Letters: Haj disaster

Haj disaster shows Saudis can't be trusted with Islam's holy sites

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Sir: The horrific deaths of people at the annual pilgrimage to Islam's holy places are truly tragic. Several score pilgrims died at the beginning of the Haj, while several hundred perished at the end. The Saudi government conveniently places the blame on pilgrims for both disasters.

However, during the past 15 years, hardly a year has gone by without some preventable loss of life. It is clear that an inept and corrupt Saudi ruling class should not be assigned the continued task of organising the biggest annual assembly of humanity, because they have repeatedly failed in this sacred duty.

The haramayn (Makkah and Madinah) are the collective patrimony of the worldwide Muslim community and not the exclusive fiefdom of a repressive monarchy. It is time to place Islam's holiest sites under proper international jurisdiction, so they can be run by efficient, elected and responsible administrators. The latest catastrophes make the internationalisation of the haramayn an imperative.

The creation of an independent state (comprising Makkah and Madinah) would bring about better management of the Haj and also consign the writ of extremist Wahhabi ideology to its origins in the primitive Arabian hinterland. The establishment of this new sovereign entity will be liberating for all Muslims.

DR T HARGEY

CHAIRMAN, MUSLIM EDUCATIONAL CENTRE, OXFORD

Is Iran the worst nuclear threat?

Sir: The key issue in the dispute with Iran is not who has nuclear weapons, but who is likely to use them. The 9/11 Commission Report recognised a link between high birth rates, a high ratio of younger to older men, terrorism and political instability. Iranians don't promote the political and religious freedoms we value, but they have given women easy access to contraceptives and voluntary sterilisation and, since 1985, average family size has plummeted from six to two children.

I worry more about Pakistan, which already has nuclear weapons and where the average family size is almost five and unemployment is rife. In Pakistan, only 19 per cent of girls have secondary education, while in Iran there are more women in university than men.

It is difficult to envisage any achievable way of preventing Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, particularly since the invasion of Iraq. But one practical step the West could take to make the world a safer place would be to increase support for international family planning, so that women in countries such as Pakistan could, like Iranian women, have fewer unintended pregnancies.

MALCOLM POTTS

BIXBY PROFESSOR OF POPULATION AND FAMILY PLANNING,UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY, USA

Sir: The recent report that Iran plans to resume research into uranium enrichment has raised fears that the technology could support the building of nuclear weapons and would not be used purely for generation of electricity.

But Iran has enormous quantities of energy falling as sunlight on to its deserts, and "concentrating solar power" is a proven technology for tapping into this vast resource. In one of the simplest variations, an array of mirrors focuses sunlight on to a tank filled with water. This raises steam that can be used to generate electricity. There are techniques for storing solar heat so that generation of electricity can continue right through the night.

Europe and the US could call the bluff of the Iranians by offering to build enough solar power plants in the Iranian desert to supply all the country's needs.

DR GERRY WOLFF

ANGLESEY

Sir: Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has no nuclear weapons, so it's entitled to pursue the development of nuclear power for energy. There is no evidence that Iran is in breach of its obligations under the treaty. Israel is not a signatory to the treaty, has nuclear weapons and is in breach of several UN resolutions.

Who should be reported to the UN Security Council?

B EMMERSON

SELBY, NORTH YORKS

Sir: Anne Penketh writes ("A proud nation surrounded by nuclear states", 13 January) that "Further west lies Israel - Iran's implacable foe - which is estimated to have 200 nuclear bombs". Would it not be nearer the point to say that it is Iran that is Israel's implacable foe?

PHILIP HOROWITZ

LONDON N8

Sir: When Tony Blair considers the nuclear option in the discussion about our energy needs, I do hope he allows Iran the right to comment. It seems only fair, as we obviously have that right in their energy debate.

RICHARD TARLETON

OAKHAM, RUTLAND

Sir: "The white West is to be trusted with nuclear energy, but the brown East isn't. Trust us." Is this what Tony Blair is saying about Iran? If not, why won't he demonstrate how Iran is a clear and present threat?

TARIQ RASHID

LONDON NW2

No protection for trafficked prostitutes

Sir: Mary Dejevsky falls into the trap of confusing trafficking with smuggling ("Not every trafficked prostitute is a naïve victim", 11 January). Traffickers use false promises or violence to lure men, women and children into forced labour and sexual exploitation - all trafficked people end up in slavery. Although there are public awareness campaigns in many eastern European countries warning of the dangers of people trafficking, the traffickers, who are engaged in a very profitable business, remain determined.

Rather than resorting to compassion fatigue, we must make more of what Ms Dejevsky calls "fuss" about this intolerable crime. There is currently no guaranteed protection for trafficked people in the UK, and they are routinely returned home and put at risk of retrafficking. If the UK signed up to the European Convention Against Trafficking, we could at least begin to guarantee protection for victims.

KATE ALLEN, DIRECTOR, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL DAVID OULD, DIRECTOR, ANTI-SLAVERY INTERNATIONAL CHRIS BEDDOE, DIRECTOR, ECPAT UK (END CHILD PROSTITUTION, PORNOGRAPHY & TRAFFICKING) DAVID BULL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, UNICEF UK, LONDON WC2

Sir: Last year I delivered the eulogy at the funeral of a murdered sex worker. This woman's body was found dumped naked at the side of the road, cast aside like a piece of rubbish. She was a grandmother, a mother, a daughter - a human being.

She worked the streets not through choice, but because she had a drug addiction to fund. She preferred to sell the only thing she had left of any value - herself - than rob old women or steal to fund her habit. Yet many people will judge her life without ever having known what a wonderful human being she was; how she had desperately tried to overcome her addiction to drugs, often with little help from services that should have been there to care for her.

Many people forget that these women who work the streets of Britain have suffered the most terrible abuse as children, and they turn to drugs as a way of coping with this trauma and this leads them down the road to prostitution. Yet society continually wants to judge them and condemn them. If we had "zero tolerance" to homelessness, child abuse, poverty and all the other things that exacerbate the issues of prostitution, and start to look at these issues pragmatically instead of taking the moral high ground, we might start to find the solutions. Instead people call for tougher laws that will only further endanger these women and place them further in the shadows.

It is very easy to judge from the comfort of an armchair, by a warm fire and with money in the bank.

LYN MATTHEWS

LIVERPOOL

Sir: In all the words bandied about help for prostitutes, sex traffic and discrimination, there has not been one word about help for wives who learn that their beloved husband has been regularly visiting prostitutes. No word about honour, faithfulness, lies, deceit, marriage vows or possible infection has been printed.

After my husband's death, I was kindly told of his activities and found some very nasty evidence when clearing out clothes and drawers. I was so devastated that I had to have counselling. The counsellor suggested I felt anger, but that was not the word I would use to describe the misery, the let-down, the searching for answers to "why?", the realisation of where money had gone, and whether I was infected.

What good are societies that help prevent marriage breakdown in situations in which wives don't know it has broken down?

NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED

Education ruined by trendy gimmicks

Sir: Surely none of your readers are surprised that one million children attend poorly performing schools. The situation has not come about overnight, and if the country is short of heads and teachers, it need look no further than a succession of ill-advised education ministers and government directives that made their lives hell.

Those of us now enjoying retirement, and who were expected to absorb a succession of progressive ideas and trendy gimmicks, were glad to get out when the time came.

If Tony Blair were to send us into the failing classrooms instead of Ruth Kelly, we could probably have all those kids reading in no time.

IRENE FEARN

INGATESTONE, ESSEX

Not so Gorgeous

Sir: Say what you like about George Galloway's Big Brother experience, he did at least give us one comic gem: hearing a man guilty of complimenting Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein denounce the model Jodie Marsh as "a wicked person".

KEITH GILMOUR

GLASGOW

Happy in debt

Sir: Jeremy Warner suggests a very original formula in economics: what is unsustainable can indeed last, so long as everyone is happy (Outlook, 12 January). So our ever-widening trade gap and escalating debt don't matter so long as Anglo-American consumers are happy borrowing and Asia is happy lending us the money to buy their goods. The snag is that no responsible people are happy about this. The problem is that our economists are all in denial and our governments don't know what to do.

DES MCCONAGHY

LIVERPOOL

Failing men with cancer

Sir: Thank you for mentioning, if only in passing, the plight of men suffering from prostate cancer (" 'Scandal' of failed cancer patients", 12 January). Having seen my parents die of cancer (breast and prostate), I know both are horrible. But I did clearly witness how badly men with this disease are failed by the system and by all those who trivialise it. I am left wondering, if it had been breast rather than prostate cancer in your article, would it have been front page news?

D CARTER

KINOULTON, NOTTS

Is there tea on Mars?

Sir: I have yet to hear a basis for belief in a super-being or in resurrection that is any more rational than the case for the Martian teapot (letter, 13 January). Arguments for immortality and the existence of God tend to be anthropocentric and egocentric rather than "rational": there could be a teapot on Mars because there's one in our kitchen. Maybe we'll all drink tea on Mars after we die, because otherwise what's the point of Mars? Besides, it is written (in The Independent) that there is indeed such a teapot. Personally, I'd expect a nice Italian-style cafetière.

PETER MCKENNA

LIVERPOOL

Lights unfantastic

Sir: Coming from India, a country perpetually energy starved, I am concerned about the waste of energy in the UK. On my way from work, I drive past a huge car dealership, which must have at least 30,000 square feet of space. It is lit up seven days a week, 24 hours a day. This is true of most commercial establishments. A culture of prudence is urgently required.

RAMJI R ABINASHI

AMERSHAM, BUCKS

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