Category Archives: Letters
I wholeheartedly endorse the anti-war sentiments expressed by Jude Law et al (Letters, 22 May). It may be worth reminding David Cameron, before he goes on to mark the anniversary of the first world war with a “truly national commemoration of national spirit”, that the so-called “war memorials” erected throughout the land after the war were originally called “peace memorials”. If you look at two politically neutral guidebooks, in Arthur Mee’s The King’s England, in the 30s, you will see them referred to in a quite matter-of-fact way as “peace memorials”, whereas three decades and another world war later, Nikolaus Pevsner’s The Buildings of England describes them as “war memorials”. Let any modern memorial mark that peace, and remember with humility the suffering and sacrifice on all sides rather than by taking pride in “national spirit”.
• So David Cameron plans to spend £55m commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the first world war. I trust he will commemorate the West Indies Regiment. On 6 December 1918, 180 sergeants forwarded a petition to the secretary of state complaining about the levels of pay, which were much lower than for white troops, and the failure to increase their separation allowance, as well as discriminations in promotion. On the same day, the men of the 9th Battalion revolted as they had been forced to work as labourers, including cleaning the latrines of the Italian Labour Corps. So shall we also be commemorating British racism during the war?
Sr research fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London
• David Cameron is unlikely to take the good advice of Jude Law et al and “promote peace and international co-operation”, especially given his current Ukip infatuation. However, individuals can decide to wear “never again” white poppies in 2014 as a reminder that, in almost all cases, war is a choice and peace an alternative. In doing so, they would also show sincere respect for those who have died or been wounded in war by signalling that they do not want such avoidable loss and suffering to happen again.
• If Martin Adams (Letters, 22 May) had read the article on the previous page by Guy Standing, about the progressive stripping of social security rights from working and unemployed people since the time of Margaret Thatcher, perhaps he would not have written about “the acts of bravery that helped ensure that this and other nations were not enslaved”, since that enslavement is precisely what so many of the unemployed, the disabled, the low-paid and the mentally ill experience as their daily lot.
Fr Julian Dunn
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire
• I thought the whole point of continued remembrance of the two world wars, and all wars, was to help to avoid starting another. Every November, across the world, there are thousands of services where lines from poems of Laurence Binyon and John McCrae are spoken: At the going down of the sun and in the morning / We will remember them (For the Fallen); If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders’ Fields (In Flanders’ Fields). Are these words not meant to be taken to heart?
• The first world war was labelled the war to end war. The second world war, the war to end tyranny. War and tyranny still flourish. Both wars were failures. Those who died or were maimed for life fighting or sheltering from bombing or fleeing or starving were not the only casualties. Their families, their communities, their nations and their economies were all deeply affected for many years. At 88, my memories of both wars – my parents’ and my own – still bring me to tears. They failed. We need, as communities, to remember the suffering wars bring about, to recognise that to try to solve conflict by violent means, by war, will fail. I shall be adding my name to ww1.stopwar.org.uk and urging my friends to do the same.
Simon Jenkins has shown courage in connecting the criminal outrage in Woolwich with the participation of the UK in the use of drones to destroy whole village communities in Afghanistan (An echo chamber of mass hysteria only aids terrorists, 24 May). He is surely correct when he poignantly remarks: “Of course, people should be able to walk peacefully down the street in London. They should also be able to walk peacefully in Kandahar, Yemen or Baluchistan.”
We should be very grateful that our home-grown religiously inspired fanatics have not yet got their hands on a Hellfire missile, the standard weapon of choice used by Predator and Reaper drones operated by the US and UK in Afghanistan, and by the US in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. This missile can carry an anti-personnel charge which allows one missile to kill dozens, even hundreds of people. It is not difficult to imagine more sophisticated jihadists being able to mount such a missile on the roof-rack of a car (they weigh about 100-150kg), perhaps hidden in a roll of carpet. It could then be fired into a crowded market place and achieve a kill-rate comparable to that obtained in Afghanistan by the drone pilots based at RAF Waddington.
As Menzies Campbell correctly points out (Syria needs help but it does not need arms, 24 May), if William Hague gets his way and is allowed to supply sophisticated weapons to the Free Syrian Army, they will inevitably end up in the hands of the jihadists of the al-Nusra front. According to most reports, the latter is now doing the bulk of the fighting in Syria on “our” side and might demand access to the most effective weaponry from the FSA. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that they would not mind supplying the odd missile or two to their fellow religious fanatics in the UK. It is even said that UK-born jihadists are already fighting in Syria with al-Nusra.
