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Tuesday 6 September 2011
Letters: 9/11 motives
According to Robert Fisk (3 September), "we" have lied to ourselves, "are still not able to say" that the "19 murderers of 9/11 claimed they were Muslims" and that they "came from a place called the Middle East". The reason for this supposed silence is that Palestine is apparently the factor that united the conspirators. It is difficult to know who Robert Fisk's "we" alludes to. Who exactly has not referred to the 9/11 murderers as Middle Easterners claiming to be Muslims?
But Robert Fisk himself chooses to remain silent on the precise origins of the hijackers. None of them was Palestinian, 15 of them were Saudi Arabians and all of them espoused the most virulent form of Saudi Wahhabism, including vicious anti-Semitism, the conviction that Islam must rule the world, absolute intolerance for any form of supposed heresy and a twisted sexuality allied to total misogyny. Mohammed Atta stipulated in his last testament: "The person who will wash my body near my genitals must wear gloves on his hands so he won't touch my genitals ... I don't want any women to go to my grave at all during my funeral or on any occasion thereafter."
For such Wahhabites, New York, with its high Jewish population, cultural and religious mixture, relaxed sexual mores and empowered women was an ideal target. Is there any problem in acknowledging this?
Furthermore, the 9/11 hijackers wished to rid Saudi Arabia of US bases as "infidels" were sullying the spiritual homeland of Islam. It was this military presence that contributed to Osama bin Laden's creation of al-Qa'ida just as much as Palestine if not more.
Robert Fisk as usual puts his finger on it, or nearly. What were the motives of those on 11 September? I do recall that in nature they were quite specific and had nothing to do with establishing Caliphates, attacking American freedoms etc. They were: removal of western troops from Saudi Arabia, as this is holy ground to many; ending sanctions against Iraq, as these were causing a major humanitarian crisis; securing a just solution in Palestine.
Was there a fourth?
Uphall, West Lothian
I notice with considerable disappointment that The Independent has decided to join the ranks of the media engaged in mindless wallowing commemoration of a decade since 11 September.
The media's approach to this anniversary has been beyond disappointing, it has been nauseating. Turning what might have been a time for dignified reflection on the causes and effects into little more than a race for sensationalist ratings-grabbing "specials" – which, being rehashes of old material, are actually nothing of the sort. It is lowest-common-denominator journalism feeding off crocodile tears of fake emotion.
All this wallowing cheapens the memories of those who died on the day and the hundreds of thousands who died as a result. The media should be ashamed of itself.
Islanders' long, unjust exile
Your headline "Secret talks to return islanders to Chagos" (5 September) is slightly misleading since discussions about increasing the number of Chagossians working on the US airbase at Diego Garcia have been going on for a decade. The wages are low, and workers cannot be accompanied by their families. Why should Chagossians have to make such a sacrifice to work in their homeland?
Visits and jobs cannot be a substitute for the right of return which was restored by Robin Cook, in 2000, following a High Court judgment, and withdrawn by Jack Straw in 2004 by Privy Council Orders. Philippa Gregory describes this Tudor device for bypassing Parliament as tyrannical and an abuse of power (the Monday Interview). As High Commissioner to Mauritius in 2004 I advised strongly against such an undemocratic procedure, which would only compound the human rights violations and deceptions of the past.
In the courts judges have described the orders as unlawful and shameful. In his 2008 judgment Lord Bingham said that there was "no instance in which the Royal Prerogative had been exercised to exile an indigenous population from its homeland". Even Mr Straw admitted in a 2009 Radio 4 programme that by not consulting Parliament he had "sacrificed legitimacy for speed". It is to be hoped that the European Court of Human Rights will endorse the widely held view of parliamentarians and the public that the Chagossian exile, one of the longest in history, should be ended.
In 2010, William Hague said: "If elected to serve as the next British government we will work to ensure a fair settlement to this long-standing dispute." In 16 months what progress has the Government made?
High Commissioner to Mauritius, 2000-04
Coordinator, Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
When culture and politics clash
I have no regrets about having participated in the protests against the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms (letters, 3 September).
