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Letters

Vol. 29 No. 2 · 25 January 2007

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Whose Body?

Ian Hacking surveys the various strategies proposed for getting more transplant organs from the deceased (LRB, 14 December 2006). But UK Transplant reports that in 2005-6 there were 24 per cent more living organ donors than in 2004-5 but only 2 per cent more deceased donors. There was a continuing decline in the number of ‘deceased heartbeating’ donors – from 664 to 639 (a 4 per cent decrease) – although ‘non-heartbeating’ (also known as ‘brainstem dead’) donors rose 44 per cent to 125 in the same period. There were 7 per cent more kidney transplants, most of the increase coming from 590 living donors.

The US Committee on Increasing Rates of Organ Donation reported in May 2006 that obtaining organs from deceased donors is ‘far less straightforward’ than from living donors. One reason is that there are relatively few ‘brainstem’ deaths in the US and the UK. Several recent studies have found that fewer than 10 per cent of deaths were diagnosed as brainstem deaths and barely half of them resulted in donation.

The techniques used to support circulation and respiration artificially in a brain-stem dead patient until his organs and tissues can be transplanted can be very confusing for the patient’s family. The patient will have good colour and be breathing clearly, so that he looks more alive than dead. The family are not being asked for permission to turn off the machine, but to keep it going so that the organs can be removed by surgery. As one donor’s mother put it, ‘Do you know the worst thing about saying “yes" to a transplant? You’re not there when he dies. You leave the room with him alive. There’s no end.’

Sue Rabbitt Roff
Dundee University Medical School

Surely Ian Hacking should have included Stephen Frears’s Dirty Pretty Things when talking about films about organ transplants. One wonders how such an enormous blooper got into the paper.

Sam Abrams
Rochester, New York

Unfair to the Kurds

When Sabah Salih insists that the liberation of Turkey’s Kurds can only come through nationalism, which Kurds does he mean: Alevis or Sunnis? Secularists or fundamentalists? Agas or peasants? Workers or business-owners? Men or women (Letters, 14 December 2006)? It is simply not true that all Kurds are oppressed. Both in Istanbul and the rural south-east of Turkey many are extremely rich and powerful. Kurdish nationalism, like all others, involves the imposition by an elite of an ideology in which only particular interpretations, interests and people prevail.

Why do so many of those who would look askance on a politics of ethno-nationalism if it was Irish, Serbian, Russian or Jewish smile on it when it is Kurdish? This patronising neo-Orientalism seems to owe much to the long media campaign by groups in Europe and the US associated with the PKK which has captured the imagination of much of the diaspora and many romantic well-wishers. It has benefited, too, from a lot of dewy-eyed Western journalism from the left and noisy anti-Turkish and anti-Iranian propaganda from the right. What poorer Kurds need, like everyone else, is more multiculturalism, more democracy, real economic development, and above all, a radical improvement in the position of women.

John Lovering
Cardiff University

True Dutch

Peter Mair could have said more about Ian Buruma’s simplistic sense of the ‘multicultural’ crisis in Holland (LRB, 14 December 2006). Buruma is right to describe a society at loggerheads with itself and its allochtoon citizens – citizens of foreign origin – but he overstates his case when he says that the Dutch national reflex is to recall the Holocaust when the question of ethnic or religious minorities comes up. It’s true that a high percentage of Jews from the Netherlands ended up in death camps – more than from any country except Poland – while many Dutch people stood by. But Buruma goes on to say: ‘That is the horror that still hangs over Dutch life.’ Really? Buruma’s generation (also mine) had to cope with this legacy, but successive generations have grown up in an ever more secular, progressive, cosmopolitan and prosperous Holland, insulated from the memory of the Nazi transports, and feel no obligation to answer for what happened between 1940 and 1945. Buruma is plainly out of touch when he speaks of the Dutch nation feeling most sorry for itself on 4 May, Memorial Day, which nowadays has more to do with oppression wherever it may occur than with the Nazi occupation.

The strains on multiculturalism in the Netherlands are more straightforward. You may be born in Holland and you may be a Dutch citizen but neither automatically confers ‘Dutchness’. In Dutch statistics, first and second-generation immigrants qualify as allochtonen, distinct from the autochtonen, the ‘true’ Dutch, with both parents born in the Netherlands. Citizens with at least one foreign-born parent are allochtonen, classified as non-Western or Western according to the origin of the parent(s). Consequently, there are many more allochtonen than immigrants. The allochtoon concept inflates the degree of foreignness in Dutch society. Generations of Dutch nationals are stigmatised with the label allochtoon: in effect, it reads ‘not Dutch’.

Nearly one out of every five inhabitants is allochtoon, but only 6.2 per cent of the population are immigrants from non-Western countries. In Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Buruma imagines a collective foreign body in the lily-white bosom of the Dutch nation, an Allochstan as it were. ‘In 1999, 45 per cent of the population was of foreign origin,’ he writes. ‘If projections are right, this will be 52 per cent in 2015. And the majority will be Muslim.’ He fails to point out that the number of first-generation non-Western immigrants in these cities hovers around 20 per cent and is declining.

