Mail Call: Free the Burmese

Brutalities in Burma
Fareed Zakaria's Oct. 15 World View on sanctions against Burma was the most concise and logical article I have read about that country ("Sleepwalking to Sanctions, Again"). At last, someone finally did some homework and read the history of Burma and what it has gone through for the last 150 years. Naturally, the Burmese don't trust outsiders because of what outsiders have done to them during the last century. All they wanted was their independence from foreign rule, and those promises were always broken. Why punish them further with sanctions? Leave them alone. They are savvier than we think.
Esther M. Smedvig
London, England

I am writing about your coverage of the protests in Rangoon ("The Monks' Uprising," Oct. 8). The military regime in Burma should hand over the government to the elected leaders. They cannot keep brutalizing people. In the 1988 protests, 3,000 citizens were killed. And for the past 11 years, Aung San Suu Kyi, an elected leader and a Nobel Prize winner, has lived under house arrest, completely isolated, except for a maid, a doctor's monthly visits and her jailers. She should be released immediately. Why is there no international or U.N. pressure on such tin-pot military dictators?
Rajendra K. Aneja
Dubai, U.A.E.

The brutal force let loose on innocent Buddhist monks and civilians by the military rulers in Burma should be condemned by democracy-loving people all over the world. A predominantly Buddhist country, Burma was once a prosperous nation that exported rice to other countries in Asia. The military junta that threw out a democratic government and captured power by force about 25 years ago has ruled Burma with an iron fist for far too long. As it is isolated from the rest of the world by its undemocratic junta, very little news about the atrocities committed by the regime trickles out. However, enough evidence is available about how the military top brass live it up while the economy is crumbling and the poor masses are suffering. My cousins who migrated to Burma from Sri Lanka during World War II are still there, and I worry about them. A country that produced the eminent U.N. Secretary-General U Thant is now in turmoil. The United States and other powerful nations should take positive action through the United Nations to put an end to this massacre of the innocents.
Lionel Rajapakse
Kandy, Sri Lanka

Imagine if the present street protests in Rangoon were held instead in Ramallah or Hebron, if the Buddhist monks were Palestinian Arabs, and the soldiers of the Burmese military junta were the Israeli Defense Forces. Imagine if the last time this was tried, 3,000 were butchered and many more injured and imprisoned. Then imagine the worldwide protest rallies, the economic and academic boycotts, the emergency U.N. meetings and the vilification of the tiny state of Israel. One must ask why there is so little interest in or support for the truly brutalized people of the world.
John Lalor
Dublin, Ireland

Forgetting the Past in Spain
At the time of Franco's death, I was living in Chicago with my wife and child. I lived there for 10 years and had the opportunity to observe the enormous obsession of the American media with Franco's life and death. Thirty years later, your reporters are keeping this obsession alive. Sarah Wildman's Oct. 15 article "The Longest Shadow" misses the main point: José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's attempt to forge the "law of historic memory" is plain electioneering, with very little substance behind it. Most of us—on both sides—suffered losses during the Civil War. We treat that as part of history, and expect nothing good from these political suggestions that perpetuate only their respective chairs and payrolls.
Federico Arrizabalaga
Valencia, Spain

As a Spanish citizen living in Spain since my retirement in 1998 after 41 years abroad, I am shocked, disgusted and scandalized by your article "The Longest Shadow." Your writer obviously does not live in the same Spain as I do. Spain came to terms with its Civil War after the death of Franco, when all political parties agreed to forget the past and get on with the future without accusations or recriminations. This was called Los Pactos de Moncloa, or the Pacts of Moncloa, after the residence of the prime minister. It is only since the arrival (by accident) of Prime Minister Rodríguez Zapatero that he has tried to pit one half of Spain against the other, and this, 65 years after the end of the Civil War. This law, called Historic Memory, has been criticized not only by the Popular Party but also by the ex-prime minister Felipe González and Fernando Mujica, the Spanish defensor del pueblo, or ombudsman, who is also socialist. It is time that your reporters writing on Spain got their facts right. It's not the first time that their ignorance about Spain shows.
Carlos Bonafonte
via internet from Spain

