Civilised drinking: Continental lessons for the boozy British
Civilised drinking: Continental lessons for the boozy British
Sir: The proposed liberalisation of licensed premises' opening times hangs in the balance (report, 14 January). Consider the following scenario: bars can open 24 hours a day; anyone can open a bar selling beer without a licence; beers on sale are twice as strong as typically available in the UK; youths are allowed to drink beers in bars from the age of 16.
This is not a nightmare vision of the future but the current situation in Belgium, a country with a vibrant and civilised bar culture. Alcopops and similar products which deserve no respect receive none. It is the manufacturers who promote these drinks who are to blame for the binge drinking, along with the creators of the vast impersonal drinking halls which line our high streets. Failure to implement the new licensing hours will simply penalise the vast majority of responsible drinkers while doing nothing to combat the lack of respect for alcohol shown by the minority.
Sir: The Home Secretary says he wants "a civilised kind of life as exists in continental Europe". I live in the middle of central Europe where the northern German-speaking culture meets the southern Italian-speaking one.
We have over 60 bars and cafes within 10 minutes walk of where I live. People do enjoy a drink and some drink more than the doctors recommend, but we do not have bars open 24 hours a day, we do not have regular punch-ups, we do not have vomit on the pavements and hundreds of drunks on the street every weekend.
Until the British can develop a more civilised approach to alcohol and their free time, I would suggest shorter not longer opening hours.
Meran, South Tyrol, Italy
Harry's gaffe and the monarchy's future
Sir: I remain puzzled how Prince Harry's undisputed folly can be used as proof of the unworthiness of our own or any other monarchy. Time and again any slip by a member of the Royal Family is taken as evidence of the unworthiness of an entire system.
I look in vain for commentary claiming that the lamentable and often fatal lapses of elected (and re-elected) heads of state stand as proof that republicanism is a busted flush. By the same token we do not look for every minor failing in the youth of our politicians as grounds of their unworthiness to serve in Her Majesty's government.
Some modesty and self-irony from proponents of republics are overdue.
The Rev GEOFFREY THOMPSON
Sir: Deborah Orr's remarks about Remembrance Day (15 January) are not relevant to the case of Prince Harry.
This commemoration arose from the mourning following the Great War and involved sorrow for all who died in it; the Germans were not seen as representing a peculiarly evil regime. If Harry had gone as a Prussian officer with a spike in his helmet, nobody would have been offended, including the few survivors of that conflict.
The offence in this case is an apparent ignorance of, or indifference to, genocide. Because such a horror could arise in a civilised country, it is a warning to us all, and for that reason Prince Harry has no right to be so ignorant, though the level of comment on both sides of the argument suggests there is very little understanding of the issues in the country as a whole.
If we had known what it was to live under the swastika, we might not find it so funny, and in consequence so easily forgivable.
Sir: Many people have asserted the right of a 20-year-old to do stupid things. I am 21 and have done many stupid things. However, wearing a Nazi costume, a symbol of human pain, to a party is not one of them.
I am not Jewish. Nor have I been groomed my entire life to endure the public eye, or adjust to my role as a highly profiled ambassador, possibly one day king, of my country. Nevertheless, it still occurs to me that dressing up as a stormtrooper and going out to party is a really, really stupid thing to do.
It's clear how dull and under-brained Britain's ruling class is. Unfortunately, they're the figureheads of my country too. So I'm allowed to complain: pull your head in, Harry.
Sir: The public sporting of Nazi iconography, whether it be by punk musicians of the 1970s or members of the Royal Family today, has always, quite understandably, raised strong feelings. No one in their right mind would for a moment argue that it represents anything other than a despicable regime responsible for some of the most reprehensible acts of man's inhumanity to man.
How is it then perfectly possible and indeed common to wear garments with symbols representing the former Soviet Union upon them without exciting any form of uproar? By a conservative estimate the Soviet Union killed nearly 50 million of its own citizens between 1917 and 1991, imprisoning, torturing and conscripting into forced labour many more: yet images, figures and symbols representing that regime are considered "kitch". They feature on garments and consumer goods and have even become the theme for bars and restaurants.
Should we not consider the double standards behind our response to emotive imagery before condemning others for their thoughtlessness?
Sir: Oh, Harry - wearing a Nazi costume to a colonially themed party! Silly boy! Why didn't you pick a less controversial costume, like Cecil Rhodes, or a young Bomber Harris dropping mustard gas on the Kurds, or an English officer blowing Indian mutineers from the muzzle of his cannon?
There wouldn't have been any hysteria about that, which is indicative of the double standards and hypocritical self-righteousness of attitudes towards the Nazis in this country when compared to attitudes about our own imperial past.
ZAYED AL JAMIL
Sir: I have been intrigued in the past week by the way in which the same figures who have been so quick to defend the BBC's decision to broadcast the Jerry Springer opera as a prime example of freedom of speech have been equally nimble-footed in their criticism of Prince Harry in his own version of free speech. It is particularly odd given that one was designed for public consumption whereas the other was a private display at a party.
If Prince Harry were given a walk-on part in the Jerry Springer opera, dressed in his Nazi uniform, would he be applauded or booed off stage?
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir: While I agree with the tone of your editorial "A youthful indiscretion" (14 January) your assertion that millions of Britons died fighting the Third Reich is incorrect. British and Commonwealth losses amounted to some 600,000.
Sir: I think I may scream if I read another 40-, 60- or 80-year-old blithely asserting that the average 20-year-old today does not understand the significance of the swastika. Just because one ignorant, inbred royal with a poor sense of humour does not appreciate the significance of the symbol, does not mean the rest of us do not.
What Israel wants
Sir: Harold Rosenberg (letter, 14 January) insists that Israel is not expansionist.
Since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, the number of illegal Israeli settlers in the occupied territories has doubled to over 400,000 and continues to grow. Israel has reserved all the water and up to 50 per cent of the land on the West Bank for settlements, and has built its apartheid wall to grab more land. That sounds pretty "expansionist" to me.
If Israel wanted to protect its citizens from violent Palestinian resistance, it could make a good start by shipping these 400,000 Israelis back to Israel, thereby turning the occupation into a purely military question of security. But Israel wants land, not peace. If Israel wants peace instead of land, it can give back the stolen land and build a wall along the Green Line at any time.
If Israel wants peace and land then either it has to complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestine begun in 1948, as many Israelis advocate, or it has to grant Palestinians the same civil rights as their Israeli neighbours in a secular Israeli/Palestinian state, as some Israelis and Palestinians suggest.
Sir: Harvey Quilliam (letter, 12 January) says that we can look forward to peace, "Once the Israelis are behind their original borders". Defining those borders will be one of the subjects of the negotiations with the Palestinians.
Other than the Mediterranean Sea, Israel had no officially recognised borders before the treaties signed with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. She still has no border with Syria. What Mr Quilliam is referring to are the Armistice Lines of 1949, behind which the Palestinians had every chance to set up their state before 1967. They chose not to do so.
Kfar Saba, Israel
Role for aid in Africa
Sir: Lord Desai ("Why Africa does not need a new Marshall Plan", 11 January) is right that further debt relief, better governance and trade reform that benefits the poorest will help reduce poverty. All are priorities for the UK. I think he's got it wrong, however, about the role that aid can play in the battle to get a basic education for the 25 million girls out of school in sub-Saharan Africa, or to get anti-retroviral treatment for the 96 per cent of people living with HIV who don't have access to the drugs they need.
Tanzania is one of the African countries that has put in place the "smart policies" that Lord Desai asks for. Since 1999, Tanzanian government spending on anti-poverty programmes has doubled, backed by finance from international donors. Over this period the UK has contributed nearly £400m. In 1999 only half the children in Tanzania got a basic education; today 90 per cent of primary-age children go to school. Even with this support, the Tanzanian government can only afford to spend 40p per week per person on its anti-poverty programmes. Just imagine what Tanzania could achieve if more aid was available, and that's exactly what a Marshall Plan would help provide.
Aid, properly used, works, and that's why we have set a timetable to reach the UN 0.7 per cent target by 2013.
HILARY BENN MP
Secretary of State, Department for International Development
Sir: Gordon Brown's African visit promises more patronising meddling by the West. Our own economies would never have developed had their nature been imposed on us by foreigners who denied us the right to establish tariff barriers to protect our home markets.
Civil society and democracy must spring from the will of the people. Making Africans wage slaves of international companies, in order to allow supermarkets in the West to sell at the cheapest price to the richest consumers in the world, feeds dictatorships and stifles social reform. In a world shrunk by information technology, the people of Africa could compress to a matter of decades the social progress which took us centuries to achieve; but we have to get off their backs.
Sir: Cameron Duodu, (Opinion, 15 January), perpetuates the myth of African helplessness by blaming Europeans for Africa's ills.
He says that Europe "kidnapped millions of African people and turned them into slaves". The reality is that their own African rulers did the kidnapping and turning into slaves and profited immensely from selling their subjects to the European slavers.
The African people suffered from the greed and corruption of their rulers in slave times, and continue to suffer today from the corruption and incompetence of those rulers' successors. Africa's problems will not be cured until Africans take full responsibility for their own affairs and insist on honest rulers.
West Chiltington, West Sussex
Sir: Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at the outstanding success of the Huygens probe on Titan. Mission control is at Darmstadt, in Germany. It then made a perfect soft-landing on the beach, getting the best position for taking pictures - just like the Germans everywhere. Well done!
G N G TINGEY
Sir: Could your science editor please explain the amazing phenomenon that allows the transmission of signals from Titan 746 million miles away yet inhibits BT's transmission of broadband a few metres away.
Sir: I was at the European Social Forum meeting described by Johann Hari (Opinion, 7 January) and he is right that the IFTU speaker was unable to speak. Yet this was due to a small sectarian element consisting of a London-based ultra-leftist group and a few unreconstructed Turkish Stalinists; the audience was livid that they should try to disrupt the meeting, despite many reservations as to the speaker's invitation.
ADAM di CHIARA
Sir: I have another very famous Belgian, the "French" singer Jacques Brel was born in the Brussels suburb of Schearbeek in 1929.
CHRISTINA van MELZEN