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Easy does it
So, this is actually going to happen in my lifetime! (I’m 65.)

Cover of the NI issue 342 Under Coming next month (NI 342) you refer to something I had never previously heard of: Slow Activism. This sounds too good to be true. It would be misleading to say I have been waiting for this. Indeed, most of my life has been spent not waiting but trying to catch up; the amount of waiting done by me having been greatly exceeded by the waiting other people have done because of my slowness. Part of the reason why I regularly read NI is because I have spent almost the whole of my working life in the Third World. And part of the reason for that is because only the Third World seemed to offer a niche (and this was at the beginning of the 1960s) for slowcoaches like me.

I almost feel guilty that it is because of ‘turbo-capitalism’, as you call it, which is stupidly destroying the quality of so many ‘ordinary’ people’s lives, that attention is at last being turned to the problems of those who can’t keep pace.

NI 343 can’t come too soon – or can it?

Alastair MacDougall
Copthorne, England

Fast or slow – here it is. Ed.

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Cover of the NI issue 341 Class war
You do well to remind us (Bread & Roses: The Trade-Union Revival, NI 341) that being a trade-union official, or even a union activist, is still a dangerous occupation in some parts of the world.

During the British miners’ strike in 1984 the enemies of Arthur Scargill, the miners’ leader, portrayed him as the devil made flesh but he was not at risk of being grabbed by the police and made to disappear. In Britain those in power had gentler means of achieving their ends.

The pretence is commonly put about that the class war is a thing of the past, that capitalists and workers have a common interest in working together. Not so, but the venue of the struggle has moved. The class war is now being fought at its most violent in the poorer parts of the world, as your articles make clear.

The old political empires – British, French, Dutch, Portuguese or whatever – are no more. Their place has been taken by a process of economic colonization by the all-powerful transnational companies under a banner with a strange device: globalization.

In the struggle against this process trade unions have a vital part to play. For those taking part, the struggle demands a heroic courage and determination that it is difficult for those of us comfortable at home to imagine. But in the name of internationalism, these are our brothers and sisters. Their fight is our fight. Are we doing all we can to help them?

Peter Little
Henley-on-Thames, England

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United we stand

Together we can do what cannot be achieved alone; solidarity will win.

Margaret Creagh
Industrial Workers of the World,
Moreland, Australia

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I ask you to leave my country's grief out of the condemnations and critiques

Spare our grief
K Kumaralingam writes (Letters, NI 341): ‘The reaction of the US since 11 September shows that it expects the rest of the world to value the lives of Americans more than those of non-Americans.’ This statement and similar sentiments criticizing US reactions to the event are cruel. I understand, and generally agree with, those who chastise my government’s foreign policy and our military reaction to the 11 September event. However, I ask that you leave my country’s grief out of the condemnations and critiques. Our pain is without expectation and these tears have no agenda.

Amy Travis
New Jersey, US

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Progressive Islam
Islam as described in the Qur’an is a modern, enlightened, progressive religion. All forms of unnecessary acts of violence and unjust aggression are forbidden by Islam. The Qur’an orders people to be dignified, modest, trustworthy, kind, faithful, mature and responsive.

A Muslim educated in the fine moral teaching of the Qur’an approaches everyone with the love that Islam expects. He [sic] shows respect for every idea. The religion of Islam and the moral teaching of the Qur’an are not the supporters of terrorism and the terrorists. Islam is a religion that came down to offer humanity a life filled with the peace and well-being in which God’s eternal mercy and compassion is manifested in the world.

I would urge readers to visit www.islamdenouncesterrorism.com which, in my opinion, explains the Muslim’s real thoughts about Islam.

Gamze Bayrak
Istanbul, Turkey

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Terrorism or resistance?
It’s unacceptable to follow the American point of view that doesn’t differentiate between resistance and terrorism. It’s unfair to make those who fight and died for freedom equal to those who kill innocent people for personal purposes or to replace one dictator with another. Calling Kashmiri resistance terrorism (‘Inside a terrorist camp’, Currents, NI 341) is a condemnation of all resistance in the world. It opens the door to put all kinds of resistance and freedom fighters on the US terrorism list, which is the first step to bomb, kill and occupy the countries that support those fighters.

Moomen Sallam
Alexandria, Egypt

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Self-defeating illusions
Although it has become fashionable among commentators to blame poverty as the root cause of terrorism, it is absolutely unacceptable to suppose that poor people are the ones who are venting their frustration through terrorism.

The terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center were mostly from Saudi Arabia, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and their mastermind is a Saudi millionaire. Japan, one of the most advanced countries, suffered a deadly terrorist attack a few years ago and the culprits were members of a religious cult and from mostly well-off backgrounds.

Terrorism is always the product of self-defeating illusions. It is a deliberate form of political or ideological warfare waged by fanatics with financial and other resources at their disposal. The organizational and financial resources needed to run a terrorist network are beyond the reach of poor people. This explains why most of the hijackers were from an oil-rich country like Saudi Arabia and not from a poor African country. This is why the fight against terrorism must be a military and security one. The issue of poverty and development must be addressed separately and poor countries must be helped to help themselves.

Mahmood Elahi
Ottawa, Canada

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Could do better
I must protest your use of the term ‘animal cunning’ to describe the shady characters in the Worldbeaters feature. While I think you must be using the term to indicate the depths to which these people have sunk, it is hardly accurate. When an animal uses its cunning, it does so to find a meal or protect itself or its family from predators. I don’t know of a single case of an animal using cunning the way humans do.

In fact, animals often come to harm at the hands of those of us who use our human cunning for less honourable ends. They suffer needlessly for the multimillion-dollar cosmetic industry and millions live their entire lives in labs in the service of ‘science’. Ascribing animal traits to despicable humans merely helps perpetuate animal abuse in its many guises.

Animal cunning? I don’t think so. Please try to come up with a more appropriate term. In the meantime, surely ‘human cunning’ would do.

Nancy Allan
Saskatoon, Canada

Point taken. See World Beaters this month. Ed.

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E-mail petitions
Does anyone know if the e-mail petitions which often get circulated do any good? Does the Brazilian Government take any notice of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, pleading with them to preserve the rainforests, for instance?

Does anyone know if the e-mail petitions which get circulated do any good?

As a known ‘greenie’ I frequently receive these petitions, as I imagine other NI readers do. Before I send them on, I usually send an e-mail to the address given, offering other help such as a snail-mail letter. Each time I have done this, the message has been returned with ‘permanent fatal errors’ or a similar directive. This may be because the petition reaches me too late, but they never include a message to end it after a specific date. Perhaps the petitions just circulate forever among the committed but naïve?

Dr Virginia Lowe
Melbourne, Australia

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Letter from Lebanon

Home is where the hurt is
Reem Haddad on the basic obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

I wanted to understand and I hung on to their every word. They were holocaust survivors. They were Jewish and I, an Arab, was in their home in Virginia. It was my first encounter with survivors of the Nazi holocaust. With pain, the couple, in their mid-70s, described the horrific events they had endured. By the time they had finished, I fully agreed that Jews needed their own homeland. And then it came – the statement that has perplexed and angered Arabs for half a century.

‘Palestine was an empty land,’ they said. ‘It was a desert.’

Shocked, I stared at them. Empty land? Desert?

‘There were towns and villages as in any other country,’ I stammered.

They admitted that there had been some people living there, but ‘the Palestinians left of their own free will’.

It’s been over a year since I visited the couple but I keep hearing their words.

I was training in a newspaper company in the US. The Palestinian Intifada had recently renewed and I was assigned to write an explanatory article about it. I knew that the only way readers could understand the conflict was to appreciate the historic events which occurred 53 years ago – the creation of the state of Israel. And so I set out to interview the holocaust survivors and a 96-year-old Palestinian man – all residing in the US.

I tried that day to convince the couple that indeed there were people, towns and villages in a country called Palestine. But the answer was the same: ‘It was a desert and we made it bloom.’

They truly believed that. It was what they had been told. What more could I say?

When I repeated the conversation to American friends, I was warned to be ‘careful or you will be labelled as anti-Semitic’.

Considering I am Semitic myself – as Levantine Arabs are – it would be a rather ridiculous accusation. And surely questioning and criticizing the creation and policies of Israel doesn’t make me anti-Jewish?

Fortunately, none of my Jewish friends think so.

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When I repeated my conversation with the couple to some Palestinian refugees in Lebanese camps, I thought I had inadvertently started a revolution.

‘What do they mean it was a desert? What do they mean we left of our own free will? Why would we leave our homes to live in filthy refugee camps denied our basic human rights? The Jewish army killed our families and kicked us out,’ they yelled at me.

Since the Intifada restarted more than a year ago, refugees have been feeling increasingly frustrated. Unable to help their relatives fight Israeli aggression, many are glued to their television sets, counting the ever-rising toll of Palestinian deaths.

But, against all hope, their dream of returning to their villages is still very much alive.

‘All refugees in the world are allowed to go back home,’ said Abu Ibrahim, a 72-year-old Palestinian residing in the overcrowded Sabra and Chatila camp. ‘So why can’t we?’

It’s not so simple. Most of their villages are now inhabited by Israelis. And with up to 1,000 immigrants arriving into the Jewish state every week, the chances of Palestinians returning seem slimmer and slimmer.

But refugees are unwilling to hear or understand the argument that Jewish residents and their offspring are not suddenly going to ‘go back to the European countries they come from’ – as many Palestinians say.

‘It’s our right to go home,’ said Abu Ibrahim.

This ‘right of return’ is enshrined in every Palestinian – and Arab – heart.

As Zahi, a Palestinian friend, puts it: ‘I will not go and live there. But I want the world and the Israelis to acknowledge this right.’

As an engineer, Zahi is well settled in Lebanon. ‘The idea of starting again in another country doesn’t appeal to me. If I left Lebanon, I’d prefer to emigrate to the US or Europe.’

The Intifada itself and any solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is based on the acknowledgement of this ‘right’. And to acknowledge it means to acknowledge that Palestine was not a desert, nor was it a land without people.

Palestinians will quickly point out that there seems to be little international concern for their fate. The Intifada continues.

‘But there certainly is a lot of concern for Israel,’ said Zahi. ‘Look at the big deal they [the world] make when one Israeli is killed and yet remain silent when hundreds of Palestinians die.’

‘So,’ he added, ‘maybe the international community should look at it in another way: if you care about Israel and want its peace, then acknowledge our right of return.’

Only then can serious negotiations begin that will lead to a true peace.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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New Internationalist issue 343 magazine cover This article is from the March 2002 issue of New Internationalist.
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