Culture can never be divorced from the social and political context surrounding it. When I demonstrated against and helped disrupt the Springbok rugby tour in the 1970s, this very same argument was used. The BBC's attitude to broadcasting the all-white South African cricket tour was exactly the same as it is today towards Israel's cultural ambassadors.
There is also a certain amnesia concerning Israel's repeated police and military attacks on the annual Palestine Cultural Festival. The Freedom Theatre in Jenin is constantly under attack by the Israeli military, its premises ransacked and recently two workers detained without trial for weeks before being released without charge. What we see is both racism and western hypocrisy. Western culture cannot be touched, the culture of the oppressed is fair game.
Israel funds and subsidises artists, musicians and writers to travel abroad because, as Yitzhak Laor wrote in Ha'aretz (31 July 2008), the artist agrees that they will "promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel".
I bet the anti-Israel protesters who disrupted the concert of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the Proms last Thursday did not know that the Philharmonic operates a special music education programme for the Palestinian-Arab population in Israel. This programme, founded by Israel Philharmonic Music Director Zubin Mehta, provides scholarships, music lessons, masterclasses and summer programmes for Arab children, and includes joint music lessons for Arabs and Jews together.
In addition, the Israel Philharmonic has founded the Arab-Jewish ensemble "Shesh-Besh", which contains musicians from both nationalities. In the last decade, the ensemble has performed in front of tens of thousands of Jewish and Arab students in Israel.
The Israel Philharmonic is doing all of this because it believes in the ability of music to bring people together, no matter what their race or religion is. This is what the Israel Philharmonic strives for every time it performs, and this is what its musicians intended to do last Thursday at the Proms.
The protesters' actions were shameful and did not help the Palestinian people in the least.
The threat-free way to cycle
Having read various contributions to the cycling debate on the letters page (helmets, pavements, attitude) and having been both a pavement runner and a road cyclist, I suggest that almost everything I have read misses the mark. The attitude to strangers, whether in the boardroom, playground or high street is reciprocal to the perceived threat. Not always physical threat, but threat to self-image and ego.
As a runner, if I were taking a leisurely jog home from work or just winding down and not displaying any level of seriousness of intent through behaviour or dress (lycra!) I generally found that I would be transparent to other pavement users. If I was running purposefully, and worse still with attire that showed any level of aspiration to fitness I would attract a regular amount of at best banter, at worst abuse (albeit not physical).
Age having rescued me, I have now transferred to the bike. In my initial enthusiasm for the speed buzz, fully helmeted and lycra-ed, with a racing bike, I attracted all sorts of aggression and inconsiderate behaviour. Now I have adopted sensible "old man's shorts", no lycra, no helmet, thus showing my shock of white hair, and a hybrid bike, albeit without a basket on the front. Provided I am self-effacing, apologetic and completely uncompetitive then I get the respect that should be afforded to all of us all of the time, even occasionally a disproportionate amount of indulgence.
The moral is: offer no threat, look old, be modest and humble and the world (whilst awaiting its inheritance) will be your confessional.
No plans to close hospital
Our absolute priority is our patients and staff, and I would like to reassure them that there are absolutely no plans in place to either close St Mary's Hospital or any of our hospitals or sell our estate to property developers ("Top hospital to be closed as cash crisis engulfs NHS", 5 September).
It was incorrectly asserted in the article that we have asked a number of architects to provide quotes for turning St Mary's into flats. As explained to the journalist, last year the Trust went out to tender a firm of architects to take a broad look at our estate across all our sites including its state of repair. However, this work was not undertaken, no land sale was explored and no architects were ever appointed.
Instead, on my appointment in May this year, I agreed to commission a piece of work around developing our long-term clinical service strategy with NHS North West London and West Middlesex University Hospital. This focuses on examining patient needs and flows rather than sites. We are now working with our clinical leaders, GPs and the wider community to carry out this work and expect to report the initial findings in late autumn.
At Imperial College Healthcare we pride ourselves on our clinical care and have one of the best survival rates for patients in the country. Stories such as these are deeply unsettling for our patients and staff and run the risk of detracting from our mission of delivering the excellent care our patients expect of us.