I was happily surprised to see the issue of Francoism dealt with in your magazine. As a Catalan, I always feel that the problem is not given proper attention in the international media. I thank Sarah Wildman for her effort in analyzing the present political situation in Spain, which is indeed very complex. But I'd like to point out a few inaccuracies in her account. First, the autonomy granted by the Spanish Constitution to Catalonia is far from generous—not only in the political sense but also culturally and economically. Second, the writer unfortunately refers to the Catalan language by calling it a "local language." Catalan has been the language of the Catalan people since long before Spain conquered Catalonia and, naturally, our children learn it. And last, I do not believe that Spaniards from elsewhere have any problem moving in and finding work in Catalonia. To prove it, just walk the streets of Barcelona (or any other city in Catalonia) and speak Spanish, not Catalan. You will have no problem.
Neus Portet
La Garriga, Spain

Tony Blair as Mideast Mediator
Tony Blair will never keep a low-enough profile to avoid what must be his inevitable war-crimes trial ("Seeking Center Ground," Oct. 15). George W. Bush will probably escape, but Blair and his fellow ministers who signed on to the International Criminal Court must stand trial at The Hague for their part in this disaster in Iraq. The chief prosecutor at the ICC has said Bush and Blair could face charges when Iraq signs on to the court. Muslim countries need to see that this court is not only for enemies of the United States and Western governments.
John Garrett
Sri Jayawardenapura, Sri Lanka

Anyone who knows anything about Tony Blair's dismal record of anti-Arab bias in the Middle East conflict and, hence, the Arab people's perception of him as least qualified for a mediator's role, must be quite amazed at the European Quartet's brazen nomination of him as the Middle East envoy. Of course their ready alibi, if they ever needed one, is the expression of support by the West's pet Arab rulers. But I wish the Quartet would remember what history teaches us—that dictators never have the last word. Such arrogant disregard of the popular sentiment of a key party to the conflict by the powers who keep lecturing us on democracy is a premeditated insult to the Arab people.
Yehia A. El-ezabi
Cairo, Egypt

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair the new Middle East envoy representing the Quartet? I cannot think of a worse person for the job. Blair has no credibility for this position, which demands an impartial candidate, one with an excellent grasp and healthy respect for human rights and international law. He is the co-architect of the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. He supported the illegal invasion of Lebanon by Israel. He has supported the illegal withholding of Palestinian funds by Israel. He has helped undermine the democratically elected Hamas government in the Palestinian territories. He has never spoken out against the inhumane treatment of "enemy combatants" at Guantánamo. His foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, expressed her delight at the sentencing to death of Saddam Hussein in a Coalition-backed kangaroo court (despite the fact that capital punishment is outlawed in Britain). His Defense secretary, Des Browne, permitted the Royal Navy to enter Iranian territorial waters illegally, sparking an international incident. It is patently clear that Blair represents the interests (exclusively?) of Israel and of American foreign policy in the Middle East. Consequently, he has no credibility in the Middle East whatsoever. Bush's puppy will make a mess. Again.
Rory E. Morty
Giessen, Germany

I was dismayed to learn that Tony Blair has been appointed to represent the Quartet on the Middle East to hammer out a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinian territories. First of all, no permanent peace solution between Israel and the Palestinian people can be achieved without the participation of Hamas. The Bush administration and the Israel government, which once discredited the PLO's Fatah under Yasir Arafat, are now trying to coax the same political party in the West Bank without Gaza or Hamas? Why do the U.S. foreign-policy makers bet on the wrong horse time and time again? The findings of Tony Blair may have a positive response in Washington and Jerusalem, but the backbone of the Palestinian territories is closer to Hamas than to Fatah. This hide-and-seek game called shuttle diplomacy has been going on for more than five decades now without any concrete results. The real will for peace has been lacking on the Israeli side under U.S. sponsorship and its strong Jewish lobby. As we know, where there's a will, there's a way. Tony Blair's role as a successful negotiator in Northern Ireland is a shining example. But achieving peace in the Middle East is a different ball game, even for this seasoned English political broker. The time bomb is ticking and no further delay can be permitted. The suffering Palestinian people have become not only the prisoners of Israeli occupation but also their own Palestinian brothers. The waiting game is over.
Syed Rashid Ali Shah
Vroomshoop, Netherlands

