Abortion, New Iraqi government and others

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Rationalism treads an uneasy path from abortion to ... what?

Rationalism treads an uneasy path from abortion to ... what?

Sir: Johann Hari writes that he left his interview with Peter Singer with "a strange anxiety" ('Some people are more equal than others', 1 July). His anxiety, I suspect, stems from the fact that Mr Singer has shown Mr Hari where his thinking leads: the legalised killing of human beings for the convenience of others.

The previous day on the Opinion page, Mr Hari had argued passionately for the unrestricted freedom to kill foetuses up to the age of 18 weeks. Mr Singer, with his rigorous Enlightenment rationalism, takes the logic of abortion and applies it to infanticide.

No surprise there: people have warned about that connection for decades. There is no point of transition at which a foetus becomes a human being. The passage of a 17-week foetus to a 19-week foetus, and on to full term and childhood, is a seamless development requiring only a loving parental environment. If the child can be killed at 17 weeks' gestation, it is only a matter of time before some logician says, "Why is our power over life and death limited to children in the womb?"

And if, following Mr Hari's thinking, the ability to feel pain should become the pivot for determining whom we can kill, then we may expect that in 50 years' time Mr Singer's logical grandchildren will be arguing that, provided people are properly sedated, we can kill anyone we want.

In his earlier article Mr Hari asserted that religious belief should not be allowed to influence legislation. I hope he will reflect further on his unease about what happens when atheistic rationalism writes the laws.

Liss, Hampshire

New Iraqi government deserves a chance

Sir: As an Iraqi I was disappointed with the pessimism shown by Robert Fisk after the handover of power to the new Interim Government in Iraq ("Restoration of Iraqi sovereignty or Alice in Wonderland?", 29 June). Mr Fisk has already condemned this government to failure on its first few days.

Whilst I do not disagree with the opinion that the Coalition Provisional Authority and American policy in Iraq during the past year have been a failure, one must be optimistic that the security situation will get better. Many of my family and friends in Iraq have expressed belief that Iyad Allawi's government will succeed in securing the country so that elections can take place next year.

We must not forget that Mr Allawi and other officials in the interim government are risking their lives and giving up a secure life abroad for the sake of Iraq and its people. The new Iraqi government will indeed face many challenges, both domestically and on how much sovereignty the Americans give it. This, however, does not mean it will fail, and we must give it a chance. The world must now stand with it to defeat those who want to cause chaos in Iraq.

Milton Keynes

Sir: I would like to take Bruce Anderson to task for his comments ("Can the Iraqi majority defeat the terrorist minority", 28 June), in particular concerning Edward Said. He states that those in the Said tradition are full of self-pity and anger, and their ill will towards George Bush is greater than their goodwill towards Iraqi people.

Said constantly stressed that in his view, people should not be essentialised and homogenised, whether they are Arab, Iraqi, American or anything else. He did not advocate any form of violent opposition but worked for reconciliation and better understanding across cultures. It was his hope that pointing out how mechanisms of power work that cause us all to have a distorted view of the "Other" would help to raise awareness that would enable all people to view other cultures more openly. This was his form of resistance.

It is true that Said saw the West as dominating the Middle East, and recent events in Iraq surely only serve to illustrate that point. If intellectuals and journalists throughout the world, let alone the Middle East, adopted the Said mode then we would live in a better and safer world.

Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies
Exeter University

Palestinian children

Sir: Lord Clarke and others (Letters, 29 June) profess to be very concerned about the rights of Palestinian children. Strangely, they are completely silent on the violation by Israel of these children's rights.

The United Nations convention on children's rights guarantees the fundamental rights of children to life, education, health, an adequate standard of living, liberty, and non-discrimination. Israel is a signatory to the convention, yet has consistently abused Palestinian children's rights over decades of occupation.

Over the last three years alone, nearly 400 Palestinian children have been killed and 500 permanently disabled by Israeli soldiers. More than 2,500 children have been wounded on their way to school. Schools have been shelled by Israeli soldiers, with 11 schools completely destroyed. For long periods of time, Israel has declared curfews on Palestinian towns and villages, making it impossible for children to go to school. Some children have to travel for hours to bypass roadblocks and now the separation wall in order to reach their schools.

Israeli closures have adversely affected the health of many children, making it impossible for nearly half a million children to receive required vaccinations, dental check-ups, and early diagnosis programmes. Many children suffer from infections due to lack of adequate water supplies, especially in Gaza, where the illegal Israeli settlements enjoy the majority of the water supplies in the area.

If Lord Clarke and others care about Palestinian children's rights, then I would urge them to put pressure on Israel to stop the cruel collective punishment that is robbing thousands of Palestinian children of their childhood.

London NW3

Sir: The letter from five members of the House of Lords refers to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Notwithstanding the disingenuousness of citing United Nations legislation in support of Israel, the country which is, worldwide, the subject of both the most and the longest-dated outstanding United Nations resolutions, the writers conveniently ignore an equally relevant concern.

Since the start of the current intifada, deaths of Palestinians have consistently outnumbered deaths of Israelis by a factor of three and a half times; this statistic extends to the category of slain children. Few will believe that this is because troops of the renowned Israeli army just happen to be bad shots.

No doubt the writers would seek to claim same intellectual distinction between the killings. For the victims however, children or adults, no such distinction exists between suicide bomber and state assassin.

