Letters: Guppy on Iran

Iran: no ladettes, but how much real freedom?
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The Independent Online

Darius Guppy has got to be joking (opinion piece, 8 August). While a certain corrective is in order about much-misunderstood Iran, he goes way over the top.

When we were in Iran recently we did indeed encounter a proud and ancient culture, a friendly people willing to engage in informed discussion, and who had an admirable joie de vivre and a strong love of poetry. And on the first evening after our return to London we heard something I hadn't heard in my month away: drunken shouting in the street outside our flat. "Welcome back to the UK!" we joked.

But what Guppy fails to acknowledge is the high cost of the social cohesion Iran seemingly exhibits. It executes, often publicly, more people per capita than almost any other nation. No one could fail to be horrified by the story of the young woman dragged to the gallows recently screaming for her mother on her mobile phone. It bans alcohol yet has an appalling heroin problem. It is stiflingly conformist on so many levels.

The middle classes are desperate for change. Politics and the media, whilst free by Middle East standards, are circumscribed by unaccountable theocrats. Even if the election was fair (and what evidence does Guppy have for this claim?) it is hardly surprising that one day Iran would find itself in turmoil.

Real freedom may be messier and maybe even uglier, and we must put up with with tawdry celebrity culture, ladettes and knife crime. But the vast bulk of people in Britain are decent, quiet and basically honest – just like Iranians. We can do without homilies from this convicted swindler about our "moral poison".

John Clinch

London EC2

As someone who has been to Iran, let me support the general position of Darius Guppy. It is a very friendly country. There are fewer signs of police or security forces than in the UK. Last year at least it seemed a very relaxed country. With its millennia of civilisation, the Iranians are naturally a very proud nation. The tenets of its Shia religion are impressive and clearly the majority of the population are devout.

There has been no evidence that the election in June was in any way fraudulent. There has been no evidence that Iran intends to produce a nuclear bomb.

The problem for Iran, as for many countries, is that its fine educational system is producing an articulate and confident generation too highly qualified for the jobs available. This is especially acute for young women. How do you reconcile a huge conservative majority in a country with a growing minority holding radically different ideas? It is not at all easy and, by taking the side of the minority, the west exacerbates the difficulties.

Iran's history, its faith, its expertise in various fields, and indeed its sheer size, mean that it unlikely to kow-tow to any outside force. Perhaps it is too relaxed about the threats it faces and should spend some time cultivating its image.

Keith Tunstall

Bletchingley, Surrey

Education fit for the British elite

It is being asked why most state schools don't encourage their best pupils to go to Oxbridge (Dominic Lawson, 11 August). Simple: no one likes the product. Oxbridge delivers damaged goods. State school teachers went to proper universities and understand the truth. Private school teachers went to Oxbridge and do not know any better.

Who wants to be like the Blairs, Cameron or Stephen Fry? I will be accused of envy – don't you believe it. I have done just fine for myself, given the little talent that I have, with my degree from elsewhere; and some of my contemporaries have done exceptionally well. We did not need the "club".

Close Oxbridge, release our education system to educate people properly, not merely get them into Oxbridge, and the sound of relief and new vitality will be heard on the moon.

Mike Bell

Leeds

As someone who failed the 11-plus and attended a secondary modern school in the 1950s, may I make some points in the debate concerning grammar and comprehensive schools?

The 11-plus was a competitive examination, so attending a grammar school, as G Mottram (letter, 6 August) indicates, meant you were lucky. It was dependent on the number of places available in your area. My final junior school report stated "On this basis, Michael should be going to a grammar school". There were insufficient places available.

You were indeed made to feel a failure. My own junior school had a special presentation to those who passed the 11 plus.

After secondary modern, I attended college finished with five O-levels, one grade B A-level, ONC & HNC Business Studies, and graduate membership of the Institute of Export. I often wonder what I would have obtained if I had attended the "better" grammar schools.

My two children attended the local comprehensive school. My son obtained a degree at Cambridge, and my daughter obtained a Bsc at a local university. The dividing of children at 11 did not allow a large number of children to realise their full potential, which was detrimental to the country.

Michael Kolmar

Dinas Powys, Vale of Glamorgan

Long battle to curb barbarity of war

Today (12 August) marks the 60th anniversary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. This universally adopted body of law contains some of the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war. But in these uncertain times, can rules drafted on the basis of the conflicts of yesteryear still be relevant?

From Pakistan to Sri Lanka, and from Gaza to Afghanistan, conflict today often tops the news. We read of numbers killed, people displaced and families separated. Clearly, no two conflicts are the same. However, for those the Geneva Conventions seek to protect, there is a commonality: the persistent suffering of civilians caught up in conflicts and the urgent need for the protection and assistance of those not, or no longer, fighting.

From September, international humanitarian law will be on the secondary level curriculum in England and will feature in GCSE exams. Thousands of miles away, in a schoolroom in Uganda, Red Cross volunteers will be teaching these same messages. There, the children will be listening against the backdrop of a 20-year bloody and brutal civil war, in which some of them may have themselves have been fighters.

Across the world, and around the corner, we must continue to engage every new generation with the importance of international humanitarian law. Hundreds of thousands of people world-wide rely on the observance of the Geneva Conventions to limit their suffering during armed conflict. We at the British Red Cross have a duty to communicate their importance. But respecting them is everyone's responsibility.

Sir Nick Young

CEO, British Red Cross

London EC2

Media scares over swine flu

Not only on tabloid front pages, but also in special red ink highlighter in The Independent (10 August), am I told that "the age of some staff at National Pandemic Flu Service centres, many of whom have little training, is 16". The implication is that older people would somehow be wiser in judgment on medical issues.

The NPFS call centres simply take the caller through an algorithm of questions to determine whether Tamiflu is appropriate. The internet site does the same job, with the same algorithm, and similarly makes no judgement.

Age is irrelevant, so why should the age of the staff make the headline? The staff need only be able to read questions and take the caller through the process based on binary answers.

Why would the staff have medical training? The internet site has no medical training. The whole purpose of the NPFS was to avoid GPs and hospitals being swamped by hysteria.

Despite the clear likelihood of some abuse of the system, it was clearly deemed the lesser of evils. The sensational but ultimately irrelevant headlines bring attention to the stories of false claims and abuse, and will no doubt produce an increase in the "stockpile just in case" mentality. Media scare feeds public anxiety, which feeds media scare . . . on it goes.

Neil Dacey

London SW1

Barmy decisions on the field

After all the recent letters to your newspaper about the raucous behaviour of the Barmy Army, the ECB seems to have found the perfect antidote already; refuse to play England's most inspirational player and then watch as most of the remaining batsmen get out playing village-green shots, ensuring England gets thumped in a game completed within less than half the allotted time.

Richard Millett

London NW4

In attempting to defend the antics of non-cricket fans at Test matches, Sarah Fairbairn (letter, 6 August) gives the game away when she says: "Attending live cricket matches is about so much more than the cricket itself."

Not so. Going to cricket is about watching the match, not having a noisy party which ruins the enjoyment of those who are there to watch the match. If you take Ms Fairbairn's view of cricket, which is clearly that unless a wicket is taken or someone smashes a six, then "not a lot is happening in the middle", you should stick to Twenty20 and leave Test matches to those who enjoy them.

Martin Sullivan

Birmingham

It was "funny weather" that dampened the Ashes. Cricket, as other outdoor sports, has everything to lose, as climate chaos plays out. Will sports fans join the global team demanding climate leadership?

Dave Hampton

Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Perhaps Harriet Harman missed the mark about more women in government. Isn't it in the cricket team that women are needed, after their victories this year?

Christina Carr

Croydon, Surrey

Leave methane where it is

I was deeply shocked to see someone seriously advocate the exploitation of deep oceanic methyl hydrate deposits (letters, 5 August). I don't know what planet Professor Ross has been living on recently, but someone should tell him about the warming of this one and its effect on climate and sea level.

I hope (and pray) that all interference with this material will be banned under international law very soon. The consequences of releasing even a tiny proportion of the methane locked up therein would multiply the present threat 100-fold. Even its conversion (through combustion) to mere carbon dioxide would add to our woes greatly.

Dr Ian East

Islip, Oxfordshire

Outrage over Baby P

I hope the media will not be "outraged" by the eventual bill for police protection and/or change of identity for the couple in the Baby P case. Or would the media think it acceptable for them to be "dealt with" by the lynch mob?

Bill Boyd

London SW16

Southend memories

Southend in the 1960s had no similarity whatever to current tourist resorts in Greece (letter, 11 August). Although the huge influx of family parties to "see the lights" pre- and post-war had tailed off, the busy seafront in season remained a reasonably safe holiday environment. One or two incursions by Mods and Rockers (who had no similarity at all to today's Britons in Greece) were swiftly dealt with by the then independent Southend Police.

Derek J Cole

St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex

Reasons to invade

Michael Gove (You Ask the Questions, 10 August) is guilty of justifying the American-British invasion of Iraq by invoking the threat from al-Qa'ida. They only became a potent force in Iraq after the invasion, as a direct result of the anarchy that ensued: virtual civil war between Shia and Sunni, the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and the ruin of the Iraqi Christian community. He has followed Tony Blair in shifting, as a reason for invasion, from weapons of mass destruction to regime change to opposing al-Qa'ida.

R J Moffett

Sheffield

Mandelson menace

Can you please stop printing this nonsense about Mandelson running the country. There is not a shred of evidence that he has done anything of the sort, and letting us all know that he is simultaneously governing us while holidaying only reinforces the image of a saurian sycophant. I have quite enough to give me sleepless nights without the frightful notion of PM as PM.

Professor Barbara K Pierscionek

Coleraine, Co Londonderry



With all the media speculation about who is governing the country, could I point out that I too, like Peter Mandelson, haven't been elected? I've been made redundant twice, love Corfu and have delusions of grandeur. I feel that I have the necessary qualifications.

Sarah Pegg

Seaford, east Sussex

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