Letters: Blair in Middle East

Blair's Middle East meddling makes extremists of all Arabs
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Sir: I am an Arab and I am a little confused as to what the West wants from the Arab world. In its steadfast defence of the democratically elected government of Lebanon, we have been told that democracy must be respected and those who have been elected must not be threatened or usurped, even if among those calling for its replacement is the president of the country.

In Palestine, the democratically elected government is threatened and is in the process of being usurped with the backing of the UK and the US by the president of the country.

And now Mr Blair wants us moderate Arabs to form an alliance against the influence of Iran because Iran is meddling in the politics of other nations and not respecting their sovereignty. This from a man who has just finished visiting troops illegally occupying a sovereign nation!

Of course there is, on the face of it, little logic here. There is, however, much hypocrisy. What he really wants are pliable governments that will give more weight to the wishes of Western leaders than the needs of their own people. What he wants are governments that will abandon the Palestinians so that Israel will finally get the peace treaty it wants: a treaty whereby the Palestinians surrender all demands and agree to a split state with no independent access to water supplies.

Blair would have by now realised that though the Arab world is not the most highly educated region on the planet, the people are well versed in political machinations. His transparent attempt at removing those elements that are working for their own people rather than the leaders of the Arab world who work for their own benefit is all too obvious. The election of Hamas, the popular support of Hizbollah are not the work of extremists. They are popular movements gaining support because unlike their predecessors, they have proven to be truly representative of the people. It is no coincidence that both are highly active in providing health and social services to their people and that both are considered, in the ultimate rarity in Arab politics, incorruptible.

By continuing to oppose these groups, by continuing to try to pigeon-hole Arab moderates and drawing out arcs of extremism all Mr Blair is accomplishing is forcing people to choose the "extremist" side over the "moderate". The more he calls for moderates to stand with him, the more Arabs will happily call themselves "extremists" just to stand against him.



Darfur threatens a regional crisis

Sir: The international community must urgently address the real and present threat that continuing instability in Darfur could destabilise the whole region - just as the genocide in Rwanda led to years of insecurity and conflict throughout the Great Lakes region ("Darfur: Genocide without borders", 20 December).

As your article makes clear, the Darfur crisis has already spilt over into Chad and the situation there continues to deteriorate. Now too the Central African Republic - so important as a potential bulwark against the misery of its neighbours - is being dragged into expanding conflict.

The UK and EU must call for a UN mission to be deployed in Chad, for the enforcement of sanctions against targeted individuals in Khartoum and, crucially, for the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur. It is urgent and appropriate, too, to set clear and unequivocal timetables and deadlines for the government of Sudan to agree to a UN presence in the region. Clarity on command and control and on the mandate of a future hybrid force is also essential.

There are, in addition, immediate protection needs which must be addressed. This includes reinstating proper patrolling of the refugee camps in the region.

This is no time for ambivalence about taking clear and concerted action on Darfur. As long as the international community fails to deliver security in Darfur, we risk not only prolonging the suffering of the people there but also stimulating a regional crisis which will propagate the suffering of many thousands of others.



Sir: Tomas Archer (Opinion, 11 December) is another voice to deplore the chaos in Darfur, which prevents the aid agencies from delivering crucial aid. Some voices are calling for a UN force to enter forcibly, which would make matters worse. The African Union is the only show in town. Being African, it is acceptable to Khartoum, unlike troops from elsewhere.

What is unacceptable, however, is the lack of support from the rich nations to the AU, whose troops have not been paid for months, according to the BBC. Yet generations of senior officers from Nigeria and Ghana have graduated from Sandhurst, with generations of British liaison officers advising on training. These African officers know what to do and they have the troops. But they do not have the cash to mount an effective operation nor the logistical support.

Given this backing, the AU forces would rout these criminals - "militia" is too good a word. After Rwanda, everyone said, "It must not happen again". It has. When are our leaders going to do the obvious?



Secularists respect religious freedom

Sir: Again the Archbishop of York lashes out against "aggressive secularists" (You ask the questions, 18 December).

All the secularists I know - and the British Humanist Association is the largest UK organisation representing atheists and secularists - respect religious freedoms and the rights of the religious to worship. All we seek is a society which respects the rights of the religious and non-religious alike, and where no one particular set of beliefs is privileged, for example, with bishops in the House of Lords.

And Dr Sentamu really must stop quoting Sir John Mortimer on Shakespeare and our "Christian culture". Sir John's view of "the great writers, Chekhov, Dickens, Shakespeare" is that "they are great because they celebrate that moment of living ... if you think that life is just another testing ground for eternity, a batting practice, it trivialises everything".



Drug prohibition has never worked

Sir: It is good to hear from Dr Nick Maurice's letter (15 December), and your columnist Johann Hari, urging legalisation of addictive drugs.

When this subject comes up the usual reaction is one of outrage and shock-horror. As long as ignorance and prejudice prevail, rational discussion makes little headway, so there is no real progress in "the war on drugs".

Burning poppy crops in Afghanistan is pointless.

Before America pressured the British government to outlaw drug use, there was legal medical control for addicts. Since the government bowed to US pressure to outlaw drugs, abuse has soared in the UK, and with it, misery and despair.

Poppy and coca are intensively cultivated and processed in Afghanistan, South America and elsewhere, to be refined into heroin and "crack" and smuggled principally to the West to be sold on street corners for astronomical prices. Addicts seize any opportunity to get hold of money to buy their fix. Crime soars.

