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- Arts + Ents
Tuesday 8 February 2011
I am alarmed that David Cameron denigrated multiculturalism, to the applause of European Union ministers, some of whom are from right-wing parties. It was in Munich that Hitler held fascist rallies.
I am a black woman from Belgium who has worked in Britain for the past six years. My parents came from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is multiculturalism here that for the first time in my life made me feel comfortable as a person of African origin and enabled me to participate more fully in the society. In Belgium, I am expected to be like a white Belgian without actually being one or being respected as one.
Britain has led race relations within Europe. Please don't throw all that away.
I teach English to speakers of other languages (ESOL) in Sheffield, a city which prides itself on being the UK's first "City of Sanctuary". My learners include people from many of the region's immigrant communities – Yemenis, Somalis, Burmese Karen, Iraqis, Iranians and Chinese, as well as eastern Europeans. Some students need English because they are hoping to get work, others are developing their skills in order to pursue a course of further study, but many, especially those bringing up families, just want to be able to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
Mr Cameron has stated in Munich that his party is committed to funding those organisations which promote human rights, particularly for women, and the integration of immigrant communities. And yet ESOL provision is currently under serious threat through funding changes and it is feared that many vulnerable and disadvantaged people will no longer be able to access the English classes they so desperately need. Women and asylum seekers in particular are likely to be the worst hit – they will simply be unable to afford to attend English classes.
A facility with English empowers women who are otherwise isolated within their ethnic groups, it supports vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, and it enables people to communicate across the boundaries of race, culture and religion.
If Mr Cameron really believes that we need to do more to prevent the segregation of communities, then cutting investment in ESOL provision is surely a move in the wrong direction, and I urge him and his party to think again.
Dr Judith Brown
If multiculturalism has failed, what is it to be replaced by? Presumably monoculturalism, based on majority cultural norms in Britain. As far as I can see, these cultural norms include the following.
Most British people do not subscribe to any religion or faith in a meaningful way. Fashion and modes of dress have become increasingly revealing. Social interaction usually involves much drinking and smoking. Films, art, literature and computer games focus on violence and sex. Fewer people are involved in the democratic political process. Family care for the elderly is no longer a priority. Marriage has ceased to be the norm, whereas divorce no longer carries any stigma.
Monoculturalism would be disastrous for Britain. Diversity is the only way forward.
David Cameron's advocacy of "muscular liberalism", as opposed to multiculturalism, is based on his respect for values of "equality, law and freedom of speech across all parts of society".
Would not the "fight" against terrorism be more effective if these values were supported by western governments in their policies towards the Palestinians and all those Islamic countries ruled (with Western support) by repressive regimes?
There is consistent evidence showing that the lack of support by the West for these values and policies is one of the major conditions (along with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan) that stimulates radicalism and terrorist activities. Foreign policy is the key, not an attack on multiculturalism that panders to the far right.
The Prime Minister's speech and decisions on Muslim terrorism savour of the appalling idiocy of US McCarthyism years ago, a national atmosphere of witch-hunting whose poison lingers still in American life and politics, refreshed into a Muslim setting by the Twin Towers attack.
There are only two ways to get rid of an enemy: to turn him into a friend or to kill him. Killing does not work. The dead rise again in hostility new-minted by the killers themselves. Punishing the communities in which potential terrorists may live is simply feeding the disease.
Kenneth J Moss
Mexican rebuke for 'Top Gear'
I am to writing to you in response to the BBC's "apology" regarding the comments made by the presenters of Top Gear. They clearly do not know Mexicans.
I have been living in the UK for nine years and I have to say that this is the first time I have felt racism in this country. I feel disgusted by what they said and even more by the fact that the BBC did not provide a sincere apology. I am also glad to know that British people are not like that.
We are not lazy. When I arrived in the UK, I was studying and had three jobs, so I could pay for my studies and my bills. I was working as an au pair, delivering sandwiches around offices and working in a gym during the weekend and studying in the afternoons. Nine years later, I own a house, hold an important position in a multinational company and have a very good life, and I can tell you that this is not because I have been sleeping under a cactus the whole time.