Socialist Spending in Sweden
In your article about the liberal benefits in Sweden ("A Stressful Situation," Oct. 15) you write that our nonsocialist government under Fredrik Reinfeldt may have gone too far in limiting paid sick leave. I disagree. Decades of social-democratic governments have destroyed the morale of the Swedish people. And the spending has been a way for socialists to buy voters. A recent government report shows that nearly $10 billion is spent every year in fraud and incorrect payments of paid parental leave, sickness pay and early disability insurance. Such unfair spending has a bad effect on those who really need help.
Dennis Brinkeback
Stockholm, Sweden

Revisiting Rwanda
Your depiction of Rwanda's president as a strongman dictator who rules through repressive measures like the death penalty is far from the truth ("Rwanda Turns Off," Oct. 15). President Paul Kagame was elected with 95 percent of the popular vote in Rwanda's recent elections and was awarded "the Abolitionist of 2007" by the Italian prime minister for abolishing the death penalty in Rwanda. In fact, Amnesty International reports on its Web site that the last executions in Rwanda took place in 1998, two years before Kagame became president. You wrongly imply that a Tutsi elite has grown wealthy at the expense of the majority. The visible wealth in Rwanda's capital has largely been a result of investment by those returning from the diaspora, many of whom are children of Tutsi refugees who fled the genocide. These new residents bring investment, Western education and entrepreneurship—all much needed in Rwanda. You're right to point out the role of the media in the horrendous genocide of 1994, which makes it all the more shocking that you use the same tactics of printing ethnically charged half-truths to support a shaky argument.
Paul Stewart
Kigali, Rwanda

Sarkozy ' s France
How can Nicolas Sarkozy deal with debt-ridden France when he takes an extravagant vacation soon after becoming president ("Shaking Up the Continent," Sept. 3)? Will the sale of weapons to Libya help rid France of its national debt, which has been affecting the country for more than a decade? What can be expected from old faces like Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Bernard Kouchner, whom Sarkozy has chosen to run the administration? They have failed in the past. Not to mention Alain Juppé, who was once mired in a big scandal with former president Jacques Chirac and was finally forced to quit Sarkozy's cabinet. Did not President Sarkozy blunder by having Juppé join his government? Sarkozy wants more time to cut deficit spending, but he should also consider cuts in the big salaries enjoyed by most top civil servants. This should have been done years ago. When a country is weighed down by a huge national debt, incurred by the same pundits and politicians for nearly two decades, it is time for change, for the president to tighten his administration's belt and tackle the budget deficit. The key issues are domestic problems such as joblessness. Sarkozy's response to the case of a 61-year-old pedophile, who after being jailed twice for 27 years, raped another child soon after he was released, was to suggest that a special prison be built to confine all pedophiles! Instead of hiring more staff, Sarkozy adopted the same failed policy of the previous government. Unemployment, underemployment, stagnation and corruption are the problems in France. Sarkozy wants to apply economic solutions to many areas of life. If only he would do what he preaches. Today's main concern is to halt the rise in unemployment that continues to widen the gap between those with a job and those without.
Dan Chellumben
Amboise, France

