A better life, Media bias and others

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The Independent Online

Jailed, frightened and miserable - for seeking a better life

Sir: For several months, as a prison visitor at a young offenders' institution, I have been seeing a lad from Afghanistan, a very pleasant, intelligent young man, desperate to stay in this country. His crime, when his application to live here was refused, was a disastrous mistake. Naively, he went to the immigration office in Liverpool and applied under an assumed name, thinking that he could start the process again and be successful. He was picked up the following day and, as fraud is a crime, he ended up in prison and now almost certainly faces deportation.

He borrowed a huge sum of money to pay the sharks who smuggled him in the backs of lorries from Afghanistan. His mother died when he was a child and he does not know if his father is still alive; he has nothing to return to in his native village, which he left two years ago. What courage and faith it required for a country boy whose formal education ended when he was 12, who did not want to fight with the Taliban, who believed that, in England, he could make something of his life but where, alas, he has found he is not welcome.

He was looking forward to his release on 5 December, when he was hoping to join Afghan friends more fortunate than himself, hoping to work, first to repay the money he had borrowed - a fortune in his own country - and then to enable him to study.

Cruelly, on the very day he should have been released, new laws regarding illegal immigrants came into force and he was transferred to Hull Prison where conditions are very different from in the young offenders' institution. If the country has no room for him, why was he not sent straight to a detention centre pending the Home Office's decision to repatriate him? He is bitterly unhappy in Hull Prison and I fear for him. Why leave him - cold, frightened, depressed - in an adult jail?

If we send young men back to a war-torn country, their dreams of a new life in the West shattered, what is their future? I believe that it is enough to drive them to join the Taliban.

Barnard Castle, Co Durham

Arabs face media bias every day

Sir: Robert Kilroy-Silk has only reflected a commonly held view that the Arabs are nothing but a group of savage people. The editors of The Sunday Express were unable to see the offensive and racist nature of his article because he was reflecting what is (and has been) the daily portrayal of Arabs in all sorts of media.

The Arab in the media is either a violent unshaven male chauvinist who revels in killing and maiming others, or worse still he or she is absent. If you were to ask a school child to draw a picture of an evil person I believe that in the majority of cases that person would be an Arab. War has the habit of tribalising people and as such the war on terror has become a war on the Arabs in the minds of some at least. The alternative Arab is absent; he or she does not exist. Apart from Othello (disputably) it is almost impossible to name a single Arab character in any major play, soap opera or schoolbook.

We - the Arabs - are people who have history, heritage, culture and sets of values not dissimilar to other national groups. We the Arabs must be regarded as equal to the blacks, Jews, Indians and any other minority group. After all we breathe the same air, enjoy similar food, and if pricked we bleed similar blood.

London SW19

Sir. The irony about Kilroy-Silk's diatribe is that his apparent inability to draw a distinction between race and religion when it comes to Islam is mirrored by many of those raging against him.

An Arab doesn't have to be a Muslim; and a Muslim certainly doesn't have to be an Arab. Attacking Arabs is indisputably racist; attacking Islam most emphatically isn't, any more than attacking Christianity, capitalism, socialism or any other voluntary belief system. Kilroy-Silk has handed a nicely wrapped gift to those who would like to suppress any criticism of Islam, by playing the race card without moral or intellectual justification.

Alfold, Surrey

Sir: The pronouncements of Mr Kilroy-Silk on Arab culture, whilst poorly expressed, were essentially correct. The usual suspects have, as ever, chosen to criticise how something controversial was phrased rather than engage with its meaning. Yes his language was a little brusque, but it's hard to find much else wrong.

The majority of the Arab world has achieved very little for over a millennium. It slept whilst the West achieved, in no particular order, the formalisation of human rights, universal suffrage, the Renaissance, a continued development of the rule of law and an industrial revolution. It only woke - to made its rulers prosperous - after oil was discovered, a chance of geography, not a triumph of human endeavour.

As for being limb-amputators, suicide bombers and woman-oppressors, most of these practices are condoned if not enshrined by law throughout the Middle East. We guilt-ridden Western liberals may not like to admit it but the world Mr Kilroy-Silk inhabits, including its belief in a right of free speech, is a better one.

Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire

Sir: In reply to Stephen Bax's comments (letter, 9 January) about contributions by Arabs and other cultures in the Middle East, I would like to say that, yes, many of the contributions he is referring to were made by other Semitic peoples like the Assyrians and Babylonians, but then much of Arab civilisation is based on those earlier cousins of the Arabs, just as much of European civilisation is based on a Graeco-Roman past.

The people in countries like Syria and Iraq are descendants of the people who built the temples and invented writing, so how can they be divorced from the achievements of their ancient civilisations. The Arabs who brought Islam to these lands in the seventh century were merely the latest wave in a series of migrations of Semitic peoples from the Arabian peninsula into the fertile crescent, and the Islamic empire that arose from the seventh century onwards just the latest Semitic civilisation of the region.


Sir: Robert Kilroy-Silk now seeks to justify his miserably ignorant attack on Arabs by the well-known ploy of labelling any objection to his views as "politically correct".

Such a catch-all label fraudulently blurs the distinction between two kinds of objectors: those who have solid reasons for denouncing his views, and those whose minds are as trivial as his own. The first group include all those, whether Arab or non-Arab, who know even the modicum of history it takes to understand the enormous contribution made by the Arabs to the development of world civilisation, including that of the West. The others include all the straw men set up by demagogues to justify their own simple-minded prejudices.

What kind of fools does Mr Kilroy-Silk take us for?


Sir: Robert Kilroy-Silk is right of course; the Arabs have given us nothing. To this they have added 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 - a sum only slightly short of Mr Kilroy-Silk's apparent IQ.

Thropton, Northumberland

Public smoking

Sir: Australia is about 10 years ahead of the UK on smoke-free areas (letters, 29, 30 December). In most states smoking is banned in all public indoor areas apart from non-food areas of pubs. These last bastions of indoor smoking are now obliged to install powerful air conditioning. Smoking is even banned in football stadia. So moving from Australia to the UK, whilst a good experience overall, has been tarnished by having to inhale so much sidestream smoke.

It is therefore heartening to see the recent debate on banning smoking in public areas in London, with polls showing over 70 per cent in favour of such a ban. I hope not just London but all the UK including over here in Wales receives clean indoor air.

Smoking as everyone knows is bad for health. Thousands of toxins are absorbed through the efficient chemical transfer system that is the lungs and are transported to all cells in the body. Hence smoking is implicated in the causation of 50 cancers plus cardiovascular disease as well as respiratory disease.

In my work I see many young children with learning disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It has long been known that the chemicals of smoke inhaled by pregnant women adversely affect the unborn child, a recent paper from the University of Wales in Cardiff now gives evidence that smoking in pregnancy is a significant factor for ADHD in the offspring [Maternal smoking during pregnancy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms in offspring. Thapar A et al Am J Psychiatry. 2003 Nov].

Yet another reason to limit smoking in public places.

Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist
Llandegfan, Ynys Mon, Gwynedd

Spam everywhere  

Sir: Anthony Campbell (letter, 9 January) is fortunate in possessing an artificial intelligence system that gives him 98 per cent effectiveness at blocking spam. Mine eventually decides that all incoming e-mail is worthless spam and I have to regularly reset it and start the training process again from scratch. Or perhaps it's developed wisdom beyond its programming?

School of Computer Science and IT, University of Nottingham

Sixties legacy

Sir: If as Christina Jones (letter, 10 January) claims the youth of the Sixties were "the most optimistic, forward-looking, new world embracing generation there ever was", how come those same youths who became today's power brokers created "this uncivilised, non-life-enhancing nonsense"?

Clara Vale, Tyne and Wear

God and gays

Sir: You include in your Quotes of the Week (10 January) Howard Dean's remark that "if God thought homosexuality is a sin he would not have created gay people". One could say the same of mass murderers. I prefer the argument that if homosexuality were "not natural", as is often claimed, then it would not exist.

Crediton, Devon

Penny post

Sir: Night mail trains are condemned as "Victorian" by the Royal Mail (report, 10 January). The Victorian postal system could deliver letters on the day they were posted, at a cost of only a penny. Perhaps the Royal Mail should consider implementing more "Victorian" solutions.

London NW10

Repentant Blair?

Sir: Does Tony Blair's admission that he got Ken Livingstone wrong mark the beginning of a confession of all his sins? If so, Lord Hutton had better hurry up and publish his report soon or Blair will have spiked his guns.

Banchory, Aberdeenshire