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Thursday 26 November 2009
Letters: Funny foreigners
The funny foreigners begin at the Gare du Nord
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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".
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.
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?
"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.
Newcastle upon Tyne
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?
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.
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.
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