Letters: Libya's future

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On radio news an armed forces spokesman stated that air strikes would continue, exclusively against Gaddafi's forces, on the justification that he had threatened civilians in Tobruk and Benghazi. The spokesman further stated that if government forces attempted to fight in civilian areas in their home territory the coalition would continue to bomb them, viewing civilian deaths as collateral damage towards a greater goal of removing Gaddafi and protecting the civilians in the east.

Is it only me who finds this breathtakingly hypocritical? We commit millions of pounds we are repeatedly told we haven't got, in the name of protecting civilians from a ruler we were happy to support until a few weeks ago, but are happy to inflict countless civilian casualties ourselves it if removes our former ally. Yet again we are now explicitly committed to regime change.

The world of realpolitik can be pretty dirty but this verges on nauseating, given our continued support of other oil-rich despots, despite their gunning down of protesters.

Is this to be the pattern for the 21st century? The western powers overthrow any Middle Eastern regime that dares to defy them, bombing with no risk to themselves and feeding newspeak to the proles that their sole interest is protecting the poor folk of the region.

If we are set on changing regimes let's at least be honest about our aims and means and not hide behind "protecting civilian populations" and "by all necessary means", and let's get global support for that, if there truly is support. But please, no more colonial actions based on lies.

Des Senior

Great Amwell, Hertfordshire

Democracies begin with revolutions that take a chance for democracy. With the educating of a new generation by al-Jazeera, blogs and internet, the Arabs seem to have studied the concept, and be ready to fight for it.

Most democracies had help. The German, Italian and Japanese democracies were imposed by the allies after the Second World War. The Eastern European democrats had Nato as an ally, though they were slaughtered twice by the USSR's tanks trying to do it on their own. We could do nothing to help then. But we can and should help now. It's our moral duty.

Anybody with the courage of the Libyans deserves their chance to try for it.

Matthew Greally

Sydney, Australia

Be careful what you wish for ("The next domino could be Damascus", 28 March). Before urging on Syrian demonstrators, pause and remember that the Alawite-run Baathist regime is secular. Christians fleeing "liberated" Iraq found haven in Assad's Syria.

Yugo Kovach

Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

Would it be more accurate to call the Ministry of Defence The Ministry of Attack?

Chris Hazell

Chiswick, Middlesex

Violence mars a peaceful march

I was at the March for Public Services in London on Saturday. Tens of thousands of people came together to send a message to the Coalition Government that their vast cuts on our public sector are savage, unnecessary and undemocratic. The day was peaceful, good-spirited and fun, with a true sense of solidarity.

However, too much press has focused on the small group of people who broke away, causing havoc by smashing windows, daubing graffiti and inciting violence. I cannot stress enough: that group had nothing to do with the estimated 500,000 genuine people there. What they did was unproductive and they were out to cause as much destruction as possible, just for the hell of it.

Yes, UK Uncut send their message against the tax avoiders by mass occupation of buildings, but their protest was absolutely free from vandalism and violence. Just a shame that the people who caused trouble have hidden behind their name.


Hove, East Sussex

"A message from the many stifled by the violence of a few," said the headline on your leading article of 28 March. Shouldn't that read "A message from the many stifled by the media's preference for reporting the violence of a few"?

Edmund Tierney

London N6

Carnage on the new motorways

I am afraid it is Roger Chapman (letter, 25 March) who is writing nonsense when he asserts that the 70mph speed limit was introduced in this country in 1965 because of socialist ideology. There was carnage on the roads at that time, especially the recently opened motorways where excessive speed was resulting in the most appalling accidents.

I recall TV news bulletins reporting almost daily another multiple-vehicle pile-up with many casualties. Such reports are a rarity now. Those who complained then about the introduction of the speed limit also protested when Barbara Castle brought in the much-needed drink-drive laws, apparently because they were a further erosion of their God-given freedom. The freedom to do what, I wonder?

But Mr Chapman's letter does us all a service by highlighting the increasing number of elderly drivers on the roads and, as he admits, the heightened risk that they may become bored and distracted while travelling at speed. Isn't it time that all drivers over a certain age were required to re-sit the driving-test regularly?

