If not 655,000, how many deaths in Iraq could Bush justify?
Sir: President Bush lost little time in hurriedly appearing in front of the TV cameras to rubbish the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's estimate that "655,000 Iraqis have died since 2003 who might still be alive but for the US-led invasion". Of course, he would take that line, wouldn't he?
I wonder how many such deaths might Mr Bush like to estimate? Perhaps 50 per cent? Or 10 per cent? Even if "only" the latter were true, how would the world judge the President? I doubt that his Iraq invasion, even if leading to "only" some 65,000 dead, would be considered innocent as history's verdict on the invasion, nor that to trigger so many lost lives through an illegal war would somehow render him and his allies less culpable for their nightmarish follies in Iraq.
Sir: When four mad, maverick Muslims killed 50 people on the Tube, a 1,400 year old civilisation was dragged through the mud, and everyone associated with it made to hang their heads in shame. But when Anglo-Americans are directly responsible for the deaths of 200,000, no one asks what that says about them, their nations or their culture.
If anyone tries speaking to me again about the problem of Islamic fundamentalism, I'll tell them to address their own fundamentalism first, and then we'll look at ours.
The veil seen as a gesture of defiance
Sir: Had you visited the University of Amman in the late 1960s or early 1970s you would have seen almost no woman wearing a headscarf, let alone a veil. The same can be said of the Universities of Istanbul, Tehran, and certainly Baghdad. All these countries were gradually moving away from traditional, restrictive attitudes to women, and women were exulting in their new-found freedom.
Nowadays if you go to the same universities you will find that almost every woman will be wearing a scarf, and a substantial and increasing number will be obscured by a veil.
Why has the Middle East slammed into reverse gear? Two words which summarise the main reasons are "Khomeini" and "Bush".
Khomeini instigated the Shiite fundamentalist revival and in so doing "shamed" the Sunnis, led theologically by Saudi Arabia, to demonstrate that they were every bit as devout. Although there were certainly anti-Western sentiments involved, in particular for the West's previous support of the Shah, this movement was undoubtedly led by religious zealots. Had Khomeini had just one bullet in his gun he would have preferred to put it in the head of the secularist Saddam than waste it on a US president.
"Bush" in this context does not merely mean George W, but a long line of Western leaders who, it is felt, have treated the Middle East like their own personal chess-board. Half a century after refugee camps were established as a temporary measure, they remain home to thousands of embittered and desperate people. In addressing the immensely complex issue of Palestine and Israel, the West persistently fails to take a balanced approach.
So the wearing of the veil is a combination of an affirmation of religious identity and a gesture of defiance to the West. These two justifications feed off one another: the more distressed people are at the behaviour of the West, the more they will seek solace in their religion; the more deeply they become immersed in religion, the more they come to resent the West.
Sir: David Bricknell writes: "For me Britain is in Afghanistan to prevent the brutal oppression of one half of the population by the other and this is symbolised by the veiling of women" (letter, 10 October).
In the far-off, peace-addled days of the hippie trail I was one of many young Western people who passed through Afghanistan en route to Kathmandu. I can assure Mr Bricknell that all the Afghan women wore burqas then, except for a few colourful ones whom I identified, rightly or wrongly, as gypsies.
There is a widespread belief that the burqa was invented by the Taliban, but my experience of Afghanistan predated their regime by at least 24 years. If the purpose of the invasion was to liberate women from the veil, why didn't we do it decades ago? And when do we invade Saudi Arabia?
HARROGATE, NORTH YORKSHIRE
Sir: The issue over the veil has exposed the sexism of many men on the left. These men used to pay lip service to the idea of women's rights, but never did anything to improve it. Now every time there's a conflict between women's interests and hardline Islam, they will side with hardline Islam. They tell us we can't condemn a man who has killed his wife or daughter because we have to honour his culture.
Jack Straw's comments on the veil were very mild and reasonable, but these men's kneejerk reaction was to describe him as racist. Is this really because they honour Islam or because they long secretly to live in a country in which women are slaves?
Sir: "If a woman wants to wear a veil, why shouldn't she? It's her choice," said John Prescott.
Indeed. All the argument about this comes at the problem of rights from the wrong end entirely. The real issue is not about Muslim women choosing to wear veils, but rather what happens to them when they decide they don't want to go out in a niqab or hijab any more, or indeed don't want to practise their faith any more.
We should be asking what their rights and choices are in Britain in these circumstances, and how their community would enable these rights and choices to be manifested and fully exercised in every circumstance, without fear of reprisal from their families and peers. I recall that the appropriate punishment for apostasy in Islam as far as many Muslims are concerned is death.
NATIONAL SECULAR SOCIETY EDINBURGH
Public's respect for GPs imperilled
Sir: As a retired GP I agree entirely with Dr Peter Baddeley's comments (Letters, 11 October) regarding the new contract for GPs in which for some 6 per cent of average salary they are able to opt out of 75 per cent of patient care.
In many areas the out-of-hours service comes from 15-20 miles away, and may be "directed" from much further than that. It can be provided by a variety of sources ranging from "moonlighting" GPs to doctors flying in from the Continent for the weekend. The resultant cost in salaries, car-allowances, increased use of the ambulance service and the necessary expansion of hospital A and E departments to cope with patients who ought to be seen by a doctor from their own practice (who would also have access to their records) is in no small way responsible for current NHS deficits.
