Letters: British Muslims

Muslims should not be surprised at backlash against atrocities
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Sir: I am surprised that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown should be surprised at the new prejudice and discrimination in British society (" Why is racial abuse now considered acceptable? ", 28 January). What really ought to surprise her is that it has taken so long for the backlash to 7/7, and other atrocities, to materialise.

How can the ordinary British citizen be expected to distinguish between the law-abiding Muslim and the extremist? In these circumstances it is easiest, and safest, to assume the worst and to take refuge in whatever form of defence comes readily to hand – even foul language.

As an asylum-seeker myself, albeit of many decades ago from Nazi Germany, I can only draw Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's attention to the distinction between assimilation and conformity. Nobody is asking Muslims to assimilate, but it behoves immigrants, of whatever religion, to conform to the norms of the society in which they have chosen to live.

When we read (as we have just done) of Muslims seeking to behead another human being, or to commit other appalling atrocities, then it is reasonable for ordinary folk to ask – what are these people doing here anyway and why do they choose to behave in ways which appall us?

My generation of immigrants conformed. We retain and value features of our origins, but we do not demand privileges or special treatment and we contribute to the life of the nation as best as we can. Ten thousand of us fought for Britain in the Second World War – a small expression of gratitude to the country which gave us refuge.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown needs to ask herself to what extent the racial intolerance which she condemns is of her, and others', own making? What has she, and others like her, done to bridge the ever-widening gap between what seems to us an alien culture and a way of life which in these islands has endured for centuries and which, in many ways, still makes this country one of the most civilised in the world?

Eric Bourne

Alstonefield, Derbyshire

Clash of egos: Mark Steyn intervenes

Sir: I've no idea why Johann Hari (29 January) would wish to spend so much of his brief time with Martin Amis discussing a "Canadian former disc-jockey called Mark Steyn". It's a curious interviewing technique: "But enough about what I think of Mark Steyn. What do you think of Mark Steyn?"

Still, your readers might like to know that, pace Mr Hari, the word "gooks" does not appear in my book, America Alone; the phrase "Indian Territory" comes from Robert D Kaplan, a respected analyst of global affairs and non-disc-jockey; and the only reference to the "yellow peril" is in the context of misplaced hysteria over impending Japanese domination in the Eighties: "You'd be bombarded with commercials warning that the yellow peril was annexing America and pretty soon they'd be speaking Japanese down at the shopping mall. It didn't happen and it's never going to happen."

"Racism" is the laziest charge, and my advice to Mr Amis would be to respond with a stifled yawn and "Oh, yeah? What else have you got?", and leave it at that. Likewise, when he's accused of getting into bed with obscure Canadians.

Mark Steyn

Woodsville, New Hampshire, USA

Sir: Johann Hari's interview with Martin Amis was entertaining mainly as a clash of two overblown egos. Given his parentage and achievements it's simple to deduce how Amis acquired his vanity, but with Hari it's baffling.

Hari uses a book by Mark Steyn, America Alone, as the litmus test for racism. If Amis backs the book he must be racist, according to Hari. But how objective is Hari himself? He describes Mark Steyn as a "Canadian former disc jockey" and in his earlier review in the New Statesman as "uneducated".

In fact Mark Steyn, as I presume Hari knows, is an accomplished journalist and broadcaster. He has been television, film and theatre critic and political commentator for variously, The Independent, the Evening Standard, the Telegraph and The Spectator and radio journalist for the BBC.

Steyn never went to university, but resorting to educational snobbery to belittle him suggests Hari lacks the logic or rigour to tackle Steyn's argument.

I have no idea if America Alone is racist. Now that I know Hari's review is not to be trusted, I shall have to buy it to find out.

Simon Propper

London N11

NHS treatment for asylum-seekers

Sir: Maria Gough misses the point ( Letters , 26 January). The question is not whether only those entitled to free treatment should receive it, but who should be entitled. People fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in the UK are forbidden to work while their applications are considered: if not entitled to free care, what should they do if they fall ill?

If their application is refused – sometimes wrongly, as even the government acknowledges – they may still be legally in Britain, on "temporary admission", but barred from work, benefits and accommodation (even in hostels for the homeless). If further evidence is required of the persecution they allege, how do they live while obtaining it?

The greatest absurdity concerns the Section 4 "hard cases", who receive government accommodation and subsistence vouchers (no money) because of special circumstances which may include health problems, but still do not receive free care for those very problems.

To say, with Tony McNulty, that policy is designed not "to make these families destitute . . . but to incentivise voluntary return" is frankly disingenuous. It also ignores the fact that very many would most gladly return home, could they do so safely: but they cannot, because of the persecution from which they have fled. That being so, they want to work and to contribute fully to society here – and to pay taxes and National Insurance – but are not allowed to.

Even were it not in breach of Conventions we have ratified, is that how a civilised society treats vulnerable people?

Dr Paul Snell

Hope Valley, Derbyshire

How faith schools encourage atheism

Sir: Robert Bottamley ( letter , 28 January) is quite correct to take issue with non-believers' concerns about faith schools and the daily act of worship in particular. However, not for the reason he gives.

I was brought up without any faith at home but was sent to a Seventh Day Adventist pre-primary school. The reasons for this were complex and had something to do with a good deal my father negotiated over school fees.

The enduring result of exposure of my innocent mind to the hellfire and damnation that accompanied every lesson was that by the age of six I was thoroughly atheist, even though I hadn't ever heard the word, nor had my parents ever hinted that my sisters and I should or shouldn't have a faith.

