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Thursday 20 August 2009
Letters: British troops
Brave troops sacrificed in an unworthy cause
It is fitting that the Government has introduced the new Elizabeth Cross for our fighting forces, and that the first has been awarded posthumously to one of the gallant soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
What a shame that such recognition should come so late for those that have gone before. My own father died in a burning Lancaster bomber over Germany in 1945, defending our nation from the Nazis, when I was five weeks old. He never received his due from his country. The role of Bomber Command was vilified after the war, when it was politically expedient to ignore the tragedy of the 55,000 bomber crew who died in the air war over Europe.
Our brave squaddies are now being sacrificed in Britain and America's quest to support the corrupt regime of President Karzai. This man has just introduced legislation making it legal for Afghan men to starve and abuse their wives should they deny their husbands sex. His brother is deeply involved in the Afghan heroin trade, and he has made deals with some truly evil former warlords, in order to ensure his re-election.
My father did not lay down his life. He had it brutally ripped away from him. But at least he, and we, had the satisfaction of knowing that his death would serve the nation's good in a just war. The families of the good and brave guys who die in Afghanistan can have none of the consolation which has helped me to cope with a lifetime of never knowing my father. They are sacrificial lambs on the altar of our subservience to the "special relationship" with America. And their loss is being dishonestly justified as somehow preventing terrorism on Britain's streets. The bravery of soldiers endures, but so, unfortunately, does the dishonesty of the politicians who send them to their death.
The Government claims that the main reason for the military presence in Afghanistan is that it is a breeding ground for terrorism that threatens the streets of the UK. But how can this be justified when the most deadly act of carnage by terrorists in this country was carried out by four young men from Leeds? Following this reasoning, the streets and countryside of West Yorkshire should now be awash with our brave troops.
Men and women apart at wedding
In these past few days, the MP for Poplar and Canning Town has sought to defend his ill-judged and ungracious actions by seeking to smear the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE).
Jim Fitzpatrick has repeatedly asserted that the private decision of a family to hold a segregated religious wedding ceremony was due to the alleged intolerance and separatism and militancy of the Islamic Forum of Europe. He provides no evidence. The family has no links to the Forum, and Mr Fitzpatrick's actions have been proved to be a reactionary outburst especially since the custom is common and not exclusive to Muslims.
The Islamic Forum of Europe is a social association that draws its ethos from the Islamic faith. We work within the community and with people of all faiths and none. Although we hold no political affiliation, our members are encouraged to be civic-minded and are free to join any mainstream party of their choice.
If mainstream Muslim groups such as IFE cannot or should not influence the social and political life of the local Muslim community, would Mr Fitzpatrick rather Muslim extremists be left to promote the clash of civilisations?
President, Islamic Forum of Europe, London E1
"Shameful" wedding customs where men and women socialise separately? (Joan Smith, 19 August). We call them "hen nights" and "stag dos" here and they have nothing much to do with sexual repression.
"Discrimination" requiring people to sit separately during marriage ceremonies? We call it bride's and bridegroom's "sides" of the church. Keeping husbands and wives separated at social gatherings on "ideological" grounds? One of the basic rules of table-plans, I thought.
Joan Smith's response to how things are organised at the East London Mosque is part of a worrying trend that is quick to be horrified at things that are taken for granted in non-Western cultures, without giving a moment's thought to similar quirks that our own mainstream culture more or less happily goes along with.
What on earth is Joan Smith going on about? If men and women are in separate rooms at a Muslim wedding, they are both being treated equally, so why does she claim that it is "a blatant form of discrimination"? Utter nonsense.
And what is she complaining about with regard to the tragedy at the wedding in Kuwait; that no men were killed?
She ignores the fact that the culprit in Kuwait was a woman (the groom's ex-wife), which is inconvenient for her gender-obsessed rant.
The segregation of men and women was a total irrelevance in Kuwait, so why raise it in her article?
I am a member of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, where men and women congregrants mix freely and we are proud to have Alexandra Wright as our chief rabbi.
If I attend a wedding at an orthodox Jewish synagogue as a guest, I expect to sit separately from male guests and congregants. It's called manners, and it would be ludicrous to suggest that it owed anything to any Zionist direction. It seems regrettable indeed to me that Jim Fitzpatrick and now Joan Smith should show such apparent intolerance of Muslim traditions.
Stop dictating to teachers
I am not pleased to know that the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency is moving out of plush premises in Piccadilly and into a new base, less plush presumably, in Coventry (letter, 18 August).