Nigel Wootton

Herne Bay, Kent

Roger Chapman favours raising the motorway speed limit. He writes: "Driving needs to be an active experience. Drifting on autopilot with your mind on other matters is an accident waiting to happen." If Mr Chapman requires the excitement of driving faster to keep him from endangering other road-users, perhaps it's time for him to hang up his string-backs and employ a chauffeur?

Eddie Dougall

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Don't blame biofuel

For the chairman of Nestlé to blame ethanol for water shortages is as hypocritical as blaming it for food inflation ("Boss says biofuel policy is causing starvation", 23 March). Ethanol uses less than three gallons of water to produce a gallon of domestically produced, renewable fuel; it takes 41 gallons of water to produce a single gallon of oil.

The real costs of putting food on the shelf are transportation, marketing and the energy for running the plants, all costs driven by oil. As other food executives have rightly said, grains are a fraction of the total costs of food-makers.

The truth is that grains used in ethanol go back into the food supply in the form of a highly valued livestock feed at cheaper prices than corn. It actually helps keep food and fuel costs low. Despite these facts, we are again confronted by a food company executive ringing up record profits with one hand while blaming high food prices on ethanol and the US farmer with the other.

Todd Becker

CEO, Green Plains Renewable Energy, Omaha, Nebraska USA

Teachers must carry on learning

James Noble-Rogers addresses the matter of teachers continuing to learn once they are in the job (Education, 24 March). A Historical Association survey of primary teachers showed lack of training was one of their main concerns. Sixty per cent of teachers said lack of subject classroom personal development (CPD) was a concern, with a further 31 per cent saying it could become a concern; those are startling figures.

Many primary teachers will not have studied subjects such as history, geography and sciences after the age of 14 themselves, so learning while being a teacher is essential. We at the HA provide online CPD but what teachers really want is in-person training and they want that supplied through their schools.

If training is not addressed as an integral part of the present curriculum review being done by the Department of Education, any changes may be wasted or undone by badly prepared teachers. The impact of lack of training for teachers is a lack of knowledge for children.

Rebecca Sullivan

CEO, Historical Association, London SE11

No fun to annoy customers

Further to the letter from Peter Milner (24 March) regarding the BT internet image of the car cornering, I must point out that the car is left-hand drive, so is therefore on the correct side of the road, assuming the photo was taken in a country that drives on the right.

But something even more irritating ensures that I will not make use of the product being advertised. The use of the word "funner" and the use of an image from another country tells me that BT do not want my business; they only want the sort of adolescents who use "funner" and "that was so fun" in normal conversation.

Is annoying potential customers the way to go about getting business?

Terence Moore

Eastbourne, East Sussex

The opposite of dumb

Guy Keleny asks: "Is there an authentic antonym to 'dumb down'? Clever up perhaps? Whatever it is, it doesn't seem to have crossed the Atlantic." (Errors and Omissions, 26 March). If I were to suggest "smarten up", would that seem too clever?

Tom Bennison


The antonym to "dumb down" is "wise up".

David Culver

London SE9

Taylor and Aids

In your Elizabeth Taylor obituary, Gilbert Adair refers to her falling in love with Montgomery Clift, having failed to recognise his homosexuality. A parallel is drawn with a "personal entanglement of an identical nature" during the shooting of Giant in 1956, with James Dean. But it was surely her friendship with Rock Hudson who, unlike Dean, was unquestionably gay, and who played her on-screen husband Bick Benedict in Giant, that was more meaningful for Taylor and led to her support of Aids-related causes.

Alan Bunting

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Strangers in the village

I am less confident than Matthew Norman (16 March) about the welcome that a black or Asian family would receive in a West Country village. A friend had a weekend retreat in a village near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. One weekend he was greeted by a neighbour with this tale: "During the week a minibus stopped by the village green. Several people poured out of the bus and on to the green. They started praying, Muslims probably. Of course I called the police."

Bernard O'Sullivan

London SW8

Currie was right

I was shocked by Anthea Gerrie's cavalier and trivialising assertion that British eggs were "falsely discredited by Edwina Currie as being harbourers of salmonella" (Living, 24 March). Mrs Currie, whatever her other faults, was totally correct about salmonella in eggs. I know because only a week after the fuss my nephew and I caught S Enteriditis from a dish of scrambled, fresh, just-bought, posh eggs.