Leigh on Sea, Essex

Nazis and smoking

Sir: German doctors had been suggesting a link between lung cancer and smoking as early as 1924 and in 1929 statistics were published by Fritz Lickint supporting this link. He was named as "the doctor most hated by the tobacco industry" and in 1939 he wrote Tobacco and the Organism listing all the cancers and heart diseases that he considered were due to breathing in tobacco smoke.

This was taken up in Nazi Germany as part of the responsibility of the individual to keep in good health. All this work was published in German and the association with Nazi research done on non-consenting subjects caused it to be largely ignored after the Second World War.

Bradford Hill and Doll's important paper of 1954 resulted from a study of several factors that could have been responsible for the steep rise in lung cancer, only one of which was smoking tobacco, and no work prior to 1950 is quoted.

Clifford Owen (letter, 29 June) rightly asks the question why was this pre-war work was ignored or not widely known. Robert N Proctor's book published in 1999, The Nazi War Against Cancer, discusses the ethical problems encountered when extreme political regimes support research that overall could be of benefit to all mankind. The tobacco industry was very powerful. The addictive nature of nicotine was not fully understood.

Dinas Powys, Vale of Glamorgan

Dyke's appointment

Sir: Sir Christopher Bland, in his letter to you (30 June), says, "It is simply not true that Greg Dyke's appointment as Director-General was 'fixed' by me and John Birt" (referring to my column on the BBC on 25 June).

But John Birt himself in his memoirs, The Harder Path, leaves little room for doubt. He describes how when the BBC governors were choosing his successor as Director-General, Dyke gave a poor impression in his first interview, and appeared "uncomfortable with the BBC's higher purposes". Sir Christopher as chairman then asked Birt to rehearse the arguments with Dyke before the final interview: so they met secretly at Birt's home, "and identified what he should say". The next day Dyke was chosen by the governors, by a narrow majority.

If this isn't fixing, what is?

London W2

Grammar schools

Sir: Mary Dejevsky is perhaps half right in her defence of selection for secondary schools (Opinion, 1 July). One of the main reasons why parents go to extraordinary lengths to avoid certain schools is that such schools have far more than their "fair" share of troubled, ill-behaved and challenging pupils. Such children demand the attention of teaching staff to the detriment of the majority who want to learn.

However, she is wrong to argue for selection grammar-school style. What is needed is not top-slicing the best pupils, but bottom-slicing the most difficult. The average cost of educating the vast majority of children would fall and the savings could be invested in schools with a multi-disciplinary team of professionals, better able to meet individual behavioural and learning difficulties than can be offered in a mainstream secondary. At the same time, teachers in mainstream schools could do just that - teach.


Sir: During the grammar school era, for every grammar school pupil there were three to four secondary modern pupils. The alternative to comprehensive education is not simply a grammar in each area but, by definition, also several secondary moderns (or new rhetorical equivalents).

The middle class is much bigger than it was in the 1950s. Grammar school advocates should beware of what they might unwittingly unleash. You never know, it could be your child who is selected for the secondary modern by their academic ability.

London N10

National hysteria

Sir: Tim Henman's exit from Wimbledon rounds off a series of English sporting defeats which must surely have convinced the most diehard nationalists that the English are nothing special.

During the past few months we have had to endure a wave of nationalist hysteria, starting with the bubble of the UKIP (aka English nationalist party). Hopefully the ballyhoo will now have died down until the next occasion - maybe the next football World Cup - when English nationalists demand their God-given right to be seen as unique.

Personally, I'm happy to be a citizen of a rather nice country which is generally pleasant to live in and is (on the whole) kind to its residents. Let's drop the whole nationalist, post-imperial, flag-waving "we are the greatest" business.

Keyworth, Nottingham

Sir: England have been beaten recently at rugby, football, cricket and tennis. Once again the feeling spreads that the proper order has been restored and that the waves of English sentimental, jingoistic hysteria are ebbing. It is time to begin the healing process which will restore us back to one nation again - the British nation - before the greater part of the population fail the "cricket" test in perpetuity.


Global paper

Sir: Let's not get carried away knocking world trade (letter, 29 June). A4 printer paper from Australia, Brazil etc is made from cultivated eucalyptus trees that are fast-growing in the right climate. This has economic, ecological and environmental benefits.

Hayling Island, Hampshire

Headscarf ban

Sir: Rum stuff this ban on Islamic headscarves by the European Court of Human Rights. They note that bans issued in the name of church-state separation are "necessary in a democratic society". Does this mean that the Queen is illegal, or no longer head of the church or that we are an undemocratic state? And what about those headscarves she wears?

Bracknell, Berkshire

European anarchy

Sir: The nomination of Mr Durao Barroso as next president of the European Commission does at least rebut the ludicrous UKIP accusations that the EU is a conspiracy against the nation state. The chaotic process by which Europe's prime ministers chose from amongst themselves one whose chief characteristic is almost total obscurity clearly had more to do with anarchy than tyranny.

Leader, British Liberal Democrat MEPs, Stockport, Greater Manchester

Take no notice

Sir: In Derbyshire the sheep have taken up running, which probably reduces their inclination to worry (letter, 1 July). A sign on the gated road to a farm above Castleton reads "15 mph sheep".

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire