Failure to learn from 9/11, Iraq and others

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The Independent Online

Our failure to learn from 11 September is feeding terrorism

Our failure to learn from 11 September is feeding terrorism

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's description of 9/11 as the "most fetishised remembrance day of our times" (30 August) is brutal, but I find it difficult not to agree with her. My own gut reaction to the event will always be etched in my memory: I experienced it as an attack on humanity. Later, reflecting on this, I realised to my shame that I could identify with people in tall buildings in a way I could not with people in refugee camps. However, it seemed to me that at least we were now all in the same boat and there was a chance to wake up to some of the injustices we had previously insulated ourselves from.

The deeper shock for me, and no doubt for many, was the failure of the American political establishment to see 9/11 as anything other than an attack on America and all that it represented. In their own way, it seemed, they were mimicking the tiny minority who at the time suggested that "America had it coming". The demand that one is "either for us or against us", not just on the lips of Bush but also of Hillary Clinton, and the action of Mayor Giuliani in rejecting a substantial aid donation from a leading Saudi prince because he went on to make some mild criticisms of US foreign policy, gave the impression that what America wanted was not so much friends as acolytes.

Everything that has happened since has only served to strengthen that impression. It does indeed seem to me that we are on the verge of McCarthyism, or even fascism, not just in the US but also here. Suddenly we can no longer see beyond the confines of Western civilisation - anything that resists its global spread is seen as non-human, or alien. In the name of defending our precious freedoms and material comforts we are creating a monster. If that indeed is how our civilisation appears to those who are outside then the so-called war on terror is already lost.

London SE21

Iraq is condemned to rule by the sword

Sir: Your leading article of 27 August seems somewhat naive in stating that "three individuals - Ayatollah al-Sistani, the interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and the troublesome Imam, Muqtada Sadr - now hold the fate of Iraq in their hands". Surely the fate of Iraq lies in the hands of the American commanders, who have clearly decided to crush any organised opposition, have the military power to do so, and are scarcely likely to be restrained by a government dominated by their own nominees.

Subsequent random acts of terrorism may be a thorn in the side of the Iraqis but are impotent to unseat the Americans. Their problem will be that, having grasped power by force, force will be necessary to keep it; and the movement of American bases into Iraq will ensure its availability. As for Iraqi democracy, the Americans may have been fools not to see that the first act of any democratically elected government would be to eject them, but their folly is not likely to persist, and if faced with a choice between democracy and the American military domination of the Middle East and its oilfields it seems likely that it will be democracy that goes out the window.

As Lord Salisbury, when Secretary of State for India in the mid-1870s reminded what he saw as the over-liberal British representatives there, "India is held by the sword, and its rulers must in all essentials be guided by the maxims which befit the government of the sword."

London NW6

Sir: Bruce Anderson wrote (23 August) that if the British troops occupying Iraq feared that the British people no longer supported them it would cost them their morale.

Is he saying that the British people have to support their troops whatever they do? The German people supported their soldiers all through the unprovoked invasion of Poland, Holland, France, Russia and a dozen other countries. That support encouraged the German military to even greater excesses.

Our soldiers enlist to defend their country, not to be sent on whatever fool's errand might enhance the current standing on the world stage of a prime minister bloated with the sense of his own importance.

Kidderminster, Worcestershire

Olympic ideals

Sir: I thoroughly enjoyed your profile (27 August) on our 17-year-old Olympic boxer Amir Khan, and was especially impressed by the good work of all those involved at the Bolton Lads and Girls Club.

It is nice to be able to say "our" in reference to Amir. He is a strong, quick and brave Asian Briton and is drawing support from the full cross-section of our society. Amir strikes me as being proud of representing his nation and it is gratifying to see him and his family play a part in the reclaiming of our flag from racists and bullies.

I am not naive enough to believe that Amir's success will see the eradication of tension between Asian, black and white communities and it is certainly not Amir's responsibility to lead any kind of anti-racism campaign. But any kind of common ground that we can find is going to help us start crossing barriers. This summer there were Asian football fans who were not intimidated from supporting the England team in an overseas football tournament and there are many more Asian supporters who feel quite comfortable watching a Premiership match in their local pub. A few years ago, this would have been a rarity.

The Olympic Games show us both the best and the worst of what sport has to offer and the support for Amir Khan is surely something we can all take heart from.

London E10

Sir: We should recognise that London is possibly the least suitable city in which to stage the Olympic Games. The first criterion for selection as host country should be that the government and citizens of that country put great importance, year in year out, on the development and encouragement of sport. On that point alone Britain fails miserably.

Speaking for my own sport, triathlon (from which I retired in 2000 at age 69, after the World Triathlon Championship in Perth Western Australia), my experiences of London as a venue were of a poorly managed, ugly-sited series of events, the worst on the calendar. My last participation there in 1998 ended with my winning my race in my age group only to have my car broken into, right outside my hotel, and my bike stolen the same night.

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Sir: The Games are over and they were wonderful. So the deaths of the many construction workers who managed to get the venues ready on time were justified. At least I think they were.

Otley, West Yorkshire

Cost of pensions

Sir: If only David Willets (interview, 21 August) would allow one of his brains to venture outside the comfortable upper-middle class world he inhabits, he would learn that substantial numbers of workers will never earn enough to save for a private pension. In their retirement they will inevitably be dependent on the state or charity. It will be charity if he supposes that raising the basic pension will allow the state to scrap means-tested benefits.

