Readers of our Oct. 1 story on the surprising rise of the xenophobic Swiss right came to Switzerland's defense. "Many people support the humanitarian traditions of our nation," said one. Another insisted, "We want to deport only those foreign asylum seekers who become criminals."
Consensus Democracy in the Alps
I enjoyed your article about Swiss politics very much ("Animosity in the Alps," Oct. 1). It was interesting how you outlined some parallels and differences in the broader context of Europe. I agree with most of the analysis but want to point out that as a consensus democracy, Switzerland has an executive body of seven ministers appointed by the Parliament. Since WWII, these seats have been distributed according to the Zauberformel, or "Magic Formula." Because of their relative strength, the seats go to the four major parties: the Social Democrats (SPS), the Christian People's Party (CVP), the Liberal Party (FDP) and the Swiss People's Party (SVP). Since the SVP on the right had a "landslide" in 2003, it got a second seat but not, as you reported, at the expense of the Social Democrats—they extended their electorate as well. The Christian People's Party lost its second seat because of its weak performance at the ballot. Over the years, we have seen a "cannibalizing" of the center parties by both the left and the right. The Christian People's Party, similar to Germany's Christian Democrats with Angela Merkel at the helm, belongs to the center as well as to some liberals.
The social Democrats, with their federal Councilors Moritz Leuenberger and Micheline Calmy-Rey, remain the clear bulwark against the racist, right-wing policies of the SVP. The Social Democrats are the second strongest party in Switzerland, showing that a large number of people support the humanitarian tradition of the nation that founded the Red Cross and that was the home to the League of Nations and is now a major home of the United Nations.
I want to draw your attention to another side of democratic and peaceful Switzerland. The national-day celebration at the R?tli Wiese Meadow in Uri has been jeopardized because of fear of right-wing-extremist protests, as had happened in the past several years. Last year the celebration speech by the Bundes president had to be stopped early, and peaceful participants—including families with children—were forced to leave. The cantons involved could not agree as to whose responsibility it was to provide safety for the visitors and how to share the costs for protection. This, even in such a rich country as Switzerland! But now some private investors have promised to take care of those expenses. So, the R?tli-Union and the government heads of the participating cantons will continue to organize the national-day celebration. The rowdy and dangerous behavior of radical fans is increasingly taking place at football games here. It is an unknown side of Switzerland for foreign visitors, who experience only our beautiful mountains, Swiss cheese, William Tell and Heidi. These rowdy fans are threatening to and dangerous for families with children and peaceful bystanders. And they now want to hold the world football games next year? The laws of punishment here are far too soft to have any impact on violators and criminals, and the authorities themselves are weak and insecure.
The story of the three white sheep on the Swiss flag, with a black one booted away, has nothing to do with racism, as you report, and it has nothing to do with sending away black people, either. Someone who behaves badly is called a black sheep, and the fact that he may not be accepted and perhaps even expelled does not have anything to do with skin color. Switzerland wants to deport foreign asylum seekers—independent of skin color—who abuse our hospitality and become criminals. That is what SVP, the People's Party, wants. The poster is not meant to be racist—it really stands for greater security. You should know that about 70 percent of our prisoners are foreigners.
Changing of the Guard in Pakistan
Ron Moreau and Zahid Hussain discuss a change of military leadership in Pakistan ("The Next Musharraf," Oct. 8), where President Pervez Musharraf decided wisely to relinquish his position as armed forces chief. His successor, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, who has gained significant military experience while directing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), can concentrate on the Army to which Musharraf, admittedly, couldn't give enough attention. It is important for Pakistan, as a country deeply involved in the global terror conflict, to have stability at all levels of power. Musharraf, though not an enemy of the United States, controls too much power in Pakistan. Totalitarian control over both the government and the military is a threatening hold on a country that can eventually lead to an imposed dictatorship. The people of Pakistan were wise to call for his resignation before he was re-elected as president. Kiyani's experience in Middle East intelligence can also be utilized to mend the communication gap between the U.S. military and Pakistani tribesmen who, undoubtedly, have leads that can help capture bin Laden and further protect against global terror. Through these two leaders, Musharraf and Kiyani, let's hope that Pakistan can eventually break loose from some of the conflict that could leave them vulnerable to floundering in a culture of war. It is imperative that the United States work closely with leaders in Pakistan, as well as those in its neighboring countries, if any resolution is going to be made.
Rochester, New Hampshire
India's Age-Old Bonds With Burma
Apropos your Oct. 8 article "The Monks' Uprising," the monks' bitter protest could prove to be a death knell for Burma's dictatorial military government. I think India should play an active role in supporting democratic fervor in Burma. It should not play a passive role, as it did in the case of the Maoist menace in Nepal or, for that matter, the Chinese brutalities in Tibet. Honoring its age-old bonds with Burma, it should provide total support to Aung San Suu Kyi. The monks' uprising is indicative of the fact that the military government has crossed the line of decency. After all, it is an ominous sign when worshipers of silence have to wage a war against the rulers. Shedding its wait-and-watch policy, India needs to crack the whip on the military government, which is refusing to honor the wishes of its people.