Chief Executive, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
Rooney shows his character
One of my daily highlights is reading the eloquently expressed opinions of James Lawton, and I consider him the finest sports writer, certainly that I have had the pleasure of reading. I must however express my objections, even as a Scotsman, to the reference to "lost years" in the career of Wayne Rooney (2 September).
This is a young man who at 25 has made over 400 appearances at the highest level of his sport. He is fast approaching 200 career goals and has won the English Premier League title on four occasions. He also has a European Champions' League winner's medal, and has appeared in football's centrepiece match on three occasions.
Contrary to having lost years, Rooney is a shining example of the fulfilment of prodigious talent, and were he to retire tomorrow would surely go down as one of the most gifted and relentlessly productive footballers ever produced on these shores.
He undoubtedly endured a crisis in 2010, both professionally and personally, but the fact that he is now, as Mr Lawton alludes to, approaching his best again speaks volumes for both his ability and professional character.
Not American? You must be mad
Chris Bryant's piece "Patriotism can make fools of MPs" (3 September) reminded me of a working holiday I spent in America in 1970.
Talking to a young American co-worker on lunch break, I became aware that he believed that the currency in the UK was the US Dollar. In order to convince him otherwise, I showed him a pound note and explained in was worth $2.80 (those were the days).
Shaking his head slowly and with his expression a mixture of sadness and world-weariness, he looked at me as if I was deluded and said: "Well, that's what socialised medicine does to you!"
Joan Smith is not feminist enough ("What if women paid less tax?", 1 September). Her thinking disempowers women completely. She expects state and business to find their glass slippers for them, like so many Cinderellas. How about courses on pay negotiation strategies, assertivity in the workplace, leadership and, above all, basic economics? Companies chase profits and buy labour as cheaply as possible. Undercut men on salaries and you get the job. As long as Smith luxuriates in fantasies about unlikely tax cuts, the chaps are safe.
As "free" schools open across the country I am amazed at the hypocrisy of a minister who, on one hand, says that to teach in a state school you need at least a 2:2 degree and on the other says that to teach in a "free" school you don't need to have any teaching qualification at all.
Simon G Gosden
I am reluctant to give up the word "reluctant" (Errors and Omissions, 3 September) but far from reticent about saying so.
Perspectives on how to build more homes
Why builders have an interest in working slowly
In promoting the use of Green Belt land for housing, your leading article of 31 August ignores the need for national house-building companies to generate profits.
Any house-building company deserving of the confidence of its shareholders will have an established land bank with renewable planning permissions for development. They will also have access to other land – under options to purchase – where residential development has already been identified by local authorities in their statutory local plans. In addition, there will be other sites where new development – on previously developed land for example – would be unlikely to prove controversial locally.
Development of all this land might not wholly overcome the housing shortage, but an increase in the pace at which development is brought forward would have a significant impact on housing supply. Why is this not happening? Because there is further profit to be made from controlling the rate at which new housing is delivered to the market, whether for ownership or rent. That is especially true at a time when economic conditions limit the availability of loans and mortgages.
In a truly responsive market a constant, maybe even accelerating, supply of new housing would drive down house prices. In whose interest would that be – major house building companies salivating at the prospect of high value development in the countryside around towns and cities, or those genuinely in need of homes?
Expanding houses in Germany and Canada
During the Sixties, when requisitioning farm buildings in Germany for Nato exercises with the British Army of the Rhine, I was surprised at the number of large farmhouses where the second storey was just a shell. It was explained that this made the initial cost less, with capacity for expansion at a later date.
More recently, when in Vancouver, I found that my friend there had outgrown his single-storey timber-framed house, so he "jacked it up" and installed new ground-floor accommodation under his original house.
Perhaps a little more imagination when considering new house building in this country might be helpful, especially for first-time buyers.
The Rev C K Wright
Fill in the gaps first
Earlier this year I worked as a census collector chasing up unreturned forms. I found that roughly one in 10 houses were vacant, as did other collectors working in the same area. Nationally that adds up to many thousands of empty properties. Radical, I know, but perhaps these could be filled first before we even discuss building on Green Belt land?
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