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Letters: Don’t be too impressed by the new Caliph

These letters appear in the July 3 issue of the Independent

Mr al-Baghdadi has proclaimed himself Caliph of Islam. So what? The title just means “successor” to the Prophet Muhammad: not an individual anointed like a king, or one blessed by divine sanction, as Catholics regard the Pope. The exalted sense of the title of Caliph developed in the Middle Ages, with Western Christians erroneously comparing Caliph to Pope: a notion which was eventually fed back to Islam.

The real caliphate was extinguished in 1258, when the Mongols sacked Baghdad. More recent attempts to claim the title were largely political manoeuvres, designed (as in Ottoman Turkey in the 1870s) to enhance the political lustre of the ruler.

Today people should not be taken in by fanciful movie-type images of the Caliph of Baghdad. Anyone who glances at Sir Thomas Arnold’s The Caliphate (1924, reprinted 1965) will be gratifyingly disillusioned.

Christopher Walker

London W14


Dr Stephen Malnik sees the emergence of Isis as part of “a global struggle between the forces of darkness and the forces of good” (letter, 2 July). That time-dishonoured piece of dualism has dominated human thinking for centuries.

And where has it got us? War after war, always with the promise that this will be the final battle that will sort out the “bad guys” once and for all. We need to get beyond this futile belief system to discover the unity in which our hope lies.

The first step is to see ourselves first and foremost as humans: sometimes we do wonderful things, sometimes terrible things, but we are still human beings anyway.

Simenon Honoré

Tunbridge Wells, Kent


Prime Minister Netanyahu was quoted following the Israeli teenager funerals thus: “They sanctify death and we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty and we sanctify mercy.”

Thus far the Israeli response has been to kill several Palestinians (including children), detain hundreds, and unleash terror upon innocent civilians. Not a whimper from Western leaders who fall over themselves to condemn the murders of the Israelis but ignore the collective punishments now being meted out to the Palestinians.

Dr Shazad Amin

Sale, Greater Manchester


Robert Fisk (2 July) implies that all of Israel was built on Arab land. How does land become “Arab”? Does land have a voice of its own? Or is it because Arabs have lived on a certain piece of land for a certain amount of time. Watch out, Spain.

I live in Jerusalem, which has been conquered time after time over a period of 3,000 years. Jews were certainly here during those last 3,000 years and in all parts of present-day Israel, the West Bank and in Gaza as well. But then Christians and Muslims have also been here, together with the Greeks and Romans. Whose land is it? Fisk calling it Arab land is as legitimate as the right wing in Israel calling it Jewish land.

Avi Lehrer



Robert Fisk (30 June) is disgusted at the use by Bnei Brith Canada of terms such as “disease”, “contamination”, and “infection”, to describe the worrying phenomenon of anti-Semitism. He bemoans the fact that these terms were used by the Nazis against Jews.

Interestingly, Fisk has used the same terminology himself, referring to his wish “not to be contaminated by the war crimes of Israel’s pilots” (Voices, 20 November 2012), and when referring to Israel’s “cancerous threat of war” against Iran (24 November 2013).

The logic is as follows:  a Jewish organisation is wrong to use terms used by the Nazis, while he, Fisk, is at liberty to use these very “Nazi” terms when discussing Israel.

Yiftah Curiel

Spokesperson, Embassy of Israel, London W8


What would Scottish independence mean?

Alex Orr (letter, 2 July) wrote in favour of Scottish independence: “The choices before us are simple: we take charge of our own affairs in the EU...”

The choice is not as simple as he seems to think. Alex Salmond hopes to keep the pound, which means interest rates and monetary policy will be set by the Bank of England. He also hopes to join the EU, but all new members must adopt the euro, which means handing control to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

Whichever of the two currencies the Scots adopt, they will certainly not be taking charge of their own affairs; they will be surrendering one of their most vital interests either to a foreign country with 10 times their population or to a bloc of countries with 100 times their population. Good luck with that!

John Naylor

Ascot, Berkshire


The “No” campaign keeps saying that a Yes vote is a vote for Alex Salmond. It isn’t. A Yes vote is a vote which will enable the people of Scotland to decide how they wish Scotland to be run. After independence there will be fresh elections, for each of us to decide which political party we want to run Scotland.

The big difference is that we will no longer be forced by Westminster to accept policies we don’t agree with. In an independent Scotland, every decision will be taken by the people who care most about Scotland; that is, by those of us who live in Scotland. It really is that simple.

Carole Inglis

Harlosh, Isle of Skye


Scientist with a social conscience

It was Nigel Calder’s astonishingly extensive knowledge of the whole range of science, combined with an active social conscience, that made him such a successful science writer (obituary, 28 June). True, he enjoyed the role of maverick from time to time, as in the global warming debate, but underneath it was a deep concern for social issues. He was very much concerned with social aspects of science, with social justice, and the general direction that the world was taking. 

This enabled him to operate as the press officer for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and to articulate Harold Wilson’s “white heat of technology” policies. Latterly he described himself as a “romantic anarchist in the tradition of Kropotkin” (a distinguished scientist in his day). In a letter to me he dated his disillusion with politics to the mid 1960s, when he saw Harold Wilson’s “white heat of technology” policies come to nothing, and when CND “took its eye off the ball to agitate about Vietnam”.

In the 1990s, as the editor of a radical journal, The Raven, I was unexpectedly asked to edit an edition concerned with  the mounting rejection of scientific thinking by some sections of the left. I was in some difficulty. At the suggestion of his brother Angus I asked Nigel for help and was sent a sparkling 30-page essay covering the strength and weaknesses of science, the fate of some pet ideas and science as a motor of social change. Slightly tongue-in-cheek here and there perhaps, but much of that piece remains relevant today.

John Pilgrim

Yoxford, Suffolk


Voice of the  lost Cotswolds

Writing as one of the few natives left on the reservation who remembers  the Cotswolds “before banker and politician came”, may I thank Adam Sherwin for his honest reflection on how life is for the majority here (“Is the party over in Chipping Norton?” 28 June).

Few of us see any benefits from the financial parasites, politicos and wheeler-dealers colonising our homelands. As for seeing any of the Chippy Set mixing with us peasants, the only “celebrity” I have ever seen in Chipping Norton was Jeremy Clarkson, and sadly I was not quick enough to tell him how much I appreciated his social commentaries  and wit. Someone seeing Sam Cam shopping in Sainsbury’s? It must have been either something in the water or a decoy.

Marc Buffery

Upper Rissington, Gloucestershire


Strange noises at Wimbledon

Listening to BBC television commentators struggling to describe the noise made by Maria Sharapova as she plays (Is it a grunt? Is it a scream?), I recognised the sound as the bark of a fox. For my amusement, I entertain the illusion that the fox I hear in the fields of Norfolk is actually Maria herself; hunting for lost form, perhaps.

Robin Slatter

Hickling, Norfolk


Scholarly language?

Professor Stephen Caddick, Vice-Provost of University College London, certainly knows all the vice-cancellarial jargon (Letters, 1 July):  four occurrences of the word “deliver(s)”, two of “world-class”, and the use of “grow” as a transitive verb to mean “develop” or “enlarge”.  But I wonder if he has any idea what university education is for.

Nick Chadwick



The World Cup explained

Like Richard Pring (letter, 2 July) I too was puzzled by the rationale of the World Cup until a friend pointed out that “football is not a sport, it is a business”.

Angela Elliott

Hundleby,  Lincolnshire