Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

These letters appear in the August 23 edition of The Independent


Nothing can excuse the savagery of Isil and its murder of James Foley, but to listen to the American government and its catspaw, David Cameron, you might think that the jihadists sprang out of nowhere, an act of god.

For over 30 years the US and the West relied on political Islam to protect its interests against secular movements. In Afghanistan the West backed the Mojahedeen against the USSR. In Israel Shin Bet virtually created Hamas in the late 1980s, an organisation that is now denounced as a new Hitler.

In Iraq the US employed a divide-and-rule strategy that pitted Sunni against Shia and backed the crude sectarian Prime Minister Maliki, who helped create the waters that the Islamic Republic found it so lucrative to fish in.

The West cannot play a humanitarian and a military role in the Middle East. Similar results to those in Iraq are occurring as a result of the bombing of Libya. Acting as the Kurdish air force is no solution. Until the West understands that its sole role in the Middle East is to remove itself from the region there will be no peace. 

Tony Greenstein


President François Hollande is right. “We need a high level international conference to discuss ways of combating Islamic State militants.” So long as we expect the United States to act as a world policeman, the dissident peoples of the world will resent the actions of the US as those of a big bully.

The United Nations is the body which should be called in to convene the international conference Hollande advocates. Tony Blair at least tried to get UN support for George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Their mistake was to carry on without such support. The whole grisly series of events leading to the current Middle East chaos can be traced back to that foolish decision.

Andrew Sturgis
Hersham, Surrey


Many years ago I put a pencil cross on a piece of paper and contributed to the election of Tony Blair as leader of our democratic country.

This person desired a significant place for himself on the world stage and joined in the mass slaughter of innocents and the devastation of Iraq.

Radical preachers of Islam, who without these actions would have been shouting at the wind, suddenly were empowered and succeeded in leading many in our country to desire violent revenge as justice.

We now apparently lead the world in the export of individuals prepared to indulge in savagery beyond most people’s comprehension.

How I regret that pencil cross!

John Dillon


It’s all very well wanting to eradicate Isis, but first acknowledge that Saudi Arabia and its kleptocratic rulers have further destabilised the Middle East with their playing of the sectarian card against “apostate” Shi’ites.

The result was the regular targeting of Iraq’s Shia pilgrims and their shrines by Sunni jihadists. Now it’s the turn of Iraq’s Christians and Yazidis. Saudi Arabia would also have the West go to war with Iran rather than seek rapprochement.

William Hague foolishly aligned the UK with the Saudis by supporting Syria’s Sunni jihadist insurgents. No wonder British Sunni militants flocked to Syria and now Iraq. That some will return as trained terrorists is a legitimate worry.

The terrorists posing a threat to the west are Sunni, not Shia. Assad, Hezbollah and Iran are not our enemy.

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset


General Lord Dannatt is right to say the West needs to open a dialogue with President Assad and that we must help Syria defeat Isis.

And how about some recognition of how utterly stupid the decision would have been if last year we had bombed Syria? Isis would be in power and in charge of Syria’s 4,000 tanks, and it would be “game over” in the Middle East for Iraq. Lebanon and Jordan.

And whose insane idea was it to arm and train Isis terrorists fighting in Syria in the first place?

Mark Holt


What to do about gross inequality

Your editorial of 18 August comments: “In 2013 the average pay of a FTSE chief executive was 143 times the average in the company ....  No one knows what to do about it.”

I recall a conversation on a train in Denmark a couple of years ago. Our fellow traveller was a Danish care worker, looking after autistic children. Yes, he really loved his job and felt it was very worthwhile. “I earn enough to do this and bring up my family,” he said. “In your country, I know this would not be possible. We have higher taxes. Not everyone likes this but the whole community benefits.”

We now read that the government has failed to fund properly its pledge to provide free school meals for four- to seven-year-olds; funding cuts leave migrants unable to get English lessons; commuters face 5 per cent rises in rail fares; house prices in the Cotswolds are 19 times higher than local wages; more women move into low-paid, insecure jobs ....

The gross inequality that disfigures our society is a moral problem, not just an economic one. There is plenty of money around but the robber barons are busily shovelling it into their bank accounts. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear politicians admit that we have our priorities wrong?

People matter more than profit. Everyone deserves a living wage and humane working conditions. No one should have to rely on food banks. Beyond a certain limit material wealth is simply greed. We do not, surely, begrudge the sick, the disabled, the elderly a reasonable duty of care.

This is hardly revolutionary, and I can’t be the only person who thinks the moment has come for a change of direction.

Sue Norton


Tough choices, except at election time

Nigel Scott (letter, 22 August) says that politicians are criticised for taking a tough decision for the benefit of the country and that when they do try to improve society (as with free school meals) they are accused of electioneering. 

It is a matter of timing. As we get closer to an election year the “improvement to society” speeches become more frequent and the hard choices less obvious. The cynicism of the public is a result of experience of pre-election promises that are rarely if ever heard of again.

Mr Scott asks: “Who would be a politician in such an age of cynicism?”  Well, as long as there are people as gullible as Mr Scott around I’d give it a shot.

Mike Wood
Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire


Making the customer do the work

I could not agree more with Jane Merrick’s excellently articulated complaint of the forced serve-yourself culture imposed on customers by many retailers (Another Voice, 21 August).

I have got so fed up with WH Smith’s enforced use of those pesky serve-yourself checkout machines that I now look for alternative newsagents to buy my newspapers and magazines. I also never use the serve-yourself machines at supermarkets, and really do object to the pressure on customers to check out yourself.

I may be a grumpy old so-and-so from Surrey, but I bet I am not alone in rejecting this so-called progress in retailing. I want  people to retain their jobs in shops, not be squeezed out by machines, solely to make more profits for big companies.

The new machines certainly do not benefit the customer, or as the corporate jargon would no doubt put it, do not “enhance the consumer experience”.

Dr David Lowry
Stoneleigh, Surrey


Who’s to blame for Scottish weather?

Mark Steel (22 August) doesn’t say where he spent his week in Scotland. I suspect he wasn’t in Aberdeen.

I was a panellist at a debate on Thursday in one of its less privileged parts, where the nationalists got extremely emotional about keeping the pound, and joining the EU and Nato.

But he is spot on when he mentions Scottish rain. The SNP has been very clever in its White Paper.

An independent Scotland will buy its weather forecasts from England and will be the only country in Europe apart from Liechtenstein not to have its own Met Office. So even after independence, the blame for rain, like so many other things, will still fall to the UK.

Hugh Pennington


No Home? At least  you can buy a Rolls

I groaned when I saw you were running a review of a car that perhaps no single reader really would ever buy (Rolls-Royce Wraith, 21 August). Then I read that at £235,000 it “costs more than your average home”.

Alas, according to the ONS the average UK house price passed £250,000 last year. Perhaps the fact that a top-of-the-range Rolls might still be within reach of those who have given up on buying their own home should be some consolation?

Paul Stevenson

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