Letters to the Editor

Readers write about Internet use in China, democracy in the Arab world, 'ecoterrorism,' and Arabic instruction in the US.

Internet use in China won't bring information revolution

In response to the article, "Web opens world for young Chinese, but erodes respect," from May 14: I found nothing that was recognizable concerning the majority of Chinese students and schools that I see and hear about every day.

While the Internet is used as a tool by most students, it is not generally used as a tool to gain more knowledge and understanding of the outside world.

The vast majority of today's Chinese students use the Internet to chat with their friends, watch movies, and play video games.

I understand that a small minority of schools and students must be using the Internet to actually learn something.

The few Chinese students privileged enough to attend the top universities in Beijing and Shanghai that are discussed in the article must have a wider view of the world.

But this is not happening in the majority of Chinese schools or among their students.

It is not fair to say that the current generation of Chinese students is casting aside rote memorization and recitation of Communist Party propaganda in order to use the Internet as a tool for challenging widely accepted ideas.

Brian Baldwin
Panzhihua, China

Regarding the May 14 article about Internet use among Chinese students: The article failed to address an important issue: China's Internet is censored.

Having lived for nine months in Nanjing less than two years ago, I can attest to the unavailability of important websites that young people in other countries often depend on for information.

Wikipedia and the Chinese-language websites of important Western news organizations are blocked by the Chinese Communist Party.

The Internet is controlled and censored by a "great firewall," and it primarily encourages using the Web for entertainment, not news and information.

Shea Haynes
Moses Lake, Wash.

To help democracy work, give it time

In response to John Hughes's May 16 Opinion column, "The struggle to advance democracy in the Arab world": Mr. Hughes's perspective on democracy in the Arab world doesn't take into account the historical context in which it takes place.

For instance, the second place in the Arab world (after Lebanon) that had free and fair presidential elections was the Palestinian territories. Despite difficult circumstances, the elections were found to be free and fair by international monitors. Shouldn't the US embrace such forward strides? But instead it clamped on a boycott and has undermined the winning Hamas candidates.

Then there is the matter of US support for autocratic regimes in a variety of Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia.

How can we determine whether Arab culture works with democracy if democracy hasn't been given a fair chance?

Miriam Reik
New York

Ecoterrorism is not activism

In response to the May 18 article, 'Ecoterrorism' case stirs debate in US": The article mentions that "mainstream environmentalists and animal-welfare advocates" are "concerned that branding [certain activism] as 'terrorism' threatens legitimate activism."

Since when have "a string of arsons and other attacks" been considered legitimate activism? In my book they are criminal acts. As such, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.

Pete Hoynes
Duncan, Ariz.

US must support Arabic students

In response to the May 17 article, "Why the pool of Arabic speakers is still a puddle": If it is in the country's fundamental interest to have a large pool of advanced Arabic speakers (who are also knowledgeable about Arab countries), then the government should pay for it.

Experts are not cheap. It takes hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Air Force to train a fighter pilot. The Air Force pays for it because it is in the country's interest to have highly qualified fighter pilots.

Instead of giving students piecemeal subsidies, the government should set up programs to pay for many years of education and even advanced degrees.

It should provide loan guarantees and contracts to forgive the full amount of student loans if the student, upon graduation, delivers his or her side of the bargain (e.g., by signing a long-term employment contract with a US government agency).

That way, many students from poor families would be more willing to take that route.

Students who study Arabic today spend time and effort on a discipline that has very limited potential in the commercial world.

It may cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars for each student. But if the knowledge of Arabic is so important to the country, then the country must pay for it. It is that simple.

Wai L. Chui

Regarding the May 17 article on Arabic language instruction in the US: As a foreign language instructor, I can vouch that it requires several years of profound dedication in order to achieve advanced or near-native levels of any foreign language. Asking college students to spend five-plus years studying a foreign language – including necessary study-abroad experiences – typically doesn't fit well in the daily planner.

Even though many college students do in fact realize the enrichment that can come from learning a foreign language to its fullest, the need to find a job after graduation tends to trump this possibility for enrichment.

If the US government is seriously interested in providing quality foreign language instruction with solid results, especially in "critical languages" such as Arabic (as the Iraq Study Group has recommended), then foreign language should be effectively upgraded from "elective" to "required" in all schools. As with math, science, or history, foreign language should begin at early grade levels, and greater investment and initiative should be made for teachers and students to study abroad in order to apply classroom language skills to native environments.

Having our citizens well versed in foreign languages and cultures is not merely a "national security concern"; these are essential skills for today's globalized world.

Steven Byrd
Assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, University of New England
Biddeford, Maine

The Monitor welcomes your letters and opinion articles. Because of the volume of mail we receive, we can neither acknowledge nor return unpublished submissions. All submissions are subject to editing. Letters must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. Any letter accepted will appear in print and on our website, www.csmonitor.com.

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