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Tuesday 12 December 2006
Democratic vacuum bodes ill for the integration of migrants
Sir: Does the Prime Minister seriously suppose that "belief in democracy" ("Blair tells immigrants to integrate or stay away", 9 December) is the British value, the god around whom we are all to gather?
Is this, we wonder, the liberal, western democracy over which he has presided for almost 10 years, and which has seen a steady and sure decline in the number of citizens - especially young people - being turned into voters? Or is it the democracy which he has tried to foist on the Iraqi people? Or the kind of democracy in which we celebrate the ability of millions to march on the streets seeking to prevent war but completely ignore what they say?
Before the Prime Minister retires will he realise that the issue of faith most at stake in our contemporary context in no way concerns religion but rather a growing lack of faith in the democratic process?
Until the British people can once again feel able to trust politicians, political parties and the policies they peddle, and until they feel able to engage with the political process, we fear that there is little hope of achieving real integration. You cannot integrate into a democratic vacuum.
LANCASHIRE COUNCIL OF MOSQUES CANON CHRIS CHIVERS BLACKBURN CATHEDRAL
Sir: Tony Blair's argument that if immigrants do not like all British values they should not come to Britain seems fair enough, at face value. Is that a guarantee that British soldiers would not invade other countries, using weapons to change the values and governments of those countries?
In the last 300 years or so, where did the British ever go and willingly accept the values of the natives? I suppose Mr Blair would say that the British had a God-given right to change other people's values.
TONY LA MOTHE
Climate: we need a realistic plan
Sir: The Government's 2003 Energy White Paper called for a 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from housing. This is quite possible, using increased insulation, triple glazing and a few other measures such as ventilation heat recovery. At this level of performance, houses are largely self-heating.
A greater reduction in emissions is harder to achieve because it requires the use of devices such a photovoltaic panels and wind generators. These are expensive, deliver limited and intermittent power and may be unsuited to the particularities of the site.
The Government's claim that all new housing will be carbon neutral within ten years is quite implausible. It is not even sensible, because the renewable technologies would be better used as part of neighbourhood power generation where the equipment would be large enough to be efficient, and would be properly maintained.
The Stern report makes it clear that it is urgent that we reduce carbon emissions if we are to head off calamitous climate change. The Government must arrive at well-grounded achievable proposals, unlike this latest announcement.
Sir: The introduction of a "green" tax on air travel has not affected the globe-trotting of Tony Blair. In this age of internet video-conferencing, why does he still need to strut the world's stage?
Sir: Your analysis of our individual carbon footprints made interesting reading (9 December). However, you may need to rework your figures factoring in: (a) the additional distance many of us will now have to travel to reach our post office; (b) the additional distance we will have to travel to reach our new centralised Accident and Emergency Centre.
BISHOP'S STORTFORD, HERTFORDSHIRE
Hope that faded for Middle East peace
Sir: Johann Hari ("Ethnic cleansing returns to Israel's agenda", 13 November) misrepresents my views, while peddling historical errors. I have not moved to the right. I still believe that a two-state settlement - a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel more or less along the pre-1967 borders - is the optimal solution.
What has changed is that in the 1990s I was guardedly hopeful that the Palestinians, who had previously demanded every inch of Palestine for themselves, were moving toward acceptance of a two-state solution. I was wrong. Yasser Arafat rejected such a solution when it was offered by Israeli and American leaders in 2000. And in January 2006 the Palestinians voted the Hamas into power. The Hamas, a deeply anti-Semitic movement (it regularly describes the Jews as "sons of apes and pigs"), continues to reject Israel's legitimacy and call for its destruction. Unfortunately, this is the deep-felt will of the Palestinian people.
I am no supporter of Avigdor Lieberman, the ultra-rightist recently co-opted into the Israeli government. But he has a point: Israel's 1.3 million Arab citizens identify with the Palestinian cause and are potentially a dangerous fifth column.
Lieberman, whatever his formal title, is not "in charge of" the Israeli response to the Iranian nuclear threat (and it is a frightening, existential threat - a mad president, who denies the Holocaust and posits Israel's destruction, surrounded by mullahs who live in the Middle Ages). The response will be devised by Israel's leaders and full Cabinet. And let me add: If Israel is faced with a choice between its own imminent destruction and the destruction of Iran - and, given the weakness of the international community in face of the Iranian challenge, it may well boil down to that - I hope Israel's leaders have the sense and courage to choose the right course.
Hari's quote and take on Ben-Gurion and transfer is only half true. In the late 1930s, Ben-Gurion supported the transfer of the Arabs out of the area of the Jewish state-to-be which was precisely the recommendation of the British Royal (Peel) Commission of 1937, which proposed a Jewish State on 20 per cent of Palestine. For that state to be viable, ruled Peel, the (actively) hostile Arabs had to be removed.
But neither Ben Gurion nor the Zionist movement "planned" the displacement of the 700,000-odd Arabs who moved or were removed from their homes in 1948. There was no such plan or policy.
That displacement occurred during and as a consequence of the Palestinian and pan-Arab onslaught against the Jewish community in Palestine/Israel. The displacement was a supremely moral act of self-defence; the "innocent" villages and towns that were emptied were the bases of the Arab attacks on Jewish traffic and settlements.
Homicides by mental patients
Sir: I agree that the Mental Health Bill has taken too long to reach Parliament, as observed by Dr Trevor Turner and Dr Mark Salter (letter, 7 December). In fact, Government attempts to introduce the Bill have been consistently opposed by groups such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, of which Dr Turner is Vice President.