Arvind K. Pandey
Criminal Politicians, Not Dictators
I was astonished to read that you consider Alberto Fujimori and Slobodan Milosevic dictators ("The End of Impunity," Oct. 8). They took power democratically and left democratically, too. So they are not "dictators," they were criminals. But every criminal politician is not a dictator, nor vice versa. Human nature is the same whether it is under democracy or under absolutism. The only real difference between parliamentarian regimes and dictatorships is the time and the procedure the citizens need to get rid of the criminal politician. Under parliamentarian rule they need the time till the next elections. Under a dictatorship, they need far more time and effort. This is the effective difference and advantage of democracy. To hope that democracy will give us a regime without political crimes is unrealistic.
A Damaging Legacy
To "Ignorance, Incompetence and Arrogance" ("Deadly Decisions," Aug. 6) should be added zealotry, but the American people got what they voted for and will have to live with until noon, Jan. 20, 2009. Knock on wood that the next president is knowledgeable, pragmatic and compassionate, and succeeds in undoing as best as possible what shouldn't have been done in the first place.
Michael G. Driver
Ichihara City, Japan
Unable to invade Iran successfully, the latest U.S. proposition to flood the Middle East gratuitously with billions of dollars of armaments—including missile systems and fighter aircraft—over the next 10 years is apparently to be the damaging legacy of President George W. Bush. Many years after he retires to his Texas ranch, the Middle East will still be in a deadly state of turmoil as Israel, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia fight and bomb each other with U.S. missiles and cluster munitions, and strive for power and hegemony in a totally destabilized region. It is a region that even now threatens the economies of the world. Is it not time that the supply of arms of this magnitude to any foreign government be subject to specific approval by the U.N. Security Council? Otherwise, we, and the international community, are held hostage to the whim of any wayward, inept or megalomaniac president who perceives he has a score to settle or a rattle to shake.
Exploitation in the Oil States
Your Aug. 6 cover story on "The New Middle East" draws a parallel with the Gospel story of the rich man and poor Lazarus, who was left with the crumbs from the rich man's table. In the Middle East, exploited laborers are looking for their El Dorado while the big oil companies are raking in profits from the growing value of their pot of black gold. So, the vicious cycle of the haves and have-nots continues while these laborers spend their entire (uneventful) lives away from families and friends. The loan sharks and recruiters continue to suck blood from these migrant laborers. Unlike U.S. aliens (whether legal or not) who dream the American Dream, these laborers have no dreams. Your articles covering the New Middle East did not discuss the growing vices sprouting in these regions with local men sowing their wild oats. And who are the big takers of the condos sprouting there? Nonresident celebrities from the worlds of film, television, sports and business—all investing their surplus wealth there because the New Middle East is a safe tax haven for siphoning off ill-gotten wealth.
Stephen B. Gomes
It is heartening to know that the gulf states are turning from traditional, narrow-minded, backward ways of looking at the world to a "revolutionary" paradigm shift under their modernizing rulers Sheik Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi and Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktum, CEO of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. Transforming Abu Dhabi into a world center of culture (with the help of the Louvre, the Sorbonne, Yale University, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government) should bring about change in the minds of the people of the U.A.E. and, I hope, of other member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The "ultraright intellectuals" of the Arab world who are trying to keep their people tied to the past may find themselves swept away by onrushing waves of modernization triggered by culture, education, business, finance, investment and good governance.
Emmanuel Noli Santos
Makati City, Philippines
Legalizing the Playing Field
In your Aug. 6 periscope item "Hopped Up and Ready to Go," I was stunned to read: "So why not let them dope?" and, "legalizing doping was the best way to level the playing field." To think that this is published in an American magazine, a prestigious publication from a country where cigarette smokers are hunted down because the health issue has become paramount! Don't you care about the health of the champs? What if they develop cancer as so many have done? Sport is said to be good for health. Can you name ex-cyclist champions that made it over 70 years of age? Doping is as hazardous to health as smoking is. But you say "allowing drugs might take care of the fairness problem." To begin with, if all competitors use drugs we are back to square one—that is, the winner will either be the best, or the winner will be the one who has been given the most efficient drug. Using drugs makes sense only if you want to beat your rivals. So you are encouraging and siding with those who do not play fair, do not care about the future health and lives of sports champions after they have retired, and turn sport into a circus. You pretend to denounce hypocrisy when in fact you glamorize doping and make Michael Rasmussen the real winner of this year's Tour de France.
La Jarne, France
Our Nov. 12 story on HIV's global spread ("Where Did AIDS Begin?") described new research as showing " 'with greater than 99 percent certainty' that HIV migrated from Africa to Haiti before 1966." In fact, the research showed a greater than 99 percent chance that the virus migrated from Africa to Haiti to the United States. It probably did so in the mid- to late 1960s.