They said in the programme, "Imagine waking up and being a Mexican!" Well I can tell you, it is a real honour to be a Mexican.
S Ramirez Zambrana
Paul Harper (letter, 4 February) is wide of the mark when he suggests that those who object to the recent derogatory remarks by Top Gear presenters are incapable of appreciating irony and should "get a life".
Although the sequence may have been intended as a parody of the casual sexism from some presenters on Sky Sports, it failed spectacularly and instead came across as barely disguised xenophobia bordering on racism. Similarly the treatment meted out to presenters' erstwhile racing driver partner Ben Collins (the ex-Stig) when they staged a faux drive-by shooting on a live firing range was in bad taste and, far from being ironic, was simply puerile.
The Top Gear programme has itself become a parody of a motoring show, and attempts at parody within parody rarely succeed. Under Jeremy Clarkson's guidance it has become a crude vehicle for the presenters to air their own personal prejudices, laced with casual misogyny and xenophobia. Unfortunately it is an approach which its devotees admire and which the BBC itself appears to condone.
I believe that the sale of Top Gear episodes makes a great deal of money for the BBC. So unacceptable behaviour from the odious Jeremy Clarkson and pals goes unpunished.
Young people betrayed, again
Does Ed Miliband really think that the Coalition cuts are the first example this century of the younger generation being let down by government policy ("Miliband: young generation have been betrayed by spending cuts", 4 February)?
How about North Sea oil and gas? In barely a generation, under both Conservative and Labour governments, a one-off national bonanza was exhausted, with nothing left for future generations other than a mountain of debt topped off by an atmosphere of greenhouse gases. Where is our sovereign wealth fund?
Or tax policy. Labour improved funding of the NHS through an increase in National Insurance contributions, a tax paid only by the under-65s. And there is more of this to come in April.
Mr Miliband is right in suggesting that change might come if more young people turn out to vote. A policy that he could adopt to encourage this is to turn the Equality Act into the piece of legislation that it should have been from the outset – one whose provisions must be applied to all government policy, including those concerning the nation's natural resources, taxation and taxpayer-funded perks. Then all voters will know that fairness is at the very heart of the legislative process.
Statue of Damocles?
Christine Thomas is concerned about the "sacrilege" of Canterbury Cathedral as a result of Antony Gormley's sculpture of nails, which hangs in the eastern crypt (letter, 7 February).
As a children's guide at the Cathedral, it is unlikely that I will have a lot to say about it, because it hangs above the location of Thomas Becket's first shrine, the place where King Henry II spent the night in prayer in 1174 and where he admitted the supremacy of the church. Such matters are much more significant to my themed tours than are ephemeral collections of medieval hardware.
However, I will keep my eye on that statue because of the risk that it might fall down. Being keenly aware of my child protection responsibilities, I shudder at the thought of having to write an incident report to explain how a welded mass of medieval nails collapsed on to a Year 9 class in my charge! Has Antony Gormley got the necessary certificates to prove that he is experienced in making and suspending iron statues?
Michael K Baldwin
Sun spots show a year of doom
Your spectacular image of the Sun (7 February) prompts me to remind your readers of the sun-spot cycle and the idea that it affects human behaviour.
Sun spots are gigantic storms on the surface of the Sun and they normally reach their maximum about every 11 years. These maxima seem to coincide with periods of turbulence in human affairs. For example 1848, the "Year of Revolutions", coincided with a sun-spot maximum, as also 1968 and, nearer to our own time, 1990 when the Cold War ended and war erupted in the Gulf, and 2001, the year of 9/11.
Of course all this could be nonsense, but if a solar flare can cause radio blackouts and signalling systems to go berserk it could affect human behaviour. And the next maximum is due in 2012 when many people are predicting the end of the world.
