Democracy in Iraq, Blair on terror and others

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The Independent Online

Why Western-style democracy will never take root in Iraq

Sir: There is a tiny grain of truth in Kola Odetola's touching diatribe (letter, 4 March). It is true that occupiers through history seldom learn lessons. But the relevant point that your correspondent - and your editorial - miss is that the Iraqis are not interested in the type of democracy the West wishes to impose on them.

I doubt if they think democracy is a way out of their impasse at all. The Iraqi temperament, moulded over the centuries by generations of tyrants, foreign arbiters or occupiers, is not conducive to Western-style democracy. Saddam Hussein understood that.

Like fundamental Christianity, Islam is not and never has been in favour of giving a say in government to the hoi polloi. In countries where democracy cannot be doctored to ensure that a sinful electorate does not elect the biggest sinners in its midst, the mullah steps in to filter out the "undesirables". That is what happened in Iran. And it will happen in Iraq too, where the future rulers, the local ayatollahs, taking their cue from across the border, will "Islamicise" whatever democratic formula the occupying powers prepare for them. God does not allow dissent - for that is what democracy boils down to - nor does the Muslim ruler, be it Saddam in Iraq or Fahd in Saudi Arabia or Khamenei in Iran. In the mullah mind-set, democracy simply means the right to commit sin.

Instead of harping on impracticable ideals, the West might find it more worthwhile to work towards a consensus of elders and promote traditional ruling systems, such as tribal democracy, that the locals understand and are familiar with.


Terror and Blair's reasons for war

Sir: Once again, in his speech on foreign policy, Tony Blair muddies the waters by linking the Iraq War and 11 September.

One of the main reasons many of us opposed the invasion of Iraq was that it was a dangerous distraction from dealing with terrorism. It was as if Roosevelt had attacked the Soviet Union after Pearl Harbor on the basis that Stalin was an evil dictator who might have occasionally had some discussions with the Japanese. Britain is now at more risk from terrorism as a result of participating in George Bush's war.

London W2

Sir: Tony Blair has just produced the most cogent argument in favour of vigilantism: if I and my "allies" live on an estate plagued by gangs and we believe that our government and judiciary are paralysed by indecision and debate, then it is incumbent on us to deal with the problem.

Oakham, Rutland

Sir: I have just heard the PM's speech and was delighted to hear him set out with such clarity the real issues and choices before us. I am relieved to know that we have him as PM and therefore no risks will be taken with our security. Those who like to pretend that we are not in danger ignore the endless stream of ghastly terrorist attacks that are now occurring across the world.

For as long as Tony Blair is Prime Minister I shall vote Labour.

Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire

Sir: The sheer breadth of opinion on the legality of the Iraqi war ("Blix: Iraq war was illegal", 5 March) is testimony to the irrelevance of the whole notion of "international law".

There is no universally recognised binding body of international law which compels obedience, either in morality or in fact, from sovereign nations around the world. Whatever your view of the war, to label it "illegal" is not so much a statement of opinion as sloppy and lazy thinking.

Monkton, South Ayrshire

Sir: The greatest crime a man can commit is not to steal, to rape, to abduct children or to murder. It is to launch an illegal war.

To start a war one needs a cast iron, copper bottomed, indisputable legal defence - or else one risks being a war criminal. To rely on an arguable justification completely misunderstands the required burden of proof.

It is ridiculous that the Government and media seem surprised that the issue of the legality of the war keeps coming back to centre stage. Until Blair's dying breath (and probably well beyond) the decision to go to war will be seen as the crux of his career. "Making the trains run on time" or saving the NHS will never erase that issue, and rightly so.

Buxton, Derbyshire

Sir: I read with interest your deputy political editor's report on the advice the Foreign Office prepared a year ago on the legality of the use of military force against Iraq ("Attorney General conceded doubts over legality of war", 4 March).

The memorandum submitted by the Foreign Office that made it clear the key UN Security Council resolution 1441 did not automatically justify force was consistent with the public position presented to the United Nations by the then UK ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, now our representative on the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, when he argued in favour of Resolution 1441 in November 2002.

It was confirmed to me by Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell in a written parliamentary reply in May last year that ambassador Greenstock told the Security Council: "There is no 'automaticity' in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12 [of Resolution 1441]. We would expect the Security Council then to meet its responsibilities." (Hansard, 7 May 2003, column 743W]

The problem is that this legal position drawn up by the Foreign Office - which put a priority on reaching consensus with the world community through the United Nations - was overridden by the political pressures on a small group of ministers who pressed for an invasion of Iraq at Washington's behest, and the Attorney General was invited to produce a different interpretation of the legality of military action against Iraq.

The diplomatic problem this about-turn has created is that the current UK ambassador's commitments in future to the UN may be treated with caution by other member states if they believe his word may not be trusted to last very long as UK policy, if pressure arises in Whitehall to change it.

(Blaenau Gwent, Lab)
House of Commons

Sir: To avoid confusion would it be appropriate for someone to define the "WMDs in Libya"? Are we saying Libya has weapons of mass destruction, a programme for WMDs, or is planning a programme for WMDs? Advance clarification could reduce the amount of time, newsprint and MPs' valuable time spent in the future.

