Sir: Thank you for the front-page coverage (11 February) you gave to the interview by Valerio Pellizari of Kang Khek Ieu one of Pol Pot's henchmen. It is vital, "lest we forget", that we should be reminded of what happened in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.
As the Americans pulled out after the disastrous war in Vietnam ,which included the illegal bombing of Cambodia in an attempt to destroy Viet Cong supply routes, they provided the social and political environment for the Khmer Rouge to leave their jungle hideouts, evacuate all the towns of Cambodia and undertake their murderous four years of terror and death. Just imagine: one third of the population dying in a period of four and a half years.
I was there for six months following the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese. We witnessed tens of thousands of bomb craters; the mass open graves dug for the victims of the Khmer Rouge; children picking over the skulls to remove the gold teeth to buy food and clothing; the stories that everyone without exception had to tell of the close family members lost, children, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters all dead (or maybe just displaced, who knew?); the stories of constant nightmares of the abuses people had suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge; the horrific photos of abject fear on the faces of the victims, pinned on the walls of the school at Tuol Sleng which had been converted into a torture and death chamber; the fear and lack of trust that now existed between people in case they were old KR people with blood on their hands.
Phnom Penh, from an estimated 1975 population of 3 million people, the majority desperately trying to escape the American bombing, in late 1979 had a population of 10,000 but growing as people gradually drifted back from the countryside, often floating in flimsy craft on the Tonle Sap river, to try to recover property and re-establish a life.
Those of us working in Cambodia at that time will never forget, but our memories are as nothing compared with those of the people that suffered then and still suffer. We owe it to them to remember and reflect. Thank you for your contribution to that reflection.
No place here for sharia law
Sir: Hurrah for Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (9 February). Never mind what the Archbishop said or meant, sharia and democratic law are totally opposed.
Those who migrate to Britain are, in general , drawn to the freedom, tolerance and security we enjoy, which are largely based on our legal system. Our laws are democratically agreed by our elected representatives. They apply equally to all, honouring human rights, and are administered by an independent judiciary. Sharia law is interpreted by local (exclusively male) imams, who can make different interpretations. Such whimsicality does not provide security for all; it provides a potent weapon for those who seek to dominate.
Let us welcome immigrants and those of different faiths, on the understanding that they join us because they value our values. Let us value and absorb their enriching cultural traditions but reject, not assimilate, any cruel and mediaeval practices to which they are accustomed.
Sharia law is mediaeval, particularly in family matters. Women are not accorded full human rights; child marriage and polygamy are permitted; male domestic violence is tolerated; punishments for adultery are much harsher for women than for men and divorce settlements are overwhelmingly favourable to the husband.
We cannot tolerate sharia courts in our country, least of all in regard to family matters.
Sir: No, No, No to sharia law. It will be used to suppress and bully vulnerable women who have poor English skills and do not understand their rights under English law. Anyone who wants to live under sharia law can go back to Saudi Arabia and take the Archbishop of Canterbury with them.
Time to disestablish the C of E.
St Neot, Cornwall
Sir: We are dismayed at the reaction from the media and national politicians to Rowan Williams' address last Thursday.
Dr Williams was addressing an issue of great importance too often dodged by the intellectual blandness of our elected politicians: how the law can recognise and accommodate religious minorities who might otherwise feel alienated from the British legal system. The poverty of the system as it is now is precisely that it does not recognise difference enough.
The hysterical reaction – tinged, one suspects, with Islamophobia – to Williams' address represents a lost opportunity. This dense talk could have been expanded into the public sphere by addressing the subject-matter at its heart: the nature of democracy, the role of the state, and religion. Instead of resurrecting old prejudices this is the national debate we need to be having.
Professor Hugh Goddard
Dr Michael Mack
Dr Angus Paddison
Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Nottingham
Sir: Last year when a British schoolteacher was jailed in Sudan for breaking sharia law by allowing her class to name their teddy bear Mohammed, there was a massive outcry in this country that the authorities should have made allowances for the fact that she had been brought up to western or Christian laws and values. Two Muslim members of our House of Lords pleaded for clemency on her behalf on those very grounds. Yet when the Archbishop of Canterbury suggests similar understanding and accommodation should apply over here for Muslim people brought up under sharia laws an values, he is pilloried.
North Shields, Tyne & Wear
Sir: In the light of the furore over sharia law perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury would be well advised to revisit Canon C 18 which calls on all bishops "to uphold sound and wholesome doctrine, and to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine" and not, it should be noted, advocate it or give it a public airing.
The Rev Dr Nigel Scotland
Charlton Kings, Gloucestershire
Sir: With reference to the advisability of the Archbishop's usability of the word "unclarity"; is his religiosity and spirituosity undermined by his desirability to quantify the reality of his intentionality towards justicality for the sake of multiculturalosity ?
Sturminster Newton, Dorset
Cruelty to people with a disability
Sir: Younger people are the key to tackling the prejudice and violence that is causing the horrendous crime against people with a disability ("We must protect disabled people against this wave of barbaric and hateful crimes", 30 January). The cruelty against people with a learning disability is starting young. Mencap's research into bullying shows that 58 per cent of children with a learning disability have been physically hurt. Only by tackling bullying amongst younger people can we stop the violence spreading to adulthood.
