Letters: Looting in Iraq

Choke off the demand for looted antiquities from Iraq
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Sir: The stirring article by Robert Fisk on your front page of 17 September performs a vital service in bringing the plight of archaeological sites in Iraq to the attention of a wider audience. Sadly, it seems impossible to do anything to stop the destruction in Iraq itself, largely because of the security situation and the appalling economic hardship suffered by many of those involved in the looting of sites. The money they make from these illegal activities may keep their families alive.

However, it might be possible to stem the flow of antiquities out of Iraq by tackling the problem from the other end and by targeting the dealers and the collectors. The supply of Mesopotamian antiquities has almost dried up on the legitimate market so we must deduce that the objects are either being stockpiled or are selling illicitly. Indeed, they may have become a staple commodity on the black market, trafficked and sold by those who also sell drugs, arms and perhaps people.

The arts and antiques squad at Scotland Yard is well aware of the problem, but, scandalously in the present situation, is currently threatened with punitive budget cuts. Additional resources and a concerted effort through national antiques squads, drugs experts and Interpol might make an impact. If sales could be halted, the looters would find they no longer had a market for their goods.

Dr Harriet Crawford

Thriplow, Cambridgeshire

Sir: Robert Fisk's harrowing account of the cultural devastation of Iraq recalls the prophet of the Babylonian exile, Ezekiel: "The end is come upon the four corners of the land." The final destruction has been achieved two and a half millennia later by the White House and its annex at No. 10.

The awful fact for the idealists is that Saddam Hussein built upon the Sumerian and Mesopotamian heritage in his own brutal manner to unify the loose coalition that is modern Iraq, where at least al-Qa'ida had no place and Christians were relatively free to worship.

Dr David Spooner

Dunfermline, Fife

Dawkins needs to read some theology

Sir: Richard Dawkins is very ready to criticise the integrity of theology (letter, 17 September). In doing so he overlooks the academic and intellectual inadequacy of his own writings.

Most of the polemic in The God Delusion is directed at US fundamentalist Christianity. This is somewhat like writing a book about gastronomy but focusing on the McDonald's "restaurant". Dawkins' emphasis on what might be termed "McTheology" greatly limits the scope of his analysis. A proper engagement with leading academic theological thought would have resulted in a much more interesting book and could even have stimulated a constructive dialogue of the type which is central to academic discourse.

Dawkins further limits his investigations in two ways. Firstly, he restricts himself to the view that "the existence of God is a scientific concept like any other". Secondly, he denies that personal religious experience has any real cognitive value. These limitations greatly hamper his understanding of religion. He appears not to note that restrictions of these types would also seriously limit the account of all subjective experience, including the evaluation of the self and free will.

Dawkins fails to recognise that religious thinking develops with time and that its expression, both personal and collective, is continually changing in response to new situations. There is another way of saying this: it evolves – strange he missed that.

It should also be noted that Dawkins' scientist viewpoint seriously misrepresents the nature of science. All scientific knowledge is by nature provisional. As modern science is at an early stage of development, some modesty regarding its achievements is undoubtedly advisable.

Professor W Richard Bowen

School of Engineering, University of Wales Swansea

Sir: Richard Dawkins is right. It is not necessary to read volumes on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns. But as far as I'm aware, there are no university departments anywhere in the world devoted to this no-doubt fascinating subject. There are, however, many university departments devoted to theology, populated by academics whose intelligence is at least equal to Dawkins' own. He is entitled to his views about religion, but his refusal to engage with his intellectual equals looks narrow-minded and cowardly.

The Revd Richard Hall


Worldwide road safety campaign

Sir: The claim made by Professor Ian Roberts that the FIA Foundation and Formula One is part of an attempted "hijack" of road safety by the automobile industry is absurd (report, 10 September). The FIA Foundation is a charity established in 2001 after a $300m gift from the FIA, the non-profit association of motoring clubs and the governing body of motorsport.

We are entirely independent of the automobile industry and play a leading role in promoting higher vehicle safety standards worldwide. For example, we support the work of the EuroNCAP consumer crash-test programme, which has forced industry to improve its safety design, and is the only such programme in the world that includes pedestrian protection rating.

The suggestion made by Professor Roberts that we are trying to "dictate" the global road safety agenda and not fund this effort ourselves is outrageous. We have played a leading role in funding the road safety effort of the World Health Organisation, the United Nations and the World Bank Global Road Safety Facility.

The Commission for Global Road Safety, under the chairmanship of Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, is not dominated by the automobile industry. It has 12 members from the G8 countries, Costa Rica, Kenya, India and Oman. They include a leading economist, a medical professor, a minister of transport, a head of road traffic police, a UN diplomat, a public health specialist, a road safety NGO, a former CEO of a tyre company and just one representative of a motor vehicle manufacturer.

The commission is urging global action to try to tackle the rising number of road traffic deaths, now 1.2 million a year, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. The commission is proposing a first UN ministerial conference on road safety and is warning that each year the World Bank and other donors are investing $4bn in roads in developing countries without ensuring adequate levels of safety design.

Aid for road infrastructure in Africa, already with the world's most dangerous roads, is increasing. This will make a bad situation even worse and that is why we have launched the "Make Roads Safe" campaign for global action on road safety.

David Ward

Director General, FIA Foundation, London WC2

Forward to a greener future

Sir: As a Lib Dem district councillor and grandmother, living in a charming village, I must gently take exception to Chris Savage's definition of me and my like (his so-called "greens"), as "reactionary, anti-humanity, . . . uncomfortable with the idea of human happiness" (letter, 18 September).

