Sir: It is black not yellow snow that is causing the greatest damage to western Europe's highest peak, Mont Blanc. While John Lichfield was correct to highlight litter and other problems left by human activity on the snows of this famous mountain (14 September) it is our actions far away from the slopes that is the crucial problem. The melting glaciers and oily, black deposits that are increasingly observed by the climbers and skiers who traverse Mont Blanc illustrate the world-wide crisis caused by climate change.
All the main glaciers of the central and eastern Himalaya are predicted to disappear by 2035. What then for the rivers that are fed by these glaciers, from India through China to Vietnam, and the millions of people who depend on them for their survival? Nobody who cares for the future of our mountains, not to mention the whole planet, should miss Al Gore's film and book, An Inconvenient Truth. His presentation of the climate change crisis at the Edinburgh Festival was earth-shattering.
Meanwhile, for those of us who also care about the future of Mont Blanc, we must increasingly ask why this mountain is not properly protected and managed by designation as a national park or some other form of transboundary protected area. The failure, over decades, of the French, Swiss and Italian governments to co-operate in meeting straightforward planning and management needs is regrettable. And this is a mountain on the doorstep of world organisations committed to environmental responsibility, from the World Conservation Union to the World Wildlife Fund, all sitting happily on the shores of Lac Léman.
Co-ordinated national and international action is needed now to stop the snows and glaciers melting. White, not yellow or black snow, must be the future.
PRESIDENT, MOUNTAIN PROTECTION COMMISSION, INTERNATIONAL MOUNTAINEERING AND CLIMBING FEDERATION MILNATHORT, KINROSS
Pope, emperor and an extremist threat
Sir: The Pope quoted Manuel II Paleologus in the context of a densely argued and intellectually distinguished lecture; ironically enough the subject centred upon the compatibility of reason with religious belief. The reaction to it, leaving aside the astonishing hypocrisy implicit in its emanating from those who assume every right to utter the most inflammatory anti-Semitic or anti-Christian sentiments, demonstrates precisely what consequences we might expect if we abandon a complete commitment to rational secularity.
Religion depends on belief, blind faith, in what cannot be known. It is fatally irrational, but, because humanity evidently has an instinctual need for such things, one has to allow that it has a central place in the realm of the private. The traditional separation of church from state acknowledges that it should have no place in the public realm.
That we appear willing to appease the extremists who would have it otherwise suggests that our polity in general is in a very fragile state. This should cause intense alarm, because to witness the operations of unreason as they manifest in religious fundamentalists, both Christian and Muslim, is terrifying witness of what we stand to lose.
Sir: Pope Benedict is to be commended for championing the call for inter-religious dialogue as a way to surmount the barriers to peace and stability. However, the Pope erred in quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who wrote that "Mohammad had brought things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Islam advocates peace and tolerance. Muslims are instructed to respect Christians and Jews living in their midst.
Terrorism is not restricted to a certain region or religion. Nazis who perpetrated the systematic persecution and annihilation of six million Jews were Christians. Does this mean that Christianity is a violent religion? Israel perpetrates heinous crimes and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians. Does this mean that Judaism is an intolerant religion? We face a common threat: extremist distortions of religion and the wanton acts of violence that derive therefrom. Religions are based on love and cannot justify the senseless killing of life.
DR MUNJED FARID AL QUTOB
Sir: Has it now got to the stage when a historical document cannot be quoted without major incident if the document does not accord with what aggressive Muslims like to hear?
Your contributor M A Qavi (letter, 16 September), has to mention, as a counter-argument to Emperor Manuel II's attack, that hoary old tale of how Christian communities thrived under Muslim rule and how the Crusaders slaughtered indiscriminately.
It is true that many communities survived the Arab conquest of the southern Mediterranean littoral, as there was regional tolerance, notably in Sicily, but he omits to mention al-Hakim, the Shi'ite ruler of Egypt in the 11th century, who destroyed churches and persecuted Christians; he omits the Seljuk Turks, who captured the Holy Land in the late 12th century and curtailed Christian pilgrimage. The Crusades were, in part, a response to severe Muslim persecution.
That persecution still persists - except in Saudi Arabia because in that country there are no non-Muslims to persecute, for none are permitted to practise their faith. The same applied in Afghanistan under the Taliban tyranny. I defy any Muslim to name just one Muslim country which possesses religious tolerance to the same level as would be recognised as "freedom" in this or any other "western" country.
FR JULIAN G SHURGOLD
Sir: I write as a Catholic priest to express my dismay at Pope Benedict's quotation, allying the prophet Mohamed with "evil". Our archbishops, in their various interviews, did their best to draw the sting. The problem is that, far from being a quotation taken out of context, it is a quotation that has no context. The Pope does not refer to it again, directly or indirectly. It has no bearing on the thesis he expounds. The entire sentence bearing the quotation could be deleted without making any difference to the text. "Incomprehensible" is the only word I can use to describe its inclusion.
I can understand the anger of our Muslim brothers and sisters. I hope they can be magnanimous in their forgiveness. In the rarefied atmosphere of an academic audience, the Pope may have naively included the quotation as an interesting aside that would pass without remark, and is now surprised and dismayed at the violent reaction he has unwittingly provoked. A feeble excuse indeed, but the best I can do.