Dr David Hookes
• President Obama has defended his country’s drone attacks as “legal, effective and a necessary tool in an evolving US counter-terrorism policy” (Report, 23 May). According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Obama approved 300 drone strikes in Pakistan alone between 2009 and 2012, that killed 2,152 people, including 290 civilians, 64 of whom were children. This is a higher death toll than the Bush administration in the period 2004-09, which launched 52 strikes, killing 438, including 182 civilians, 112 of whom were children. This comparison bears close scrutiny for those – including the Nobel Foundation – who feel that Obama represents a turn to a more enlightened page in US history.
Centre for Global Education, Belfast
After three years of Tory-Lib Dem coalition, our economy remains in the doldrums, performing much worse than that of the US, where President Obama has achieved a deal of stimulus despite obstruction by Congress. We have a health service under increasing pressure and sliding with government encouragement into private hands; we have education being planned by the whim of a secretary of state whose latest wheeze is schools run by army officers; we have a welfare state re-engineered to produce homelessness, hardship and ever-growing child poverty.
Small wonder that more than 60% of the electorate disapprove of what this government is doing and want them gone, though how that will pan out in seats in the parliament to be elected in 2015 is uncertain. It is possible that the arithmetic might allow for the Labour-Lib Dem coalition that Martin Kettle is now advocating (Comment, 23 May), but politically at this moment the Lib Dems are part of the problem – they have voted solidly for every one of those Tory measures – and not part of the solution.
Is a politics in which the Lib Dems spend five years in alliance with the Tories demolishing the welfare state and the next five years in alliance with Labour rebuilding it for real? Either they believe in what they have been voting for or they don’t; and in either case, what credence can be put in them post-2015? The illusion that the Lib Dems are a progressive party is one that Martin Kettle has been peddling for years, but with Nick Clegg recommitting to the coalition with David Cameron to the bitter end, it should surely be clear even to him it has reached its sell-by date.
As a practising member of the criminal bar, I am horrified at the proposed changes to the provision of legal aid, currently undergoing a so called “consultation period” by the Ministry of Justice (Editorial, 22 May), albeit the justice minister refuses to meet the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association. It is clear that the truncated consultation period is no more than window dressing. Chris Grayling is disinterested in any contribution from the profession. It is beyond doubt that the tendering out of legal aid to private business will herald a decline in standards in a legal system that has been a model of justice for centuries. There is no provision whatsoever in the proposals to ensure standards are maintained when individuals are unable to choose their representation. Once in possession of a contract, a company’s clients will be guaranteed, irrespective of the quality of service. The idea that this service would be properly provided by employees of a profit-driven company, whose lowest bid has rewarded them with the responsibility for the representation of citizens accused of crime by the state, is dubious. The prospect that the same company could be responsible for housing prisoners, transporting them, and representing them is, frankly, Orwellian.
East Langton, Leicestershire
• You report dissidents in Iran “have been denied adequate legal representation” (22 May). In the UK we are a long way from Iran’s repressive regime, but the present government’s proposals on reforming legal aid to allow Eddie Stobart and the like to turn a profit by supplying third-rate representation to people who are (to use Grayling’s analysis) “too thick to know better”, will have us catching up with the regime in Tehran in no time. Whatever one’s view of defence lawyers, the importance of ensuring that only those proved to the satisfaction of their peers are found guilty, is a matter of social, democratic and constitutional importance to us all.
Legal aid barrister, London
The savage killing of a British soldier in Woolwich has to be condemned without reservation by all Muslims (Report, 23 May). This murder fills us with revulsion, and our heartfelt condolences are extended to the victim’s family.
Last week, the British Muslim community was in the spotlight with the conviction of a child sex abuse gang in Oxford (Report, 15 May). This week, two misguided Muslims – new converts to Islam – have brought further opprobrium to practising Muslims. This terrible scourge of child abuse and terrorism within some strains of British Islam is sadly reflective of the broader incapacity of the Muslim community to fully integrate with the general mainstream. British Muslims must disassociate themselves from all variants of imported religious fundamentalism so that far-right organisations cannot exploit burgeoning social tensions in the UK.