In my casework, and as a carer, I find that most parents are increasingly worried about the world their children will inherit – hardly "reactionary", I'd have thought. If "human happiness" equals a stag party in Budapest for a long weekend, then, yes, perhaps that isn't my idea of the sum of human perfection. However, I see people who are fully capable of happiness, yet who are more and more worried about the future. Future demonstrations for environmental change will come increasingly from those of us, worried, middle- of-the-road, young, old, who understand that we must take action – and now.

Having just returned from the continent – flying with a bad conscience, then driving across several borders, I was forced to see that we will never give up flying, and we will never give up our cars (especially in the rural areas). Numbers, need and desire, are dead set against any type of restriction. So, rather than "attacking consumerist life-styles"', we greens are spearheading research into alternative technologies which will allow us to go on doing what we have grown to depend on, for both work and leisure. But cleanly. A better world for our children is no bad thing to work for.

Alison Graham

Hitchin, Hertfordshire

Sir: Much as I like the concept of "green taxes" and believe that they are necessary, I can't see how the Lib Dem proposals could work in their present form: high green taxes alongside lower income tax with few people being worse off.

Many taxpayers might then choose to continue flying, turning the heating up high and lighting their homes 24 hours a day, paying the higher costs out of their higher residual incomes, and they would be no worse off than they are now. On the other hand, if many people decided otherwise and chose to burn less fuel and pay less green tax, government revenues would fall – which would surely entail higher income tax or lower public spending and declining community services.

It's time to stop pretending that saving the earth for future generations can be cost-free to current generations.

Marilyn Mason

Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

Sir: Chris Savage has a somewhat blinkered view of his fellow man. I consider myself to be "green" and the preservation of the world to be the most important part of our lives (what can be more important?) but to label all "greens" as "anti-humanity"" etc. is ridiculous. People like Mr Savage seem to believe such a stereotype gives them the right to do as they please without consideration for the environment. It is obviously too much of a nuisance for them to change their habits.

Steven Henry


Northern Rock: Brown must step in

Sir: Gordon Brown is managing to disappear whenever there is a crisis. He needs to stop worrying what people will think of him and start facing up to his responsibilities. In particular, as a tax payer, I would appreciate him stepping in before Alistair Darling uses my money to buy Northern Rock.

Mike Ballard

Billericay, Essex

Sir: However keen some of us are on free speech, most of us recognise that we should usually resist shouting "fire" in a crowded cinema. Banking requires confidence. With the Government's guarantee in place over Northern Rock, do you think your main headline of 18 September is helpful: "The fear spreads".

Peter Cave

London W1

Sir: Let's have transparent language. Let's go back to words that mean what they say and say what they mean."Sub-prime" means "dodgy". "Transparency" means "honesty".

David Whalley

Macclesfield, Cheshire

Jews, Palestinians and Vikings

Sir: Your correspondents' attempts (letters, 6 September) to deny the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism shows a failure of the imagination. Unlike the Vikings, the Celts, the Romans and the Greeks, the Jews are the only ancient people to have survived an exile of 2,000 years to return to their ancestral homeland.

Although not a single Palestinian Arab would have been dispossessed had Israel's Arab neighbours not gone to war to reverse the 1947 UN Partition Plan, plenty of Jews feel sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and advocate a state of Palestine alongside Israel.

Lyn Julius

London SW5

Hedgehogs in the kitchen

Sir: What a splendid discovery by Tina Rowe (letter, 18 September) that hedgehogs were used to clear cockroaches from kitchens before being roasted and eaten by our ungrateful ancestors.

Looking through material that might provide a context for some 18th-century recipes I am publishing, I was puzzled to find that the parish council of those days had paid four pence for a hedgehog. I vaguely thought of a miniature feast, but Tina Rowe provides evidence that it may have been Totteridge pioneering in the development of an environmental health department. And a better bargain than that offered by their successor, Barnet Borough Council, who want over £100 to deal with one rat.

Philip N O'Donoghue

New Barnet, Hertfordshire


Driver in a burka

Sir: A burka-clad Muslim woman driving a car (letter, 15 September) must surely be an indication of progressiveness. In many countries her male relations would forbid her to drive at all.

Stephen Churchett


Bus to strange places

Sir: Amid all the bad news of global warming and possible bank failures, it's good to see the bus to Oz (report, 17 September). It will be interesting to see how these travellers fare, compared with the original Magic Bus occupants. Most of them were on chemical substances of some sort to keep them in the right frame of mind. A friend took the bus in the Sixties and didn't realise he was in India for a couple of months. These travellers are going to have to rely on a large dose of good humour to sustain them.

Ian Smith


Mysterious message

Sir: You are to be congratulated on the excellence of your psychic section ("Days like these", 18 September). Friedrich Engels died in 1895, yet you are able to report what he wrote to his sister Marie in 1940. Presumably the message was received using a ouija board. It must be one of the longest texts ever obtained using such methods.

Michael K Baldwin

Sittingbourne, Kent

Committed to ideas

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (18 September) claims that she is "committed to many liberal principles of personal liberty and autonomy", but also that she is "not a 'liberal' ". Howard Jacobson (15 September) stresses that his arguing on the side of Zionism does not make him "Zionist". I'm obviously stuck in the conceptual dark ages, thinking that someone's committing to or arguing for an idea implies their association with it. Could one of your "writers of columns" (formerly "columnists") please enlighten me?

Sean Cordell


Tough act to follow

Sir: As to "forgotten stars" who played Hamlet (letter, 17 September), what about Sam West? One could go on, and on – but why go on when there was Innokentii Smoktunovsky?

Ian Press

London E17