It would please me more to know that the QCDA no longer existed and did not have "best access to schools, colleges and employers throughout England", as Cait Allen, head of external relations, seemed so proud to announce. It is outrageous that teachers are dictated to by politicians and bureaucrats who, in the main, know nothing whatsoever about state education, having personal experience only of private education.
Teachers should be left alone to carry out the job they were trained to do, without politically motivated interference, which has managed, if anything, to make matters worse.
Conor Ryan's latest defence of high-stakes testing ("We should keep tests to check on schools", Education and Careers, 13 August) contained the laughable suggestion that the reason that test results are not improving is because of a lack of a focus on the 3Rs in primary schools.
Whatever the reason for the scores having reached a plateau after 2000, anyone familiar with English primary schools will tell you that this is not one of them. Since Mr Ryan departed as adviser to the former education secretary David Blunkett in 2001, the day-to-day pressure on schools to improve their performance in the tested subjects of English, maths and science has only increased.
The Ofsted regime in operation since 2005 puts much greater weight on English, maths and science test performance than it ever did in the past. League table and target pressures on schools at the bottom of performance rankings remain intense. Last year, the Government wrote to local authorities urging them to consider closure for schools under a certain level of test performance. Yet the scores stubbornly refuse to shift.
Overworked police take sick leave
When I was a Metropolitan Police supervising officer during the 1980s and '90s, I found that some of the highest earners also had the highest sick leave which is quite understandable considering the stress of working such long hours ("Police overtime bonanza", 17 August).
When I pointed out to my bosses a couple of examples of sergeants making massive amounts of money by sacrificing their days off but promptly taking a week's sick leave afterwards, nobody wanted to know.
While noting the concerns about the effect on police constables of regularly working very long hours, I should like to raise a more general concern about overtime. Unemployment is rising, and could reach 3 million. Meanwhile in some areas of both public and private sectors, employees regularly "enjoy" guaranteed overtime. This cannot be right. Employers must recruit additional staff.
The languages of Tarzan
The rightful Lord Greystoke, also known as Tarzan of the Apes, would not have been amused by Stan Broadwell's letter (17 August). The young ape boy taught himself to write English from a children's dictionary and his first communication with Jane was in written English. He was taught to speak by a French lieutenant whom he had rescued and it was in French that he first spoke to Jane.
The misconceptions about Tarzan did begin with the casting of strongman Elmo Lincoln in the first Tarzan film. Edgar Rice Burroughs himself was unhappy with the barrel-chested Lincoln, who in no way resembled the lithe and graceful apeman of his imagination.
John E Orton
The tragic power behind 'The Wire'
The key point about The Wire (letters, 18 August) is that it isn't necessary to understand all the dialogue, or the intricacies of the street gangs' plots. Being unable to fully comprehend the political intrigues isn't a real problem either.
It's the "big picture" which grips the committed viewer. The sheer complexity of dealing with the tragedy of dire urban poverty and crime is the powerful underlying theme in this riveting series.
Michael McCarthy asks what the Lord was thinking of when He created the Jersey Tiger moth (Nature Notebook, 18 August). Creation is debatable, but what is not is the identity of the moth illustrated. This is not the Jersey Tiger as stated, but the Garden Tiger.
West Hagbourne, Oxfordshire
My father worked with Alan Turing at Bletchley and spoke of him with great respect, so I am inclined to respond to Richard Dawkins in a way that I feel sure my father would have done ("Dawkins calls for official apology for Turing", 19 August). Dawkins speaks as though prejudice against homosexuals is dead. If only! Let's have a fitting tribute to Turing but why a bursary for Bletchley? We should make a strong statement of our acceptance of gay people – let's ask the gay community what a suitable tribute would be.
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire
It is comforting to note that the "special relationship" is operating as normal under the Obama administration (that is, to the advantage of the US). While Alan Johnson thinks it inappropriate to intervene in the extradition of the Pentagon computer hacker, Hillary Clinton is quite happy to bully the Scottish Government over release of the Lockerbie convict. This is where we find out if the Scot Nats are men or, like the British government, "wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beasties".
You report the claim, "London's future as a global financial centre could be devastated if the Government changes the law to restrict the ability of banks to pay bonuses" (17 August). Are they really saying that the only people sufficiently skilled to get the best results are those driven primarily by greed; that there are none driven by the pursuit of excellence? I hope I'm not the only one who finds that assertion repulsive. We have just seen what happens when the men and women picked to run our banks are motivated by greed.
Bags of uses
Chris Sexton (letter, 19 August) complains that charity clothes bags "do not double as bin-liners since they rightly have holes to avoid suffocation". The holes can easily be covered using sticky tape on both sides, of which one leading brand is biodegradable.
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