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Monday 4 February 2008
Letters: British Muslim salutes Afghan convicted for seeking truth
Sir: I thank you for your efforts to save Pervez Kambaksh. We must create more pressure on President Karzai to release him from his nightmare. Pervez is young and a future hope for the Afghan people. I salute him for his courage in seeking truth.
I am a British Muslim, and I do not share my religious beliefs with Afghan clerics. Pervez is not making fun of Islam; he is seeking truth and sharing with friends.
I appeal to world leaders, including ours, to help him.
Sir: Thank you for your principled campaign on behalf of Pervez Kambaksh. It is in marked contrast to the silence of a certain other "liberal" broadsheet on the matter. Those liberals who refrain from condemning the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy are too often incapable of distinguishing between ultra-right Islamist leaders and the mass of ordinary working Muslims like Pervez who suffer at their hands. The former represent "Muslims" and must therefore not be criticised; the latter are either invisible or dead.
Sir: Why are our soldiers fighting and dying to prop up a regime that is no improvement on the Taliban we fought to oust? A regime that is evidently set on oppressing its citizens in the same way as its predecessors; that evidently does not recognise the concept of free speech; that evidently does not recognise women as people. Is our government really going to continue trying to convince us that supporting these values is in British interests?
Sir: What makes anyone in the West think that Afghanistan can be "fixed"? Show us the plan, show us the budget, show us the legal basis for it, show us that the majority of 30 million Afghans want to participate in it, or shut up about it and face reality.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
How hospitals lost single-sex wards
Sir, Lord Darzi is spot on when he says that single-sex wards are "an aspiration that cannot be met".
We used to have them of course, but in the 1970s and 1980s most hospital wards had a little bit of spare capacity. Then it was decided that having 10 per cent of beds empty meant that there were 10 per cent too many beds. Bed closures followed, and new hospitals were built with fewer beds than in the hospitals they replaced.
Furthermore, new units, such as medical assessment units, coronary care units and clinical investigation units, all mixed-sex, were established on what were general wards, reducing the number of general-ward beds, and forcing them to become mixed-sex too.
This policy has had several disastrous results. The increased pressure on remaining beds has resulted in inadequate time for cleaning of beds between admissions, a whole new industry of "bed management" has been established, and of course, we have mixed-sex wards.
Unfortunately the situation is now irreversible – hence Lord Darzi's statement. Most single rooms on wards have long since been converted into offices. There are insufficient bathing and toilet facilities on wards to provide for both sexes separately, even if there are single-sex bays, and the building of new wards with a little spare capacity in all our district hospitals seems unlikely.
The writer is a retired Consultant Physician
Sir: Of course I am horrified that Janet Street-Porter's dying sister was subjected to the sight of a naked masturbating man (31 January), but would it have been less bad if the elderly distressed patients had themselves been men? The issue, surely, is not gender but privacy.
If my dignity had to be compromised in an NHS ward I would not feel reassured simply because the casually observing strangers were other women. Where effective partitioning exists, the gender of one's neighbours is irrelevant. Going past people of the opposite sex on the way to the loo is not a problem if you are decently covered – most of us do that every day.
There is a danger that the red herring of single-sex wards may hide the greater need for doors and walls.
Frampton Cotterell, Gloucestershire
Sir: The article on mixed-sex wards (30 January) by Jeremy Lawrance and the moving account by Janet Street-Porter of her sister's treatment by the NHS fill me with anger; if this country has any claim to be civilised then surely the provision of single-sex wards (and not "bays", as now claimed by the Government) must be considered to be a basic right.
Having to go into hospital must be stressful in any event; being put into a mixed-sex ward must make the experience one that most people would not want to repeat, sending those that can afford it into the arms of the private health sector. It seems to me that this country is being run by the privileged for the benefit of the privileged, and let the rest fend for themselves.
Sir: Twenty-five years ago, as the influx of managers into hospitals accelerated, wards were shut down to provide office space. The simple solution to the mixed-sex wards problem requires too much out-of-box and lateral thinking for Lord Darzi and Alan Johnson. Just envisage rows of functionaries sitting on trolleys with their laptops while patients luxuriate in beds.
Scout oath flouts the secular conscience
Sir: Deborah Orr (2 February) has got the wrong end of the stick regarding the National Secular Society's complaint about the Scouts' religious pledge. We are not trying to deprive those of faith the right to swear to their God if they want to, we are just asking that it be made optional for those who don't have such a god. Nobody loses out of this, but people who don't have a religion are then able to participate, in the knowledge that they are being true to their conscience. Surely that is something that the Scouts would approve of?
Since we started our campaign we have had several emails from people who were formerly Scout leaders and have been asked to leave after they persisted in putting "none" in reply to the question about their religion.
Ms Orr asks why the NSS doesn't go off and start an atheists' Scout troop. The answer is that we think there is enough religious separation in this country in schools without bringing it into the Scouts. (Unfortunately, it has already arrived in the form of exclusively Muslim Scout troops, of which we heartily disapprove). Children should be doing activities together, not split off in to dangerous religious (or non-religious) ghettoes.
The Scouts say they are "for all" and "inclusive". They just have to make one small adjustment to be able to justify that claim.
President, National Secular Society, London WC1
Sir: Despite being an unbeliever, Deborah Orr admits swearing an oath in God's name in order to join the Guides. She claims she was being polite.
One would have imagined that having been a Guide, she would have shown politeness even to those with whom she disagreed. Her scurrilous attack on National Secular Society spokesman Keith Porteous Wood indicates otherwise. He is denounced as a "non-religious lunatic" for having the temerity to suggest that the oath should be dropped.
