Letters: Islam

The 'liberation' that would make Muslim women a battleground
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The Independent Online

Sir: Johann Hari (11 February) is one of many who want to liberate women from Islam, but the problem is that millions of women believe deeply in Islam and sharia and will fear and hate liberators who despise their beliefs.

The crucial things about accommodation, Archbishop Williams' key term, are that it belongs to Christian tradition, going back to the days when some wanted to eat meat sacrificed to idols, and that it works both ways: a sharia system of arbitration with an appeal to British law will induce sharia to take a British form.

The alternative, stern determination not to accommodate their law within ours, brings belief in Islam to the verge of criminality. This is not a liberal outcome, but an exercise in the calamitous revolutionary art of forcing people to be free, making every Muslim woman into a battleground, a private Iraq.

Martin Hughes

Wokingham, Berkshire

Sir: An inability to express himself clearly, and an astonishing lack of awareness about the impact his comments would have, are both major factors in the furore that Rowan Williams' words have provoked

The question of the application or assimilation of sharia law, however, is surely a red herring: should the real debate not be about the broader question he raises, namely the relationship between civil law and religious conscience?

The Church of England, of which I am a member, has won for itself significant concessions on anti-discrimination legislation as it applies to women and to gays. Individual churches can opt not to employ women priests, purely on the grounds of their gender, and the church as a whole can refuse to ordain people, or employ priests, in same-sex relationships. Both, in a secular context, would be against the law. We should be ashamed, not seeking, as the archbishop seems to be, to extend similar so-called privileges to other religious groups.

Betsy Everett

Askrigg, North Yorkshire

Sir: I am not a Muslim and I know nothing about Sharia law. But if it contains both corporal and capital punishment it sounds as if it's on the right lines to me. Much more effective and much less expensive that building more and more prisons.

David McIntosh


Speak up for rights in China and Darfur

Sir: It is now less than six months to the opening of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. As a keen sports fan I would normally be excited, looking forward to this celebration of human achievement and competition, but can see nothing to celebrate about the Games, as a result of them being held in China.

China has one of the worst human rights records anywhere in the world, despite promises that, were they to be awarded the Olympics, they would clean up their act: huge numbers are detained each year simply for speaking out against the regime, many are sent to camps and forced to work hard labour, thousands are killed.

I welcomed the stance of some of the cricketing world who refused to play their sport against Zimbabwe as a result of that evil regime, it is now time that athletes of all nations stood up for morality and human rights and insisted that this summer's Olympic Games are removed from Beijing. Any sport person who competes in Beijing this August is, by their actions, supporting the Chinese regime and the persecution, suffering and blood of innocent civilians.

It is not acceptable to say "I'm a sport person, not a politician," or "It is not my decision." In the modern world we are all politicians and we must all do what is right.

The Games should never have been awarded to Beijing but, with six months to go, it is not too late to correct this mistake. For the sake of every ordinary Chinese person action needs to happen now.

Robert Steadman

Matlock, Derbyshire

Sir: I welcome the rightful outrage sparked by attempts to gag our Olympic athletes. When China made its bid for the 2008 Games there was a general expectation that they would produce a climate of greater openness, freedom and respect for human rights. Instead, violations of fundamental rights have actually increased. Six months before the Games begin, media freedom remains nonexistent and dissent has been ruthlessly crushed in violation of the terms of Beijing's Host City Contract. Subserviently subjecting our athletes to China's draconian censorship culture will do little to improve this situation.

While this is worrying per se, the ramifications of the IOC's support to Host Cities who fail to live up to the Olympic ideal extends much further than the 2008 Games. In 2007 Sochi, on Russia's Black Sea coast, was chosen as the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Like China, the Russians signed a Host City contract committing them to uphold the Games' fundamental values, yet there is little indication that the Russian authorities will seek to honour this agreement except in the breach.

The Olympics is the greatest symbol of international kudos and acceptance that any country can receive. In awarding this accolade to an increasingly autocratic state, the IOC has legitimised Russia's actions and undermined the fundamental values of the Olympics. For while Beijing may not have kept its promises on human rights, Russia never made any in the first place.

Graham Watson MEP

Leader, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, European Parliament, Brussels

Sir: Dominic Lawson writes that something rare and wonderful has happened when showbusiness is put in its place (8 February). That does not seem quite so wonderful when it is done at the expense of over a million dead or displaced Darfuris.

I worked in Darfur in 2005 as a physician caring for victims of the conflict; the population has been targeted for extermination by a malignant regime in Khartoum, and the attempts of any members of the UN General Assembly to silence a voice of concern are to be condemned, not encouraged.

The Darfuris being killed and displaced have no political voice, and George Clooney's efforts to speak for them are laudable. Mr Clooney spoke earlier this year at the UN; it was concise and eloquent and an important factor in applying pressure for a peacekeeping force.

Dominic Lawson is utterly wrong to condemn anyone's efforts to speak out against oppression, no matter how rich, handsome, popular or successful they may be.

Dr Alexander van Tulleken

London SW1

Sir: Bruce Anderson (11 February) appears to be an opponent of free speech and seems to advocate the continued appeasement of the evil totalitarian Marxist regime in Beijing. He regards the brutal suppression of the pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square as "at least explicable".

Above all his article is defeatist. He implies that nothing can be done to pressure the Chinese to abandon the Leninist doctrine that has brought slavery and death to many millions and still remains a potent threat to world peace.

The Olympics provide an opportunity to focus attention on human rights in China and Tibet and it is crucial that we make it clear to the Chinese regime that it must reform.

Richard Laversuch

Andover, Hampshire

Scientist who led the Dolly cloning team

Sir: You report (1 February) on the petition against the knighthood awarded to Professor Ian Wilmut. I was director and chief executive of Roslin Institute (and its predecessor) from 1988 to 2002, when the experiments to clone Dolly the sheep were planned, executed and published.

I have a note of a meeting I had with Sir Ian Wilmut on 7 December 1988, two weeks after my appointment, when he outlined his plans for research, which were, to try and develop embryo stem cells in farm animals and develop nuclear transfer in sheep (the technique used to clone Dolly).

Between 1988 and the publication of the Dolly paper in 1997, Ian raised the funding through grants for this research and recruited, trained and led the team to carry out all the animal, cell biology and embryo manipulation techniques that were required. This was very much a team effort but absolutely led academically and inspired by Ian, and resulted in this scientific and technical breakthrough. Indeed, I think Ian has himself understated his pivotal and dominant role in this research.

A series of publications came out from the research in Roslin on cloning, led by Professor Wilmut, and, as usual for team research, all of these were multi-authored, with various first authors; these authorships required and had my approval as director.

None of the four signatories to the petition were members of the cloning team or of Professor Wilmut's research group: two were members of a completely different research group that was not recruited until 1999, well after the experiments that led to the cloning of Dolly and two years after the publication of the 1997 paper. The other two signatories were not research scientists and were in completely different areas of Roslin: one was a bioinformatician appointed well after the completion of the cloning project, and the other was the manager of the Roslin poultry farm. Therefore none of the four signatories' knowledge of the project, leading up to the cloning of Dolly, is first-hand or proximate.

Professor Grahame Bulfield

University of Edinburgh

MPs with second homes in London

Sir: John Hemming MP, who owns a house in Birmingham and two flats in London, thinks there is nothing wrong with paying an MP for living in a flat he owns (Letters, 12 February). Perhaps he should consider that the £23,000 of additional allowances MPs are pocketing is being paid for out of the taxes of people who cannot afford to own one house, let alone three.

Anthea Beaumont

Highworth, Wiltshire

Sir: John Hemming's disingenuousness in pleading the case for Additional Costs Allowance for MPs left me speechless. To argue that those MPs who live away from London need an allowance to aid them with accommodation nearer their main place of work is undoubtedly correct.

However, Mr Hemming justifies receiving the allowance on the grounds that were he not living in his London flat during parliamentary sessions he would enjoy the financial benefit of renting it out. That is to contend that the public purse is there to be milked to enable him to maintain a standard of living he might have had were he not an MP – which is surely preposterous.

Fred Litten

Croydon, Surrey

Sir: I don't think John Hemming MP is doing himself any favours. If he already has a flat in London surely he could save the taxpayer money and not claim anything?

I work for a public sector organisation. When I am away overnight on business I am entitled to claim precisely £25 if I stay at a relative's or friend's house. If I was staying in my own house (because I happen to have two) I would not be able to claim anything.

Jo Kennedy

Todmorden, West Yorkshire

A conversation with Miles Kington

Sir: Some years ago, out walking my dogs in Bath, I came across another dog-walker, a tall, still glamorously handsome man whom I thought I recognised. Feeling rather bold, I asked, "Are you Miles Kington?"

He seemed genuinely taken aback and said, "Good God! How did you know that?"

I explained that I remembered watching him in the dim past, playing with Instant Sunshine, and we fell into conversation. He was as unassuming and approachable as all his friends and acquaintances have since attested.

Now he has died and, oddly, the one discussion I can recall concerned our both being afraid of being buried alive. His solution? He was taking his mobile phone with him. I burst out laughing and agreed it was a good plan. It's just too sad that he got to try it out so soon.

Penny Root



Sprinter and singer

Sir: Terence Blacker confuses the issue (13 February). Chambers used drugs to enhance performance and cheat, to the disadvantage of his peers. Winehouse used drugs, but she did not cheat anyone out of a Grammy. Black or white skin is irrelevant.

Stephen Wilkinson

London NW1

Low energy, low light

Sir: To reduce our home's carbon footprint, my wife and I installed supposedly equivalent low-energy light bulbs. We are in our 60s and both of us were alarmed at how rapidly our eyesight seemed to have deteriorated recently. Yesterday evening, struggling over reading ordinary newsprint, my wife persuaded me to re-install our last 100-watt bulb, with the result that we can again read at our kitchen table without eyestrain. Today I'm off to buy a stock of them while we are still allowed to buy them.

Roger Dean

Shefford, Bedfordshire

Religious criminals

Sir: The reason al-Qa'ida terrorists are referred to as Muslim (letter, 7 February) is that this is how they refer to themselves, just as the IRA referred to themselves as "IRA" and not "Christian". The way to be fair to Muslims in general is to treat the terrorists as individual criminals, as far as possible. I have yet to hear of a daring bank raid by a gang of agnostics.

David Ridge

London N19

City of cyclists

Sir: As a regular cyclist, driver and commuter I found Ken Livingstone's announcements of a £500m investment in cycling infrastructure and increased congestion charges for heavily polluting vehicles nothing less than astonishing. As public concern for climate change increases the major political machines continue to emit tonnes of green rhetoric and devise ever more complex long-term targets which avoid the need for immediate action. Mr Livingstone's announcement is a refreshing case of positive action. I hope it will encourage local councils throughout the UK to adopt ambitious programmes to promote cycling and sustainable transport.

John Mack


Unfair advantage

Sir: Karen Rodgers (letter, 11 February) reports the rise in popularity of home education. How long now before we hear complaints that middle-class children are hogging the attention of the better qualified or more intellectually inclined parents, and calls for pupils to be randomly allocated to the homes in which they are educated?

John Riseley

Harrogate, North Yorkshire