Letters: Let’s not fuel the flames in Syria

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 21 June, 2013

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What is developing in the Middle East is terrifying. For the global and regional powers to pour fuel on the fire in Syria is madness. If this continues, there will be no way to contain the conflict. Already the humanitarian crisis is out of control.

On a visit to Palestine recently, a leader of the Fatah youth wing told me that the whole situation was blocked and that the only hope for them was a “game-changing” event. Those are words of desperation.

A senior professor at Damascus University is a close friend. I have been calling him most weeks since the conflict began. I could hear the shells and gunfire in the background when I phoned a week ago. His message to the world since the beginning of the conflict has been: “Stop the killing!” The more killing takes place, the more hatred is sown, and the more difficult it will be to rebuild.

In an email he laid out the process he believes ought to take place: “An enforced stop of the bloodshed, a timetable for a transitional period supervised by the UN, a new constitution, and then a new election for both the President and Legislative Council.”

The key is the relationships among the permanent members of the UN Security Council. They have a responsibility to the whole world to rise above their individual interests and take steps to mediate in conflicts, not exacerbate them. The victims of those broken relationships are ordinary people.

When relationships in the highest council in the world are blocked, some nation or individual must play the role of mediator. Could the UK play that role? We would need to rise above our own frustrations and be willing to risk our relationship with our closest partner, the US. But who else is in a position to do it?

Peter Riddell, Convenor, Agenda for Reconciliation, Initiatives of Change, Oxford


David Cameron did the right thing in Libya and is trying to do the right thing in Syria to prevent further bloodshed. The right thing is not to take sides but to seek a UN-ratified resolution akin to the one that paved the way for the liberation of Libya.

A no-fly zone worked in Libya and, even now, could still work to quell the violence in Syria. The key to resolving the Syrian civil war will not be to repeat the mistakes of Iraq by going it alone, but to find a way forward that even Russia will accept.

Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Surrey


Prison is too good for reckless bankers

What a silly idea to send mismanaging bankers to jail. It would cost thousands to keep them there. Why not give them community service orders and send them to estates where the average yearly wage is about the same as they “earn” in a day?

Vivien Berkley, Hemyock, Devon


How brazen and hard-faced can these bankers get?

In an era which is seeing the deepest cuts ever to our welfare state, at a time when disabled people are being thrown off benefits by the Government-appointed executioner, ATOS Healthcare, when workers’ wages have fallen in real terms by 15 per cent over the past five years, people in the City of London award themselves a 64 per cent increase in their bonuses for nothing.

To cap this, George Osborne is contemplating selling off the state-owned banks at a gargantuan loss to the public.

Much of the recession that we are suffering has been caused by the bankers’ refusal to lend to small businesses. Osborne had the power through the state-controlled banks to lend to small business, but the reason this didn’t happen was that it would have undermined the private banks, such as Barclays, as people changed banks.

The banks were never nationalised for the public good but to prop up the whole rotten system. 

Mark Holt, Waterloo, Merseyside


George Osborne is apparently to consider prison sentences for bankers who have indulged in “reckless misconduct in the management of a bank”. Could I suggest this be extended to Chancellors for “reckless misconduct in the management of the economy”?

Brian Harvey, Great Shelford, Cambridge


How to stretch bright children

As a teacher, I can say that for once Michael Wilshaw is right. Bright children are not being stretched in non-selective secondary schools. It is not, however, about a culture of low expectation, it is about the difficulties of teaching mixed-ability groups. 

“Differentiation” is the term used to mean that teachers are supposed to plan and teach more than one lesson simultaneously to reach all ability groups in the class. In practice, this can’t really happen in any meaningful way.

Secondary schools do not need to be selective, but they do need to be rigorously streamed, and teachers should be timetabled to teach the different streams exclusively, so they can focus on the abilities and needs of the particular stream they are teaching. This could rotate each year so teachers don’t get stuck in one mode.

Children could be moved across the streams throughout secondary school rather than just having a single shot at it, as with the 11-plus.

Another major problem in this country is that all children enter the education system in their fifth year of life and then leave 12 (or 13 or 14) years later with no regard paid to whether they should be moving faster or more slowly through the system. Children should not be allowed to leave one key stage to move on to the next without having passed that key stage.

Just letting them stay on the conveyor belt stores problems for the future and means that children who have lost their grip on what they are expected to achieve behave disruptively and drag down their classmates.

It’s not about a culture of low expectation, it’s the fact that a group will always travel at the pace of the slowest member.

Frances Lothian, Ludlow, Shropshire


Scientific study of illegal drugs

Your headline “The worst case of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Galileo: Scientists call for drugs to be legalised to allow proper study of their properties” (12 June) gave entirely the wrong impression of our position.

The current research uses the chemical in magic mushrooms, which is an illicit drug. However this research is legal, publicly funded through the Medical Research Council, and licensed by the Secretary of State. Sadly, very few researchers are this lucky.

We have never called for all drugs to be legalised, and to do so for our own convenience to study them sounds like the idea of a mad scientist stereotype. What our paper calls for is for the regulations on the scientific study of currently illegal drugs to be reformed so that the scientific community can more freely study them, without increasing the threat of diversion into the illegal markets.

David Nutt, Les King, David Nicholls, London SW8


Speeding drivers can just wait

If I drive at 70mph for extended periods in the middle lane of a motorway, a practice deprecated by some of your correspondents, I am inconveniencing nobody except law-breakers. If, on the other hand, I move to the left-hand lane as soon as is reasonably possible, I face a very real risk of being inconvenienced by law-breakers, forced to slow down because I cannot pull out due to their coming past or approaching me at illegal speeds in the middle lane.

Additionally, in the middle lane I potentially have two places to go when a driver who overtakes me pulls in front of me before he is 70 yards ahead (sadly an extremely common occurrence). 

When traffic is genuinely light or when I am driving at less than 70mph I do move to the left, but otherwise I often do not. I’m not being holier than thou – I couldn’t claim to have never exceeded the speed limit myself, nor am I on a campaign to try to prevent other drivers from speeding. It is simply that I fail to see why I should suffer inconvenience, delay and possible increased danger in order to accommodate people who are breaking the law.

Mike Perry , Ickenham, Middlesex


Obama is a ‘no we can’t’ leader

Your article on Guantanamo (19 June) demonstrated two things: first, that the “special relationship” is, in fact, a one-way street, with the UK Government powerless to get the release of Shaker Aamer, a UK resident, unlawfully incarcerated for over 10 years.

Second, it shows that Mr Obama is not a “yes we can” President but a “no we can’t” leader. Why does  he need to appoint a lawyer to engineer releases when it is manifestly within his gift to close this torture prison immediately?

Jack McKenna, Southport, Lancashire


Unforgettable power of Bacall

The pieces by James Graham and Paul Taylor on Tennessee Williams’ play Sweet Bird of Youth (12 and 13 June) were excellent, but neither mentioned the iconic production at the Haymarket in 1985 which starred the then 60-plus Lauren Bacall as the ageing diva having a desperate last fling with a handsome young man.

Bacall’s presence was extraordinary: her charisma knocked them for six and made sense of the young man’s self-destructive passion. I doubt if the Haymarket had felt such reverberations through all its gilded history.

Jane Jakeman, Oxford


Republican myth

Richard Fagence (letter, 19 June) equates being a democracy with being a republic, arguing that it would be nice for a British child born in 2013 to become an elected head of state. This nice idea is not reflected in reality. To take France and the US as examples, republics are no less prone to the creation of a ruling class than monarchies.

Gareth Wood, Shevington, Wigan


Uniformly scruffy

Roy Evans (letter, 20 June) comments on the scruffy appearance of the G8 leaders in their group photograph. Absolutely, but by all going without ties, they showed there was one thing on which they could agree.

Gyles Cooper, London N10


Double take

Is it just me or has anyone else been struck by the resemblance of Michael Gove to the actor Rick Moranis. Perhaps when Mr Gove writes his autobiography he might be persuaded to call it Honey, I Shrunk the Curriculum.

Graeme Massey, Stamford, Lincolnshire