Taking an oath in God's name is hypocrisy from an atheist's standpoint, hypocrisy from a biblical standpoint, and wholly inappropriate for young minds that may not have made an informed decision one way or the other.
"Do not swear at all. . . simply let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no' " (Matthew 5:33-37).
Dr Robert Stovold
Sir: Deborah Orr's facile suggestion that the Scouts' and Guides' exclusion of non-believers can be evaded by a white lie is all of a piece with David Cameron's endorsement of lying by parents who want their children to get into church schools. Some of us have higher standards of honesty than the Scouts who, before closing down troops rather than have a non-believer as leader, have tried in vain to get that non-believer hypocritically to "just say the words".
Nor is it a private matter: the Scouts and Guides are sustained by huge subsidies from the public purse (£1.5m last year for their centenary jamboree), given in some measure on the basis of their assurances that they are inclusive and open to all. When surveys have found that two out of three teenagers have no religion, this boasted inclusiveness is again nothing less than a lie.
Keeping order among MEPs
Sir: Dan Hannan's claim (news, 1 February) about draconian new powers to stifle debate in the European Parliament is just not true: the vote was to confirm that the President already has powers to end "persistent disruption", and in any case does not end debate.
This is a reserve power that has only once been used – by President Pat Cox some five years ago – but is essential to protect Parliament, if necessary, from attempts to bring it to a halt.
This is not about freedom of expression. The European Parliament has a very wide range of political views and speaking time in debates is shared out proportionately among all the political groups, so all views are heard in the debates. It is simply about whether Hannan and others have a right deliberately to disrupt proceedings of the House – something that no parliament tolerates.
Richard Corbett MEP
Labour Spokesman on Constitutional Affairs in the European Parliament, Brussels
Police evade rules on stop and search
Sir: I don't think many Etonians are stopped and searched by the police on the streets of London, unlike my 16-year-old nephew, who is black and has been stopped 15 times in the past nine months.
David Cameron wants to speed up the process so the police do not have lots of paperwork back at the station, but everyone who is stopped is entitled to a written record of why they were stopped. Each time they search a youth, they should issue him with this form stating the search took place.
Whenever my nephew has asked the police to provide him with one of these forms they have told him that to obtain this document he must come back to the station with them. Anxious to be on his way and even more anxious about the prospect of seeing the inside of a police station, my nephew, and most of his friends, quite naturally decline this kind invitation. Any more bright ideas, Dave?
Sir: The current rules have merit in discouraging malicious detention. While a student in Bristol some years ago, I was stopped when approaching Temple Meads Station after midnight. I made the mistake of being truthful about the time of my train.
The officer extended the proceedings for fully 20 minutes, by such devices as questioning the purposes of my slide rule and asking for proof of ownership; in this way he ensured that I had to spend the night at the station.
In rebutting my complaint, the Chief Constable's office implied I must have imagined the episode: it seemed that throughout his shift the officer had been accompanied by an invisible colleague, who confirmed that neither of them had been in the vicinity.
So let's keep the tedious documentation, and throw in satellite tracking of individual policemen.
Sir, Your leader of 2 February was wrong to state that "all three parties have come out in favour of increasing police powers of stop and search".
The Liberal Democrats have made it crystal clear that no further police powers to stop and search are necessary or desirable, and that it would be a mistake to relax the recording of stop and search precisely for the reason that you give: these measures were introduced in the wake of the Scarman report following the 1981 Brixton riots and the Macpherson report following the Stephen Lawrence case to reassure minority communities who had been (and remain) a disproportionate target of stop and search.
The trust between the police and minority communities is essential to effective policing.
Chris Huhne MP
Liberal Democrat shadow Home secretary, House of Commons
Flown off to face torture
Sir: We are appalled to read that the mercenary Simon Mann has been spirited out of Zimbabwe to face torture in Equatorial Guinea. No civilised country would ever dream of doing that, would they?
Ruined by wealth
Sir: I congratulate Nigella Lawson for having the foresight not to ruin the lives of her children by leaving them too much money. I would like to volunteer to assist with this matter and, if she makes over a large proportion of her estate to me, I will ensure it doesn't fall into their hands. I am fully prepared to be ruined in the process.
No fire without smoke
Sir: The EU wants to ban patio heaters. Perhaps CO2 emissions could be greatly reduced by replacing patio heaters in pubs with fires made with the thousands of cigarette ends littered around their front doors.
Europe in peril
Sir: "Blair wants to be president of EU" (report, 1 February)? Surely not! This must be the worst joke ever.
Sir: As a superannuated Rapturous Maiden fresh from Patience in various Somerset village halls, I loved your feature on G&S (31 January). Jo Brand will be fabulous as the Sergeant of Police, but I must pick her up on one small point. She says the role has never been played by a woman before, but we in Somerset Opera had a female Sergeant about 20 years ago. OK, we're amateurs, but we've been there already. Somerset Opera sends best wishes to Jo Brand in her special role. We're on her side.
Sir: I wonder if much-lamented Miles Kington is now in a position to discover which faith the Chairgod embraces.
Safety risk as councils dim or switch off a quarter of street lights
Open The Door To Your Heart by Darrell Banks: 'Holy grail' Northern Soul single sells for £14,543
Dijon attack: Car driver mows down pedestrians in eastern France, invoking Allah
Genome revolution targets treatments for common cancers
Poorest households are the most heavily taxed
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