Over the last three decades, the Netherlands has changed from a nation of churchgoers into a largely secular one. A belief in the good and the green has replaced religion; the Dutch believe in generous public welfare, asylum for refugees, multiculturalism, environmental legislation, public transport, development aid, no more war. However, this alternative religion has begun to fail its followers. ‘True Dutch’ nationals and immigrants alike have fraudulently exploited welfare. The number of migrants in search of a better life has made asylum a thing of the past. The events of 9/11 and subsequent Islamist attacks in Madrid, London and Amsterdam have given leverage to those who oppose immigration. Allochtonen are discriminated against, while segregation, both residential and educational, is rampant. Toxic waste is shipped off to the Third World. Development aid has done little. No wonder modern-day believers in good and green causes are losing faith.

The South African writer Antjie Krog, who knows Holland, has written about the way Dutch discourse on integration and exclusion has come to resemble Afrikaner thinking during the apartheid years. Postwar Dutch civic values, she says, have given way to an unbending self-righteous sense of ownership, fixated on the idea that the ‘true Dutch’ have earned what they own by hard work. Some ten years ago the prime minister Ruud Lubbers spoke of ‘the calculating Dutch citizen’ who operates on a quid pro quo basis in civil and public affairs. Typical of this attitude is the notorious policy whereby refugees are denied admission to the country if they are judged lacking in the quality of integreerbaarheid – the capacity to be integrated. In recent years, the country has rejected more than 50 per cent of refugee applications on these grounds.

Even more striking than the loss of faith in the good and the green is the perceived absence of national security. The Dutch economy thrived during the postwar era under the international security umbrella of the Cold War. The Netherlands counted on the UN and the big powers, the US in particular, to keep the world at peace. The Dutch enjoyed a free ride, but things have changed. In the Netherlands, as elsewhere, it is felt that the US can no longer be relied on. Nuclear proliferation, environmental degradation, rising international terrorism and the unending Palestinian drama have all been intensified by US actions, which have also weakened the UN. The Dutch media talk about a turning point in the Western alliance, but appear baffled as to what might come next.

The no-vote on the European Constitution in 2005 expressed what Tony Judt calls ‘a defensive provincialism’, a desire to protect the borders of the Dutch ‘homeland’ and retreat to a bygone past. The church is out, secularism in, but Pim Fortuyn inspired a nation of secular believers with his folkloric evocation of a pre-immigrant ‘true Dutch’ era, when Islam was still something that happened elsewhere, Dutch schools were small and their pupils white, mother was home at teatime, hospital care was personal – no paperwork involved – and the doctor still made house calls. Had he not been murdered, Fortuyn might well have won in 2002.

Enlightened, prosperous and cosmopolitan (they travel to all corners of the world, in great numbers, laden with euros), the Dutch must be aware, in the end, that this myth is of very little use to them. They are troubled by the immigrant believers in their midst, by their own loss of faith in the good and the green and by the collapse of their confidence in the US as a bulwark of European security. Buruma’s insistence that the long shadow of World War Two has defined (and complicated) Dutch tolerance obscures the fact that the Dutch have lost their bearings.

Lammert de Jong
Amsterdam

Like Alan Bennett …

Reading Alan Bennett’s diary I was pleasantly surprised to remark that there are quiet carriages on British (and US) railways (LRB, 4 January). I’ve been out of the country for several years and wasn’t even sure if you still had trains. At the same time I was intrigued to note that Bennett travelled with two companions. If they are occasioned to do the same on a visit to Switzerland then I strongly suggest that they start practising telepathy, or sign language at the very least. Here the quiet carriage (Ruheabteil) is indeed quiet. I saw one chap being berated (silently) for turning the pages of his newspaper too enthusiastically. Personally, being often a solitary, sulking traveller, I find these carriages a boon: no distractions from adjacent fellow human beings indulging in conviviality. I’m a bit surprised at how many people, normally English or French, are indignant at having the rules of the game pointed out to them, as if their human rights were being abused. The fact that the other 95 per cent of the train is available for raucousness doesn’t seem to count. Oh, and by the way, whispered exchanges between three people are much the worst violations. They disturb while at the same time making it impossible for you to figure out what the wretched people are talking about.

Richard Tugwell
Aesch bei Birmensdorf, Switzerland

Alan Bennett writes disapprovingly of the ‘plea-bargaining that goes on in the US’s nobly independent courts’, with the implication, if I read him right, that this would not happen in England. Plea-bargaining does of course exist in the English courts, albeit unofficially. Counsel will tend to refer to it in such coy formulations as ‘seeing the judge privately in chambers for an indication on sentencing and then taking a realistic view thereon’.