We must take bullying against children with a disability more seriously if we are to prevent the hate crimes, such as those against Brent Martin and Steven Hoskin. Only then will people with a learning disability be able to have the real opportunity to live independently.
We await the Department for Children, Schools and Families' anti-bullying guidance, due in April. We hope this will include an obligation to monitor incidents of bullying against people with a disability.
Head and Campaigns and Policy Mencap, London EC1
Endless exams leave no time to take risks
Sir: Your front-page article "Our children, tested to destruction" (8 February) refers to the current situation in English primary schools. I don't think many would argue against the opinion that there is too much of the wrong kind of testing at that level, except of course Government ministers, whose job it is to support policy. But it isn't only in primary education that too much testing is having a negative effect.
As a teacher of A-level art, I am frustrated by the need to push students towards examination at AS level, at the end of the lower sixth. Before AS was introduced, it was possible for students to spend a year experimenting with ideas, techniques and processes, without the fear that mistakes and failures would jeopardise their final result. Staff and students could enjoy time without the pressure and restrictions that examinations bring. Students need the time to be creative, and that means taking risks. They cannot do this if they think it will result in a low grade at the end of the course.
Surely this is true of all subjects, not just art and design.
It seems likely that the A-level examination will be scrapped, to be replaced with a diploma. If diploma courses are to run for two years, like the present A-level, I hope that ministers and their advisers will have the wisdom to limit examination to the end of the second year.
Does fluoride breach our rights?
Sir: Zac Goldsmith asks if the introduction of fluoride to our tap water is safe (Health, 12 February). It's a reasonable question and one that has vexed scientists and others for some time. It is unlikely to be answered to everybody's satisfaction any time soon.
But a more fundamental question is this: is mass medication ethical? In the UK, unless you are declared insane under the Mental Health Act, or have some notifiable disease, you have the right to refuse any medication prescribed for you. So, if fluoridation of water is regarded as a medical intervention to combat tooth decay it follows that any individual has – in theory at least – the right to refuse it.
If the Government is really concerned about the oral health of the nation, why not try this: dental services free for all at the point of delivery via the National Health Service?
Executive Director, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management London WC1
Football and roast beef at Brentford
Sir: As a life-long if long-distance supporter of Shrewsbury Town FC, I write in support of Greg Heath's letter (9 February).
I went to the match he referred to at Brentford on Saturday with two elderly friends. They were going to watch Chelsea-Liverpool on the following day and that was an insipid affair by comparison.
Before the match we had lunch in the sponsors' lounge and this was an excellent roast beef and Yorkshire pudding – no prawn sandwich brigade here – with tea and pies at half-time, all served by friendly ladies. There was a good friendly atmosphere throughout – so long live the lower leagues.
Religious 'authority' for terrorism
Sir: Regarding the question of whether to refer to "Muslim terrorists", Philip Hensher is right (5 February) and Stephen Outhwaite (letter, 7 February) wrong. The 9/11 terrorists claimed the authority of the Koran (and its expositors and interpreters such as Ibn-al-Wahhab, Sayyid Qutb and Osama bin Laden) in support of their actions.
While the men of violence in Northern Ireland were divided along denominational lines, I am unaware that they sought to justify their terrorist activities primarily in biblical terms, or on the authority of St Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther or John Calvin.
This is why it is appropriate to term the former Muslim terrorists while inappropriate to term the latter Christian terrorists.
Sir: Whatever the result of the royal will dispute ("Royal claimant can put his case", 9 February), illegitimate royal children cannot inherit the throne, otherwise William IV's numerous FitzClarence children by the actress Dorothy Jordan would have displaced Queen Victoria.
On your bike
Sir: Jane Valentine makes some sensible points (Letter: "MPs' lax ways with public money", 8 February) but undermines her argument by referring to a luckless former civil servant who dared to claim mileage for using his bicycle. The Civil Service travel and subsistence code allows for people to claim for using cycles on official business – and why not? It is much cheaper than using a car. Retired civil servants who are willing to bring years of experience to charities should be welcomed with open arms, not given "short shift" for claiming a perfectly reasonable expense.
Sir: The news that the Americans intend charging people held indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay with charges relating to 9/11 is disturbing. Why has the evidence not been forthcoming before now, and how was it obtained and in what circumstances? Can the world have an up-front disclosure of evidence before any trial is contemplated? If the charges are found to have been trumped up, can we have action taken against the US authorities in charge of this "worst place on earth"?
Sir: The carton for Marks & Spencer's 2 Cherry Crumbles bears the following instruction on the side: "Check that the product is hot before serving." On the base we have the following "important" warning: "Take care, the filling in this product will be particularly hot after heating." So one is expected either to burn one's tongue on the "filling" in order to test the hotness of the "product" or to eat the "product" underheated to avoid burning one's tongue on the "filling". Either way Marks & Spencer will avoid being sued.
Sir: I was very amused by your article "How to boost your sex drive" (12 February). Looking at the giant image of two people wearing nothing but their underpants, I would have thought that far from eating oysters, chocolates or pumpkin seeds, the best remedy might be removing one's knickers. Or maybe I'm just old fashioned.
Eccy de Jonge
London WC1Reuse content