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United we eat

Your issue on food and farming (Peasants' revolt, NI 353) brought home to me the importance of working for change at a systemic level. It is all well and good, as an individual consumer, to attempt to assuage one's conscience by buying organic or locally grown food, to buy fair-trade coffee, to be vegetarian (all things that I try to do and consider to be important choices for both my mental and physical health and the well-being of the planet), but it is not enough and will not change the world.

Click here to read issue 353. Your issue showed what is possible when people in the South are allowed to control their own lives. However, as a citizen of the developed world, I must recognize the hypocrisy of my government on issues of agricultural subsidies, food security, food aid and 'free trade'. If things are to change in a substantive manner, then as Jules Pretty states in NI 353, 'it is a question of politics and power'. We citizens who recognize the injustice of our governments' policies must act collectively to force those who supposedly represent us to change the laws that allow huge corporations to dominate agriculture at the expense of hundreds of millions of people.

Edson Castilho
Toronto, Canada

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Why not instead provide massive support to local organizations in which Israelis and Palestinians work jointly for a democratic and non-sectarian future?

Another way for Israel
Archbishop Desmond Tutu urges that Israel be treated like South Africa under apartheid (View from the South, NI 353). This call probably appeals to many who are exasperated by oppressive Israeli policies and who rightly compare apartheid with the discriminatory practices of Israel towards Palestinians. This similarity does not necessarily mean that measures which proved effective to eliminate apartheid would work to ensure Israel's compliance with international norms.

Israeli Jewish children are told since childhood that the 'whole world hates us'. Isolating Israel would confirm this paranoic perception and strengthen the cohesion of Israeli Jewish society 'against the gentile world' instead of providing the enlightened segments of Israeli Jewish society with means to dissociate themselves from the fascist right. Pressurizing Israeli society actually strengthens its cohesion and steadfastness. It's the siren of peace Zionists dread most. A similar phenomenon informs the fear of Zionists towards liberal societies which lead to assimilation of Jews. Former President of the World Jewish Congress Edgar Bronfman called Jewish assimilation the main threat to the Jewish people after the Holocaust. A policy of divestment will probably strengthen the determination of Israeli Jewish society to resist policy changes. Why not instead provide massive support to local organizations in which Israelis and Palestinians work jointly for a democratic and non-sectarian future? These organizations provide the only hope for a just and lasting peace in my homeland, based on the principle of equality.

Elias Davidsson
Reykjavik, Iceland

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I met a Mexican research scientist who felt irritation similar to Stuart Riddle's (Letters, NI 353) whenever anyone used the world 'American' to describe a resident of the US in view of the vast number of other countries in the two continents of North and South America. I suggest Stuart try this Mexican's expression: USAs (pronounced 'users'). It seems quite appropriate, as the country has acquired the image of a parasitic consumer.

Michelle Butler
Reading, England

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Hope is strong
I just finished reading Get It Right! (NI 352) I think it fair to say you did get it right. It is all too easy, confronted with the enormous power of the established orders around the world, to fall into despair. Your case studies show that determined people can achieve significant change.

John Peeler
Lewisburg, US

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Hydrogen doubts
Apologies for sounding a negative note in response to such a good and much-needed positive issue (NI 352), but the article 'Islands of Hope in Hydrogen' seemed to miss the mark. The sub-headline, '... if governments have the guts to take on the oil barons', is rather blatantly contradicted by your citing Shell and Texaco as two corporations developing hydrogen technology. We're hearing so much about hydrogen at the moment partly because it suits the oil companies' expertise - the transport and distribution of hydrogen to meet energy needs. Real sustainability depends on reducing energy consumption in much of the world and generating locally as much as possible. This however doesn't suit the oil companies so much.

Finally, it seems either very optimistic or just naïve to suggest that hydrogen might make the world a more secure place, 'providing fuel and power to developing areas'. One might have applauded the fact that oil was chiefly found in less-developed areas this time last century - like Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Colombia.

Richard Lane
Car Busters Magazine and Resource Centre
Prague, Czech Republic

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I'm enjoying your December issue (NI 352) with its 'accent on the positive'. But if you have readers in Sacramento, I'm sure they will never let Chris Richards live down her gaffe in calling Los Angeles the capital of California. As for the Angelinos themselves (I live next door to them,) they already think theirs is the most important city in the state so they will just be happy to have that fact recognized.

Jane Turner
Santa Monica, US

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Appalled in Oshawa
Although I thoroughly enjoyed The Other America (NI 351), I WAS APPALLED by the cover. It is common knowledge that Western culture sexually exploits women. However, you did not address this.

I earnestly looked through the magazine hoping to find some justification for the cover. I found none. This only leads me to believe that you endorse the idea of female exploitation... at least if it helps you to sell a few magazines!

Tamara Koziar
Oshawa, Canada

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We are all capitalists
I find myself wondering sometimes whether you're bashing the right folk. Articles such as your Ralph Klein one (Worldbeaters, NI 351) are a good example. While you bash the man, you fail to realize that attacking populist politicians and governments or nasty corporations leads one to the inescapable conclusion that what you are actually disagreeing with is ordinary people. Whatever you may believe, America, Alberta and indeed most First World countries are democracies, and if the people in them care enough about these issues they could vote out the politicians. Similarly, to an increasing extent, corporations are owned by ordinary people (often through pension funds) and have democratic AGMs - we are all capitalists now.

