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Thursday 8 January 2009
Letters: Gaza invasion
Why we care about Israeli inhumanities
Jack Cohen of Israel (letter, 5 January) should be reassured that most people do not "support Hamas" in the way that he implies. It is more that we do not want to see a blitzkrieg unleashed on a largely innocent civilian population. Nor do most people think Israel the worst regime in the world; there are worse in Africa and Asia. What we abhor is that, rather as in apartheid South Africa, the inhumanities are being perpetrated by people who claim to have the same values as us.
As in the case of South Africa, it is worth objecting because we hope the supposedly like-minded people may start to take notice. If they do not then, again as with South Africa, other sanctions could be introduced. At present Israel enjoys most favoured nation, zero tariff status with Europe; most nations do not get these terms, so why should Israel?
The manner in which Israel keeps on enlarging its colonies in the West Bank week in week out suggests that it may not really want peace, but just to keep the Palestinians divided and in primitive conditions until it has colonised all of their best land.
Britain has a long history of enduring terrorism. It reacted with force against Israeli terrorists and lost. It tried repression against the Irish ones and was bleeding before swallowing its pride and negotiating with people who would not humbly make all the concessions in advance. If Israel really wants peace rather than land then it will eventually have to travel the same route.
South Warnborough, Hampshire
I too am dismayed by Israel's assault on Gaza, but there is something disproportionate, facile and frankly obscene about Tony Cheney comparison (letter, 3 January) of Israel's attack to Nazi reprisals on Lidice, Oradour and the Warsaw ghetto.
At Lidice 192 men and boys were shot in groups of ten: the women and children were dispatched to camps where 60 women died and 81 children were exterminated in gas vans. At Oradour 642 men, women and children were killed in one day's bloodbath. In the Warsaw ghetto over 350,000 were killed.
And it's not just the numbers but the aims of these ghastly events that so distinguish them. The Nazis intended to rid the world of Jews. No one can believe Israel wants the blood of innocent men, women and children on its hands. How would this serve its founding and ultimate dream – to live in peace with its neighbours? I grieve for the Palestinians, and for the Israelis.
Lawyers to blame for claims cowboys
I am a solicitor who specialises in claims against other solicitors, and your-front page lead on 1 January about "no win, no fee cowboys" is timely, but I think you let the authorities off the hook too easily.
These bandit companies could never even get started were it not for the co-operation of corrupt lawyers to whom they can pass claims in return for backhanders. It used to be the rule, until only very recently, that solicitors were barred from buying work in this way. But the rule was widely ignored. The Law Society, which is supposed to enforce the rules, ignored it. As a result the rule got ignored even more, and more and more honest lawyers felt they had no choice but to compete or go out of business.
Eventually when the Law Society did turn its attention to it, it was to lift the ban, on the grounds that by then everybody was doing it anyway. But many of us were not doing it, and in a ballot of the whole profession we voted the change down and insisted the ban be reinstated. The Law Society has ignored that vote.
Many good solicitors could see what was coming and stories such as yours provide us with vindication at long last. But please do not just aim at the rogues. Save some fire for the people in high office whose job is supposed to be to defend high professional standards.
Compensation claims companies exist for a number of reasons. Solicitors remain relative newcomers to the world of marketing and advertising. The public perceive solicitors as unapproachable, stuffy, old-fashioned and expensive, whereas claims management companies are not.
Solicitors are permitted to pay "referral fees" to the claim management companies, and continue to pay ever increasing sums to them, and the public prefer to have claims "sold" by these organisations rather than seeking truly independent specialist legal advice from solicitors, preferably from those who are members of the highly respected Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. As long as that is the case, the tales of woe contained in your article will continue to be repeated.
Insurance companies are not without guilt in this whole sorry saga either. They feverishly employ their practice of "third party capture", selling injured persons' details to law firms, or worse still siphoning claims through their own legal teams, which leave innocent victims bereft of truly independent advice.
The public have it within their power to remove claims management companies, and insurance company sharp practice, from the claims process completely, but only by voting with their feet and going direct.
Solicitor and Senior Litigator member of A.P.I.L. York
Price of speaking out in the Gambia
The Gambia's President, Yahya Jammeh, wants all homosexuals beheaded and believes that the smearing of herbs on the body, combined with a diet of bananas, is a cure for Aids. Opposition activists are detained without trial and many army officers, suspected of plotting coups, finish their careers as prisoners in the county's hell-hole jails. The President does not tolerate criticism and the Gambia, as a Muslim country, does not tolerate criticism of Islam.
I have little sympathy for the two missionaries, David and Fiona Fulton, sentenced to one year's hard labour for remarks about Mr Jammeh in an email (report, 31 December). To have voiced their opinions in such a way, especially after living in the country for several years, was foolish to say the least. They must also have been aware that the UK has an abysmal record for helping citizens in trouble abroad.
Personally, I cannot understand why any non-Muslim would want to work or take a holiday in the Gambia. Their tourism industry is like a Hollywood film set – a façade hiding the bleakness behind – with corruption and brutality as the norm. Drunken and rowdy holidaymakers are merely tolerated for the much-needed boost they give to the economy, but criticism of their paranoid President is a blatantly obvious no-no.
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Health benefits for folk who dance
How sad that in her otherwise excellent article on the benefits of dancing ("Happy Feet", 30 December) Rebecca Hardy did not even mention traditional English dancing, which is not only extremely good for you but enormously enjoyable. It gives all the physical benefits mentioned by Dr Peter Mace of Bupa Wellcare, and in addition there are psychological benefits from the enjoyment of moving in harmony with the splendid tunes and combining with a group of like-minded people.
If you want to have a try, folk dance clubs across the country will be glad to welcome you, whatever your age or ethnic background. You don't need to bring a partner; if you do, you will probably be separated because you learn the moves better if you are partnered by someone with experience. Anyone persuaded by Ms Hardy's article to give dancing a go should most certainly consider English folk-dancing as one of the leading options.
Adrian West, Gillian West
To the gloom of Gaza and the financial doom of the world is now added the possible "extinction" of Morris dancing (report, 6 January). Surely an enterprising TV company could cheer up our Saturday evenings with a series Strictly Come Folk Dancing and include the Morris style.
East Grinstead, West Sussex
Case for the euro becomes stronger
You are right to call for renewed debate on Britain adopting the euro ("Ten years on, Europe's single currency is vindicated", 31 December). The issue has obvious economic salience during a recession in which the decline of sterling brings rising inflation and energy costs. But euro membership remains above all a political issue.
The self-styled Eurosceptics would rather see the pound decline to the point of ruination than adopt the euro. They will never be convinced of the merits of the single currency or of the EU. But it ought to be possible to persuade the Government and the public that European engagement is in Britain's political interests.
Committed membership of the EU entails adopting the euro, pushing for a stronger European defence identity in support of peacekeeping and humanitarian interventions, and driving forward the institutional reforms envisaged in the Lisbon Treaty. The Union can play a leading role in shaping a response to global issues such as climate change, energy and human security. To make a full contribution, Britain must be free of the Cold War mindset that privileges American preferences over those of our European neighbours, often with disastrous consequences, as witnessed in Iraq and in the ideological obsession with free-market capitalism.
With a drip-feed of negativity since joining the Community and a succession of spineless governments pandering to a hostile media, there has been little prospect of countering widespread hostility towards the EU. Let us hope that the global recession and sterling parity with the euro mark a watershed.
York St John University
Keynesian? No, we're just practical
I enjoyed Steve Richards's assessment of the supposedly pragmatic response of the Government to the recession. The Prime Minister had asserted that "this is not a debate between Keynesians and monetarists", while the "Chancellor also made clear that the Government had not become disciples of Keynes or of anyone else."
Bells rang. So I went back to my copy of Keynes's General Theory to find, underlined by me but unread in over 30 years: "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."
Water for sale
After searching in vain for a water fountain at Gatwick airport (letter, 6 January), I was told that they had been replaced by dispensers selling bottled water. The alternative offered was to use the taps in the public toilets. None was marked as suitable for drinking. I solved the problem by refilling my bottle courtesy of staff at Wetherspoons.
It is no mistake that Mike Wood's Chinese wife is being set history questions not taught in schools (letters, 2 January); it is Labour's master-plan for winning the next election: just before it is called, they will unveil a plan to give the test to obstreperous 14-year-olds; those who fail will be deported. Ignore the opinion polls, and prepare for another Labour landslide!
The Rev Peter Mott
Keighley, West Yorkshire
Your article on the restoration of Liverpool's mosque (2 January) made me wonder whether the Shah Jehan Mosque here in Woking was not a few weeks older. It was built by Dr Gottlieb Leitner in order that the students at his nearby Oriental Institute might have a place to worship and was opened in either October or November 1889. The mosque was closed between 1899 and 1912, but has been a functioning and flourishing mosque since then. It now serves the Muslim population of Woking and is a very lovely building.
Evidence for God
Maurice Hill declares that evolution undercuts "the truth of the Bible, which is the only 'evidence' for the existence of God" (letter, 3 January). Theism has historically appealed to a variety of arguments, such as the need for a first cause, the beauty of nature and moments of mystical revelation. Many may find these unconvincing, but to ignore that religion is a complex phenomenon makes its opponents look lazy.
Yo, ho, who?
"Pirates have never been quite who we think they are," says Johann Hari (Opinion, 5 January). Quite so, and certainly not the "savage Bluebeard" of the next sentence. Bluebeard was a fictitious Eastern serial wife-killer in a French 17th-century fairy tale. Captain Edward Teach (alias Blackbeard, d. 1718) I presume?
Pieter van der Merwe
National Maritime Museum
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