of reach? Ever dreamed of a world where corporations no longer intrude into every aspect of our lives? Where democracy means more than a periodic vote for self-serving politicians?

The NI is putting together a bumper issue on what winning would look like and would like to hear your visions and ideas about what could put our world on the road to recovery. From practical suggestions to utopian grand schemes, let us know what you think would make a difference and how you think change could be set in action. Send your letters to [email protected] or by post to our editorial offices. We hope to publish a selection of your views.

Letter from Lebanon

Flight or fight
Reem Haddad’s friends are taking wing while poor
farmers are resorting to desperate measures.

I saw my friend to the airport the other day and watched wistfully as she and her husband checked in their many pieces of luggage. I felt numb and had nothing to say except to wish her well in her new life abroad. This wasn’t the first friend that I had found myself bidding farewell to recently. She was the eighth in only three months.

Economists say that 14,000 people – most of them young – are leaving Lebanon every month. With a $25-billion deficit, a high unemployment rate, low salaries and an economy on the verge of collapse, Lebanese are leaving in droves for the Gulf states, the US, Britain, Canada, Australia – whoever accepts them.

Embassies can’t keep up with immigration applications. Queues at the Canadian embassy are long and seem never-ending. For some reason, Canada seems to be a favourite destination. The word in town is that it’s easier to emigrate to Canada than the US or Britain. Australia comes a close second. But it’s actually not that easy. Many are refused immigration papers.

Con artists, eager to cash in on this ‘urge to emigrate’, are having a field day. For a fee of $3,000 - $5,000, they promise to procure the desperately sought immigration papers. At least one of my friends was taken in. At 25, Shadi began to worry about saving enough money to get married one day.

‘I’ll never afford to have a home at this rate,’ he told me. His small-appliance shop earned him about $500 every month. With costs skyrocketing in the country, $500 barely lasts a week. ‘How can I support a wife and family?’ he lamented.

That’s when he met Maher, who offered to get Shadi into Canada within two months. Shadi immediately sold his shop and gave Maher just under $5,000. That was the last he heard of Maher. Today, Shadi is driving a taxi cab. Unfortunately for him, not many people can afford to hire cabs any longer.

Illustration: Sarah John When con artists don’t come through, illegal immigration becomes an option. Many young people have found an underground network into the United States. At least one person I heard of was shot as he tried to cross over. Others are currently serving terms in US jails. Still, it doesn’t seem to deter people from illegal attempts to enter foreign countries.

‘I have to try,’ a 24-year-old man confided. He has been unemployed for years. ‘If I’m caught, I’m caught. But it’s better than staying here doing nothing, isn’t it?’

Others who have no hope of emigrating have resorted to illegal businesses within Lebanon itself. In the Bekaa valley, farmers have gone back to growing hashish. The weed was their main source of income during the 16-year civil war. Its cultivation, however, came to an abrupt halt in 1991 when, bending to an international outcry, the Lebanese and Syrian governments decided to eradicate the narcotic. The international community at that point promised $54 million over two years with the aim of finding alternative crops and creating much-needed irrigation networks for farmers. Ten years later, only a tiny proportion of the promised funds has trickled through.

The farmers have practically been forgotten and, with the Lebanese economy worsening, families in the Bekaa have become desperate. For the past few years, they have been threatening to go back to growing hashish if alternatives were not found. This year, they have done so. The crop is growing everywhere – in their backyards and even beside the main road. The Government is threatening to eradicate it. But this time, farmers have armed themselves and have sworn to protect their crops.

‘What are we supposed to do?’ said Abu Mohammed as he showed me around his hashish field. ‘How am I supposed to care for my family? I don’t want to grow hashish. Give me something else to grow, give me water and buy the products from me. I will then eradicate the hashish field myself.’

I couldn’t blame him. And I can’t blame my many friends who have left the country or the others who are currently packing their bags to follow them. Most of them are young couples. For the first time, this summer, our fun-filled weekends at the beach or camping with friends have ceased.

‘No-one is around any more,’ grumbled my husband.

It’s true, no-one is. And my worst fear is that the country will take so long to pick itself up that my friends will be too settled abroad ever to return.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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New Internationalist issue 339 magazine cover This article is from the October 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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