Letters: Education and integration

Achievements of Catholic schools, and arguments for integration
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The Independent Online

Mr Hari's views on sex and relationship education in Catholic schools are based more on myth than current-day reality. The approach is founded on the Church's belief that self-respect and respect for each other must underline all human relationships. He is no more accurate with his claim that schools practice social selection: the proportion of children eligible for free school meals in Catholic secondary schools is in line with the national average.

This summer's exam results demonstrated what thousands of parents already know: Catholic schools provide a high quality of academic education, while encouraging students to reach their full potential as tolerant, outward-looking members of a good society.



Sir: Your columnist Johann Hari rightly says that segregating children according to religion helps create "a chasm of mutual incomprehension". One does not have to look much further than Northern Ireland where 95 per cent of children have little choice but to attend schools which are either entirely or largely Catholic or Protestant. The system means that the vast majority of our children never get to meet people from the "other side" until they leave school. How can people learn to understand, respect and tolerate difference when they have little opportunity to learn, live and play together during the most formative years of their lives?

However, the Government should take a closer look at another social phenomenon which is gathering momentum The first integrated school, where Catholic and Protestant children along with those of other faiths and none are educated together, opened in 1981 with 28 pupils. Today there are 58 integrated schools educating almost 18,000 pupils.

Segregated education is not the sole cause of the "Troubles" and integrated schools cannot by themselves overcome the distrust of generations, but they are a vital part of the equation.



Iranian President's threat to Israel

Sir: Although the starkness of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's remarks has ensured that they make the headlines, they should surprise no one ("Iran's leader says Jewish state 'should be wiped from map'", 27 October).

Iran has long been avowedly opposed to Israel's very existence and is the most consistent supporter of anti-Israeli groups such as Hamas. Given the EU's stated commitment to a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, which includes a secure Israel, it is perhaps surprising that it has taken the threat of a nuclear Iran to persuade European leaders that something must be done about a country that arms and finances terrorists dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state.



Sir: The President of a highly influential Muslim state, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has in effect called for the next Jewish Holocaust - not in the sense of eliminating every single Jew, but of destroying a place that is the only sacred land for many Jews, as sacred as are Mecca or Medina to Muslims.

Britain and Western Europe host many Muslim organisations which proclaim that they adopt moderate political stances. They now have a chance to show it, by publicly condemning the Iranian President's statement. Otherwise, few situations would so clearly illustrate the maxim that silence is complicity. Many moderate Muslim organisations rightly advocate compromise solutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but there can be no compromise on the question of whether Israel should be utterly destroyed. Either it should or it shouldn't. If it shouldn't, then Muslim organisations must now say so in the clearest terms.



Sir: President Ahmadinejad calls for Israel to be wiped off the map, but Israel effectively wiped Palestine off the map 57 years ago, and where's the indignation over that?



Can we stop this terrible practice?

Sir: I really wish I hadn't read the article by Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan ("The reality of Britain's reliance on torture", 27 October). I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that such vile things can happen in our name, but I am: when it has been spelt out so clearly one cannot but face the scarcely believable truth.

The really appalling thing is that ordinary people are powerless to stop this hideous trade. We can protest until we are blue in the face, to no avail. I wept when I read that article: is there really nothing we can do to put and end to this evil?



Sir: Former Ambassador Craig Murray's article was a salutory warning about what happens when human rights principles are overlooked by the exigencies of political pragmatism in the so-called "War on terror".



Keep 'terrorism' in perspective

Sir: For Tony Blair nothing can be worse than terrorism. That seems to be his opinion and many share it. But it is only an opinion and many do not agree with him. What is worse, to kill ten people with a suicide bomb or to demolish a hundred homes leaving a thousand people homeless? What is worse, to rob millions of their land, their homes, their food and water supplies, and their freedom, or to kill a hundred with suicide bombs? Suicide bombs are a last resort, when no alternative is available. They are bad, but what has been done by the Israelis to the Palestinians is a thousand times worse, and for the Israelis and the Americans to talk about "terrorism" as though they had in some way been victimised is hypocrisy gone mad.

Soon, here in Britain, it may be a criminal offence to suggest that suicide bombs are justified even when the facts make it clear that they are. Here in Britain, it might be a crime to tell the truth.



Smoking proposals will harm the poor

Sir: In your leading article "A sensible and liberal compromise" (27 October) you say no one is compelled to work in a pub or club. This is true, but a single mother in a council flat who can get a baby sitter for two or three evenings a week has few options, and the local boozer may offer the best paid and most congenial part-time job. Choice of occupation for the poor is an illusion. Similarly, the poor may not feel comfortable, be welcome or able to afford the local gastro pub for a night out.

The government proposals are a betrayal of the poorest in our society.



Sir: The Secretary of State for Defence, and former health secretary, John Reid would seek to deny the English what his constituents will enjoy in Scotland: a complete ban on smoking in pubs, and protection for those who work in them.

This is the single most important public health measure that can be introduced. It is crucial for the protection of teenagers and young adults from peer group pressure to smoke in social settings, and is potentially of great help to those who wish to quit.

Such hypocrisy on the part of Mr Reid is breathtaking. Surely he should step aside from any decision in this matter, and let the English MPs decide.



Sir: Your statement that "A blanket ban on smoking in pubs and clubs would have been illiberal and unjustified" rails against common sense. Long before physicians recognised the effect smoking had on people, King James I in 1604 depicted smoking as "a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black and stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless".



Unfair jail terms for drug couriers

Sir: Small wonder that our overcrowded jails are filling up with foreign national prisoners ("Foreigners blamed for prison overcrowding" 26 October). Most are couriers serving exceptionally long sentences of between 10 to 20 years for drug trafficking offences. These disproportionate jail terms do nothing to deter other people desperate to make small sums of money for their families. Nor do they punish the drug barons who, at little risk to themselves, make colossal profits from this grubby trade.

Solutions must lie in preventative work in countries of origin, improved security at points of entry, and brokering sensible international agreements on an appropriate response to those caught up in, rather than orchestrating, drug crime. A complete re-examination of drug policy is long overdue. Meanwhile a review should be conducted of cases of foreign national women and men held for years in British prisons. Most present no further risk to the public and many should, in common humanity and justice, be allowed to return home.



China will ensure a great Olympics

Sir: Your article on the recent Chinese National Games "Drugs and bribes claims hit China's Olympic rehearsal" (25 October) raised questions about China's readiness to host the 2008 Olympics.

I was in Nanjing on business during the last days of the games, and found the Chinese media and public to be shocked at the revelations. As British people we surely remember the sense of pride in July when we were awarded the 2012 Games? There is the same pride in China over the forthcoming Olympics, but more than that, an expectation of further acceptance into the world community following decades of various degrees of isolation. They will not stand for an Olympics marred by negative images.

Anyway, who are we in the west to point the finger? We have our performance enhancement drug cases and corruption in our own sports. For an event representing one-fifth of the world's population, the incidents at the China Games reflect the actions of small minority, and I doubt that the proportionate size of that minority was any greater than it would be anywhere else in the world of sport.

China is changing. It has a way to go to escape the easy corruption of former years, but I am as encouraged by the nailing of corruption there as I am fed-up by the easy sleaze of our own society.

If Beijing 2008 builds on the lessons of Nanjing, and is anything like I expect it to be, London will have a very hard act to follow.



Woolly thinking

Sir: Prince Charles has done it again. On television, he champions action against global warming in a piece to camera which begins with him driving a gas-guzzling Land Rover out from his many-bedroomed stately pile. Is he moving to a two-bedroomed bungalow and buying a Nissan Micra to replace the royal Daimlers? The Prince of Woolly-ness should be conveyed to a safe place equipped with nothing sharper than Jonathan Dimbleby's wit.



Sir: As it appears Prince Charles has become aware of global warming presumably he will not heat or light any of the three substantial residences he is not in at any one time. How about scheduled flights for him and others of his extravagant heavily subsidised family? Or perhaps he means that we should do something but clearly such sacrifices do not apply to him.



Flawed accusation

Sir: Paul Volcker's assertion that George Galloway received oil allocations of 18 million barrels appears to have a flaw (report 28 October). Mr Volcker fails to explain how or where Mr Galloway could hide, by today's value, over $1 billion.



Right-wing chimps

Sir: Having read the article about chimpanzees having no interest in performing "good deeds" (27 October), I gather that those US scientists conducting the study failed to disclose that the apes in question were card-carrying Republicans.



Not so impartial science

Sir: Unfortunately for Michael O'Hare (letter, 27 October), his faith in science is rather undermined by the demise of the independent scientist. Science in the private sector may not be quite as "rigorous and impartial" as he would like to think: witness the scandal of selective results in the pharmaceutical industry.



Irresponsible call

Sir: Darren McLeod's description of the fearful responsibility borne by armed police officers should be noted (letter, 24 October). In all the reports and comment on the shooting of Harry Stanley, I have seen little mention of the part played by the alarmist who alerted the police to what he or she described as a sawn-off shotgun, concealed in a sack. The police usually act responsibly. The public should also try to do so.



Inca miracle

Sir: Janet Suzman (The 5-Minute Interview, 27 October) must have been surprised indeed: "I found out I was pregnant at the top of an Inca ruin in Mexico". How were the Inca ruins transported from Peru to Mexico?