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[image, unknown] UN must act
With West Papua bullied by Indonesia and large corporations (West Papua, NI 344), just what is the United Nations doing to prevent yet more human-rights abuses?

My heart went out to these brave and beleaguered people in Chris Richards’ crucially important piece on their struggle for independence.

The UN decreed that 1994-2004 was to be set aside as the ‘Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples’. So is it not now time that the world saw some action from the UN, which must include preventing further human-rights abuses against indigenous people, together with the protection of their land from corporations ?

David Harvey
Chippenham, England

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Ends and means
I know little of the Nepalese Maoists, although I see the spam they post for some reason on www.indymedia.org But Urvashi Butalia writes (‘Mao’s maids’, View from the South, NI 344) that they model themselves on the Shining Path of Peru, a disgusting movement which operates by bombing and killing. ‘Maoist’ also makes me think of the one-party state in China.

Would the Nepalese Maoists, by shooting and killing to take power, turn into an open government tolerant of multiparty democracy and dissent? Gain power to give it up? Whether women take part in this is irrelevant. The means of change affects the people making the change.

Paul Jeater
Bristol, England

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Capitalism’s tailspin
The New Internationalist is the exception to my self-imposed ban on letting too many publications into my house: it is well researched, well written, thought provoking and reflects the deeply humanistic vision of the people who make it possible. Your issue NI 343 on Time confirms my conviction that capitalist society is spinning into extinction, unfortunately dragging the rest of the world with it.

Maya Khankhoje
Montreal, Canada

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Eloquent voice
A big thank you to Jeremy Seabrook for his essay ‘The Voice of the Majority’ (NI 343)! Eloquently written, easy to understand and yet full of poetry – he has captured the situation in a nutshell. A true masterpiece.

Henning Rasmussen
Edmonton, Canada

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Cover of NI issue 342 Impossible dreams
Your dreams for a reformed world (Another World Is Possible, NI 342) were sadly impractical, whereas a radical change could be triggered overnight by a revolt of the debt-slaves. All that is needed is for a highly indebted country to renege decisively and totally on all repayments of interest and principal. This would lead to instant boycotts by the West, but the benefits to the country would be massive: no more outflow of wealth and an end of WTO-mandated structural reform and austerity programmes. Control of resources and utilities would revert to the locals; agriculture, now freed from ‘assistance’ from the pesticide and GM companies, would be redirected to meeting local needs instead of producing cash crops to sell into depressed, oversupplied world markets. Following the instant decline of cultural imperialism by Disney, McDonalds etc, there would be a resurgence of local culture in the newly revitalized local markets.

Nor would this be all bad for the West. As more poor countries followed suit, the West’s military budgets for propping up dictators around the world would shrink back to a smaller sphere of legitimate interest, the threat of terrorism would diminish and currencies would stabilize. With reduced scope for speculation there would be a stronger investment in stable local industry to the benefit of the poor and unemployed in the rich countries.

Such an action would cause a domino effect among most other indebted countries, transforming most of the world almost overnight. It might be ‘illegal’ by current international law and IMF rules but these are themselves repugnant to natural justice and fundamental human rights and need to be overturned.

Argentina, do you have the courage to lead the way?

David Loxley
Bilgola Plateau (Sydney), Australia

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Clock here to read issue 341 Union muscle
Is the revival of trade unionism (Bread & Roses, NI 341) a boon or bane? Whereas trade unionism protects labour rights, there are numerous instances where it is systematically abused and one is left to wonder if the benefits justify the social costs. I for one know that in many governmental organizations in India, the union category enjoy an extravagant amount of leave, besides slacking at work. Private companies with enormous union muscle are no better whereas the unorganized people working in small automobile stores, shops and restaurants sweat out their living.

None of the trade-union leaders are concerned about their plight as fighting for their cause gets them neither votes nor money. It is time NI did an article about these ‘affluent union brothers’ and exposed the rot in the system, usually at the cost of the most downtrodden.

S Karthikeyan
Sydney, Australia

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Make solidarity work
As we promote and applaud the proliferation of trade unions (NI 341) throughout the developing world, we have to remember they come with a prophetic warning. We in the Western world remember industries brought to grinding halts by continually striking workers, links with organized crime for standover tactics and brawls on the evening news during the 1970s. While most grievances were no doubt legitimate, unions became unwieldy and bloated, morphing into just another fat cat in the capitalist food chain, far removed from the everyday worker.

At the moment in Perth, Western Australia, the builders’ union is facing accusations of locking non-union contractors in shipping containers and using bikie gangs to intimidate them into joining.

As in everything political the theory and practice are worlds apart, and if the developing world follows the same path, true social, economic and national development (not the free-trade rhetoric of the Western rich list) will be hobbled by mega-unions worlds away from their roots of struggle and solidarity. Unions seem a necessary evil, but the challenge of the developing world should be not just to foster them, but to find a happy medium.