Family doctoring (which is not the same as being a General Practitioner) was at the heart of the "old" NHS and is in many ways a full-time and very rewarding job. Replacing it by a provision of service by a range of multiple providers is a retrograde step which is doing the patient no good in terms of safety nor the profession in public respect.
DR ANTHONY BARTER
Sir: As an Emergency Medicine physician working in the NHS, it was distressing for me to read about the needless death of Penny Campbell (Extra, 10 October ).
GPs, particularly out-of-hours services, providing emergency care is an anachronism in a modern health service. Patients do not come with clear diagnostic labels; as Penny's tragic case illustrates. Emergency assessment needs particular training as well the ancillary services found in a modern emergency department.
Penny's death will not be in vain if the powers-that-be realise that it is time that all "unscheduled" care - particularly that out-of-hours not by the patient's own GP - be the remit of the professionals in Emergency Medicine and not mercenaries of the out-of-hours service.
The GPs, in their new contract, "opted out" of providing this service. Primary care trusts should do the right thing and let those who want to provide this service have the funds to do the job.
NAEEM TOOSY FRCS(Ed)
Maldives move towards democracy
Sir: The article "Behind the veil in the Maldives" (5 October) paints a picture of a country very different from my own.
The reality is that the Maldives is a modern, moderate and tolerant nation, founded on Islamic principles but by no means radical or extreme. We are in the midst of a peaceful transition to multiparty democracy, which will be completed over the course of the coming two years, a direct result of the reform initiatives introduced by President Gayoom in 2004.
Your correspondent appears to have sought opinions solely from one or two individuals closely linked to the more radical elements of the Maldivian political spectrum. The government and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party have together made real progress over the past few months in the form of informal talks facilitated by the British High Commission in Colombo, and are on the brink of engaging in formal all-party talks with a view to determining our country's future. Yet there remains a small, increasingly marginalised, wing of the opposition which eschews this process, preferring to focus instead on street violence and rabble-rousing as a means to overthrow the government.
HIGH COMMISSIONER, HIGH COMMISSION OF THE MALDIVES LONDON W1
America in an ungrateful world
Sir: Yes, America consumes a disproportionate share of goods and services ("Supersize nation", 11 October). But it also adds disproportionately to the stock of goods and services. America has the most productive farmers and workers in the world. American innovations in medicine, agriculture, science, and industry have prevented famine and untimely death throughout the world.
Europe, not America, is living beyond its means by not having the children necessary to support its extravagant social welfare systems now in place. In 100 years the noble culture entrusted to Europe by its ancestors will be mere faded pictures and empty cathedrals.
America's worst fault is its mistaken belief that its endless contributions towards the defence and advancement of western civilisation might result in a little appreciation from the beneficiaries.
My wife is expecting within the week. Perhaps my new son will be number 300,000,000.
OVERLAND PARK, KANSAS, USA
Sir: I read with horror the front page story "Supersize nation" and wonder if this is another "axis of evil". Your campaign to alert the population to climate change, over-population, waste and greed makes chilling reading and I greatly fear for the future of my grandchildren. Time is short. It behoves us all to help in raising consciousness and to do something about it. Keep up the education through your good newspaper.
Mystery man at the Tory conference
Sir: A Conference Diary item (5 October) states that Paul Staines obtained a pass for the Conservative conference in the alias of Guido Fawkes. There is a hint that the use of such an alias represents a flaw in our security system.
In fact, our records show that Mr Staines applied in his correct name and we accredited him accordingly. Mr Staines' application would have gone through three levels of checking by the party, at any stage of which they could have objected to an alias being used if they so wished. Intended alias details are not forwarded to us, as we are only really interested in the true identity, though we do check alias details that we know an applicant has used previously.
In short, the use of an alias on a pass is a matter between the individual and the party, who would doubtless eliminate any alias they considered to be in poor taste. Should there be a question raised at a security entry point due to the use of an alias, then our staff can access the true identity directly.
ASSISTANT CHIEF CONSTABLE, DORSET POLICE, DORCHESTER
Sir: Has anyone else noticed the remarkable resemblance between Cooper Brown and the much-maligned but equally talented (if more follically endowed) broadcaster Alan Partridge? Could they be related?
Sir: I will believe that community sentencing is not a soft option (The Big Question, 10 October) when offenders in Her Majesty's hotels are told that a breach of strict prison conditions can trigger an instant community sentence. I also believe that sentences or phrases containing the word "community" should be treated with caution.
G J JONES
Say that again
Sir: I recently received a letter from someone in the credit control department of my oil supplier. One sentence reads: "I have cancelled the Direct Debit as per your request and applied terms of month 20, so that payment can be made on this date, after a delivery, for your convenience". Whatever happened to plain English?
Invest in canals
Sir: I was saddened to read of the dangers of a potential shortfall in funding British canals (11 October). The current canal system across the UK could do much to support the reduction in the use of fossil fuels by lorries carrying freight. Creative connections with existing and new rail networks could further ease the burden and both modes of travel could be used for both business and leisure. What is required is both the political will to undertake such a venture and some new entrepreneurial thinking.
Sir: Thank you for the double-sided classic photograph with today's paper (12 October). But with Thatcher on one side and Blair on the other, surely you should also have supplied a set of darts, so that the photographs could have been put to appropriate use.
DR R M MORRIS
NEWPORT PAGNELL, MILTON KEYNES