Letters: Medieval divorce laws

The medieval divorce law system that has torn our family apart
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The Independent Online

Sir: As a divorced father and grandfather, I felt the article on divorce laws (26 August) could not have identified more clearly the changes needed to an English system still rooted in medieval disapproval and retribution.

On signing my respondent divorce papers in 2000, I recorded: "The petitioner's statement is an unbalanced account of an otherwise enduringly rich and fulfilling relationship. I accept this document only as an effective separation."

The petition read like a 4am nightmare, and the words left me devastated. My then wife responded sympathetically that it was "what the solicitor advised". As the respondent, I did not employ a solicitor, and my wife and I settled our affairs amicably, and in fact shared joint bank and credit-card accounts for a year after the decree nisi.

My former wife still commands my love and respect, but we are dysfunctional in our ability to share this.

The reason for this, I believe, is that as the grief of our separation turned to "victim" and "villain", set out as a precedent in the divorce process, the emotional damage to our loving family, torn between these fault-in-law "victim" and "villain" poles, grew in a malignant way.

Divorce polarisation has been so damaging for our family. Lord Justice Wall, asserting that the system is "cynical and utilitarian" and not fit for the purpose for which it is now intended, is entirely accurate, and a large body of opinion in the legal system itself seems to heartily agree.

Jane McCullogh's approach is balanced when she says: "We are behind the principle of no-fault divorce because we would like to see an end to couples having to make allegations about each other's behaviour."

Thank you for bringing this family life-destroying process into the open.



Confused policies cause the problems

Sir: In advancing yet another commission to promote much-needed integration and community cohesion, the Secretary of State for Communities (report, 25 August) seems to focus on the negative attitudes and shattered aspirations of both disaffected white and estranged Asian citizens.

While admitting the impact of these on our geographical and emotional landscape, Ruth Kelly does not, as yet, appear open enough to acknowledge that lack of aspiration and polarised attitudes are a direct result of the confused context in which citizens find themselves. It is not the diversity of persons that is the problem here but a plurality of public policies with competing claims and aims.

Citizens are invited to see, for instance, their schools as reflective of the "multicultural" nature of their local communities, yet, at the same time, the demand for parental choice negates such an invitation as it segregates so many schools along racial lines.

Local authorities are, rightly, expected to offer citizens a good stock of public housing, but the drive to give the same citizens the opportunity to purchase these homes depletes resources and weakens any local authority's ability to maintain public housing at a level which does not see communities descend into static, low-wage "ghettoes" of hopelessness and despair.

And while the present government set out its foreign affairs stall in 1997 in terms of the development of "an ethical foreign policy", what are citizens almost 10 years later, meant to make of the unethical - many would say illegal - actions in respect of Iraq?

Until the Government begins to champion integrated and cohesive thinking and action in terms of its own policies, we fear there is little chance of promoting one integrated and cohesive community.



Sir: We welcome the establishment of a Commission on Integration and Cohesion, in the hope that it will include Sikh concerns and aspirations. We applaud the objective of encouraging and nurturing social interaction, participation and inclusion between diverse communities.

Britain's 700,000 Sikh population has been demonstrating this for a long while, in spite of various barriers, ignorance and prejudice. Since arriving in the 1960s and 1970s, and making a massive contribution in the defence of Britain during the world wars, Sikhs have made a positive effort to participate and share in a socially interactive multi-ethnic society.

Sikh social values stress family, community, neighbourliness, kindness, work and caring and sharing. Sikh performance in education, work, house ownership and social participation remains enduringly high. Sikhs have embraced the opportunities life in Britain has afforded, and have reciprocated in equal measure.

But we do not feel our contribution and place in Britain has been recognised by the government and institutions such as the Commission for Race Equality.

Despite repeated attempts to engage public policy on issues such as Sikh ethnic inclusion (ethnic recognition), anti-Sikh racist attacks and Sikh cultural provision in public services, the Government has remained dismissive and obstructive. Sikhs feel ignored, dejected and alienated from official ideas on "community cohesion". Our concerns and aspirations as an ethnic community, have not been given attention nor inclusion in government discussions or policy.

An "open and honest" debate on community cohesion needs to include equal and transparent engagement of all communities (not just the "problematic" ), and transformation of dialogue into positive cultural and ethnic inclusion in the social and public life of Britain. This needs to be demonstrated through official recognition of the contributions of these migrant communities, and their experiences and aspirations as part of British life.



Do not brand them 'failures'

Sir: As a teacher of many years' experience, now researching education practices at doctorate level, I am delighted pupils have achieved so well at GCSE, I am delighted the students I prepared have achieved so well and I am delighted my own child has achieved so well.

But do we judge these just by the euphoria of C and above or indeed A* etc? There are many pupils who will never achieve those grades and that is in no way to be perceived as a failure on their part. It is merely a fact of life in the same way as most of the population could never outrun Linford Christie, or win Wimbledon.

So please can we somewhere find time to praise those who have given their all and perhaps achieved only D, E or F, those being the very best they can do.

Pupils know instinctively if they have worked had. By totally ignoring them we strike at their psyche and consign them to the bottom of the pile in their perception of society's opinion at an early age.

It takes a great deal to encourage these pupils to go on, and some do to achieve later academic success but not without perhaps far greater commitment than those who find study relatively easy.



