Letters: Funny foreigners

The funny foreigners begin at the Gare du Nord

Related Topics

Dominic Lawson is quite right: the British do regard the European mainland as a foreign place ("Europe will always be a foreign land for the British", 24 November).

The Gare du Nord in Paris is a good example of this. From the Gare du Nord you can get a train to Germany, to Belgium, to the Netherlands, with onward connections to the rest of northern Europe. All these trains leave from perfectly ordinary platforms, and stop at ordinary stations on their way.

You can also get the Eurostar to London: but the platform from which it leaves is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, and you have to go through a passport check and a security check before you are allowed anywhere near a train.

It's not hard to establish why this is. It is because we are continually brainwashed by the media into believing that the United States is a close neighbour next door, whose people are just like us really; whereas the people across the Channel are funny foreigners whose languages we can't understand. They are quite convenient for a quick visit to stock up on wine and cheese or to top up the suntan: but that's about it.

This is true not only of all the TV channels and the red-top papers, but also of supposedly intelligent newspapers like The Independent. Almost every day you publish a couple of double-page spreads of American trivia, treated in some depth; but rarely anything similar about any European country, unless it includes the names Sarkozy, Berlusconi or Merkel. What about some articles about real life?

John Williams

West Wittering, West Sussex

Dominic Lawson is wrong when he claims that Europe will always be a foreign land for the British. What he really means is the English. The Celtic nations have a very positive view of Europe and see it as no threat whatsoever. Indeed Ireland has always viewed Europe as a vital advocate against oppressive Protestant England over the centuries.

Paul Morrison

Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Iraq: the crime of ignorance

There are many questions to be asked at the Iraq inquiry, in addition to the obvious one about whether the invasion was a war crime. There are many different ethnic groups in Iraq. Many of these groups are bitter enemies.

Armenians were murdered by the Turks two generations ago; Turks were brutally murdered in Iraq by the Kurds in the 1960s; Kurds in Iraq were murdered by Arabs in the 1980s; Shias were murdered by Sunnis more recently. Baathists were killed by the Communists in the 1960s and then Communists were killed by the Baathists.

All of this was common knowledge. If the Government was unaware of this, they are guilty of the crime of taking the country to war without bothering to find out the background. The question must be asked: "What preparations were made to control the hornet's nest that would inevitably be stirred up by an invasion?" If, as seems likely, no preparations were made, then surely this is yet another war crime. Why did our government allow such lawlessness, looting, kidnapping and murders in a country whose law and order they had destroyed and were now responsible for?

John Pooler

Garstang, Lancashire

It was photographs from Abu Ghraib that helped to expose US abuse in Baghdad, and photos may yet prove important in establishing how British forces conducted themselves in southern Iraq ("Bound and blindfolded: did UK troops break the laws of war?", 24 November).

The point, though, is not just whether a handful of photographs prove abuse in some instances. Far more important is the need to establish the complete scope of the UK's part in human rights violations committed in Iraq and the "war on terror" – meaning also Afghanistan, Pakistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Neither the Chilcot nor "Al Sweady" inquiries look likely to achieve this, which is why we still need a fully independent and overarching investigation into the conduct of British forces, the intelligence services and other officials during the post-9/11 period.

Kate Allen

Director, Amnesty International UK; London EC2

I refuse to be shocked by the pictures of prisoners in Iraq that you published on 14 November, and allusions to the Geneva Convention. When did Saddam Hussein sign this convention?

From what I see the treatment was of the standard our own troops are trained to expect if captured themselves during training exercises. This was after all a wartime scenario, and they must have felt under threat.

I will join in the hue and cry when I see a video or picture of a masked British soldier hacking the head off some helpless prisoner.

R M Davies


Free content on the web

Your report on charging for newspapers' online content (24 November) did not mention what for many internet users is the key difference between a paper's print and web editions, namely the ability for readers to comment on online articles, and to debate with other online readers.

Not only are the threads following an article often more informative and entertaining than the article itself; the act of writing a response to a piece, positively or negatively, is a unique enhancement of the newspaper-consuming experience. Creating a pay wall for content would diminish this vital interactive process, as there would be vastly fewer online readers.

I predict that the websites which allow the easiest and most open access for the greatest number of users to be able to comment and interact will be the ones left standing when the dust settles. The Times would seem to be heading in the wrong direction.

Callum Campbell

London W4

Andrew Neil, erstwhile editor of The Sunday Times, and "evangelist for putting print journalism on the web for free" tells us that "As an industry we took a huge wrong turn. We had been told that if we got the eyeballs . . . the money would follow. Well . . . the money hasn't followed".

I'd like it put on record that the "industry" did not get it wrong. From the outset the National Union of Journalists, of which I am a member, had very strong reservations over whether free print content on newspaper websites would be profitable. Indeed, I recall many of us saying at the time (and I paraphrase): "That sounds completely bonkers." Nothing in the intervening years has changed my mind.