Meanwhile, my limited experience of the Third World suggests that people there have similar fundamental attitudes (looking after one's own family, pursuing increases in material wealth while still valuing society) to those in the First World. So who are you against: Ralph Klein and George Bush, or all of humanity?

Neal Hockley
Fianarantsoa, Madagascar

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Why have they been denied access to lawyers? Why have they not even been given the status of political prisoners?

Duplicity in Guantánamo
As a relatively recent subscriber to NI, I have been greatly impressed by your radical, moral and courageous stance over a wide range of burning issues. There is, however, a specific cause which I believe you should also take up, particularly relevant in the current climate of impending war and the whipped-up fear of both genuine and imagined terrorism. I refer to the plight of the hundreds of alleged terrorists who, as a result of the US intervention in Afghanistan, now languish - forgotten it seems by the world - in the jails of Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. In flagrant contravention of international law and flouting even the most basic norms of human decency, it would seem that the US authorities - the same people who claim to be the planet's principal upholders of democracy and defenders of freedom - are denying many fundamental human and legal rights to the hundreds of individuals incarcerated there. Why have they been denied access to lawyers? Why have they not even been given the status of political prisoners? When, if at all, do the US powers-that-be intend, as legally and morally they should, to give them a fair trial and let the courts decide who is guilty and who innocent of terrorist crimes? What is the point of  the US going to war in Iraq to remove a tyrant and implant democracy if its own actions in Guantánamo are the absolute antithesis of democracy?

Michael Newton
Consett, England

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Cuba and Venezuela
Declan McKenna of the Cuba Support Group of Ireland wrote to complain about our mention of Venezuela under President Chávez selling cheap oil to Cuba (Latin America roundup in The Chronicle 2002, NI 353). He included a statement from the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated 9 January 2003 which refutes this vehemently. It asserts Cuba has paid for all oil received from Venezuela on equal or less favourable terms than numerous other countries and that the allegation of cheap oil sales is a right-wing media ploy to discredit friendly relations between Cuba and Venezuela.

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Letter from Lebanon

Heart's desire
Pregnant with her first child, Reem Haddad seethes at her well-wishers.

I stood there waiting for the pronouncement which would inevitably come. I put on what I thought was an expressionless face. I was tired of arguing. And, as usual, it came: 'If God is willing, it will be a groom' - the Lebanese way of wishing upon me a boy. I murmured an incomprehensible appropriate reply and walked away.

I was pregnant with my first child and my husband and I had decided not to find out the sex of the baby. We really didn't care, much to the disbelief of many people. 'It can't be,' said one man. 'You must wish for a boy. Every family wants a boy.'

Strangers on the street would stop me to tell me that I was, for certain, carrying a boy (apparently if the belly bulges upwards, it guarantees a boy). 'He will no doubt make your husband happy.' I was seething. I imagined the baby growing inside me, if it were a girl, seething as well. I found myself reassuring my protruding belly that a girl would be greatly loved.

'What if the baby can hear all this and she's a girl?' I complained to my patient husband. 'She won't feel special and won't want to come out.' I admit that pregnancy makes one lose some of one's logic.

Illustration: Sarah John The more people wished a boy upon me, the more I fervently hoped that the baby was a girl. 'Let's hope it is a boy,' said a woman at the gym as we walked on the treadmill. 'But just in case it's not, here, look at her.' She jumped off her machine and ushered in a little girl. 'This is my daughter. She's nine years old. Isn't she beautiful? Twahameh. Twahameh.'

This is an Arabic expression reserved for pregnant woman. It means if I stare long enough at the child, my baby will look like her. The mother planted the bored-looking child in front of my treadmill, ordered her to remain there and went off. I managed to finish my treadmill session very quickly.

I dared to scratch my face in the supermarket some time during my eighth month. A hefty-looking woman descended upon me. 'Are you carrying a girl?' she demanded. 'For if you are, she is going to have a birthmark on her face in the same spot that you've just scratched. And she will have trouble finding a husband later on.'

There was no escaping. I had some workers install a closet in the nursery. 'You must put in more than one closet,' said the carpenter. 'That way if it's a girl, you will immediately try to have a boy and the closets for each would be ready.'

I was beginning to acquire an attitude. 'I want a girl. A girl,' I would say to anyone who greeted me. 'I hope it's a girl. I definitely want a girl.'

My mother sought to comfort me. 'You must be carrying a girl,' she said. 'You are looking radiant. Only a girl could do that. If it's a boy, you wouldn't look pretty at all.' I'm not sure that was much comfort.

So many others wanted to make me 'feel good'. 'This will be your first born,' said my neighbour. 'So it wouldn't matter if it was a girl.' I purposely bought a few little dresses and hung them out on the balcony for the neighbours to see. It was my declaration to the world: I want a girl.

On 28 June at 12:35pm my wish came true: I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Yasmine Alice. We were thrilled. I couldn't wait to take her out for a stroll. I proudly wanted to show her off to the world. As I expected, people stopped me in the streets and peered in the pram. My beautiful little darling cooed at them. After uttering the necessary compliments and blessings, they smiled at me.

But as I smiled back, I suddenly froze. 'If God is willing,' they said without missing a beat, 'the next one will be a boy.'

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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