November 26, 2014

Letter to the Guardian

This letter was written to John Vidal, the Guardian‘s environment editor, in response to accusations by George Monbiot in “Stealing our clothes”, published in the Guardian on 30 April 2002. The article also appears on Monbiot’s website under the title “Black shirts in green trousers”. In the article, Monbiot asserts that Edward Goldsmith

“assumes that culture is a rigid, immutable thing: that different communities can live only within the boxes nature has assigned to them . . . fails to understand the political forces which cause splits within communities and associations between them . . . fails, too, to see the external manipulation which first defines ethnicity inflexibly, then drives the newly separated peoples to fight.”

See also My Answer for Edward Goldsmith’s extensive rebuttal of these and other similar attacks.


George Monbiot, in his last article, intimates that I am a member of the far right that is trying to hijack both the green and the anti-globalization agenda. It is worth reminding him that I was a full-time green activist in the days when he was still a schoolboy.

In “Green Warriors” a book written by Fred Pearce of the New Scientist, I am made out (rightly or wrongly) to be the founder of the radical green movement in this country. I also did a special issue of The Ecologist on globalization as far back as 1990, while the book I edited with Jerry Mander, The Case Against the Global Economy and for a Turn Towards the Local, was published in the USA in 1996.

Nicholas Hildyard’s article “‘Blood’ and ‘Culture'”, which Monbiot refers to, provides a particularly malicious caricature of my writings on social issues. Its inspiration was an article by me published in The Ecologist in April 1980, “Ethnocracy: the lesson from Africa”.

However, the object of this article was not to “reinvent the ghetto”, as he suggests, but to show how Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination must be taken more seriously if we are to avoid the ever more frequent and murderous inter-ethnic conflicts that have ravaged our world in the past decades. Michael Renner of the Worldwatch Institute notes that

“in the last fifty years there have been one hundred and twenty five wars or armed conflicts in the Third World, leaving a toll of 40 million dead. Sixty five of these wars, all internal, were recorded between 1989 and 1992 alone.”

Admittedly economic and political factors play a role in triggering off these conflicts, but their main cause is undoubtedly the forced inclusion of very different groups, or indeed nations, into artificial states by the colonial powers. Diana Orentlicher – professor of International Law at the American University in Washington – regards “the staggering range of movements seeking to redraw national frontiers” as “one of the most urgent foreign policy concerns of our time”. For her,

“more than 200 aspirant peoples worldwide cannot wait much longer. Look at violence anywhere in the world and you will probably find a legitimate nation struggling to free itself from an artificial state.”

She then asks “whether we will continue to tolerate the violation of half a million East Timorese, four million Tibetans, 20 million Kurds?” Perhaps George Monbiot can answer this question.

He also accuses me of advocating the forced separation of such peoples. However, in my article, that I have already referred to, I state quite clearly that “tribes or nations should be allowed to govern themselves, rather than be subjected to the arbitrary rule of the larger tribes or nations.” It is thus up to them whether they want to or not. For me this is the only way that inter-ethnic conflict can be minimized.

With best regards,

Edward Goldsmith.

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