Letters: Ashamed to be English


Humiliation of visitors makes me ashamed to be English

Sir: Professor Paul Fordham writes about his African friends facing humiliation if they have the temerity to try and visit the UK (letter, 29 August). It's not just Africa; it is India too.

I have a friend of forty years standing; we used to be next-door neighbours in south London. She went back to India after 25 years in the UK (paying our taxes, paying our National Insurance, paying her rates and teaching our children). I go and visit her every year: she never visits me because of the humiliation she had to contend with last time she came here.

Intrusive questions as to whether she was coming here to sponge off our social security, whether she was coming here to use our NHS, whether she was coming here to try and stay. All her protestations that she has a very lovely home in Agra were to no avail. She was humiliated and distressed. The same happened to her daughter-in-law when she tried to visit us for 24 hours on her way through Heathrow to her home in the USA.

I feel ashamed to be English sometimes, These attitudes harden people against us and against our beliefs and show us to be an unwelcoming and xenophobic nation. Ridiculous that we can't distinguish between genuine visitors and the very tiny minority who might be trying to take advantage of us.



How close should we be to the US?

Sir: When in a hole it is not enough to stop digging. One should plan ahead to avoid such holes in the future. Your leader "Sunnis can only lose by rejecting this constitution" (29 August) discusses possible ways out of the present crisis, with commendable realism and pragmatism. However, I wonder at the absence in the liberal press of discussion about how to avoid involvement in another ill-judged American foreign adventure.

Despite the increasing evidence day by day that British involvement in the American-led invasion of Iraq is Britain's biggest foreign policy disaster since the appeasement of Hitler, where is the discussion of how to avoid this happening again? Britain may not be able to prevent America from another mistake of similar enormity but it could seek to avoid being drawn in. This question is especially important given the reluctance of President Bush to rule out military intervention in Iran.

Where are the articles in the press and where is the political debate questioning whether British and American interests are any longer generally coincident; whether, therefore Nato is any longer helpful in promoting world peace; whether the sharing of intelligence information between Britain and America is any longer appropriate; whether it is proper that America has rights to the use of British military bases; whether the dependence of the British military on some key equipment available only from American suppliers doesn't compromise the independence we ought to be seeking?

If it is thought that the perceived divergence of national interests is only temporary then I refer you to Hillary Clinton's comments in what we must assume is her current campaign to become the Democratic candidate for the presidency in the 2008 - she is a supporter of the Iraq war and an advocate of the US Patriot Act.



Sir: Andrew Gumbel's article "Across the tracks at Crawford, a divided nation bares its pain" (29 August) describes Bush-supporting protesters camped in opposition to Cindy Sheehan's anti-war protest as merely "eccentric" when they accuse her of "working for the Devil" and " 'blaspheming' against her President". He underestimates the political and popular appeal of such right-wing Christian fundamentalists at his peril.

The secular liberal media and its readers tend to characterise George W Bush as an inarticulate puppet and brand his hard-line religious supporters and advisors both in and outside of the White House as absurd Bible-bashers. In doing so, we limit the possibility of dialogue with, and understanding of, a pervasive force in US and Western politics.

Thus we remain perplexed by Bush's deeper intentions towards Iran, his administration's actions in Iraq and the motivations of Gumbel's grassroots "eccentrics" in Crawford, Texas. We understate the resurgence of creationism and misinterpret the phraseology of the War on Terror. We should only be surprised to find emerging in the US a terrible "religious empire" if we fail to acknowledge seriously the prevalence of faith-based extremism in social and political circles far removed from Gaza, Tehran or our own radical backstreet mosques.




Sir: The appointment of John Bolton as US ambassador to the UN should help the international community to accept that there is no earthly point in expecting civilised or rational behaviour from US during the present administration.

As your article "The US vs the UN" makes clear (26 August), the gulf between US and the rest of the world on so many matters which we believe are within the UN domain is so vast that is not capable of compromise or even useful discussion.

We can either allow Bush and his "team" to destroy the UN or we can put US membership into suspension. There is no realistic third way. Of course, it is a difficult decision, especially for a person such as Tony Blair who has staked his own reputation and career on the US behaving sensibly. Nonetheless, at the very least, the international community, led by the EU, should be discussing this option.



The theology of persecution

Sir: Peter Martin (letter, 29 August) cites John 14: 6 as a proof text for his contention that salvation comes only through the Church. But to treat these words in a literalist way - without giving an account of the context from which they emerge - is, albeit inadvertently, sadly to perpetuate the kind of theology that has too often led Christians across history to denigrate and persecute their Jewish neighbours.

John 14: 6 is actually the product of a bitter late first-century dispute between a group of Jews following the way of Jesus and another more dominant group of mainstream Jews who saw things very differently. In such a polarised context, "I am the way, the truth and the life" (I am the one to follow) is inevitably twisted into "no-one can come to the Father except through me" (I am the only one with the answers; if you don't follow me you're damned). This is what happens in the heat of an argument. People exaggerate and get things wrong. It is foolish, however, to construct doctrine upon such disputatious quicksands. Scripture is not inerrant. It is the product of fallible human beings seeking to interpret - sometimes wilfully to misinterpret - divine revelation. It must be seen as such.