Strong beliefs can be dangerous

Sir: David Smith says belief is a phenomenon possibly linked to evolution (Letters, 26 August). I think it is better to say belief is a word used to claim that an idea is true, but for which there is no evidence in reality.

It cannot be proved to be true or false so its consequences cannot be controlled. If the belief is about fairies in the garden these are not serious but if it motivates a suicide bomber it is appalling. For poor, ignorant people belief may offer solace in a cruel existence, as opium was used in China. But in the hands of the educated and prosperous it is ridiculous, and in the claims of the powerful, belief based on faith is extremely dangerous.

It has long been a puzzle to philosophers (and now neuroscience)how such ideas arise. They lodge only in the mind, have no connection with reality or experience, are indeed a phenomenon, and need faith and belief for their intangible existence.

Now that man has it in his power to destroy himself entirely, we must take the problem posed by belief and faith seriously. Kept in the private world of the home or the church or the temple or the coven these ideas are everyman's choice but they have no place in the public arena of our society where they are provocative and contentious.

The more intense the faith the more unreasoned it becomes. Strong belief is praised where it should be discouraged and feared.



A real gem of political spin

Sir: Ben Bradshaw's response (19 August) to the letter from 14 environmental, consumer, trades unionists, health, and food and farming organisations, starts with a real gem of political spin.

He says the criticism of the Government was "one-sided" because it is wrong to claim there is a "direct causal link between pesticide exposure and ill-health". We did not mention a "causal link" in our letter.

The Minister is at least right to say non-organic farming depends on pesticides; 447 can be used, frequently in untested combinations. But to imply, as he does, that organic farming is equally reliant on pesticides is a travesty of the truth.

Organic farmers primarily control pests and diseases through healthy soils, resistant varieties, crop rotations and encouraging natural predators. As a last resort, organic farmers certified by the Soil Association can use just four sprays of naturally occurring substances, such as copper, sulphur, soft soap and derris.

These are mainly used on just one crop, potatoes, as well as on some orchard fruit such as apples. Copper and sulphur are used in far greater quantities by non-organic farmers as soil conditioners.

Government safety regulation of sprays no longer rests on the best scientific advice available, and people should no longer have any confidence that this fatally flawed system is protecting their health.



Bravo, Mr Sayle, keep it coming

Sir: I greatly enjoyed Alexei Sayle's column (Extra, 25 August). It was original and entertaining, and I am sure that if Mr Sayle says he met Walid Jumblatt at a cinema in London and discussed his imaginary sandwich bar with him, then it must be so.

The description of Thames Valley University's trendy vice-chancellor was perfect. I was a student there and remember this character with his silver mullet and oversized earring wandering about looking as if he had got lost on the way to Camden market.

I love the idea of him ending up on a barge in Amsterdam, perhaps helping Czech prostitutes with their media studies and busking Peter Sarstedt songs in Dam Square to cover his hairdressing costs.

Mr Sayle's skill as a novelist shone through in the thrilling climax to his tale "Tracey Emin is away". Is there any chance of a sequel?



Puff for Brunel

Sir: Amid all the deletion of depictions of smoking - the latest in cartoons - I note that Isambard Kingdom Brunel's cigar, absent from his statue, is still firmly in place on one of this year's new commemorative £2 coins. Should I keep all those I receive, in case the Royal Mint is forced to withdraw it from circulation, and it becomes a collector's item?



Waspish solution

Sir: The problem of birds flying into wind turbines has a simple cause and a simple solution (Letters, 22 August). The cause is that the blades of the turbines are painted white, to blend in with the sky and not be too obtrusive. Hence, the birds do not see them. If the blades were painted with black and yellow stripes the birds would see danger and stay well clear. But could we live with what look like giant wasps buzzing around? If it saves birdlife, I would not mind.



We loaf about

Sir: We were surprised Andrew Whitley did not mention the simplest way to control the exact contents of one's bread (Extra, 24 August). We have a bread-maker, and use Canadian flour, richer in selenium than European wheat flour, and organic bread flours. We halve the salt content, use olive oil, not butter and glucose, not sugar. The cooked, sliced bread can be frozen, so preservatives are irrelevant. After 16 years, our bread machine is the most used and indispensable piece of kitchen equipment, after the washing machine.



Last word?

Sir: I can see discussion over prolixity in English grammar is set to be exhaustive (Letters, 26 August), but I hope it can avoid becoming exhaustative.



Unbearable Elvis

Sir: According to The Independent roundup of silly season stories (24 August), among the teddy bears damaged by a crazed doberman pinscher was "Mabel, a 1909 bear made by German toymaker, Steiff, who once belonged to none other than Elvis Presley". We have heard some strange tales about him but this is the first we have heard that The King collected German toymakers.



It does not add up

Sir: So David Sinclair ("Bought the T-shirt", 25 August) thinks a guinea equates to £1.10p. A guinea was 21 shillings and, as from 15 February 1971, when Britain went decimal, a shilling (12d in old money) became 5p; a guinea is actually £1.05p. Did Mr Sinclair get his GCSE in maths?



Put that in your ...

Sir: So children are not to see Tom and Jerry having a smoke between fights. What is to happen to Popeye's pipe?