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Friday 18 April 2008
Letters: Colonel Gaddafi
A 'repulsive dictator' who radically improved the lives of his people
Sir: Although I regard Robert Fisk as one of the most truthful and reputable journalists on the planet, I have one point of disagreement with him regarding Libya and Colonel Gaddafi.
In his otherwise excellent article (Comment, 5 April) he includes Libya as being among the "repulsive dictatorships" in the Arab world. Why he describes it as such I find difficult to understand, having spent several years living and working in Libya and witnessing revolutionary changes which greatly improved the lot of most ordinary Libyans.
My first experience of Libya was in 1969, just before and after the Libyan revolution. Within a short time, the appalling shanty town outside Tripoli disappeared, to be replaced by new estates of blocks of flats at low rents. In a city which at that time had the highest property prices in the world, the new revolutionary government slashed rents, imposing maximum limits, which was of immense benefit to me and my family as well as most of the people. A minimum wage was also introduced. Schools, colleges and hospitals were built and the universities developed and extended.
As for freedom of speech, I found myself sometimes having to defend some of the new laws and changes in the face of fierce vocal opposition from one or two of the more privileged students I was teaching. A form of participatory democracy similar to that in Cuba was developed whereby the people could have a say for the first time. Gaddafi's Green Book sets out to explain this new concept of government, a form of socialism.
Nelson Mandela was attacked for going to Tripoli and embracing Gaddafi soon after his release from prison.
But he said Libya had supported black South Africans' struggle against apartheid more than any other country and Gaddafi was the first head of state he wanted to thank for this support.
Candidates who 'do God' in US elections
Sir: Joan Smith's invitation to give thanks and praise for John McCain (Comment, 16 April) as the only candidate who doesn't do God in the US elections would inspire all secularists, if only it were true.
McCain has been assiduously courting the Christian right in America over the course of the past year, attending Christian Right forums, speaking at conservative evangelical colleges founded by televangelists Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, and attending meetings with the leading pro-Israel Christian organisation, Christians United for Israel.
He has the endorsement of several leading figures on the Christian Right and has embraced two of the more extreme right-wing Christian leaders, John Hagee and Rod Parsley, who support his position on Israel and a more militant policy against Iran and radical Islam. The reason McCain did not attend the Christian forum in Pennsylvania was not because of "not doing God" but because it was organised by liberal rather than conservative evangelicals.
While Clinton and Obama are "banging on about their imaginary friends", McCain's real friends are preparing to maintain conservative evangelical influence in a future McCain administration.
Dr Lee Marsden
Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of East Anglia, Norwich
Sir: Joan Smith's claim that John McCain is "the only Presidential candidate who is willing to uphold the separation of Church and State" shows a misunderstanding of the US constitution.
The "anti-establishment" clause of the First Amendment simply prevents Congress from passing laws which provide official endorsement of or support to one particular religion over others. Beyond that, politicians are entirely free to be guided by their religious beliefs or to express them openly, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both do.
As a fan of the First Amendment, I am most worried by John McCain's hints that he might endorse a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage if the homophobic 1996 Defence of Marriage Act is ever repealed.
St Antony's College, Oxford
Sir: Congratulations on performing a wonderful service to the community. The series of Oxford University Press pamphlets on science are excellent summaries and can only help in creating a more informed citizenry.
As an expat American and former science educator from Kentucky, I thought you should know that there is no chance in (mythical) hell that a pamphlet on evolution would ever be distributed by one of my state's major newspapers; it would be circulation suicide.
How lucky the UK is to have such a science-literate society and a newspaper with a mission to educate its readers about modern science, and that neither worry about a religious fundamentalist backlash.
Virginia Water, Surrey
Green activists on the red benches
Sir: May I commend you on the excellent obituary of Lord Beaumont (11 April), which was spoilt only by the suggestion that he was the first and only Green peer, crossing the floor in 1999?
My father, the late Lord MacLeod of Fuinary was made a life peer in 1967 and although he technically sat on the crossbenches (getting crosser and crosser, as he would put it), he was an active member of the Green Party during much of his time in the Lords and attended many of their meetings in Scotland.
He was primarily a Green because of their unique commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament, as having witnessed a good deal of the carnage of the First World War he felt that we underestimated man's propensity to violence and considered the unilateral position to be both the most pragmatic and indeed the most moral in terms of a Christian witness.
He also started an ecologically responsible community at Fuinary, in Morvern.
Satnav mishaps are nothing new
Sir: They didn't have satnav in 1939 ("The curse of satnav", 9 April) but if you were an Imperial Airways flying-boat pilot you already had electronic navigation aids at your disposal. It was the misuse of one such aid that led the Short Empire C Class flying-boat Corsair to set out in the wrong direction one day and, hours later and short of fuel, end up stuck on a remote stretch of river in what was then the Belgian Congo.
Corsair cost about £50,000, and with no possibility of building a replacement (Shorts were making only the military version, the Sunderland, by then) Imperial Airways had to get Corsair out. And get her out they did, on the second attempt and after a year of trying, in a massive rescue operation that involved damming the river, stripping the plane to lighten it, and building a village (known as Corsairville) to accommodate the necessary workforce.
Corsair resumed normal service and was eventually scrapped along with the surviving Empire boats in 1947. Corsairville is still there, a lasting monument to over-reliance on electronic gizmos. I think this incident must be the precursor to all those HGVs in ditches and cars in rivers.