THE REV BERNARD O'CONNOR OSA
Sir: Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, says that if "demonisation continues, then Britain will have to deal with two million Muslim terrorists". Or, to paraphrase: "Don't call us terrorists or we'll bomb you." If Mr Bari is worried about "demonisation", he would do well to reject the stereotype of Muslims as aggressive lunatics, rather than threaten the rest of us with it.
Sir: The Pope made a speech in praise of being reasonable, in the course of which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who believed that Muslims resorted to violence instead of reason to propagate their beliefs. The result is Muslim outrage, death threats, and attacks against churches which could not conceivably have been responsible for the offensive speech.
Gosh, they sure proved him wrong, didn't they?
G M BALL
Sir: It is time for Christianity and Islam to move on from the 14th Century.
CARRICK-ON-SHANNON, CO LEITRIM, IRELAND.
Nato is asked to solve a US problem
Sir: Nato's discomfort at not being able to obtain sufficient personnel from member countries may simply be a reflection of the widespread perception that the Afghanistan engagement is essentially a US problem. The attachment of this country to problems generated by American foreign policy is now being exposed.
If I were a citizen of a member country whose government was being pressed to provide the US with succour in its endeavours I would be very miffed indeed. Chickens have a habit of coming home to roost.
That the UK should, yet again, be in the position of feeling that it has to prop up a policy whose roots are so deeply founded in America's misguided behaviour belittles us in the eyes of our European partners with whom we might find it much more appropriate to ally ourselves.
Sir: Nato was once very important but has now outlived its usefulness and should be dissolved. The same might be said about many of our other 20th-century institutions, such as the Commonwealth, the BBC and large swathes of the government such as the DTI. Doubtless your readers can suggest others. When will we have political leaders with the imagination to think beyond their box?
Sir: I always thought Nato stood for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. As Afghanistan is a landlocked country quite a long way from the Atlantic Ocean, I can quite understand why so many Nato countries are reluctant to send troops there.
Unions' role in a global economy
Sir: Hamish McRae rightly points to the challenges faced by UK workers in an increasingly globalised economy ("The unions need to rediscover their roots", 13 September), but then argues that trade unions should become mere resellers of financial services if they are to be more relevant to employees in the private sector.
Our members do have worries about job security, but their concerns will not be addressed by simply advising them how to claim benefits if made redundant. My union works with employers to manage the effects of globalisation through training and investment, so that members can continue to have well-paid, secure jobs. Only by tackling the UK skills gap will employers continue to benefit from the global economy and, through unions, workers in the private sector will continue to demand investment in training and skills.
GENERAL SECRETARY, CONNECT LONDON SW1
NHS acupuncture can ease back pain
Sir: Jeremy Laurance's report on low back pain (15 September), which suggested that acupuncture is more effective than traditional NHS methods such as physiotherapy, might have left readers with the wrong impression.
Thousands of physiotherapists are qualified to practise acupuncture, and use the technique for treating a host of painful conditions. Physiotherapists are the largest acupuncture group in the UK. Many patients with lower back pain can expect a course of acupuncture as part of their NHS physiotherapy. That acupuncture has been found to have benefits for back pain is welcome news for both the physiotherapy profession and for patients.
CHAIR OF COUNCIL, CHARTERED SOCIETY OF PHYSIOTHERAPY LONDON WC1
Spinster sisters and civil partnership
Sir: Referring to Sybil and Joyce Burden's European Court case, Janet Street-Porter (14 September) has got the wrong end of, arguably, the right stick. The co-habiting spinster sisters are not just seeking the "same rights" lesbians and gay men now get from civil partnership. They are equally seeking the same rights as co-habiting married couples, and could have done so years ago.
That those who are supporting this case claim that the Burdens are victims of "heterophobia", rather than merely of differential tax arrangements, should perhaps have been enough to set usually well-sensitised Street-Porter alarm bells ringing.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, STONEWALL LONDON SE1
Man of mystery
Sir: Cooper Brown does not exist. How do I know? Despite apparently consorting with Miramax moguls and other high-flying celebs, he is unknown to Google (except as an Independent feature). In fact, I am beginning to think he may be Bridget Jones' long-lost American cousin. Cooper outed.
WEST WITTERING, WEST SUSSEX
Sir: Your cartoons of Gordon Brown are made much funnier by your witty mocking of his crass Scotch accent (16 September) . Really, really hilarious to see the way I also talk being made such a cutting barb. Hopefully you plan to extend this to other people in the public domain who don't talk proper.
Sir: No, no, no! The only way to eat Marmite is to smother warm white toast (from homemade organic bread) with butter, gently melting: add marmite (mingling silkily with the butter), add crunchy peanut butter and then top with slivers of smoked goat's cheese (I recommend Woolsery oak smoked) or a Somerset organic cheddar. The salty marmite cuts through the sweet peanut butter and all unites beneath the softening smoked cheese. Heaven . . .
Sir: David Hughes (letters, 15 September) is quite wrong to say that Tony Blair does not have a mandate. His right to form a government has the consent of at least 80 per cent of the electorate. This is made up of everyone who voted Labour, everyone who did not vote, and everyone who voted for a non-Labour candidate who favours the first-past-the-post system. We will only get proportional representation when people are prepared to vote for candidates who are committed to it.
Sir: In France we recently witnessed how they deal with the scourge of those who use mobile phones while driving; they beep their horns until users get too embarrassed to continue. It was a great example of everyone working together to eliminate a social evil. Unfortunately in Britain we are too afraid of being unpopular to take a stand.
BRINSLEY, NOTTINGHAMSHIREReuse content