Rupert Haigh
Espoo, Finland

Too Fair to Hizbullah

Charles Glass writes that he is agnostic on Nasrallah’s anti-semitism (Letters, 4 January). One is agnostic about matters that can’t be proved or disproved such as the existence of God. It might more plausibly be suggested that Glass is indifferent to the existence of anti-semitism among Hizbullah’s leaders. As it happens, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb devotes an entire chapter to the subject, and provides all the evidence Glass needs to conclude that Hizbullah is virulently anti-Jewish. His reference to the alleged error in attribution of one quotation does nothing to undermine other quotations in which Nasrallah and his colleagues express their hatred of Jews. Here are some of them: ‘The history of the Jews has proven that regardless of the Zionist proposal they are a people evil in their ideas.’ ‘From what we know about the Jews, their tricks and deception, we do not think it unlikely that they partook in the planning of the Holocaust.’ Jewish ‘blood is full of enmity toward mankind’. There is no reason to doubt the essential accuracy of Saad-Ghorayeb’s account, since she is clearly sympathetic to the aims of the movement. Glass says that anti-semitism is irrelevant to his article about the role of Hizbullah in Lebanon. But the article also concerns the movement’s resistance to Israel, so the question of anti-semitism is of vital importance.

Eugene Goodheart
Waltham, Massachusetts

Cobwebs! Cobwebs!

Poor Jenny Diski! No one can have told her about the benevolence of spiders when she was growing up (LRB, 30 November 2006). As a child in Lancashire in the 1920s and 1930s, I would hear my grandma screech from the kitchen: ‘Cobwebs! Cobwebs!’ She had cut herself. Someone had to bring up some of the plentiful spiders’ webs from the coal cellar and apply them to the wound. Her hysteria abated. Bleeding stopped. The wound healed. No doubt the silken threads promoted clotting. (Perhaps the coal-dust chemicals were antiseptic, too.) Then there were the ‘lucky spiders’ or ‘money spiders’: tiny black or red creatures that came from nowhere to scamper across your clothes or your exercise book in school. You must catch them and hold them, cupped, in your hands. To get the most luck out of them you must whirl them around your head and throw them over your left shoulder. Over the next few days you searched the ground wherever you went, looking for that precious silver sixpence or threepenny bit (or more likely, a copper halfpenny) that someone had dropped. Threepenny bits were rare. If you found one, it was so cram-full of luck, you kept it for ever.

‘If you wish to live and thrive, let the spider run alive.’ That’s the thing to remember.

Raymond Clayton
Stanford, California

Hungary 1956

Eric Hobsbawm says that none of the books on the Hungarian revolution that he reviewed ‘makes much of Ian Birchall’s workers’ councils. In a revolution that lasted all of two weeks they could hardly have been a major factor’ (Letters, 4 January). In fact, all accounts of the Hungarian events stressed the role of the councils. Students’, workers’ and soldiers’ councils feature, for instance, in Edward Thompson’s magnificent piece ‘Through the Smoke of Budapest’, published in the Reasoner in the immediate aftermath of the crushing of the revolution. They are central to the reports of Peter Fryer in the Daily Worker, subsequently published as the book Hungarian Tragedy; and they are an important presence in the memoirs of Sándor Kopácsi, the Communist chief of police who went over to the revolution, and in Márta Mészáros’s partly autobiographical film about 1956, Diary for My Father and Mother. They feature in my own Class Struggles in Eastern Europe, and also in recent historical studies such as the semi-official history by György Litván and the copious work on the revolution done by Bill Lomax.

Chris Harman
London E8

Grand Refurbishing

Writing in the last issue about the new Musée du quai Branly, I worried that the much-diminished Musée de l’homme would become a no-thrills, indoor Jurassic Park, having been left with its large prehistoric inventory (300,000 items), a prehistory library and plenty in the way of palaeontology (30,000 items). Since the last issue of the LRB went to press, 2012 has been announced as the target date for completion of a grand refurbishing. There are clearer hints, too, about the role and character of the place. For sixty years the Musée de l’homme, a branch of the Muséum d’histoire naturelle, stuck out like an opposable thumb from the rest of the natural history collections with its presentation of artefacts and cultures. But even if it defers more obviously to the natural sciences from now on, it will have to include a measure of human history. There is talk of migration as a major topic. Urbanisation is a linked theme: one of the leading figures in the makeover regards the tipping point – very recent – at which a majority of humanity began living in towns, cities, suburbs and exurbs as a revolution comparable to the emergence of writing. Environmental ruin, which attaches the story of human agency to the epic of nature, is likely to be another. From mid-February, it will be offering visitors a foretaste of what it hopes to present after 2012 with one in a pair of ‘prefigurative’ shows whose theme is ‘the saga of man’.

I suggested, in passing, that Norman Bates sees Marion’s car being recovered from the swamp in Psycho. He doesn’t; we do.

Jeremy Harding
St Michel de Rivière, France

Crock

A gipsy’s crock is a cooking pot, not, as James Wood writes, a stool (LRB, 4 January). The pot is a much more satisfactory simile for a cow’s udder in terms of size and shape, although I notice from the OED that, as the crock was generally three-legged, we’re still a teat short.

Rachel Ware
Honiton, Devon

Poor Excuse

‘Somewhat implausibly, public opinion, skilfully manipulated by Crowley’s legal team, is on the side of the plaintiff,’ I said, commenting on Michael Crichton’s depiction of the trial of a paedophile rapist in his new novel (LRB, 4 January). I should of course have said ‘defendant’: the situation is so implausible, even my word processor didn’t believe me.

Thomas Jones
Orvieto, Italy

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