It is what happens at home that determines whether or not children will grow up religious. Faith schools are a waste of time: they won't convert anyone nor will they maintain a faith if it isn't maintained at home.

Dan Kantorowich

Brigstock, Northamptonshire

Sir: In criticising non-believers' attitudes to faith schools, Robert Bottamley suggests the absence of faith is fragile. The truth is quite the reverse – the very existence of faith schools shows that it is religious belief that is fragile.

When adults decide the minds of innocent children should be force-fed a diet of superstition in faith schools, it expresses their fear that children mustn't be allowed to make informed and unbiased decisions on religion when they reach an age where they can reason for themselves.

Single-faith schools make children aware of religious difference at the age of five. To start endorsing difference and religious barriers so young and so well below the age of reason is nothing short of cruelty.

Alistair McBay

National Secular Society, London WC1

Sir: As a clergyman I have some concern about David Cameron's comments about parents with sharp elbows and places at faith schools.

One concern some of my colleagues have is the response of such parents when a clergy person refuses to perjure themselves when presented with an application form to sign. At the Faithworkers Branch of Unite annual general meeting some of my colleagues have reported stories of the retaliatory attacks in such circumstances.

The Revd Dr Mike Bossingham

Wisbech, Cambridgeshire

Sir: There is research in psychology of learning which shows that children being taught something very often learn something else.

As a child I was marched to church every Sunday morning. I never believed the message, but while it was being delivered I marvelled at the architecture, wondering how it got there, and loved the music and the poetry of words to which I gave my own meaning. I still don't believe the message, but architecture, craftsmanship, music and poetry have been lifelong interests, applied to mosques, synagogues and indeed temples of all sorts.

Mary Harris

London W11

Don't scoff at burger bar staff training

Sir: Philip Hensher's article " Don't let McDonald's dish out burger bar A-levels " (29 January) missed the point that qualifications have to be useful to the learner as well as the employer. It also downplayed the major investment thast companies make in training staff.

City & Guilds already works with McDonald's and other employers to support their skills training and staff development. Many employers have excellent in-house programmes and we are delighted by the acknowledgement in the Prime Minister's announcement on Monday.

Employer qualifications must meet the long-term needs of employees. They must provide a currency that is recognised and credible, be rigorously assessed, and have portability between different organisations and sectors.

Keith Brooker

Director-General, City & Guilds, London EC1

Sir: Oh no! I can now foresee my children nagging me to take them to McDonald's on the grounds of its academic excellence.

Steve Dodding


A strange way to punish erring MPs

Sir: What a strange system we have for disciplining MPs. As a punishment they are give a "holiday" from Parliament. Would it not be better to require erring MPs to attend throughout all the parliamentary sessions for a month, sitting on a "naughty" step beside the Speaker?

Quentin Hawkins


Sir: In view of the many irregularities by politicians in the House of Commons now being exposed, perhaps the Members should refrain from referring to their colleagues as "honourable".

Colin Bower


Lost counties will rise again

Sir: As someone born in the great county of Middlesex, I take objection to the statement in the article about Windsor wanting its own postcode (25 January) that "Middlesex ceased to exist as a county 44 years ago".

Middlesex still exists; only the County Council was abolished when it was absorbed into that evil behemoth known as "Greater London", a body which we Middlesexians do not recognise and which does not appear on any address.

We, along with the citizens of the forcibly amalgamated areas of Kent, Surrey and Essex, strive for the day when we can break free from Mr Livingstone's monstrous crypto-stalinist GLA empire and have our traditional county boundaries restored.

Mark Atkins

Bexbach, Germany


Quality assured

Sir: I always try to check for quality when buying produce from a supermarket, so I was particularly reassured when I noticed the following announcement printed on the label of a pot of stuffed olives I had bought from Sainsbury's: "Stuffed olives: fresh from our counters".

Tom Hetherington


Military ethics

Sir: I am confused. In your edition of 26 January Brigadier Robert Aitken states: "Courage does not mean just physical courage in battle, it also means moral courage to stand up against injustice." But when Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith stood up against the injustice of our invasion of Iraq, he was sentenced to eight months in jail.

J Samuel

Reading, Berkshire

Paternity leave

Sir: Given that there is a lot of evidence that children are more likely to display antisocial or criminal behaviour if they don't have a father present when they are growing up, will fathers with young children also be excused from jail ("Jailing mothers 'damaged a generation' ", 30 January) or is raising children something only the child's mother needs to do?

Thomas Wiggins

Wokingham, Berkshire

Children at war

Sir: Apropos recognition of wartime service (Letters, 29 January), how about a mention for the thousands of schoolchildren who, like myself, worked voluntarily during their holidays in "farming camps" on such tasks as pea and potato picking and planting, "muck-spreading" and harvesting? Hard labour for minimal remuneration, as I recall.

Bob Heys

Ripponden, West Yorkshire

Benefits of 'greed'

Sir: Philip Grey (letter, 30 January) asks how "greed-driven" market capitalism has benefited those outside the west. I offer the example of China, where Mao well-meaningly dictated everything from production quotas to working methods. Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms introduced the right for farmers to decide their own methods and set prices through markets. China is now working its way out of poverty using market capitalism.

Richard Marr

London SW15

Colourful past

Sir: Who are the "ornamented widows" referred to in your report (30 January) about the conversion of a Berlin court building to luxury flats? How are they decorated?

J Doust

Hartley, Kent