However, there are underlying reasons behind the Woolwich brutality. There is a clear correlation between Tony Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq and the emergence of Muslim terrorism in the UK. Before the UK embarked upon non-UN sanctioned intervention in the Middle East, there was no Muslim violent extremism here. This in no way condones the despicable deeds of two opportunistic converts to Islamic fundamentalism, but Labour’s former leaders must be held accountable for dragging this country into needless US-inspired foreign adventures. They are partly responsible for providing Muslim militants with their conveniently toxic propaganda. It is time that the UK addressed the roots of Islamic terrorism instead of focusing just on its contemptible results.
Dr T Hargey
Imam, Oxford Muslim Congregation
• Although it is too early to say whether the terrorists who killed the British soldier are nation-centric or al-Qaida-centric, there is no denying that lack of integration incubates both. Nation-centric groups (Kashmiri militants, Sikh separatists, etc) invoke religion as a mean to win public support, while al-Qaida-centric ones are driven by it. Both groups, however, kill innocent people to achieve their aim.
Britain is home to a large number of religious minorities, some of which are more fully integrated than others. Those who find integration painful tend to find solace in political radicalisation. Unless Britain places integration at the centre of its immigration policies, it is difficult to see how such radicalisation of religious minorities can possibly be pre-empted.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex
• As a long-time reader of the Guardian I have appreciated your position as the moderate, well-informed and liberalist alternative to the excesses and ignorance of many other newspaper offerings. However I must complain about your front page (23 May). The headline, “You people will never be safe”, may be an accurate quotation, it may be newsworthy and eyecatching, but it is also a shameful misuse of your influence in the current climate. You know the Islamophobia that is being used to justify hate crimes across the globe. This would have been an inappropriate front page for a tabloid; for the Guardian it is reprehensible. Read the comments it has prompted on social media networks – you have gravely offended your readers.
Dr Samantha Pegg
Senior lecturer, Law School, Nottingham Trent University
• Twenty years ago, also in south London, another man was stabbed to death for “what”, rather than who he was. No media nor public outrage immediately followed, nor did the full weight of the state swing so dramatically into action – quite the opposite, in fact, as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry was years later to document. Moreover, on the day of the killing in Woolwich, Julie Bindel called for an inquiry into why victims of domestic violence – two women a week killed in England and Wales – are not getting sufficient protection. None of these cases are direct equivalents – but the differential responses to each of them are, sadly, all too telling about state, institutional and societal priorities.
Professor of criminology, Faculty of Social Sciences, the Open University
• No amount of condemnation can hide the fact that in Woolwich the blood of the innocent was shed in the name of Allah. If Muslims want to live in the UK it is incumbent upon us to take responsibility for how the Qur’an is being interpreted and taught to British Muslims. Likewise, those of us who find it hard to reconcile with the British way of life have the choice of moving to the lands where sharia supposedly rules. But please, no more butchering of human beings in the name of Allah on British soil.
• A soldier is murdered and our leaders react with “keep calm and carry on”. Carry on with the drone attacks which kill indiscriminately. Carry on with the collateral damage of criminal allied actions against wedding parties and families mistaken for insurgents. Carry on with the politically blind foreign policies that put us all in mortal danger. David Cameron has no intention of ending reckless militarism, but until he does, these atrocities will continue to threaten our nation.
• Mohsin Hamid expressed the sentiments I have for years been urging my Muslim students to include in letters to editors (‘Islam is not a monolith’, G2, 20 May). I teach PR and journalism and continually stress the importance of standing up publicly for Islam. Hamid has done this beautifully. The radical fanatics who do so much damage are thankfully a minority, but how many Muslims are pointing this out? So far my students have regrettably been reluctant to champion their religion. Such silence contributes to the rise of Islamophobia. Only if more people follow Hamid’s example can there be any hope of Islam being regarded in a better light.