I am director if the National Confidential inquiry, which published the Avoidable Deaths report last week. The findings show that non-compliance is frequent before homicides and suicides by mental-health patients.
The new Bill addresses this through a power to treat in the community. The report makes clear that many of these tragedies could not have been prevented, but equally it shows that the clinical management of risk must be improved.
Drs Turner and Salter criticise new services such as crisis resolution and home-treatment teams that have now been set up in most of the country. However, evidence shows that they are transforming mental-health care, reducing unnecessary admissions and giving patients a service that they prefer.
PROFESSOR LOUIS APPLEBY
NATIONAL CLINICAL DIRECTOR FOR MENTAL HEALTH DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH LONDON SW1
Bring economic power to the poor
Sir: Your report that workers in sweatshops in Bangladesh are paid 3p an hour under terrible conditions (8 December) is a shameful indictment of our humanity. It comes days after a story revealing that the world's richest 1 per cent own 40 per cent of all wealth.
The uncontrolled free-market has created a dangerously polarised and highly unjust world. I agree the solution is not simply the distribution of wealth and aid, though they are essential in keeping millions of lives going in the short term. But for the long term we must look at solutions based on real economic empowerment, helping more and more to benefit from free-market opportunities.
Muslim Aid's unique micro-credit programme in Bangladesh is a good example of such an initiative. It is allowing thousands of extremely poor people to climb on to the wealth ladder. It is an interest-free, small loan with no service charge. Expansion of such a programme, with the participation of some of the richest, could do a great deal to change the inhumane picture of our world.
CEO, MUSLIM AID, LONDON E1
Dreams of a pagan Christmas
Sir: Some people are willing to hold on to their beliefs in ancient mythologies despite evidence to the contrary. Alistair McBay (letter, 11 December) is under the impression that "many Christians actually believe as fact that Jesus was born on 25 December ... [The taking over of pagan festivals] was a good way of stamping out remnants of pagan solstice celebrations that predate Christianity by thousands of years."
I was informed of the fact that Christian missionaries adapted existing festive seasons to Christian ones during RE lessons at the Catholic school I attended almost 40 years ago and have never met a Christian who believes that 25 December commemorates the birthday of Jesus rather than his birth.
May I remind Alistair McBay that there does exist currently a secular mid-winter festival: it's called New Year's Eve? I would suggest to him that Christmas should be left well alone by those who do not believe in Jesus.
He would of course have to forgo the holidays, presents and office parties, although these could be transferred to 31 December. This change would be preferable to those of us who are offended each year by the commercalisation and secularisation of Christmas.
Alternatively, he could accept the fact that Christmas has been celebrated in one form or another for almost 2,000 years and for over 1,500 years in Britain.
Sir: Your article "We wish you a 'PC' Christmas" (9 December) omitted a classic scare story of this type: that religious images have been "banished" from almost all Christmas cards. If true, it could be evidence of a malignant conspiracy involving militant atheists and PC-mad bureaucrats.
However, it is more likely to be the result of market forces. Hundreds of manufacturers produce thousands of card designs to sell to millions of customers. Perhaps the cards the British public choose to buy are a better indication of how they want to celebrate Christmas than the shrill complaints of archbishops and right-wing commentators.
RYDE, ISLE OF WIGHT
Sir: It seems that the Archbishop of York and his supporters ("We wish you a 'PC' Christmas", 9 December) don't know about the Roman Saturnalia, a feast in honour of the god Saturn, originally held on 17 December but later extending for several days. It was marked by the giving of presents, eating and drinking, and generally having a good time. No doubt the priests of Saturn would complain loudly each year about how their celebration was being hijacked by Christians.
CHICHESTER, WEST SUSSEX
No room for religion
Sir: Concerning Mike Wright's letter (7 December), there may be room for religion in Darwin's evolution if we manage to forget the waste and cruelty in the survival of the fittest. But when we move from biology to geology, to the blind cruelty of earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and hurricanes, religion seems to make little, if any, sense at all.
NEW MALDEN, SURREY
Sir: The explanation (letter, 9 December) is surely even sadder than the article which prompted it. Why should anyone seek to excuse what is perfectly normal and happy behaviour, holding hands, on the grounds that an elderly couple may be holding on to each other out of fear? A great pleasure, at any age,and in any circumstance, is to hold the hand of someone you care about.
DITCHLING, WEST SUSSEX
Sir: I am appalled at the separation of toys for boys and girls beyond the age of four in your Christmas gift guide (The Information, 9 December). Why should a world map or mineral and fossil collection be for boys, not girls? Restricting girls' play to pink things limits their potential. While it is true that, as things are, few boys would choose to play with a pink fairy doll, to define toys as being specifically for boys or girls limits choice by strengthening taboos. The Independent should surely encourage individual development.
Sir: When I was a hospital junior I learned that the number one priority when you are a doctor is the patient. All other considerations were secondary. Reading Deborah Orr's well-informed article (7 December) I was impressed by her detailed knowledge of NHS finances and management. I left the NHS early as a direct reaction to exactly that - finances and management. As a colleague who had stayed the course and was about to retire at 65 recently said to me, "We don't work for the patient any more, we work for the Government."
DR TIM LAWSON
Sir: If Blair wants to apologise for slavery, shouldn't he also apologise for losing the War of American Independence - a defeat which prolonged the existence of slavery in North America for more than a generation? Unfortunately, Blair's own servility to the Bush administration means that he is only capable of apologising for British victories - the capture of Washington in 1814, for example.
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