Sir: Two years ago a friend and neighbour of mine, like Mrs Gillian March weary of a long and debilitating illness, succeeded in ending his life by exactly the method she chose. In his case he achieved this without assistance and died a lonely death. It seemed at the time that, in what purports to be a civilised country, it should not have been necessary for him to bring his life to an end in this way.
This incident surged back to mind when I read your report (20 October) of the conviction of Mrs March's caring husband David for "assisting a suicide". The fact that the judge dealt with the matter sympathetically through a suspended prison sentence of nine months when the law allows for a custodial sentence of up to 14 years should not deflect our attention from the underlying issues. What is achieved by steering people to choose a violent form of suicide when they wish to have a dignified death at the time of their choosing? What is achieved by the trauma generated and the money wasted in pursuing a prosecution of a partner?
This case provides yet another example of the terrible consequences of the current law and the inhumanity that underpins that law. What, I wonder, would all those noble lords who voted down Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill have done had they been placed in David March's unenviable position?
WELWYN GARDEN CITY, HERTFORDSHIRE
Blair's historic folly in Iraq
Sir: As we approach the 50th anniversary of the British invasion of Egypt (November 1956) the similarities between Anthony Eden's Suez adventure and Messrs Bush and Blair's Iraq adventure appear compelling.
Eden told the nation he was "convinced" he was right; Blair told many audiences that he "knew" he was right. Both were proved comprehensively wrong. Eden lied to the Commons about the conspiracy with France and Israel. We have yet to learn the truth of the Bush/Blair pre-war talks or the full advice given to the Prime Minister on the legality of an attack on Iraq. Suez provided a smokescreen for the Soviet invasion of Hungary; Iraq a diversion from the plight of the Palestinians (a root cause of terrorism) and the brutal conflicts in Africa.
But if the immorality and folly of the two enterprises appear comparable, both diminishing Britain's moral standing in the world, the similarities end there. At Suez British casualties numbered fewer than 40, Egyptian some 2,000. In Iraq over 100 British service lives have been lost and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Suez exposed, but did not create, Britain's economic and military weakness. Iraq has made a world more dangerous for all of us and put the Middle East in turmoil.
Eden retired broken by ill-health with the Suez fiasco obscuring a gallant and principled past. We have yet to see if Mr Blair's real domestic achievements will be overcast by a continuing lack of repentance for Britain's most costly foreign folly since the end of the Second World War.
SIR GEOFFREY CHANDLER
Sir: Now that we are comparing the Tet offensive with the war in Iraq it seems pertinent to point out one salient fact: that the UK had no involvement in Vietnam, despite all the pressure put on Harold Wilson by LBJ to send even a token force.
This despite the looming "Soviet threat" at that time and our dependence on US forces in Europe. It is to Wilson's eternal credit that we stayed out of that war. History will not be so kind to Blair.
Sir: As one of the few Independent readers to have enthusiastically supported the removal of Saddam Hussein's evil regime, I despair of the bloody chaos that replaces it.
But this god-awful mess could so easily have been avoided. Not, as so many of your correspondents and columnists contend, by having stuck with the status quo that lost far more lives to UN sanctions - but instead by competent forward planning. More and better equipped troops in place from day one; armouries and borders secured; the Iraqi army kept on the payroll; extremists unlikely to be won over eliminated en masse.
Please, let's not pretend this pre-emptive venture could never have worked out.
Sir: I don't think it is true that Bush and Blair have not shifted their stance on withdrawal from Iraq. Originally withdrawal was to happen when there was peace and reconstruction, now it is when security can be handed over.
Will this be the same sort of handover that occurred in Vietnam? Officially it was the South Vietnamese who lost the war; security had been handed over to them as the last American left with his pants on fire.
Veil and the myth of uncontrollable lust
Sir: Many fundamentalist faiths hold the view that physical and sexual appearance causes the "sins" of lust and infidelity. In doing so they sustain a fundamental dishonesty which is that human beings cannot control themselves in the face of "temptation". That is an insult to me as a man.
At the time of the Sutcliffe murders a judge got into hot water by suggesting that a girl who had worn shorts with a "provocative" emblem on them had "rather asked for what she got". That is the same fundamental tenet which lies behind the veil.
I see the exposed faces of women, including Muslim women, every day, and delight in the beauty and character which God or Nature has given to the world. For me the veil - especially when it is part of a drab, funereal black garb - is a denial of all that is the best in us and a symbol of the worst.
RICHARD M THOMPSON
Sir: I am not surprised Muslim women want to cover themselves up in the Middle East, as I have worked in that environment and it was very shocking to see how sex-crazed Middle Eastern men are. Leering and gawping at all of us western girls as we walked in the streets, improper suggestions of illicit sex every five minutes. Men trying to touch us all the time.
I worked in this environment for over three years because of a very good tax-free salary and tolerated the sexual harassment, accepting it as part of the downside of this otherwise very interesting culture.
Back in the UK, we are free to be ourselves. Men will always find women attractive. But western men's attitudes to sex is far more respectful and we have no need to veil ourselves in order to walk down the street in peace.
LITTLE MINSTER, OXFORDSHIRE
Sir: As a middle-aged, middle class English woman, I too am disturbed by the provocative and unsightly dress of some young women. However, Khola Hasan (Letters, 17 October) goes on to say "most girls do not aspire to be academics, but to appear on Page 3 of Britain's favourite newspaper."
How on earth does she reach this conclusion? In my experience most girls dress modestly (if unconventionally), work hard and manage to find time for sports and hobbies. Perhaps Ms Hasan is mixing in the wrong circles.
