The Nation, Lahore

22 Jamadi-ul-Awwal, 1418 - Thursday, September 25, 1997, Lahore
Pakistan

Midweek


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The other side of Mother Teresa

Dr Rana Jawad Asghar

If someone is doing a social welfare work in our part of the world, he or she is unconditionally commendable. Our governments are too busy fighting for their own survival to get involved in such humanitarian causes. I may have differences with politics of Imran Khan and some doubts over the public statements of Maulana Edhi, but I consider both as someone to be followed in their social welfare projects. Both of them are doing commendable work which should have been done by the government but that may be wishful thinking. People admire and respect them enormously, and there is no doubt about it. This also puts a big responsibility of faith on the shoulders of these personalities - to have a transparent system of accounts to make the faith stronger. People should know where their money is going. And it is heartening to know that both of them have not deceived people. Though we could still argue that if these projects were designed as self sustaining projects, better ways could have been adopted for their management.

In Calcutta, India, Mother Teresa also got that affection a little earlier not only inside India but all over the world. She got numerous awards including highest American civilian honor and of course, the prestigious Nobel Prize. She was a celebrity herself but she was still the simple person herself and was picking the homeless, poor and handicapped children off the streets to her shelter houses. Her Missionary of Charity organisation had 400 nuns and 4000 workers and many houses worldwide. Nearly, all major American networks - ABC, NBC, Fox and CNN showed her funeral live for many hours (though I think it was done only to balance the extensive coverage these networks had given to Diana's death). She got the state funeral in India (which is only reserved for prime ministers or political leaders of the standing of like Gandhi and Nehru).

Now after her death, there is an immense pressure on the Vatican to declare her a Saint. This formal process is designed so that the immediate public sentiments and emotion do not influence the decision making by the Vatican. That is the reason that this process could not be initiated five years before her death. Though, the Pope has declared many as Saints and some of his declarations are considered as controversial, but mother Teresa is being considered as a unanimous choice.

But even before her death, there were some people who were trying to tell the world the other side of Mother Teresa. A famous British journalist - Christopher Hitchins who also worked for BBC TV, published his book titled "Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice" (Verso Press, $ 10.95). A few months ago, Vanity Fair published some excerpts of the book. This book gives an altogether different view of Mother Teresa of which most of us are totally unaware.

The following are some excerpts from an article by Norman Taylor on the book in which he gives some eye-opening details from the book:

"Mother Teresa has been favoured with huge sums of money during the past 30 years, but patient illnesses have been wrongly diagnosed by unqualified sisters and volunteers who are unable to distinguish between the curable and incurable. Mother Teresa prefers providence to planning, and the very strictest economy is always enforced, much to the detriment of the patients' interests. It is interesting to note that despite the enormous sums involved ($ 50 million remains in an account in Bronx) needles are used over and over again and are rinsed under the cold water tap. The nuns answer to "why are you not boiling water and sterilising your needles?" was simple: "There's no point. There's no time." Perhaps, the patients take too long to die, and hastening death saves money. Cynical as that may be, Mother Teresa's global income is more than enough to equip several first class clinics like some of the finest in the West that she herself has checked into. To a person in the last agonies of cancer, and suffering unbearable pain, she said with a smile: "You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you." A sign on the wall of the morgue of Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying reads "I am going to Heaven today".

Mary London, a volunteer in Calcutta, was shocked by what she saw there. "It looked a bit like the photos of Belsen", she said. "All patients had shaved heads, There were old stretcher beds, no chairs, and not much medical care or pain-killers". In another home, despite the availability of huge sums of money: "The sisters are rarely allowed to spend money on the poor they are trying to help. Instead, they are forced to plead poverty thus, manipulating generous, credulous people into giving more goods, services and cash." So, great wealth has no good effect on the lives of patients and volunteers. In a damp house, heating remains off throughout winter and several sisters consequently got TB.

Charles Keating was a notorious American swindler now serving a 10-year sentence for his part in the Savings and Loans scandal. He was generous with the money he stole from small investors. He gave Mother Teresa 1.5 million dollars and the use of his private jet; in return, she allowed him to make use of her prestige on several important occasions and gave him a personal crucifix. During the course of his trial, she wrote to the court seeking clemency for the conservative Catholic fundamentalist and notorious thief. It was a suspiciously naive letter which did nothing to influence the judge. The court asked Mother Teresa to return these unlawful donations which were made from the money which belongs to the small investors but there was no reply from Mother Teresa.

Another article in Shreveport Humanist Bulletin says there is no answer to the mystery that if the money is not being used on patients where is it going. It answers the question. "Where does the money go? Unlike many (dare I say "legitimate"?) charities, Mama T feels no need to account for the millions annually pumped into her coffers. She is not, admittedly, a typical Christian charlatan evangelist, taking "love offerings" for their own personal use. No, no Jim and Tammy, no Jimmy Swaggart, no Robert Tilton, she. Rather, the money goes to missionary work, to outfitting grand new Third World Catholic churches (buying expensive altar decorations and utensils, etc.), But the fact is, most people who give to Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity organisation think their donations are going to benefit the needs of the poor and destitute - the physical needs such as medicine, food, and clean water. They don't suppose that the cash is going to outfit the altar of some Third-World chapel. Hitchens has created a marvelous expose. Unfortunately, it seems few will have the chance to read it.

Locally, anyway, the bookstores have decided to impose a sort of censorship on this book. Only one store, I checked - one of the nation-wide mall chains - had the book on its shelves, but only one copy had been sent to each of its three area stores. Of course, one can special-order it, but one must first know it exists, mustn't one? Except for a rather smug little squib recently in The Times of Shreveport, there has been no mention of it in the media, at least, not around here. The cult of Mama T is far-reaching.

Now let me tell you something about the author of the book, Christopher Hitchins, he is not a writer for some shabby tabloid but has excellently literary credentials for many years. Christopher Hitchens is - columnist (Minority Report), a longtime contributor to The Nation (a quite respectable magazine here in the US), has been written his wide-ranging, bi-weekly columns for the magazine since 1982. With trademark Savage Wit, Hitchens flattens hypocrisy inside the Beltway and around the world, laying bare the "permanent government" of entrench powers and interests. Born in 1949 in Portsmouth, England, Hitchens received a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Balliol College, Oxford, in 1970.

His books include Callaghan: The Road to Number Ten (Cassell, 1976); Hostage to History: Cyprus From the Ottomans to Kissinger (Farrar ,Straus & Giroux, 1989); Imperial Spoils: The Case of the Parthenon Marbles (Hill and Wang, 1989) and Blood, Class and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990); as well as two collections including many Nation essays: Prepared for the Worst (Hill and Wang, 1989) and For the Sake of Argument: Essays & Minority Reports (Verso, 1993). His most recent book is The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (Verso, 1995). Hitchens has been the Washington editor of Harper's and book critic for Newsday, and regularly contributes to such publications as Granta, The London Review of Books, Vogue, New Left Review, Dissent and the Times Literary Supplement.

ŠThe Nation Publications (pvt) Limited, 1997

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