Turkey at the Crossroads
Apropos your articles on Turkey ("The End of Secularism," and "An Army in Retreat," Sept. 3), the election of Abdullah Gul with a simple majority vote as the new president of Turkey, along with its largely Muslim population, does not augur well for this traditionally secular nation. Ever since he was the foreign minister, Gul has been known to be an Islamic hard-liner like Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister elected in 2002. In the wake of the global resurgence of Islam, Turks seem to have re-discovered their religious identity that lay buried under the European brand of secularism imposed by Kemal Ataturk in 1923. The people also forgot Erdogan was imprisoned for four months by the all-powerful military for inciting religious extremism by reciting to a crowd a poem glorifying Islam. With both the president and the prime minister belonging to the AKP party, and with massive electoral support from the Muslims, Turkey might be on the verge of jettisoning its secularism. In fact, after the election of Erdogan, Turkey was considered the Trojan horse of Islamic extremism and the EU was wary of admitting it into the Union. Now with Gul heading the country in defiance of the Turkish military, the prospect of Turkey's being admitted into the EU has further dimmed. This is not good for the country. Isolated from industrialized Europe, it might gradually drift toward the Islamic nations. Remember that Erdogan's mentor, the leader of the banned proIslamic Welfare Party that had come to power in 1996, had visited Libya and Iran to develop friendly ties with them. But the Turkish military, acting as the sentinel of secularism, swiftly deposed him in 1997. Aligning with hard-line Islamic countries would also alienate Turkey from the West, which would affect its economy. And with the chances of admission to the EU vanishing, the government would no longer accommodate the separatist Kurds who might be provoked into committing acts of terrorism. Worse, with the EU having already admitted Greek Cyprus as a member, there might erupt armed confrontation between the Turkish and Greek governments on the island and unification of Cyprus might become a permanently closed chapter. The Turkish military can still play a positive role by reining in the two leaders. With its secular orientation, it acts as the sentinel against hard-line Islamic fundamentalism.
Sharad C. Misra
Mumbai, India

Translations of Tolstoy
With reference to "Lost in Translations" (Oct. 15), Malcolm Jones surprisingly does not mention the most authentic and widely read translation of Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace" by Louise and Aylmer Maude. The Maudes lived in Moscow, knew the Russian language firsthand and were personally acquainted with Tolstoy, who said, "Better translators could not be invented." As a Tolstoy scholar who has written a book and a Ph.D. thesis on "Tolstoy's Search for the Meaning of Life," I was disappointed that Jones mentioned Constance Garnett but not Aylmer Maude. It appears he has not done his homework.
Narendra Kumar
Chandigarh, India

Malcolm Jones clearly shows his support for the new version of "War and Peace" translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. But I'm confused by the translated excerpts placed side by side in comparison. Jones writes, "Like a pair of twins, each has its own character." I fail to see how each has its own character in that the sentences are exactly alike but for a few syntactic tricks. Furthermore, the Anthony Briggs translation apparently makes use of better word choice, making it feel more like prose that does not support the author's position. These side-by-side translations presuppose that your readers are literary evolutionists; instead, let us see them placed alongside the original Russian. For example, was "joie de vivre" (a borrowed phrase from French) in the original Russian, or was that a result of Briggs's attempt at classy prose? Further, and perhaps more important, is he being true to the original? That would hardly seem "brisk and efficient."
James Campbell
Linguist and Chinese Dialectologist
Taipei, Taiwan

Remembering Pavarotti
Kudos to Andrew Moravcsik for his "Appreciation" of the late, great Luciano Pavarotti (Sept. 17). Being older than Pavarotti by a decade and belonging to the old "school tie" generation of British education, which required beautiful odes and sonnets to be recited from memory, the passing of Pavarotti and, some decades ago, of his role model, Enrico Caruso, reminds me of the poet William Cowper's prescience in his "Ode to Boadicea": "Other Romans shall arise/Heedless of a soldier's name;/Sounds, not arms, shall win the prize,/Harmony the path to fame."
Jamshed K. Fozdar

Where ' s Boeing?
In your Aug. 27 article "Locked and Loaded," I noticed two errors. Boeing is headquartered in Chicago, not in Seattle. And EADS did indeed win a $25 billion contract in 2003 to develop and build a military transport aircraft, but the contract was awarded not by NATO but rather by OCCAR, representing Germany, France, Spain, Britain, Italy, Turkey, Belgium and Luxembourg. The aircraft is called the A400M; a total of 180 were purchased under the contract.
Shalom Dinerstein
Jerusalem, Israel