London W8

Rival rights to return

Sir: Henry Clinton-Davis (letter, 28 February) asks the Palestinians to abandon their right to return to Israel, when what they want in fact is the right to return to Palestine, from which they were driven by the original Palestinian terrorists - militant Jewish fundamentalists.

As a teenager in London's East End when Mosley's thugs were roaming the streets, I developed a profound sympathy for the Jewish people that has stayed with me down to the present day. But during the time I spent as a soldier in Palestine from September 1945 to May 1947, I developed sympathies no less sincere for the indigenous Arabs.

The creation of Israel was a criminal act committed by a Western world that for centuries had behaved abominably to its Jewish citizens and now sought to make amends with the least inconvenience to itself.

It must have been plain to Palestinians, as indeed it was to me, that militant Zionists meant in time to make the country their own. I and my fellow soldiers, having made our own modest contribution to the liberation of Europe's Jews, landed at Haifa to find a Jewish citizenry eager to show their gratitude, but from the moment we stepped ashore it was clear that the militants saw us as the enemy. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that with the West's withdrawal in 1948 and the renaming of Palestine as Israel, the surrounding Arab states sought to restore Palestine to the Palestinians.

I see little prospect of Palestinians, aided by militant Islamic fundamentalist, ever giving up their right to reclaim their own. Jewish funda- mentalists, with far less cause, never renounced their right to their so-called promised land.

We in the West, reluctant to pick up the tab for our own sins, have created for the world at large a problem for which, it seems, there is no ready solution. The Jews of the country I still call Palestine will never, I fear, know peace until they exhibit the same determination to deal with their own terrorists - currently in government - that they show toward those of Islam.

Bratton Fleming, Devon

Fat in fashion

Sir: D Walker (letter, 28 February) has spotted numbers of obese adults and children publicly walking about dressed in football strip. Shocking! Your correspondent calls for all this to cease, and rightly so.

Here's the whole clothing industry so successfully sizing all other garments to keep the obese well away from them - why, it has worked for years! The customer either diets to fit the merchandise or goes without. Now we hear that all the time the football shirt purveyors have been encouraging just anyone to buy (and wear) their merchandise.

This loophole must be closed, and at once; before some of these overweight fashion followers start thinking up really unreasonable demands. Will they be expecting next to buy rainwear? Or leisurewear? Shall we hear of demands for larger-size bridal gowns, overalls, holiday clothes, active sportswear or outfits for job interviews?

London SW4

Gibson's Christ

Sir: Not only should Mel Gibson be told that Jesus was a Jew (Faith & Reason, 28 February), he should also be told that the gospels were written in Greek, not Aramaic or Latin. In this context the word "Jews" mistranslates the Greek for "Judeans" (as distinct from Galileans), indicative of the theo-political power structure based on Jerusalem. Out of this context the word becomes meaningless, like blaming "the English" for the death of Thomas Becket or Charles I.

Gibson should also be told that all attempts to reconstruct "the Jesus of history" from "the Christ of faith" have proved illusory. This is simply because the gospels are not documentaries - as fundamentalists like to read them - but theological narratives, constructed largely from symbolic and typological dramatisation.


Medical alternatives

Sir: For a newspaper that prides itself on promoting informed choice I find your editorial on alternative medicines surprising. As you state, some of these treatments work, whilst others are of dubious value; unless some regulation is introduced it will be impossible to identify which is which. Currently therapies can be promoted to the public with no quality assurance. Regulation will allow investigation into treatments and ensure public protection from unsafe practitioners.

I have no doubt that a little magic and mystery contributes to the effect of both conventional and complementary therapies. I do not think that discovering more about complementary treatments, and providing them to the public in a safer and more informed manner will dilute their effect. On the contrary it will help to clarify their place in the spectrum of choices available.

General Practitioner
Skipton, North Yorkshire


Sir: Responsibility can be taken; it cannot be given. I hope that Ayatollah Ali Sistani's "We put responsibility on the occupation forces" (Quote of the day, 4 March) is a mistranslation, and not a reflection of a view that their difficulties are entirely someone else's problem.


True sportsmen

Sir: Many Saturdays I watch my local non-league side and I enjoy watching a team that play their hearts out Saturday by Saturday for precious little reward. When I contrast that with the antics of the overpaid spoiled yobs I read of in the Premier League I know which I would rather pay to see.

King's Lynn, Norfolk

Mysteries of the soul

Sir: "Souls" are creeping ever more frequently into the pages of The Independent. My irritation finally boiled over when reading your admirable Robert Fisk on "half a million dead souls" (3 March). I don't know about souls, being an atheist, but I would have thought that people and bodies die, but souls do not.

Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

Bin Laden's vote

Sir: All respect to my fellow American John Davies (letter, 5 March), but Osama bin Laden would be nuts to vote for John Kerry. What better recruiter has al-Qa'ida ever had than George W Bush?

Harrogate, North Yorkshire