Beware Iranians offering 'dialogue'
Sir: Any attempt to reduce existing tensions and remove the spectre of possible military conflict over Iran's nuclear ambition is salutary and most welcomed. But I doubt that the "back-channel" talks described by Ambassador Thomas Pickering (Anne Penketh, 14 March) could fit the bill. Previous informal contacts between influential Iranians "with access to higher circles" and prominent Americans, have all proven chimerical.
History shows that real decision-makers in Teheran-Qom power centres – as opposed to frustrated technocrats in Iran's professional foreign policy community – show interest in dialogue with the US only at times of dire need. This was the case in the 1980s when Iran was engulfed in a struggle with Saddam Hussein.
The release of Embassy hostages on President Ronald Reagan's inauguration day in January 1981 and the "Irangate" scandal are both keepsakes of that mindset. In May 2003, again when Iraq's once-mighty army had been defeated in less than three weeks and Iran was seen as the next target on the George Bush hit-list, the mullahs were once again interested and sent a trial balloon in the form of the so-called "Grand Bargain" proposal. No genuine interest for accommodation has surfaced since.
Yet in the past five years, a chorus of resentful former American officials have joined the Iranian lobby in the US to make the point that absence of dialogue between Washington and the clerics in Teheran is an American fault. Mr Pickering's account is yet another hint in that same direction.
To avoid any such charades, it is far more prudent for American officials to rely on their own first-hand and direct impressions rather than the disingenuous half-truths and lies fed to a host of well meaning intermediaries.
Dr Mehrdad Khonsari
Senior Research Consultant, Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, London SW15
How the moose became an elk
Sir: When early settlers arrived in America and first met a large deer, they called it an elk, after the almost legendary huge creature of northern European forests. So, when later explorers in the north and west came across the real relative of the European elk – the same species, in fact, Alces alces – they gave it the algonquin name, the moose.
Your feature, "Back from the Dead" (10 April), and a related article a few months ago, perpetuates the confusion by describing and illustrating the American elk (Cervus canadensis, aka Wapiti) as if that is the creature being considered for (re)introduction to an estate in Scotland.
The European elk is far from being dead: it is widely distributed across northern Europe and Asia (and across North America, as the moose, of course), though it is doubtful whether it became established in Britain while we were still part of the European mainland.
Milnathort, Perth and Kinross
Translators can bridge culture gap
Sir: I read with pleasure Boyd Tonkin's excellent article "Is the Arab world ready for a literary revolution?" (15 April), which emphasised the vital role played by translators as mediators between languages and cultures.
What a pity that with the exception of Humphrey Davies, the article neglected to credit the "other writers" of the six novels recommended to us ("Tales of Arabia: Six To Read"). It goes to show how much work needs to be done to raise the profile of the translators who enable communication in an increasingly divided world. The article observes how "rare and precious" good translators from Arabic are: let's give them the credit they deserve.
Dr Carol O'Sullivan
Senior Lecturer in Translation, University of Portsmouth
Change of attitude needed on rape
Sir: I agree with your leading article concerning the investigation of rape ( 16 April) that there has to be a shift in attitudes. I particularly welcome the statement that "the pernicious belief that women who get drunk, or even wear revealing clothing 'bring it upon themselves' needs to be confronted and demolished".
As a retired police officer, with substantial investigative experience in this area, I know there has been major improvement in rape investigations. While there is always room for improvement with the police, I am still concerned about the public misconceptions over rape and how this affects jurors hearing such cases. I totally support a shift in attitudes.
Sir: Doug Meredith (letters, 14 April) looks forward to the return of pavements to their proper use as pedestrian lanes. Decades of underinvestment in cycling infrastructure, and the fudge of "shared-use"" paths, means this will happen only when the roads become safe enough again to return to their proper use as cycle lanes.
Bailing out banks
Sir: You certainly can't accuse the banks of being stupid. For years, it has been accepted that if you have liabilities of £1,000, it is your problem; if they amount to £1m, it is the bank's problem. These banks have now realised that if they have liabilities of a few hundred million, it is their problem; when it gets to a billion, it is the Government's. The Government is duly paying up. What price prudence?
The buck stops where?
Sir: As a lukewarm follower of the oval ball game, I looked with disbelief at the management structure you published (Sport, 17 April); three people in a direct person-to-person reporting relationship at the top of the hierarchy. In a business context, the inevitable pruning of this structure would leave only one of Thomas, Baron and Andrew with a job. Then, at least, it would be clear where the buck stops.
Horsham, West Sussex
Dog has bone to pick
Sir: I think you should know that not all dogs seek publicity like Skipper, Alfie and Benny, whose names have been published recently on your Letters page. My dog, Diver, is appalled by their blatant publicity-seeking.
Sir: I was originally writing to point out that in reviewing the Ian Fleming exhibition, you have incorrectly labelled Bond's "Little Nellie" as a microlight, when it is in fact an autogyro. But this affords me no opportunity to mention that I don't have a dog but four cats, Izzy, Molly, Tilly and Harry.
Sir: I notice agricultural employers are concerned that reduced east European immigration may cause labour shortages. Fortunately, a potential pool of workers is being released by City financial institutions to tackle this healthy outdoor work. They will be living just a train ride from their new jobs and basic accommodation is normally available.
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