Sir: I can't say that I'm any great fan of the veil, and have been cheerfully scoffing at all the westernised, middle-class women who have featured in the media defending this sexist concept as some sort of assertion of their independence. However, after reading the letter by Keith Ames (19 October) about the problems the veil causes to deaf people, I am tempted to suggest a moratorium on this issue.
Muslim women who wear the veil have been accused of being intimidating and symbolising a host of other ills. Now it seems that the disabled rights movement is queuing up to have a pop at them as well. What next? That their thoughtlessness in failing to stick fluorescent strips on to their dark attire is discriminating against partially sighted people?
Easy for the well-off to criticise Madonna
Sir: Jili Hamilton is pleased that her sponsorship of three Rwandan children will, unlike a Madonna-style adoption, allow the children to remain in Africa, thus saving them from contact with the nasty consumerism rampant in the West (letter, 19 October).
Sponsorship is of course an act of commendable generosity. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that, according to the World Health Organisation, Rwandans have a life-expectancy of 32.8 years. In Switzerland, from where Hamilton writes, the life-expectancy is 72.5 years.
So perhaps consumerism isn't such a high price to pay for things like advanced medical care, a stable body politic, and freedom from genocide. Intrusive advertising and garish shopping malls can indeed be irritating, but they are minor inconveniences in comparison with cholera or murderous machete gangs.
Those who praise the more "authentic" way of life in Third World countries always seem to do so from the safety and comfort of places like Geneva, London or New York.
Remote computers that rule our lives
Sir: Mr Malpas (letter, 20 October) should probably not worry about filing his "MoT certificate". It is no longer in any meaningful sense a certificate.
As of last year the primary and conclusive record is not the document issued to the vehicle owner. It is whatever is on the VOSA computer. You now have no proof in your control of the state of your vehicle. The transaction between you and a known garage is (almost) irrelevant. Now you are entirely reliant on the integrity and stability of a distant computer, maintained by unknown bureaucrats.
In due course, if the Government has its way, your own identity will be managed that way too. Welcome to the database state.
GENERAL SECRETARY, NO2ID LONDON W1
Sir: This is generally thought to be a low-crime small city, but are things really more sinister ?
When I travel into the centre from my suburb I am filmed both ways on the bus "for my own security". As I walk around the main shopping streets I am filmed by "security cameras", and inside most of the shops I am filmed "to prevent crime". Anybody interested could track me almost from home and back again.
For what? Is the threat of crime, or worse, so ever-present that citizens need to be under near-constant surveillance ? And even this fails to prevent kiddies riding their bikes against the law in pedestrianised streets without fear of detection.
B M GLOVER
Atheists claim their religious rights
Sir: Following the Government and media's over-sensitivity towards religion of late, I believe that the enlightened atheists amongst us should also receive the full rights afforded to other religions. Hence, speaking against atheism publicly should be categorised as a hate crime (which should keep the police busy on Sundays).
I propose calling the new religion the Church of Richard Dawkins, and we will adopt his book The God Delusion as our sacred text. We should also be entitled to some religious holidays, so for starters we'll take his birthday off; I am e-mailing my boss now about that last point.
RICHARD O SMITH
Sir: Jim Bowman wants to know what he should wear to indicate that he is an atheist (letter, 20 October). Might I suggest a knowing smile?
Sir: Any advice as to how I can dress to let the world know that I'm a Jewish atheist?
Sir: "Surely a master must be masculine," Guy Keleny writes (Errors and Omissions, 21 October). Not so: for the past 23 years I have been Master of Arts, never Mistress, but always feminine.
Sir: Masha Bell's arguments in favour of the simplification of English spelling (letter, 17 October) are very cogent. However, she should address the problem of which variety of English she proposes to standardise on. For instance, what we do about the terminal "r"? Scots, North Americans and many English people do pronounce this. English Estuarine speakers, however, seem to have replaced it with a glottal stop, so that we hear "fo' eva'' instead of "for ever". Are we to accept a Balkanisation of the language where every regional dialect is encouraged to adopt its own spelling?
Buying TV licences
Sir: From 31 July over-the-counter sales for TV licences transferred to PayPoint from the Post Office (The Big Question, 19 October). This will deliver the best value for the licence-fee payer, with the BBC expecting to save more than £100m during the six-year contract. We want to make it as easy as possible to buy a TV licence and there are already more than 15,000 PayPoint outlets nationwide as well as options to pay over the phone with a debit or credit card, by direct debit or via the TV Licensing website.
BBC TV LICENSING, LONDON WC2
Good times at 'Punch'
Sir: Miles Kington has gone on a quest to discover if writers can get along (20 October). He claims it was his experience at Punch that they "loved staying apart". I am shocked that he has apparently forgotten the good times we all had at our weekly Punch Table and the many "works outings" I arranged during my years as editor. Miles often told me how much fun they were. We certainly enjoyed his company. I hope that his experiment will prove just as uplifting and, like other fans of his column, I look forward to his report.
Sir: Howard Jacobson in his Saturday column (21 October) draws our attention to the lovely word "eleemosynary", normally translated by dictionaries to mean just charitable. But its usage by 19th century charity wonks distinguished two purposes of charity. In our village charity, for example, we have a single benefactor, Mary Smith, who provided funds for an eleemosynary and an ecclesiastical charity, the first to be used for relief of the poor, the second as a stipend for the vicar for a sermon.
EAST HAGBOURNE, OXFORDSHIRE