I agree totally with Mr Martin that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. That is why I am a Christian. From this starting place I would wish, however, to advance a Gospel which is not a literalist or exclusivist weapon with which to threaten or batter people into submission - "believe this or be damned" - but rather, a hospitable invitation to explore the meaning of love.

In this sense, I could not conceive of a situation in which I would say to my Jewish neighbours, face to face - which must surely be the test here - that they are "in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation". And if I couldn't do that then the deficiency must be in the Church and its doctrine, not in the Jews about whom it speaks.



Sir: Peter Martin quotes from the Catholic Dominus Iesus which states that we (followers of other religions) "are in a gravely deficient situation" regarding salvation. I have yet to meet a Roman Catholic or any other member of the Christian churches who can tell me what happened to souls before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Curiously, I long to know what happened to the Romans and the Greeks BC, and the men and women of the Bronze Age, to mention but a few. Do they walk Elysian Fields or are they stacked up in Purgatory ? Surely a magnanimous God must care for all the peoples of the universe , past and present.



Markets can help to save the planet

Sir: Your banner headline (Letters, 25 August) is "Classroom disruption: the big issue no politician will tackle". Is this really the big issue? That big issue for me is climate chaos. Or do you refer to the "classroom disruption" in Europe last week, when flash floods uprooted some schools and raging fires burnt down others?

I sympathise with Nick Blane's call for the EU to "Boycott the global warming bad guy"(Letters, 26 August). But, joyfully, there may be no need for this. When we take action and "put our house in order" (both as individuals and nation) our "team" purchasing power acts to discriminate positively.

The innovative markets that we so support will most likely be European (or Japanese) and not US. In Hollywood many bright stars are setting a trend, choosing Toyota Prius carbon-lite cars. Trends like this are hard to buck. Market greed (for a share of the rapidly growing low-carbon economy) will act quicker and deeper than fear of boycott.



Police must be held accountable

Sir: I found it hard to stomach Howard Jacobson's piece "How the death of a Brazilian became a cause" (27 August). Following a week of attacks from the reactionary press on the Menezes family campaign, we find the same attacks dressed up in progressive language in the pages of The Independent.

The issues are these: an innocent man was killed by the police; that he was foreign is no coincidence; that he appears to have been given no warning is terrifying. Jean Charles de Menezes' death is a personal tragedy for his family, friends and all who knew him. It is also a public tragedy that raises questions about the Metropolitan Police, a public institution, and the climate of fear and suspicion that is being bred towards anyone who looks like they might be Muslim. We should be proud that there is a campaign around Menezes' death, to make sure the police are held accountable and this doesn't happen again.

This is in the tradition of the Stephen Lawrence Campaign, with the family at the forefront supported by many of the people who are involved in the Justice for Jean Campaign, without which institutional racism in Britain would not have been challenged.



Homeopathy for farm animals

Sir: Yet again, "scientific studies" claim there is no effect from homeopathy, other than placebo. The "placebo effect" is a more difficult point to make in the context of animals, especially those on the farm. I and others treat many cases of serious chronic disease in domestic pets and horses, with a good success rate, where conventional methods have been tried without success, often over several years.

In the UK and in mainland Europe, a great many farmers turn to homeopathy to solve problems in which conventional medicines have failed. They are driven by concern for their animals and by economic necessity, to try to solve herd health problems. They would not continue to spend money on homeopathy if it failed to produce benefit.

If homeopathy is supposed to be so ineffective, how was I able to run the veterinary care of many farms, when I was in farm practice, using homeopathy alone? The farms concerned were intensive commercial farms (not "organic") and they would otherwise have been using prodigious amounts of antibiotics, hormones etc to keep the herd healthy.

As for the "placebo effect", much of the dosing was done by medicating a herd's drinking water, without the knowledge of or anticipation by the animals concerned.



Neglected code

Sir: I was surprised that in your countdown of the Ten Best Bike Accessories (30 August) you didn't include the most essential and least used bicycle accessory - a copy of the Highway Code.



Bird flu threat

Sir: A rational society, faced with the prospect of bird flu becoming a recurrent menace, might by now have started the gradual pre-emptive scaling down of its poultry industry. This could be happening if the industry, like any other, were expected to compensate the public for any deaths or ill health it causes. Our experience, however, is that it is the public who will be expected to compensate the industry. It is probably too much even to hope that the expensive precautions needed will be financed from a levy on domestic and imported poultry products.



Sir: The Revd Colin Smith (letter, 29 August) states that "intelligent design does not predicate perfection in the world". If you were an Intelligent Designer and one of your creatures was behaving badly and multiplying too rapidly, you might well think it would make very good sense to cull it for the sake of all the rest. Pity about the birds, though.



Not all terrorists

Sir: Dr Jim Hutchison (letter, 29 August) writes: "Animal rights activists are impervious to rational argument. They are also abysmally ignorant." After the London bombings there was a laudable effort to avoid lumping all Muslims in with the terrorists. Now re-read the above passage and substitute the word "Muslims" for animal rights activists. See what I mean?



Modest reward

Sir: How quaint it was to watch Andrew Flintoff pick up a cheque for £2,500 and a magnum of champagne as man of such an extraordinary cricket match. In these days of £110,000-a-week footballers and athletes who can earn £100,000 for a world record, it made me feel young again.



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