Paul Levy

Witney, Oxfordshire

Price of health

Dr Stephen Black from PA Consulting, a lobbying group involved in "healthcare solutions", is incorrect when he claims the NHS reforms will force hospital doctors to compete on quality (letter, 22 March). GPs will be forced to choose the cheapest means of treatment, so hospitals will have to compete on cost, which will result in a sharp reduction in quality.

Thomas Wiggins

Wokingham, Berkshire

Perspectives on Israel

Populism and piety could be bad news

As usual, Patrick Cockburn's analysis ("Israel's last chance", 25 March) is spot-on regarding Israel's declining prospects for a durable peace deal. Perhaps the most significant danger is if Arab countries such as Egypt achieve democratic stability, for that will make them much stronger economically and therefore more important to the West.

This connects with two facts internal to Israel, told me by a Jewish Israeli human rights worker only a month ago. First, Israel's middle class is shrinking proportionately, quite extraordinary for a "developed" economy. Second, Ultra-Orthodox families often have up to 12 children apiece. Since few of the burgeoning Ultra-Orthodox are economically engaged, both facts are bad news for Israel's exchequer. They also affect how Israel presents itself internationally, with the danger that it will appear increasingly populist, and perhaps obscurantist.

The behaviour of the present administration (and Knesset legislation last week allowing small Jewish communities in the Galilee and the Negev to discriminate against fellow citizens who wish to reside there but "do not fit the socio-cultural profile" – that is, happen to be Arab) already warns us of the direction populism is taking.

Israel has always thought what it needed was a better army than the opposition. Yet the Israel that has proved so attractive to the West is going to be seriously sapped from within and for this its military prowess will prove irrelevant.

David McDowall

Richmond, Surrey

Hamas is democratic so long as it wins

Daniel McDowell is right that Hamas was democratically elected in 2006 (letter, 26 March), but Hamas's term in power expired in January 2010, and the group has subsequently blocked all attempts by the Palestinian Authority to hold elections in Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas also rejected an Egyptian-mediated national reconciliation agreement, signed by Fatah, that would have permitted elections in July 2010. How does any of this make Hamas a democratic movement?

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi


Selective sympathy in the Commons

We don't yet know who placed the bomb that killed the British Bible scholar in West Jerusalem and injured Israelis, so leaders on both sides of the House are to be praised for not jumping to the usual conclusions. Nevertheless, their expressions of "solidarity with the people of Israel" (William Hague) and their "condolences with the people of Israel and the families of those affected" (Douglas Alexander) poignantly highlight the absence of similar expressions when the victims are Palestinians.

Whatever atrocities are committed by Israel are done to "defend Israel", so that's OK. On the other hand, Palestinians are tacitly discounted as "terrorists", which seems to obviate the need for us to sympathise with them or their families, even when they happen to be innocent civilians.

Elizabeth Morley

Trisant, Aberystwyth

It was with deep concern that I noted the headline of your report about the bomb in Jerusalem (24 March), stating it had shattered "seven years of peace". During this time, Israel has invaded Gaza, laying waste to the land and killing 1,400 people, including 300 children.

Daily, there are incursions into Palestinian territory, to arrest and on occasion to kill Palestinians; there is an ongoing land and water grab by Israel, and Palestinians, including children, are arrested with impunity and incarcerated by the Israeli occupying forces, and are constant targets for attack by Israeli settlers.

All this while demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem continue apace and violence is meted out to non-violent demonstrators against the Wall. This does not sound like any form of peace that a neutral observer would recognise.

Diana Neslen

Jews for Justice for Palestinians, London W9

Who is the victim, who the avenger?

I have to question Catrina Stewart's perspective on current events in Israel and the Gaza Strip ("Escalation in revenge attacks pushes Israel closer to war", 25 March). She evidently feels the 80 rocket attacks on Israel over the past couple of weeks are really no big deal. This year over 130 rockets, missiles or mortars have been fired into Israel, compared with 238 for all of 2010.

Because nobody was killed by the rockets, she implies that Israel is over-reacting in seeking to protect its population by responding to the actions of these "militants". Yet the upsurge in rocket attacks certainly predates what she terms the "deadly Israeli assaults on Gaza". Her inversion of cause and effect does not help readers understand the true situation.

T Mendoza

Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex