Letters: Government powers

Our feeble safeguards against governments that desire power
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Sir: Henry Porter is to be congratulated on his article "We're all suspects now" (Extra, 19 October). The nightmarish situation we now find ourselves in is of course the result of the practically non-existent restraints on government in this country and could be seen coming for the last 30 years or more. Labour must bear as heavy a burden of guilt as the Conservatives for this feebleness of our institutions and safeguards; after all, they both want unlimited power.

Where I have to query Henry Porter is over his proposed responses. An audit of liberties? A commission? Who will do it, and who will take any notice of the outcome? Certainly not the Home Office on either count. Pester MPs? But he himself admits that a majority of them are part of the problem. More have no interest in such matters; and most have safe seats. So, if we are not to be the "co-creators" of an ever more monstrous society - what next?



Sir: Henry Porter's article was thought-provoking but not wholly convincing. If there is no threat to the people of this country, then we need no security measures; 9/11 and 7/7 suggest that there is a threat. If I were a parent, I think I would worry less about my children being subject to state surveillance than about them falling victim to terrorism or random crime.

Mr Blair may know more about me than Mrs Thatcher did, but cannot think of a single activity I indulge in which has been proscribed by Mr Blair's laws. So the Government knows when I drive to the shops or visit relatives - so what?

If I have an argument with "law and order government" it is that ministers talk tough about cracking down on terrorists and criminals, but seem to fail to put up the resources their promises (threats, if you prefer) require. What kind of police state is it that has so few policemen in it?



Sir: When someone asks me how it was that the Nazis prospered in the 1930s and why didn't right-thinking German people do something about it, I suggest they should reflect upon our acceptance of the increasing power of the state introduced here since 1997.

Then it was the Treaty of Versailles; now we have Islamic fanaticism.



Don't blame satirists for Blair's plight

Sir: I fear I detect a note of special pleading in Steve Richards' attack on satire ("And now for something exactly the same: cheap laughs at the expense of politicians", 19 October). The satirists of the early 1960s he approves of, but not today's lot. Could this be because Peter Cook and his friends made their name attacking a Conservative establishment, whereas Bremner, Bird and Fortune have the New Labour establishment in their sights?

A lot of what they do is purely factual; for example, they have set the Iraq conflict in its historical context on more than one occasion, and in doing so have exposed the fatuity of the Blair-Bush position. Of all mainstream media, perhaps only The Independent has done this as well.

A cynic is a disappointed idealist. Given the wave of goodwill on which Blair surfed into Downing Street in 1997, and what has happened since, you can't blame the satirists. Spin, unwillingness to answer any questions directly and, above all, the "war on terror" and Blair's relationship with Bush are what have made New Labour such easy targets.

Don't blame the satirists for public disdain and apathy; this is something the Government achieved on its own. Indeed, in most ways they are beyond satire.



Sir: Steve Richards says voters "lazily assume that politicians are liars and fools". In recent years plenty of politicians have been shown to have acted in ways that could fairly be described as foolish, and have had to resign as a result. More than one leading politician has been proven to have lied on oath in a court of law, and been jailed for perjury.

Mr Richards seems to be of the view that satirists and comedians are largely to blame for the declining interest in politics. It is more likely that people are not only lacking the respect they had for politicians in the days when the truth was more easily concealed but are also disillusioned with our pathetic electoral system that allows a party which has the votes of 22 per cent of the electorate to form a government with a comfortable majority, and that after having led us into a disastrous war by misleading Parliament and people.

If Mr Richards wants to defend the indefensible that's up to him but please don't blame comedians for the antics of those in government.



Sir: Rory Bremner may not be quite as funny as he used to be, but his unstinting and principled opposition to the tragic disaster that is the war in Iraq fulfils a vital function that all too many of the mainstream media have shamefully failed to perform.

That Tony Blair launched a war, based on lies and false information, that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent human beings and that week after week at his press conferences journalists such as Mr Richards cravenly fail to hold him to account is a grotesque betrayal.

It is quite beyond belief that Blair is still in power. Worse still, that he can continue, disgracefully, his attempts to defend this madness without being challenged with rage and indignation is a source of enormous frustration to me and, I am sure, millions of others who opposed this appalling folly from the very start.

Many of us would like to see him pursued all the way to the International Criminal Court to face proper judgement for his crimes.



Sir: While I enjoy Marks Steel's column, I think that Steve Richards is beginning to surpass him in effortless satire. I loved his line that modern comedians encourage people "to conclude thoughtlessly that Britain is ruled by a bunch of out-of-touch liars". The sad fact is that many of us have come to the same conclusion after a great deal of thought.



'Charms' hidden behind the veil

Sir: I may have missed something here, but could someone explain to me how the Government's dreaded I D card scheme is going to work when it comes to women wearing veils?

There are, however, far more important questions. Surrounded by people from many different cultural backgrounds, how can a veiled woman reciprocate when shown the kindness of a stranger's smile? How can a veiled woman experience a feeling of mutual attraction with a man of her choosing, and enter into a loving relationship with that person?

Luckily, Ms Hamna Ahmad (Letters, 20 October) comes to my rescue on this one. Apparently, the veil has less to do with obligations set out in the Koran and more to do with maintaining fidelity in Muslim societies. These troublesome women need to learn that they must stay with husbands, whom they clearly can't have chosen themselves, and not risk being "charmed" by someone else. How wonderfully liberating.



Sir: I would like to ask Hamna Ahmad if hiding female charms from those who might tempt her away from her family is the price of marital harmony. Why do Muslim men not have to cover their "charms'? They seem to be free to show off their smiles and their neat beards with impunity. Sorry, but that argument does not hold up. This is why the feminist movement fought for equality.



Sir: Most religions have a moral code, which their followers keep by not giving in to their base instincts and desires.

Hamna Ahmad seems to believe that men are so weak and lustful they will inevitably fall for a woman's smile and, therefore, a woman flaunting her face is responsible for male misbehaviour. But most contact between men and women is enlivened by a little flirtatiousness, which is completely harmless, but quite enjoyable; and if men cannot cope with this they should not be at large in the community.



Sir: Since Jack Straw started the debate on the niqab, we have had many Muslims telling us that the veil is not a tool for separation and segregation from the wider community. But finally, we have an admission. Hamna Ahmad, says that a woman in a niqab is not a mere shadow; she has family and friends who know and appreciate her. "They are the only people she is concerned with and who should be concerned with her." So Jack Straw was right all along.



Sir: To put Hamna Ahmad's lengthy justification more succinctly, the veil is her peripatetic ghetto.



How can Madonna adoption be wrong?

Sir: I have followed with interest the story of Madonna's adoption of an African baby. My daughter and son-in-law are missionaries in South Africa. They have set up a charity which raises part of its funds through child sponsorship. This helps towards food, clothing and schooling of children orphaned mainly through HIV/Aids. They have been given land on which to build homes for these orphans to live in with house parents.

Last January they adopted Joseph, whom they met at an orphanage; he had been abandoned on a railway station at birth. He is Zulu by heritage and we are a white British family. He is being brought up in his own cultural environment. However I see no reason why if need be he should not be brought up in our culture.

My question to those who criticise Madonna for what she has done is: when is it ever wrong to give a loving family home to a child who doesn't have one, not only helping that child but freeing up a bed for the next child, and there will always be a next child?

Perhaps those who have the time to criticise could put it to better use researching the poverty and desperation of the people living in these African countries where the child orphan rate is so high, and finding out what they can do personally to help.



Language that fuels the fear of cancers

Sir: The headline on Christina Patterson's article (20 October) declares: "Cancer is a disease, not a metaphor." It may not be a metaphor; but it is a word that excites fear, often without reason, as cancer is not a disease, but a vast range of conditions, which differ in their nature, the manner and speed with which they work, and - in a world of rapidly advancing research - their susceptibility to treatment and cure.

As someone with one of the many lymphomas, that is cancers of the lymph system (mine is low-grade, follicular, non-Hodgins, and has been in remission for seven years since my bout of chemotherapy), I suggest that unnecessary fears might be diffused a little if, when referring to the range of conditions in general, press and broadcasters used the plural "cancers", rather than "cancer"; and if, when reporting a particular case, they would at least refer to it, not as "cancer" but "a cancer," as they are unable to identify, for instance, which of nearly 100 brain tumours was being discussed, or whether a gall-bladder cancer was squamous or adenosquamous and, if the latter, whether it was papillary, non papillary or mucinous, etc.



Chosen pupils

Sir: Your leading article of 19 October talks about you being a secularist newspaper, but supports the "good" education in religious schools. Religious schools select their pupils (and obviously give places to those children who would make them look good), while the local comprehensive takes everybody else. I applaud your concern for good education, but I think you have got the essential detail wrong.



Statues on the beach

Sir: Last week I took a train journey to Liverpool solely to view the Antony Gormley figures on the beach at Crosby. I now learn that this wonderful concept is to be removed on safety grounds (report, 20 October). Surely a warning notice could be erected for those who are not aware that the tide ebbs and flows. To remove this incredible work would be nothing short of vandalism, especially as Liverpool is to be hailed "cultural city".



Cause for shame

Sir: I get rather fed up with your correspondents who declare that they are ashamed to be British. Is this what they really mean? I am not in the least ashamed of being British. Indeed, I have little choice in the matter, due to parentage and birthplace, and find many aspects of British society to be admirable. I am, however, ashamed of Britain and its current government's foreign policies. This is not the same thing.



Darwin in church

Sir: I was delighted to read the letter (18 October) from the head of science at Priory School, expressing pleasure that the lecture "Why Darwinism is right and Creationism is wrong" took place at St Chad's Church. I started an annual Darwin lecture at St Chad's to promote debate about science and religion. However I would point out that St Chad's is an Anglican church, not Catholic (and my wife and I have five lovely children whom we regard both as blessings from God and wonderful and unique products of the evolutionary process).



World of fanatics

Sir: The high birth rate in the USA is not due to optimism (Hamish McRae, 18 October) but religion. Fanatical sects, of which there are many in America, have large families; it's their duty to spread their DNA as well as the "good news". It is understood in rational, secular Europe that the future world will thus be populated by zealots determined to convert each other at the point of a gun, which is why the birth rate here is understandably low. As it doesn't say in the Good Book, "The freaks shall inherit the earth."