Many of today's eligible pensioners do not apply for means-tested aid simply because their preferred modest lifestyle and money-management capability makes it unnecessary. But there exists a considerable number of people who are quite incapable of budgeting - their money-blindness is a kind of financial dyslexia. Income support allows the state to take some part of their budget out of their hands. Not to do so would involve local authorities in the costly business of prosecution for non-payment of local taxes and the provision of accommodation for those evicted by exasperated landlords.

For as long as we have a universal basic state pension - and it is difficult to envisage an alternative that would not be prohibitively expensive to administer - it will have to be limited to what the taxpayer is prepared to fund.

Bratton Fleming, North Devon

Green solution

Sir: David Alexander (letter, 30 August) describes the ugliness of paved front gardens used as standing for cars. Such change of use has serious implications in run-off of heavy rain contributing to flooding in towns. At the other extreme, cars parked along the roadside can be equally unsatisfactory visually.

There is a half-way solution. If "grasscrete", a concrete lattice with grass growing in the voids, is used as an alternative to paving there are immediate advantages. The surface is porous and water is absorbed into the ground; it provides a firm standing for vehicles in all weathers and a green environment that harbours wildlife. Another advantage is to the lazy - driving across it automatically cuts the grass by pushing the blades against the edges of the concrete!

It does not have to be just grass; there are plenty of low-growing wild flowers that can colonise such a habitat and the margins can be left to grow taller as a haven for invertebrates.

Shapwick, Somerset

Mercury levels in fish

Sir: In the Health section of 23 August, you recommended fish for its nutritional value and cautioned that, due to concerns about heavy metals, the fresher the fish the better. Although freshness may mean fewer bacteria, it has no bearing on the mercury content of the fish. Mercury levels and the levels of other heavy metals are determined by what the fish ate. Mercury enters the food chain in a variety of ways, virtually all man-made. When coal is mined, for example, mercury is dredged up as well, and comes out of the smokestack as a contaminant, falling into our streams.

To imply that an individual can reliably choose fish with lower levels is an error. By the time the fish is in the market, that decision has long been made by bureaucrats, politicians and corporate cost-counters, who insist that installing better pollution controls will cut into their profits. Here, health advisories have recently been issued by the Environmental Protection Agency covering 35 per cent of our nation's lake acreages and offering guidelines that fish consumed be limited to one 6oz portion per week. Experts feel that, with growing energy demands, nearly every body of water will eventually be affected.

Those of us working to educate consumers and to stop this trend are outnumbered, crippled by public apathy and by corporate and political opposition and, frankly, we are losing this battle.

Lexington, Kentucky, USA

Sir: Your report "Experts call for mass medication to curb Britain's 'silent killer' " (25 August) seems to take us a step closer to putting the whole population on some kind of drug regime.

We are being turned into a society in which everyone is sick or potentially sick and therefore dependent on drugs. This will mean that people will further relinquish responsibility for looking after themselves, relying on a magic pill to protect them from any health problems. The pharmaceutical industry stands to make a colossal amount of money; however, the long-term damage to the nation could be phenomenal. Prevention is the best cure; and a healthy vegetarian diet, yoga and plenty of exercise would go a long way towards solving the health crisis.

Croydon, Surrey

Poundbury success

Sir: I am writing to correct several inaccuracies in your article on Poundbury of 26 August.

You firstly show a photograph of Phase One which you describe as Phase Two. Secondly, the Duchy of Cornwall has no share in the profit from the Poet Laureate pub. Thirdly, contrary to the statement from the Town & Country Planning Association spokeswoman about most of the residents being retired, only 36 per cent of residents are over 60.

In reality, Poundbury has been a resounding success, and the majority of residents are very happy to live there.

Poundbury Development Director
Duchy of Cornwall
London SW1

If the cap fits...

Sir: D J Taylor (31 August) states that Sherlock Holmes' deerstalker was invented by Basil Rathbone. Have a look at the four illustrations of Sherlock in his "ear-flapped travelling cap" - so described on page one of "The Adventure of Silver Blaze", illustrated by Sidney Paget for The Strand magazine of December 1892. Looks exactly like a "deerstalker" to me. Coincidentally, that was the year of Basil Rathbone's birth.

London N20

Che and the Soviets

Sir: Johann Hari needn't fret too much about The Motorcycle Diaries (Opinion, 27 August). Che Guevara chose the revolutionary path after witnessing the crushing of liberal democracy in Guatemala by the US. He allied with the USSR as it was the only power to aid the Cuban revolution. He bore arms and allied with reactionary regimes, but so did George Washington. He has become a symbol of national liberation beyond archaic elements like the Shining Path not due to support of his Stalinism but from an understanding of its historic context.

Clara Vale, Tyne and Wear

Sir: Johann Hari writes that the people of South America should have resisted the United States-backed dictatorships by democratic means. Isn't this exactly what Chile's President Allende attempted, and we all know what happened there.

Porthmadog Gwynedd

Waste of space

Sir: Surely Gustav Metzger, whose bag of rubbish art work at Tate Britain was thrown away by the cleaners, should be congratulated on this clear evidence of the verisimilitude of the piece (Philip Hensher, 28 August). The same can't be said of its replacement though, which apparently hasn't been touched by the cleaners. They've obviously seen it for what it is - rubbish.

Colchester, Essex