So, just for the record, only a small part of "the industry" got it wrong – that part that has eyes greedier than its belly.

Michael O'Hare

Northwood, Middlesex

Will Congo see a better tomorrow?

Daniel Howden's article "Spirit of the past inspires Congo campaign" (19 November) is a stark reminder that the times we live in are not very different from the Victorian era.

Then, the greed of uncontrolled imperial capitalism, through the use of corrupt agents and under the guise of an anti-slavery campaign, caused the deaths of millions in the Congo.

Today it is the same greed and unchallenged capitalism which is allowing an ongoing holocaust, and this time through corrupt proxy armies who exploit the riches of that unfortunate land, overseen by a useless United Nations who do not seem to be any better than in the 1960s.

Africans have a long memory. Today's exploiters, be they from the West or East, are building up a generation of resentful Congolese (there are tens of thousands of refugees in South Africa alone) who will remember.

We Belgians paid dearly in 1960 for what Leopold II and colonial rule did. I hope the activists are successful in their campaign because, to date, nothing has changed much in central Africa where for many "today is better than tomorrow", as my Congolese aunt said to me last year.

Raymond Van den Brandt

Farnham, Surrey

Social benefit from GM crops

How right you are to recognise that "the prospect of a hungry world looms" (editorial, 19 November). So why do you continue to use biased and emotive words?

Your news pages reported without prejudice the views of the Chief Scientific Adviser for Defra, Professor Robert Watson, where he now views GM crops as having a role to play in preventing word hunger. Your editorial then proceeds to praise potential GM advances if they were to produce drought resistant strains in the third world or other "socially beneficial innovations", while referring to GM for our European circumstances as products "that allow farmers to soak the land in chemicals".

Nothing could be further from the truth. In truth a single efficacious use of a product to control weeds not only allows farmers to use less herbicide but also to use that herbicide to manage some environmental aspects of its use. For instance weeds could be allowed to grow and produce nectar and seeds for wildlife but then later be controlled before crop yield is compromised.

Furthermore if crops can be grown ever more cost effectively any obscene profit margin is very quickly removed from producers and the benefit passed on to consumers. The fact that society spent over 30 per cent of disposable income on food in the immediate post-war era and today spends only around 10 per cent could be called a "socially beneficial innovation".

Martin Jenkins

Dry Drayton, Cambridgeshire

The perils of a simple name

Unlike your many correspondents, I have never, strangely enough, had any problems with people spelling or pronouncing my name. On the other hand, they don't suffer the arch looks and condescension my wife and I often receive in hotels and guesthouses.

Worse by far, when I was teaching in Libya at the time of the revolution some 40 years ago, I found myself repeatedly arrested and interrogated by the secret police, who seemed convinced that I was a British spy.

The evidence against me, it was finally revealed, was my name. You say your name is Smith, I was told with a sneer. We know that Smith is not a real name. It is the name British people use to hide their real name.

I think I finally managed to convince them of my innocence, but I was then abruptly expelled from the country anyway.

You people with unusual names should think yourselves lucky.

Bernard Smith

Hailsham, East Sussex


Way over the top

We used to have Conservative, Labour and Liberal Parties, then Tony Blair came along with New Labour, billed as the Third Way. It seems we now have David Cameron with the Red Tory party ("The rise and rise of Cameron's philosopher king", 25 November). Is this the Fourth Way?

Nick Bell


Poetic politicos

"Who ever heard of a politician interested in poetry?" asks June Helen Rogers (letter, 23 November). Well, several who spring to mind are Leopold Senghor, the first president of Senegal, former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and – perhaps showing that it is not necessarily proof of good character – China's Chairman Mao.

Jonathan Wallace

Newcastle upon Tyne

Inconvenient truth

Some years ago there was a proposal that a redundant oil rig should be sunk, rather than towed to land for dismantling, as at the depths to which it would sink there was no possibility of the existence of any life. Bearing in mind your article "Marine marvels found in the deep" (22 November), is it just possible that the "bloody-minded eco-warriors", as they were patronisingly described at the time by (financially) interested parties, were not quite so far off the beam as they were portrayed?

Godfrey Hill


Warm and generous

While fully supporting the outrage expressed in your editorial "The chilling price of the great energy rip-off" (25 November), may I suggest a small practical way in which readers could help vulnerable elderly people this winter? I am sure that I am not alone in having been given a winter fuel allowance that is not necessary, given my income. If a few thousand of your readers in a similar position were to pass on this allowance to charitable organisations helping the elderly it would help to alleviate much hardship and might even save lives.

Peter Draper

Meldreth, Cambridgeshire

Mystery fruit

As much as I admired the Roman painting "Still Life with Peaches" (Great Works, 20 November), the fruit and the leaves looked very much like the black walnuts on the tree at the bottom of our garden.

Malcolm Haxby

London W4

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards

Costa Rica’s wildlife makes me mourn our paradise lost

Michael McCarthy
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence