Sir-- 'Apocalypse now' ( Al-Ahram Weekly 7- 13 September) articulates with great clarity the paradoxes of America's political agenda. However, perhaps you give the religious right a bit too much credit. The level of education is at an all-time low in America and it is doubtful that the Christian right is serious enough to spend time contemplating scriptures of any kind. Rather, it is a large mass of scarcely literate neo-conservatives whose primary concern is maintaining their comfortable lifestyle. They are unaware that America has perpetrated, perpetrates and will continue to perpetrate global terrorism. National news networks spread the propaganda of the Bush regime and the few people who bother to search the Internet for an alternative point of view, form such a minority that their influence is negligible. Some writers understand and do openly condemn America's expansionist policies, but to no avail.
Sir-- Azmi Bishara's comment about the relationship between neo-conservatives and Christian fundamentalists is all wrong, as is his assumption that they are mainly Jews 'Apocalypse now' ( Al-Ahram Weekly 7-13 September). They are tied together not mainly by their hatred of Islam and Israel's enemies, but by a shared perspective of life called the strict father mentality. This mentality believes that morality is determined by a central authority that is inherently good and just and should never be questioned. To the neo-conservatives, this supports their claim that America, as the world's only superpower, is a dominant "father" figure whose ways are morally superior and deserve to be taught/ spread to the immature (child) states of the world.
The assumption of policy-makers being Jews and inherently hating Islam, or that hating Islam is a tie that binds everything together is lazy and irresponsible. Promoting antagonistic thought like this is not helpful to anyone.
Sir-- Regarding the debate concerning press freedom, and whether we should tackle the president's personality, I totally agree that the president as a national symbol and a very powerful Egyptian figure should be treated in a respectable way even if we have our opinions that happen to differ from his. As an Egyptian living abroad it really hurts me to see how the private press and the tabloids are making use of the current democratic era we are having in Egypt, and criticise in a shameful way Egypt's symbols and leaders. At least they should regard with respect the man who is one of the October War's national idols, and who gave us the freedom of speech after years of oppression. That doesn't mean the press should not criticise the government, or not ask for political changes. But it is expected to do this in a manner that corresponds to a code of ethics and international standards.
United Arab Emirates
Sir-- 'Who's afraid of a nuclear Iran' ( Al-Ahram Weekly 31 August-6 September) is a succinct reminder, if one were needed, that Iran is not the problem in the Middle East. The real source of Arab difficulties can be traced to the policies of a single nation, the United States, and its support for its surrogate, Israel, in the region. When Israel bombed Lebanon's infrastructure last month it did so with American- made bombs and after America gave its blessing to that war crime. When Israel seizes Palestinian land and builds new settlements in defiance of all international norms it does so with housing loans and a nod and a wink from the American government. When will we as a nation wake up to the fact that Israel and the United States are two sides of the same coin? Their interests are identical, as shows the Iranian nuclear file again. Both want to stop a nuclear Iran not because they believe it would threaten Arab states but because it would create a competing pole in the region.
Sir-- As an American visiting Egypt, I have been distressed to learn that the small, delicious strawberries, plums, tomatoes, and cucumbers formerly grown here are increasingly difficult to find, having been crowded off the market by large, showy, but less flavourful strains grown in Egypt from American-imported seeds. I was served shammam, a melon friends told me was increasingly unavailable. They also spoke of a white berry, tout, that is no longer commercially available at all. I am sorry that I may never taste it. It is so important for Egyptians to take national pride in their own varieties of fruit and vegetables.
I am writing to plead with you to keep your traditional varieties of food available and to reduce the planting of their relatively tasteless American counterparts. I hope you will consider designating particular Egyptian varieties of little- grown fruits and vegetables as agricultural heritage varieties. You could then solicit grants from such international organisations as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Global Crop Diversity Trust to preserve the seeds of these varieties by keeping them under cultivation. Citizens of Egypt and philanthropists could also be approached to donate money and/or seeds to preserve these agricultural heritage varieties. In America, this approach has been successfully implemented to save several varieties of apples that are rarely, if ever, available on the commercial market. Out of the 1,100 types of apples that were grown in the US in the 1870s, less than 20 are readily available now. But many of them still survive because the seeds have been saved and grown by people interested in preserving them. If such an approach was adopted in Egypt, the rich variety of its fruits and vegetables could be enjoyed by future generations.
I write out of respect for your traditional foods, and a desire to see them continue.
Loss of Mahfouz
Sir-- The death of Naguib Mahfouz is a great loss, not just to Arab literature, but to world literature as a whole. His death adds to an already sad year for literature, with the death of two other great writers, Indonesia's Pramoedya Ananta Toer, followed in quick succession by Pakistan's own Ahmed Nadeem Qasimi.
In his long career, he consistently chronicled Egyptian, and by extension, Arab life, from the days of the monarchy to the glory years of the popular Nasserite revolution in his great trilogy of novels. For his daring, Mahfouz's wages were a brutal attack by Islamic fundamentalists in 1994, which mercifully spared his life, but paralysed him enough to curtail his literary output lasting till his death.
I hope Mahfouz's work is made known to a larger number of people outside the Arab world, especially in South Asia, South-east Asia and Latin America, where it won't be difficult finding comparisons with giants like Garcia Marquez, Abdullah Hussein and Quratulain Haider. Meanwhile, we in Pakistan grieve inconsolably for Mahfouz's death.
Sir-- The sad demise of Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz is a terrible loss to the world of literature. I had the great fortune of meeting him in the Al-Ahram Foundation in May 1984 and was equally fortunate to record my discussions with him. Mahfouz, besides being a man of letters, was a great humanist and a genuine democrat by nature. He raised his voice for tolerance and democracy to prevail in society. I cannot forget his laughter and his wonderful voice, which was so full of his zest for life. He lived his life to the best of his satisfaction and he had no grievances to express. Yet he was a great humanist who had no false airs of being a great writer and he never succumbed to five-star culture, in spite of being quite comfortable in life. He preferred to be with his friends and carried his routine up to the end as a normal person, which is definitely the hallmark of a noble soul.