Now for the real debate about Britain's future in Europe
Now for the real debate about Britain's future in Europe
Sir: Another anti-European myth has been dispelled with the publication of the wording for the referendum question on the Constitutional Treaty. Rather than "confuse" people, as anti-Europeans said would happen, the question is clear and unambiguous. Perhaps now the debate will focus on what is really at stake.
The treaty reaffirms that the EU is - and will remain - a union of nation states, not a European superstate. It explicitly states that the EU's powers derive from its member states, not the other way round. The treaty clarifies what the EU can and cannot do, as well as ensuring that Britain and the other 24 member states retain their veto on taxation, foreign and defence policies.
Under the treaty the role of national parliaments is significantly enhanced. If a third of them oppose a proposed EU law they can insist that the Commission review it. It will also make the way the EU makes laws simpler and more open. All this is designed to make the newly expanded European Union work more effectively.
When we come to vote in the referendum, it will be a clear choice between this option, continuing Britain's active engagement in Europe that has benefited the country for over 30 years, or reject it and take a giant leap into the unknown.
Young European Movement, London SE1
Auschwitz warns how easily freedom is lost
Sir: Auschwitz stands as a warning about how power can be abused by a democratically elected fanatical government. Hitler demonised a section of society, the Jews, detained them without trial, and then had them murdered en masse, supposedly for the protection of the community.
This week the British government is proposing to detain people indefinitely without trial, without any evidence publicly presented, purely on the judgement of the Home Secretary. These proposed powers are unprecedented in Britain, not invoked during the Second World War, the Cold War, or whilst the IRA was active, all periods of greater threat than we face today. Just as in Nazi Germany, there is a real danger that these powers will be abused to lock up all sorts of people with inconvenient views, from animal rights activists to mere political opponents. The first target of course will be Muslims.
"Trust me, I'm cuddly Charles Clarke," will no doubt be the response. "Oh and our security services never make mistakes." Depending upon who you believe, we went to war in Iraq on either flawed intelligence or the flawed judgement of politicians. These same people now ask for carte blanche to declare war on our own "undesirable" citizens. The bottom line is that if you do not have enough evidence to take someone to trial, you do not have enough evidence to lock them up indefinitely.
The lesson of Auschwitz is that authoritarian government can happen anywhere, even here, and it is up to freedom-loving citizens to stop it.
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Sir: There are two important questions we all need to ask ourselves regarding the Holocaust. What action would Britain, or any other country, have taken against the Nazi extermination policy if we had not been led into war in 1939 because of Britain's treaty with Poland? If Britain had been successfully invaded by Germany, would British authorities have acted in the same way as those in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and other European countries in "assisting" the Nazis?
These are questions to which there is no answer, other than the uncomfortable one which we may give ourselves after looking deep into our consciences.
Darfur, and many other instances of "ethnic cleansing" are happening today with no action taken by the worldwide community. Is there a number written down somewhere in the UN rule book and until this number of deaths is reached nothing can be done?
Sir: Joel Edwards (letter, 25 January) has a rather selective recollection of Christian ethics and history. We are right to be concerned about the political impact of the Evangelical form of Christianity he espouses, which appears to be growing in influence in America with the rise of religious fundamentalism in other parts of the world.
It is a branch of the faith that is inimical to the true message of Jesus of Nazareth. It stresses personal salvation - and its compatibility with material advancement - over his more challenging social message. It is obsessed with sexual morality (and in particular abortion and homosexuality, on which Jesus said nothing) at the expense of leading the world on the urgent moral concerns of killing, poverty and other forms of man-made suffering.
It repeats the mantra of "family values" despite Jesus' rejection of his family to embrace the family of Man. It is anti-intellectual: like all fundamentalism it confuses metaphor with reality and sees the numinous acting through so-called miracles, not through nature as revealed in all its glory by science.
Many secularists would welcome the essential social message of Jesus being given greater political form but instead the Evangelicals bang on about gay marriage or stem-cell research. No, Mr Edwards, no one is suggesting that you "privatise" your faith. You can continue making your case for your values but no one whose political influence would deny freedom to others can expect to be exempt from trenchant criticism.
The "secularists" are not a minority, thank God, at least not in Britain. Originally a minority, they led a world that was murderously intolerant of atheists, heretics and apostates towards humanistic values, through the Enlightenment. Because of them, we inhabit an age infinitely more tolerant than the Christian centuries of authoritarian misery that seemed to forget that Jesus was making a different point.
Sir: George Broadhead (letter, 26 January) is correct when he talks of belief-driven politics in Islamic countries eroding human rights, but he misses Joel Edwards' final point. In the system Mr Broadhead advocates, politicians would only be able to bring their beliefs to debate if they were secular. This system not only denies religious freedom and free speech, but is remarkably similar to the intolerance Christians are often accused of.
Sir: Joel Edwards misses the point when he criticises intolerant attitudes towards Evangelicals from those who preach tolerance for all. Tolerance is not about "right and wrong" - it's about respect for the beliefs of others even if they differ radically from one's own.
