GOULD & SCIENCE FOR THE PEOPLE

Cambridge, Mass.

In his excellent June 17 piece on Stephen Jay Gould, John Nichols mentions the Science for the People movement and our involvement in it, and by implication incorrectly places Steve and me in leading roles. Neither Steve nor I was a founder of Science for the People, nor were we in any sense leading actors in it. True, we did each write an occasional piece for the Science for the People Magazine and were members of SftP study groups–for example, the Sociobiology Study Group–and we each appeared at some SftP public functions and press conferences and helped write some of its public statements. We were, however, much less responsible and active in the movement than many others who devoted immense amounts of time and energy to it and who kept it going for so many years.

It is important to understand the nature of the Science for the People movement. It came out of the anti-elitist, anti-authoritarian movement of the 1960s and was committed to participatory democracy and lack of central organization. Like many others, Steve and I separately became adherents of the movement precisely because of its anti-elitism and participatory nature, as well as for its political orientation. We all struggled very hard to prevent those outside it from picturing it falsely and conventionally as being composed of leading persons and their allies. If, despite everyone’s best efforts, there were some people who from time to time were forced into leading roles, Steve and I were never among them.

RICHARD LEWONTIN


TOUGH LOVE FOR ISRAEL

Philadelphia; New York City

Liza Featherstone in “The Mideast War Breaks Out on Campus” [June 17] mentions a number of Jewish groups critical of Israeli policy in the occupied territories, including Rabbinical Students for a Just Peace, the group of 108 students from seven rabbinical seminaries (not only the Jewish Theological Seminary, as indicated in the article) who recently sent a letter asking American Jewish leaders to recognize the suffering of the Palestinians and to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

As two of the organizers of this letter, we wish to clarify that our goal is both, as Featherstone indicates, to be “outspoken critics of Israeli policy” and to support Israel’s right to a secure existence within its pre-1967 borders. Discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generally suffers from a lack of nuance. Both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine activists routinely vilify the other and ignore the mistakes and abuses committed by those they support.

As future rabbis who have spent significant time living in Israel, we speak out of deep love for Israel and concern for Israel’s continued security. We are committed to creating a Zionist, pro-Israel voice willing to criticize Israeli policy, out of a desire to guarantee Palestinians the right to live in dignity in their own state, and to insure the security of Israel. Our views may appear radical within the context of an American Jewish community that offers unqualified support for the Israeli government, but they are in no way inconsistent with the mainstream Israeli political debate, which has always allowed for a greater range of opinion than does the US pro-Israel community.

SHOSHANA LEIS GROSS
JILL JACOBS


DO WHAT MEN DO: HAVE IT ALL

Havertown, Pa.

I agree with Katha Pollitt that being childless can be as voluntary a choice for women as for men [“Subject to Debate,” May 13] and that we sometimes make choices “unconsciously” by giving a goal a low priority and then getting to the point where it is no longer achievable. But I’d like to make one point: Successful, high-achieving women might consider the “marriage strategy” of successful, high-achieving men. If you want a fulfilling marriage and a high-powered career, choose a spouse who is willing to put your career ahead of theirs–someone who loves you enough to “hitch their wagon to your star.”

Men have always felt free to marry for love and emotional support and to choose women younger, poorer and less educated than themselves. Women could broaden their “eligibility pool” in a similar way.

JOHN F. BRADLEY


RAWA IN THE USA & AFGHANISTAN

Baltimore

We applaud Jan Goodwin’s “An Uneasy Peace” [April 29] on the perilous situation for Afghan women and the crucial need for basic security. However, we were dismayed by her characterization of the Afghan women’s organization RAWA as having “garnered considerably more publicity in the United States than it has credibility in its own country.” Both sides of this comparison are oversimplified and dangerously misleading.

RAWA (www.rawa.org), an indigenous organization founded in 1977, has indeed become better known in recent years, but not only in the United States, and not for superficial reasons (as Goodwin suggests by setting “publicity” against “credibility”). Rather, RAWA’s website (since 1997) and its dogged work for humanitarian relief, underground education and documenting fundamentalist atrocities have broadened its international exposure.

Goodwin’s statement also implies that RAWA lacks credibility in Afghanistan. Certainly, jihadis, Taliban and other extremists will say RAWA members are whores and communists, because they oppose RAWA’s goals (e.g., secular democratic government) and very existence. Among Afghan refugees, however, RAWA is said by many to be one of the few organizations that keeps its promises and is respected because it is Afghan and has remained active in Afghanistan across two decades of conflict. People in both Afghanistan and Pakistan speak highly of its schools, orphanages, hospital, income-generating projects and views. However, many inside Afghanistan do not know when they have benefited from RAWA’s help, since threats and persecution have made it impossibly dangerous for RAWA to take credit for much of its work.

This is indeed a pivotal moment for human rights in Afghanistan, including women’s rights. It would therefore be a grave mistake to misrepresent a major force advancing these goals: RAWA is, unfortunately, the only independent, pro-democracy, humanitarian and political women’s grassroots organization in Afghanistan.

As a factual correction, while Sima Samar is a former member of RAWA, she was not among the founders.

ALICIA LUCKSTED
ANNE E. BRODSKY


GOODWIN REPLIES

New York City

Concerning RAWA’s credibility, I was surprised that Anne Brodsky, who was handling press and helping to host the RAWA representative during her tour of the United States last fall, failed to disclose that connection.

Western feminists may be able to identify with what RAWA has to say, but as I mentioned in my article, the group lacks credibility and acceptance in its own country. Part of its marginalization has to do with its inability to make alliances with other Afghan organizations of any stripe. RAWA is also not the only humanitarian and political women’s organization in Afghanistan, and to suggest so is to insult the many Afghan women who have risked their lives to work in these arenas through twenty-three years of conflict. Sima Samar was indeed a founding member of RAWA but since breaking with the organization some years ago has been disavowed by them.

JAN GOODWIN


A GEORGE OF A DIFFERENT COLOR

Phoenix

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Senator McGovern’s “Questions for Mr. Bush” [April 22] speaks to my heart. Bravo! We do have fascist madmen in the White House, and phrases like “Axis of Evil” and “War on Terrorism” are going to be the end of us. I am relieved that there are still intelligent men in the world working for the good.

SEÁN McGILL


Melrose Park, Pa.

I voted for George McGovern in 1972, but I cannot agree with some of the views in his editorial. He wonders if the Bush Administration’s bunker mentality suffers from paranoia, if the Bush team has become obsessed with terrorism and if terrorism may replace Communism “as the second great hobgoblin of our age.” These questions reflect a deep skepticism about the severity of the threat from Al Qaeda, a skepticism shared by many writers for The Nation and close to denial in its pervasiveness. Millions of other Americans, however, realized soon after September 11 that our immense infrastructure is vulnerable precisely because it is so large and diverse. Dams, bridges, tunnels, 103 nuclear reactors, airports–all these and more must now be guarded against mega-terrorism.

Senator Ted Kennedy has co-sponsored funding for measures against bioterrorism, while Senators Tom Harkin, Carl Levin and Paul Sarbanes have chaired major hearings. Gary Hart chaired a commission two years ago that warned of attacks such as September 11. These former colleagues of Senator McGovern appear to believe that the terrorist threat is not a hobgoblin, but all too real.

MARK SACHAROFF


Catonsville, Md.

George McGovern was my hero when he ran for the presidency, oh so many years ago. A more decent and capable man would be hard to imagine. The weakness in his bid may, in fact, have been his honesty and kindness–commodities not in much demand in a system that worships money and power. McGovern argues for the nexus of poverty, oppression and violence. He is far too generous in giving the Bush team the benefit of the doubt that they will learn on the job and improve policies. I started with Truman, and in my lifetime the presidency has never been occupied by a smaller figure.

J. RUSSELL TYLDESLEY


St. Paul

I so wish George McGovern were our President right now.

JAMES LINDBECK


CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR

Tucson

If Fidel Castro rises to George W. Bush’s challenge to hold “a real election” and “to count [the] votes” [“In Fact…,” June 10], will Bush also challenge him to figure out a way to take office even if the people don’t elect him?

GRETCHEN NIELSEN