Drew Turney
Perth, Australia

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inherent weaknesses in US strategy fatally undermine the war on terror

US posse
Mahmood Elahi (Letters, NI 344) correctly analyses the objectives of theocratic extremists in the Middle East and the chaos that would ensue if the US were to withdraw from the region. However, I question his optimism that Bush might be able to nip ‘terrorism in the bud’, and his assumption that we have to choose between US hegemony and Islamic militants. Most progressive supporters of the war on terror argue that despite its flaws, US engagement with Islamic terror is better than no engagement at all. However, those of us who are sceptics see inherent weaknesses in US strategy that fatally undermine the whole project. The US remains allied with human-rights abusers, especially Saudi Arabia, which is theocratic, extremist and pro-Western (and incompetent, allowing the growth of al-Qaeda), and it indulges Israel at the expense of international law and evenhandedness. It opposes an international criminal court and it refuses to take the steps necessary to end the poverty and ignorance that nourish many forms of fundamentalism. At the moment all we have is a posse; sometimes a posse is better than nothing, but when it retards the creation of more accountable and efficient law enforcement it only aids criminals.

Richard Bartholomew
London, England

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E-mail petitions
In reply to Dr Lowe’s question about e-mail petitions (Letters, NI 343) I would say that these primarily serve to distribute information to a large audience, but that they don’t actually have much impact as actual petitions.

SustainAbility recently produced a report about how the Internet has affected the ability to distribute information about environmental and social issues. As part of this, it was found that e-mail has been a very successful tool for campaigning organizations. The recent withdrawal of Triumph from Burma was partly due to the company being overwhelmed with thousands of e-mails that arrived in support of the Burma Campaign Group – www.burmacampaign.org.uk If you would like e-mails to have a more direct impact I would recommend that you visit campaign websites directly and take part in this way. Forwarding those e-mail petitions does pass the word on, but I suspect many will never actually get back to the intended target.

Lynne Elvins
London, England

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Letter from Lebanon

An honourable marriage
Reem Haddad meets a young woman who was determined to marry a wounded
Hizbullah fighter. And finds that others like her are queuing up.

She has never once regretted it. She says that it’s been a challenge, but also a joy.

‘I am doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to be doing,’ she told me whilst preparing the family’s supper. Nearby a nanny was keeping her eye on the four rambunctious children.

‘When I was a child I swore that I would grow up and fulfill my duty in this life.’

To 30-year-old Kamleh Wehbe, that duty was marrying a severely wounded resistance fighter. Once an active fighter in the Lebanese Shi’a Muslim resistance movement, Hizbullah, her husband Hassan now spends all his time in a wheelchair. He is paralyzed and can only move his head.

Like many others before him, Hassan joined Hizbullah to fight the Israeli army which had invaded southern Lebanon in 1978 causing hundreds of thousands of villagers to flee their homes. Hassan was only 14 when Israel occupied southern Lebanon, but the image of his family fleeing from the Israelis never left his mind. A few years later, desperate to return to their homes, the southerners joined Hizbullah to drive out the Israeli army. Thousands of young men enrolled. Among them was Hassan.

The only way to fight the powerful Israeli army was to ambush Israeli patrols and launch a series of hit-and-run raids against outposts held by the occupying forces.

Fighters were told that the military operations would either cost them their lives or render them severely wounded. Hassan didn’t hesitate.

‘I knew the risks,’ he said. ‘But I was doing something for God and for my country. That was worth every risk.’

During one military operation Hassan’s group was spotted infiltrating the occupied zone. In the ensuing exchange of fire, Hassan was shot in the neck, paralyzing him instantly.

Illustration: Sarah John As for all its wounded, Hizbullah stepped in. The movement had already established an association in 1989 to care for its injured fighters and civilians wounded during battle. It currently cares for over 3,000 men, women and children – 80 per cent of the men are former resistance fighters.

Once the medical side is taken care of, the association turns its attention to finding ways to reintegrate the wounded into society. The goal is to make them as independent as possible. This means purchasing homes for their veterans and adapting them to suit their disabilities. Each disabled veteran receives a monthly stipend and their family’s expenses – from school tuition to medical bills – are paid. Before locating jobs for them, patients can benefit from training – in languages, computers, handicrafts, vocational skills. Some can enroll in a university if they wish. An interest-free loan is dispatched for those who want to start their own businesses.

And for bachelors – wives are provided.

There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of young women showing up at the association wanting to marry wounded resistance fighters. Among them was Kamleh.

In 1997, she was matched with Hassan. A year later, she gave birth to quadruplets.

‘Even the association was surprised,’ she laughed. ‘They have been providing us with milk and diapers since the quadruplets arrived.’ A full-time nanny was also provided.

Still more women are calling up the association and putting their names on the waiting list. The latest are several women from Saudi Arabia wishing to marry wounded resistance fighters.

‘This is our duty,’ explained Kamleh. ‘These men have given up their lives and their bodies to free our country. They didn’t have to but they did. And this is the least that we women can do for them.’

Kamleh knew from an early age that she would end up marrying a wounded fighter. The television footage of resistance fighters aired on Lebanese broadcasting stations mesmerized her. As the occupation in the south continued, she swore to marry a fighter one day – a severely wounded fighter.

‘It is an honour to be married to Hassan,’ said Kamleh. ‘A very big honour.’

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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