In this respect, George W Bush has already established his credentials as a born-again, intolerant, arrogant, narrow-minded right-winger of alleged Christian beliefs whose electoral support has come from those who share his black-and-white, good-and-evil view of the world, and his inaugural speech has done nothing to alleviate this perception. Given the wealth and power at his disposal, it is not surprising that anyone of an open-minded disposition whether Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic or "other" might be feeling a little uneasy.
Sir: The Mental Capacity Bill, as Lady Chapman rightly says, endangers disabled people ("Disabled peer condemns 'euthanasia' Bill", 11 January). In particular, it fails to invalidate advance refusals of treatment, food and fluids which are aimed at ending life. By focusing solely on subjective criteria for determining best interests, the Bill invites the view that it is in some patients' interests to die, as this is "what they would have wanted".
Medical treatments may, of course, be withheld if they involve burdens too great for their benefits - or if they are refused by a well-informed patient as involving such burdens. To foresee death is, however, very different from having death as one's aim. We should never collude with the judgement that some people's lives have no value, however pervasive such a view of disability may be in our society. Life and health should be listed in the Bill as among the best interests of the patient, which those making choices on his or her behalf must acknowledge and respect.
Dr HELEN WATT
Director, Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics, London NW8
Survivors of war
Sir: Since this year sees the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, it would be appropriate to look again at the form of remembrance the nation practises each year.
The present ceremony was devised in the aftermath of the First World War when almost every family in the land had close connections to the hundreds of thousands slaughtered on the Western Front. It was only natural at that time that the families should be comforted by the thought that "They grow not old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn ..."
However, over the years the relations and the survivors have become fewer and fewer until very few families have direct experience of the losses of the First World War.
The form which remembrance should take in future is open to discussion. I would suggest that those who died should continue to be remembered but that emphasis should in future be on those who survived, wounded in body or mind (or both). Those are the ones who continue to suffer and carry the scars of conflict to the grave.
Wing Commander RAF (Rtd)
Sir: With reference to the letter by Gavin Turner (27 January) headed "Howard's immigration worries are realistic, not racist", I'm not sure what Michael Howard's worries really are (other than political obscurity) but his policies are certainly racist, and not based on reality.
When Michael Howard talks of immigrants he's not referring to wealthy white Americans, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, and Western Europeans, is he? They seem to be able to come and settle here without too much trouble or comment. For example, I didn't notice Madonna being asked to spend several months in a detention centre before buying one of her homes in Britain.
He's talking about non-white people whom we can spot in a crowd, and notice when one of them buys a house around the village green. He should be ashamed of his rhetoric. The majority of immigrants coming to this country are skilled people whom we desperately need. That is the reality.
Sir: I am happy that Mr Grealy (Letters, 26 January), had such professions to take care of him during his illness. However, he misses the point about immigration today. The problem is not nurses, doctors or radiographers from aboard working in the UK. The issue is the large number of unskilled foreign nationals in the UK, both failed asylum seekers and people who have overstayed their visas.
We need a tracking system to know who enters and leaves the UK, just as the US has now set up. The people disadvantaged by unskilled immigration are our own unskilled population. Prior to the terrorist attacks in the US, American politicians, of both parties, cared more about cheap labour than security. With technology it is possible to monitor our ports of entry, and it is common sense.
Sir: While I agree with every sentiment in Paul Branthwaite's sensible letter (26 January), may I pick him up on a single phrase? He speaks of those keening against the dreadful foreigners "swamping" Britain and demanding quotas or outright bans, as "little Englanders". It has also become very common to use the same term when referring to the element terrified by the EU. Could we get the fact established that the original "Little Englanders" were liberals, indeed usually also Liberals?
Led by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and the young Lloyd George, they opposed imperial expansion, the doings of Cecil Rhodes and Joseph Chamberlain and, in particular, the South African War. Quite as importantly, when the last-but-one immigrant swamping scare came round with the great Lord Salisbury-inspired panic about Jews fleeing tsar and cossacks ("the scum of the earth" they were regularly called), the Little Englanders were to be found on the opposite, civilised side of the argument.
Thormanby, North Yorkshire
Acting the heroine
Sir: On 25 January under the Immigration Debate, Kelly Holmes was hailed as an hero, and in Pandora, Juliet Stevenson is described as an actor. Does that make me a man? What is wrong with being a heroine or an actress?
Sir: Wonders will never cease. A full double page spread on Essex (26 January), a neglected county with not a single city to its name. Northern Ireland with a similar population now has five. Colchester was a provincial capital when Westminster was a festering bog. So why is Colchester still not a city?
Keighley, West Yorkshire
Sir: If Mr Hensher is not using his invitation to the launch of Charles Saatchi's Triumph of Painting exhibition ("Charles Saatchi and his art of patronage", 6 January), please can I have it? I understand that it's not as smart as the party he's going to instead, but that's fine as I'll have burnt sienna on my cuffs.
Question of loyalty
Sir: Unlike Jennifer Miller (letter, 26 January) I do not mourn no longer being a British subject. Why should any British citizen pledge allegiance to someone who is only there because of an outdated class-riddled system? Bring on the republic.
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