Letters: Iraq: invaders cannot build civil society

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Sir: The misery of contemporary Iraq destroys the last figleaf of justification for the War. How can we believe that the presence of our troops will improve the life of Iraqis, let alone ensure that they enjoy the same freedom and human rights that we in Western Europe enjoy?

Marxism in its Iraqi Baathist form brought certain civil freedoms and material benefits as well as the hated dictatorship. Instead of working to build on those positive elements, the British government acquiesced in the dismantling of the Baathist state apparatus by the US in contravention of the Hague Convention. It seems that as in Afghanistan, western-style elections and a market economy are seen as more desirable goals than civil rights and government intervention to ensure social justice.

What has been demonstrated in Iraq is that nurturing and building civil society is not in the gift of Western powers in the garb of invaders and occupation armies, if indeed in any guise. An alternative approach is needed to encourage and empower those people in Iraq who are seeking to build civil society. However long the occupation lasts they need and will continue to need the practical support of like-minded people elsewhere in the world.



Sir: Charles Moore, William Shawcross and Johann Hari all justify the invasion of Iraq by saying this is what the Iraqi people wanted ("Hawks who've had second thoughts, and the ones who still back the war", 24 September). I don't know how they arrived at this conclusion, but find it hard to believe.

Had Iraqis been asked before the war if they wanted USA/UK to kill and maim well over 100,000 of their fellow country men, women and children, destroy much of the country's infrastructure and privatise the Iraqi economy into the hands of western capitalists, just what proportion of the population would have answered "Yes"?

It is also a big mistake to talk about Iraq as a homogeneous nation. The Kurds in the north have wanted an independent Kurdish state for decades - and with the new constitution are close to success. The Shias in the south want an Islamic state aligned with Iran and again are well on the way to achieving this. The Sunnis will be left abandoned in the centre of the country, without oil or political power. Talking in terms of "what the Iraqi people want" is nonsense.



Sir: You ask what we should do about "the mess" in Iraq. First, admit we were wrong. Second, do what we can to make restitution. Third, put the whole matter in the hands of the United Nations.



Schools 'choice' is just a lottery

Sir: Education and choice. Two words we keep hearing. Two words that do not belong together in a compulsory state system.

If every school performed to acceptable standards there would be little need or desire for choice. If parents have choice of school they will choose the better performing school in their area (some travel many miles or move home). As each school has a limited number of places, a great many are oversubscribed; therefore a significant number of parents will not get any choice. Their child will be sent to the less well performing school.

So we have a three-tier system: those that pay for their children's education (the ultimate in choice); those that get a chance to choose their school (veneer of choice as it's really a lottery); and those that receive what's left (no choice).

Wouldn't we all rather our children went to the nearest school, a school that will educate our child, a school that will help our children achieve their potential, a school that enhances our children's lives, a school we can entrust our children's wellbeing to, a school that helps our children develop, a school usually within safe walking distance?

Don't give us a choice of school. Give us good schools.



Sir: The vice-president of the National Secular Society (letter, 26 September) accuses the Government of the "error" of encouraging the expansion of faith schools, which he identifies as a route to educational apartheid. This ignores Trevor Phillips' rejection in his recent speech of the "mistake of believing that most racial segregation in school arises from faith schools".

Trevor Phillips recognised that Anglican and Catholic schools tend to be more diverse than most community schools. He also pointed out that the numbers of Jewish, Sikh and Muslim schools are tiny. If there were 150 Muslim schools in the maintained system, rather than the current five, they would still be educating a tiny minority of Muslim children. Terry Sanderson, in cynically using education for target practice, is missing the mark. It is religion he and his 3,000 members hate, not the 7,000 church schools.



Sir: What Mr Blair's schools policy needs is a catchy slogan. May I recommend "Consolidating Class Privilege"?



Christians in Turkey face harassment

Sir: We should like to add to your correspondence on Turkey's possible entry into the European Union, having recently returned from a two-week tour of Christian sites in eastern Turkey.

Our situation throughout was like the conditions of entry for ships from Cyprus reported in your newspaper on 20 September. Our leader had applied for permission for visits, the necessary papers were given, but when we arrived at the sites these proved to be worthless. The most frustrating day was when the Governor of Antakya (Antioch) insisted, as a condition of granting permission to visit the nearby site of St Barlaam monastery, that we take part in a meeting between himself and our group, which was attended by a large press corps. There he lectured us on how open Turkey was to all religions, before forbidding us access to the site!

Visiting monasteries in the Tur Abdin was a sobering experience. At Mor Gabriel the abbot told us that they are not permitted to teach theology in Turkey, and if they send their candidates for the priesthood abroad for training they are only allowed back on three-month visas. Parishes are losing priests, who cannot be replaced. Not only is the massacre of the Christian Armenians denied but what survives from a long Christian past is being squeezed out of the country.

If you had asked us before we went what were our views on Turkey's integration into Europe we would have been in favour. Our experiences over the past weeks suggest that our Government is being hoodwinked by Turkish politicians, and that the strategic geography of the area is being allowed to outweigh all other considerations.




The mentally ill need care and support, not criminal prosecution

Sir: We are pleased to see that Charles Clarke has acknowledged that there is something wrong with our prisons being filled with vulnerable and often mentally disordered offenders, rather than villains. The scandal of the mentally ill filling our prisons and all too often dying in them is not helped by the philosophy of the mental health services themselves, who nowadays often exhort clients to "take responsibility", rather than offering care or support.

There is increasing concern about "violence to staff" in the NHS and some Trusts are now using a very elastic interpretation indeed of possible threat. This can include mentally ill patients, who may even have been sectioned, shouting at staff. The police are then called in, sometimes even when they do not wish to be involved, and the Trust will insist that a prosecution be mounted.

This policy has less to do with any danger that staff might face from patients, than with the pervasive discourse of "individual responsibility" that has now come to dominate in some areas of the welfare services. This has led to some ludicrous situations, such as a case that we know of in which a sectioned patient was pursued through the courts for two years because they called an NHS manager a "fat idiot".

Mentally ill, distressed people are now being processed through the criminal justice system, sometimes for tragic or frankly laughable offences, in an attempt to make them "take responsibility", which their distress prevents them from doing.

If mentally ill people are to be supported appropriately and not jailed for ridiculous reasons, the Government must realise that no matter how laudable it is to take responsibility for oneself, there are some people who at some stages in their lives simply cannot do so. Use of criminal proceedings merely leads to courts and prisons becoming congested with those in distress who often have little grasp of what is happening to them.

This erroneous philosophy has already been costly, in both human and economic terms, and we hope that Mr Clarke will have the strength and foresight to remedy the situation before it leads to more deaths and blighted lives.