I hope the Foreign Office is not being persuaded that supplying more arms into Syria will be a constructive solution to the problem (All sides in Syria armed except the good guys – Foreign Office, 16 May). In 2005 the United Nations adopted the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” populations from mass atrocity crimes, and since then this commitment has been severely tested, especially in the current Syrian conflict. The UN envoys Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi have tried to negotiate a peaceful resolution but UN member states have supplied arms to the parties to the conflict. Many experts, exemplified by Jeremy Greenstock (The civil war is still to come, 16 May), consider that the solution to such conflicts must be through developing better mechanisms for encouraging a negotiated settlement. Only a few weeks ago the UN general assembly overwhelmingly agreed an arms trade treaty that is intended to prevent the supply of arms, especially where there is an embargo, to people who are likely to use them in breach of humanitarian laws. We need to be encouraging member states to give greater support to the UN and its peace-building initiatives, not find ways to undermine them. The United Nations Association of the UK, at its recent policy conference, called on the UN and its members to put more resources into such peace-building initiatives and to move rapidly to a strong implementation of the arms trade treaty. I hope the UK government will continue to support these principles.
Chair, Harpenden United Nations Association
• Jonathan Steele (Syria’s chance for change, 21 May) argues that prospects for a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict have been enhanced because the main players have recently adopted more reasonable positions, claiming “Assad has dropped his demand that the armed opposition lay down its guns before he sends his people to meet them”.
However, in his recent interview with the Argentinian newspaper, Clarin, Assad insisted that no state can negotiate with “terrorists”. In case there should be any doubt about the import of this view, he explicitly stated: “We would engage in dialogue with all political entities, internal or external with no set pre-conditions. This also includes the armed groups who lay down their weapons and renounce terrorism. Guns and dialogue are clearly incompatible.”
He was also adamant that he will retain the presidency – and hence control of the regime – at least through to the election scheduled for 2014. So the real Syrian position is: no negotiations with the armed opposition; and nothing other than cosmetic changes to the regime for the foreseeable future.
Not a very promising starting point for achieving a negotiated settlement.
• It seems as if the best solution to the problem is to support the multi-sectarian secular regime of Assad and join with them in fighting the Sunni extremists. The result would be a reunified Syria, allowing refugees to return and the suppression of the Sunni extremists. The best that could be hoped for after an intervention would be something like the government left to Iraq, not an encouraging thought. And that would be after a war. At what point would the interveners declare the rebels the enemy?
Jack O’Sullivan makes some very important points about the clear difficulty around discussing what men experience and how the post-feminist settlement leaves out matriarchal influences and power relations in the domestic space (A man walks out of a room, 21 May).
For men, feminism has been a gift in how it has opened up new ways of being a man, but it has also left men facing the psychological quandary of how to “be”, in response to what has changed. This applies particularly in the home, which, in the conventional heterosexual formulation, is still predominantly defined by women. In my view we have a long way to go before we understand male development and behaviour. Many men are still caught by the tensions inherent in mother-son relationships: part of them yearning for relationship, another striving to define their gendered identity as separate from her. Despite all the commonalities, male development, and attachment patterns, from infancy onwards is not the same as that of females, and we need to face the reality of how this impacts on home life in adulthood as well as how we seem to assume that early-years and primary education should remain a predominantly matriarchal space in the same way that many of our homes are.
What Diane Abbott has spoken to as a crisis in masculinity goes much deeper than its social and interpersonal manifestations. We need a narrative about male development that helps us to make sense of the problems boys and men face (and how girls and women are also affected by this) in the same way as feminism provided a narrative for women. This also needs to be a narrative that makes it OK for men to critique feminism without feeling scared of the reaction they might get.
Dr Phil Goss
Senior lecturer, counselling & psychotherapy, University of Central Lancashire
• Jack O’Sullivan’s article is a welcome and perceptive contribution to highlighting men’s issues.
What the author misses, however, is that all over the western world men are in fact meeting together to discover and practice more wholehearted and authentic ways of being, and that these initiatives are barely represented in the mainstream media. The chief reason for this is not that men fear ridicule from women for talking about masculinity, or that matriarchy has a lot to answer for, but that other men, and especially in Britain, and particularly journalists, are very fearful of anything they imagine is connected with “tree-hugging”. At our centre we are frequently asked by women what groups and events we have for their husbands sons and even fathers. Britain lags behind here. In fact this weekend, a group of men from all over Europe are meeting near Frankfurt in an International Symposium for Men in order to share the different ways being pioneered of working with men’s issues. Lamentably, Britain boasts the fewest number of participants, which has to do with the way our culture regularly practices ridicule towards those who are willing to express that they care about things that are beyond others’ understanding.