In the 1920s, the US passed a law to prohibit alcohol. Crime soared. Alcohol was bought furtively at exorbitant prices, criminal gangs murdered each other to get control of the huge new trade. Prohibition did not last long.

Our present illegal drug market is infinitely worse, and our laws equally futile. If drugs were decriminalised the market would collapse, deaths such as those of the poor young Ipswich girls might not happen, and the common sense that we used to have would prevail.



Teach children what they need to know

Sir: A quoted statement in the article "Return of compulsory French and German lessons set to be rejected" (14 December) claims: "Many of our members - many language teachers - wouldn't wish to return to compulsion. We would perhaps feel you can't force people to do things they don't want to do."

This absurd principle could be applied to the entire syllabus, to education as whole. Few children "want" to learn everything they are taught. I hated maths, but recognise the utility of it being a compulsory subject. Allowing a 13-year-old to assess whether they will find a foreign language useful 10 years on is ridiculous.

England is rapidly falling behind in European educational standards; this kind of thinking can only exacerbate the problem.



The global fight against corruption

Sir: You are to be congratulated on publishing the timely article by Eva Joly (20 December) in which she condemns the Blair government for supporting corruption in the arms trade.

By silencing the Serious Fraud Office in their investigation of bribery in the Yamamah arms deal we undermine the fight against corruption everywhere; just as by the decision to replace Trident we undermine the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty; just as by refusing to condemn the American policy on "extraordinary rendition" we give encouragement to torturers everywhere; and just as by participating in the illegitimate invasion of Iraq we undermine the United Nations' commitment to the "Responsibility to Protect".



Sir: Like Tony Blair, when it comes to business Jeremy Warner condones criminality ("Wiser counsel prevails against the SFO's breathtaking naivety over Saudi arms deals", Business, 15 December). Blair went into his sincere routine to justify bribery and corruption and Warner tags along. Corporations routinely treat law-breaking as part of the cost-benefit equation: if it is cheaper to break the law than to comply with it then illegality wins. Warner's attitude reflects this and shows why the business world cannot be trusted to regulate itself.



Vegans take an ethical stand

Sir: I was sorry to see the level of prejudice against vegans expressed by Giorgio Locatelli in his "You Ask the Questions Christmas Special" (13 December). His suggestion that a vegan guest should be shot was not witty; it showed his deep-seated hostility to people who take this ethical stand for people, animals and the environment.

I'm not sure why he thinks that vegans eat mostly salads. I eat them only occasionally. He might have mentioned some of the more gourmet vegan ingredients such as puy lentils, amargue rice, tamari soya sauce and flageolet beans. Maybe he could have explained how most authentic Indian food is vegetarian (or vegan if you use oil instead of ghee).



Sir: I found the piece about vegetarianism being the choice of the more intelligent child (15 December) interesting. Perhaps The Independent could appoint some of them as cookery writers and restaurant reviewers rather than limiting veggies to starters and puddings.



The guilty men

Sir: The supreme irony of the national identity register is that it is to be foisted on a nation of innocent people by a small group of guilty men: guilty of mass deception, guilty of causing countless deaths in Iraq, and guilty of suborning our national security in order to play "second string" power politics in the Middle East.



Detectives in the dark

Sir: The CSI format is good, addictive TV entertainment, even though some of the theories and scientific processes are tosh ("The cop show that conquered the world", 19 December). However, if the Las Vegas team are so well equipped with every hi-tech gizmo, why don't they turn the blooming lights on. They attend a crime scene, invariably at night, grovelling about on the floor looking for tiny clues with a torch. The murderer/rapist/cannibal hardly ever pulls the light fuse so why do the tecs rely on AA batteries instead of flicking a light switch?



Superbug mutation

Sir: As a microbiologist, I was impressed by your front-page article (18 December) concerning the unfortunate circumstances of the death of a nurse due to the PVL-producing strain of MRSA. The inclusion of input by the Health Protection Agency made the article very informative. However, after correctly described the organism as a bacterium earlier in the week, it has now become a virus today ("Husband tells of grief at wife's superbug death", 20 December).



Taking our jobs

Sir: John Hutton is not comparing like with like when he uses the example of eastern Europeans taking the jobs the unwilling British do not want to do (article, 19 December). For someone from Poland, £5.35 an hour is good money, and Poles usually take these jobs for a limited time then go home. For a UK resident, £5.35 an hour is poverty-line, for a dismal, boring, bog-standard job with no future, and it is not surprising people do not want to do them.



'Green' bags

Sir: Richard Bridger (Letters, 18 December) says the new tax in Ireland has reduced the number of "single-use" plastic bags, and the British Government is still "studying" this. I hope they study carefully, because these bags get used for other things before hitting landfill. In Ireland, supermarkets say sales of thicker, purpose-made bin-bags have increased by more than 80 per cent, and they are having to use three times more lorries to transport these bags. So more resources used and more waste created. "Green" on the surface, not underneath.



No escape

Sir: Someone needs to tell Alick Bartholomew (Letters, 19 December) that he won't be getting Radio 4 back in his particular rural area simply because England have lost the Ashes. The two remaining tests will still be covered despite the Aussies 3-0 lead in the best of five series. So come on Alick, after me, "Barmy Army... Barmy Army..."