Dr Anthony J Cooper
A better way to police parking
Helen Dolphin (letter, 31 January) says that towing away is the only deterrent that will stop illegal parking.
The Athens police had a simpler way. Some years ago we rented a car there and noticed one day that the rear number plate was missing. We thought there had been one on the day before.
When we checked with the rental company we found that we must have parked illegally – we had been surprised how easy it was to find a parking space in the main square. To get the number plate back we had to go to a police depot and pay a fine – there would probably have been a much bigger fine if we had been spotted driving without a rear number plate.
A very neat solution which saves the police the trouble of towing the car away and doesn't leave the driver stranded, like the very unfortunate Diana Jennings.
The first frog of spring
With the apparent demise of the cuckoo, which is suffering a steep decline, we may need a new herald of spring. With the first reports this weekend of frogs spawning, in Pembrokeshire and Cornwall, I'd like to suggest that the common frog could take over the job while the RSPB sorts out the problem with the cuckoos.
The common frog has several advantages. First, you're much more likely to see one in your garden than a cuckoo. If you've got a pond there's a better than 50:50 chance you'll have spawning frogs. Cuckoos, on the other hand, mostly steer clear of the average garden.
Second, cuckoos are really rather mean: their young kill baby birds. Frogs, on the other hand, are mostly vegetarian.
Third, if you kiss a frog it might turn into a prince. This has never happened with the cuckoo.
Director, Pond Conservation
Muhammad Samiullah, aged 17, is in a juvenile detention centre in Karachi after writing allegedly blasphemous remarks in an exam paper (report, 4 February). He could face the death penalty. Whatever one might think of the "blasphemy" and whether it is appropriate for the law to embody such a concept, Mr Samiullah is under 18, and under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – to which Pakistan is a signatory – he should not be executed, for anything. Where is the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child when they are needed?
Dr Lorraine M Harding
Members of Parliament have reacted with prudery and without a sense of humour toward the wife of the Speaker posing scantily clad for a newspaper. A Tory MP who suffers with cerebral palsy claims that he is taunted by other MPs. A lot seems to be wrong with the attitudes of our elected representatives. Other things in our politics require reform, not just MPs' expenses.
Peter J Brown
David Cameron's "Big Society" is proving to be a more elusive concept than Fermat's last theorem. It is also a stroke of genius, because he will take credit for all the good work by volunteers being done out there despite his cuts.
I've heard of Kate Moss (letter, 7 February) but who is Kate Middleton?
Perspectives on bankers’ bonuses
We are all, probably rightly, exercised at the moment at the prospect of bankers' bonuses. No one actually needs a reported bank balance of £95m to live comfortably. There is a limit to how much caviar and smoked salmon one can eat and how many houses one can live in.
Clearly, the Coalition Government is not going to do anything positive about reducing the levels of bonus, but some good could come from it all. As I read in the press about libraries faced with closure and charities struggling to provide services, I am reminded of the philanthropists of 150 years ago, the mill owners, the coalmine owners, the brewers and, indeed, the bankers who funded social welfare and institutions from their own fortunes.
I am not implying that individuals and organisations do not contribute to charities; we know they do. But maybe, just maybe, if some of these vast bonuses could be invested publicly in keeping open vulnerable libraries or restoring some of the social services, the threat to whose continued existence, rightly or wrongly, is being blamed on imprudent bank activity, we'd be more sympathetic.
So how about it? The Diamond Foundation for Literacy in the Community; the Daniels Trust for Childcare; the Gulliver Fund for Dementia? But I suspect the Flying Pink Pig Association will be the main beneficiary.
Christopher R Bratt
Change of mind
"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" asked John Maynard Keynes.
With that as background, would interviewers please keep on asking David Cameron what has led to his change of mind over bonuses paid by banks in which the state has a large stake?
In February 2009, Cameron said that such bonuses should be limited to £2,000. What has changed? Surely, as he is a sincere individual, it cannot be merely that then he was seeking election and now he has been elected.
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