John Bunzl Founder, International Simultaneous Policy Organisation, Nick Duffell Co-founder, Centre for Gender Psychology
Dave Welsh (Letters, 21 May) says the London underground has been publicly owned for 80 years; it was actually nationalised, along with the rest of the railways, by the Attlee government in 1948. The London Passenger Transport Board of 1933 had a complex structure. A small proportion of its stock was held by the London county council and other local authorities by way of payment for their tramway networks. But most of its stock was held by private shareholders and traded on the stock exchange.
While the underground did receive some government financial assistance in the 1920s and 1930s with the guaranteeing of loans to finance new construction, it received no subsidies at all, let alone “lavish” ones. The GLC took over London Transport in 1970, not 1968.
As Mr Welsh says, successive recent governments have struggled to find a sustainable way of funding the Underground. Gordon Brown’s PPP was a huge and costly failure. In a rational world it should have been the final nail in the coffin of all private finance initiative projects, but that is not the world we inhabit and I fear that before long another government will try to find a way of privatising the underground that will be much less benign than the pre-1948 private ownership.
CBI president Sir Roger Carr’s claim that there can be no moral basis to concerns about tax avoidance is a grave misjudgment (Never mind morals, tax is all about the rules, 21 May). A great many ordinary people see payment – or rather non-payment – of tax as fundamentally a moral question. Perhaps it might be talked about as justice or fairness, but it boils down to the same thing. Christian Aid supporters have been campaigning on matters of tax justice for five years.
At the heart of their concern is the moral question of how societies raise revenues and how that money is spent. We estimate that developing countries lose around $160bn a year in tax revenue from multinational corporations. Contrast this with the UK’s aid budget (£12bn) or the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s estimated cost of tackling global hunger ($50bn a year on top of existing funding to 2025). The fact that tonight one in eight people in the world will go to bed hungry shows that the moral case for a fair and just taxation system is undeniable.
Canon Geoff Daintree
Church advocacy adviser, Christian Aid
• Simon Jenkins is spot-on when he calls on David Cameron to crack down on the UK’s own tax havens (Comment, 22 May). Global Witness’s investigations have found numerous examples of dodgy deals routed through places such as the British Virgin Islands, favoured by tax evaders and corrupt dictators. There is often a misperception that the UK can’t impose its will on these last outposts of empire. In fact, from the decriminalising of homosexuality to banning the death penalty, there are repeated examples of UK governments telling its tax havens what to do, sometimes against their will. After Radio Caroline started broadcasting from the Isle of Man, the UK banned pirate radio stations from there and from the Channel Islands.
If the PM really wants to crack down on tax evasion, corruption and money laundering, he should force the British-linked tax havens to lift their veil of secrecy, for example by requiring them to publish the names of the ultimate owners of companies and trusts registered there.
Campaigner, Global Witness
• Paying tax is a social obligation. It is the price we pay for being part of a civilised society and one defining characteristic of such is its willingness to support those who are not considered to be economically productive. This doesn’t just mean the unemployed, the sick, disabled and the old, but also artists, musicians and writers, those who enrich us and our society both intellectually and emotionally.
In the commercial world, businesses view taxation as just another cost of doing business and therefore within their fiduciary responsibility to seek ways of reducing their tax obligation as part of their cost base. This is wrong. The payment of corporate tax should be viewed not as a cost of doing business but as the price for gaining access to society.
Businesses that manipulate the tax rules to reduce or avoid paying tax impoverish the society in which they operate both financially and ethically. Good corporate citizenship requires the commercial world to fully engage in society – by making a fair and equitable contribution to the tax receipts of a nation and by paying its employees an appropriate living wage.
• In 1974, the then Tory prime minister, Edward Heath, called an election with the question Who governs Britain? – his premise being that the unions had too much power. Forty years on we can ask the same question in respect of big business (Cut tax and we’ll pay, says Apple boss, 22 May). I thought governments, elected by their peoples, decided tax rates. Apple (and Google, Amazon and the others) rely on their customers to be healthy and well-educated and for the states where their customers live and buy their products to be stable, orderly and defended.
Without all the benefits that a state provides there would be no Apple sales. Big business has grown increasingly arrogant and no longer plays and pays its part in contributing to the costs that are essential to their profits. Perhaps there should be an additional and hugely hefty tax on the products of those companies who are refusing to pay their way, so that in the end they are left with no profits to quarrel about.
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I’d have thought that with common ancestors, the eyes would have evolved in similar ways.
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