Sir: The most astonishing thing about what can only be described as the Bishop of Rochester's new year rant is the complete absence of self-criticism on his part in relation to the Christian Church.
His ill-chosen language threatens to undo years of careful interfaith conversation, dialogue and joint action for the good of the whole community.
The real issue is the crisis of identity at the heart of a culturally Christian nation which has suddenly realised that promiscuity, binge-drinking and anti-social behaviour, to name but three relevant issues, are not the markers by which we wish to have our society defined. If immigrants and others choose to retreat from these unpleasant realities, into their own enclaves, while this is certainly in many ways regrettable, it is in sociological terms hardly surprising.
This does not mean, however, that the Christian community must retreat at the bishop's invitation into its own ghetto of unreflective half-truth and inflammatory rhetoric. This alarmist Christianity should be a no-go area for everyone.
If the bishop wants the real picture, let him venture to Blackburn, where he would find a very different perception of and approach to the cohesion and integration issues to which he alludes.
Ours is certainly a deeply divided town by any standards. One of the key issues has nothing at all to do with faith. It is the transference of an Indian sub-continental village culture, experience, expectation and mentality to life in a post-modern town, where we are working hard to extend much-needed educational and employment opportunities, just as we are seeking to create a more physically and psychologically healthy community by overcoming severe deprivation: all root causes of "segregated" living.
It's tough going. But we do not have no-go areas, perhaps because we haven't responded to our challenges by inhabiting the bishop's one-way street.
Dialogue Development OfficerCanon Chris ChiversCanon Chancellor (With responsibility for interfaith relations), Blackburn Cathedral
Sir: In cataloguing the sins of Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown cites his stance against gay rights and the ordination of gay priests (7 January). Quite right. But how can she fail to notice that John Sentamu, "the great man of York" whose "compassion" and "humanity" she contrasts to Nazir-Ali's nastiness, has an almost identical record on gay issues?
Britain's epidemic of incompetence
Sir: The problem of dysfunctionality goes deeper than acknowledged by Andreas Whittam Smith (7 January) and extends far beyond government, affecting many UK institutions.
Perhaps the most important factor lacking today is accountability when things go wrong. We hear only the refrain "the lessons will be learned". The "lesson to be learned" from 2007 in the UK is that the country is in the grip of an epidemic of incompetence. The causes are several: mindless dismissal of expert knowledge; cronyism in appointments to high office; MBA management without "hands on" experience, to mention a few.
Following the iconic Jade Goody/ Big Brother debacle in January last year, Howard Jacobson commented in this newspaper: "We are too soft on stupidity". Given, in this technological age, that people in high, and even not so high, office get very dangerous toys to play with it is surely time to heed Jacobson's warning.
Where government is concerned the root of the problem lies in the dismantling of a highly competent and experienced Civil Service which did more than just advise Ministers; it made government function in the name of, and with the guidance of, the elected party. Blair took to more-or-less completion Thatcher's replacement of competence and experience with "yes men" in the Civil Service.
So Whittam Smith is surely right to warn that the incompetence will continue but those responsible for the current situation are not the ones to rescue it; and the situation is critical now because that expertise will be lost for good within a decade or two. What is needed is a new breed of politicians who have experience and, most importantly, recognise its value in others. For this a new political party may be required.
Professor Keith Baverstock
Sir: Howard Jacobson makes excellent points in his column (5 January), although the use of the word "f******g" was perhaps not called for in a serious newspaper. One can also comment that elderly white people often tend to speak too loudly to women office workers of Indian origin, which is both unnecessary and unproductive. However, Mr Jacobson would have done better if he were to castigate the banking system than venting his anger at the lady functionary, who did appear to be studious and competent.
Some of our banks are really awful as private institutions offering a public service. Their procedures are cumbersome, their staffing level is abominably insufficient, and their branches are reducing in numbers.
My chequebook was stolen in transit by post and someone had tried to cash a cheque from it. I was shocked to learn that my bank would no longer check signatures on the cheques. This must be the most atrocious example of an institution failing in its "f******g" duty. This must be regarded as purely symptomatic of the tendency of the banks to maximise profit, although they do make it at present at an obscene level.
It is sad to see the decline in standards of public service in many fields nowadays, because of many reasons such as falling standards in education, lack of proper training and supervision in workplaces and the short-term greed of business people. However, being rude to low-level functionaries can hardly help the situation.
Dr Satish Desai
Memorials worthy of a princess
Sir: In straining to compare the "so-called fountain" in Hyde Park dedicated to the memory of Princess Diana to the inquests into her death and that of Dodi Al Fayed, your columnist Richard Ingrams does serious disservice to the coroner, counsel, solicitors, witnesses and members of the jury who are working very hard to get to the truth about the tragedy in Paris more than 10 years ago ("Inadvertent curse of a princess", 5 January) Had he bothered to attend the inquests for even one day, Mr Ingrams could not fail to be impressed by the thoroughness of the process that resumed this week.
As for the water feature in the park, it may be "plagued by cracks, flooding, injuries to children etc", as your columnist writes, but that is entirely the responsibility of the Princess's inept executors and the disputatious members of her memorial foundation. They were happy to bathe in the royal limelight when the Queen set the memorial's waters flowing but are never around with the plasters when yet another child falls over and hurts itself.
One day there will be a public memorial to the Princess that people will actually wish to visit and from which they will derive meaning and comfort, as they do from the elegant statue of Diana and Dodi within this store. Until then, only the children's playground in Kensington Gardens, with its Peter Pan theme, provides a memorial worthy of the Princess, whose windows looked out towards its site. At the time of his death, Dodi was about to produce a new live-action film version of J M Barrie's classic tale, a project to which the Princess was giving every encouragement.
Spokesman for Mohamed Al Fayed, The Chairman, Harrods LtdLondon SW1
Accusing Israel is too simple
Sir: While I sympathise with Jo Walton's concern for the plight of Palestinians on the West Bank (letter, 7 January), the assertion that Israel is imposing a kind of "apartheid" on the region is both naive and over-simplified.
I lived in Jerusalem some years back, at a time when it was still possible to wander fairly freely between Israel and the West Bank. During my time there, I was lucky enough to meet some of the "kindest and most welcoming people" Jo Walton refers to, not least a young West Bank Arab who worked with me at a kosher restaurant in the heart of Jerusalem (how ironic is that?)
Less happily, I also witnessed an altogether less welcoming side of the Palestinian scenario, on one occasion being nearly blown to pieces by a bomb that al-Fatah had left outside the cafe I was yards from entering (others were not so lucky: seven died, and over 30 were seriously injured). In Jerusalem's Old City, I was attacked twice, once at knifepoint, for the "crime" of inadvertently wandering into a Palestinian area.
So let's not kid ourselves. Taking a "Noddy Goes to Palestine" view of the current impasse is not going to solve anything. Yes, the situation of West Bank Arabs is intolerable. But then so is that of Israelis who were, until the wall was built, regularly being blown up in bars and restaurants across the land.
It is a tragic situation for both sides. For the Palestinians, who have been consistently let down by corrupt, second-rate politicians, and for Israelis, who remain hidebound by a constitution that gives far too much power to extreme religious groups. To reduce the situation to a "Palestinians good, Israelis bad" equation, and to bandy around accusations of apartheid, is simply to duck the very real and historically entrenched issues that must be addressed if the situation is to find some kind of resolution.
Law fails to ban hunt from my garden
Sir: Hunting appears to continue as if there were no laws against it. A pack of about 20 hounds has violated my garden, causing hundreds of pounds worth of damage and a considerable amount of stress.
The whippers-in and other members of the hunt were nowhere to be seen and did not appear for at least 10 minutes.
Although the hunt has offered to pay for the extensive damage done, they say they cannot guarantee that such an incident will not happen again; indeed this is not the first time there has been such an incident.
This is not acceptable; I now feel that every time I hear the hunt near the village or go away for the weekend something similar may happen and there is nothing, apart from taking out an expensive injunction against them, I can do.
Pitfalls of literacy in any language
Sir: In all this fuss about illogical spelling, why are people picking on the English language? French is just as bad as anyone who's tried to interview someone over the phone in that language will confirm.
I bet Walter Cairns (letter, 3 January) is closer to the right lines than Masha Bell with his emphasis on "dictation, rote learning and regular grammar drills". But that doesn't alter the fact that spelling mistakes are common over here. The other day I received an e-mail from a French, and French-educated, friend who used on (one) when she meant ont (have).
David J Boggis
Sir: Tony Unsworth's son (letter, 7 January) may be able to "read like an adult" since he gave him the manual to his favourite Playstation game, Grand Theft Auto, but they both appear to have trouble with numeracy. The reason the game has a large red "18" printed on the cover is because it's for adults only. This is due to a charming offshoot of the game whereby participants can murder prostitutes. Let's hope this doesn't in any way hamper Tony Jnr's personal development or his dad's chances of winning Parent of the Year, 2008.
Bilton, East Riding
Sir: So the MoD is said to be glamorising war through its on-line "misleading marketing" (report, 7 January). That may or may not be true. What is certainly true is that it will do nothing to improve the education of potential recruits. The text of the ad shown starts: "When your head to head with nature . . ." Oh, dear.
Ian K McKenzie
Odd despot out
Sir: Dan Snow, in his piece on the "origins of despots" (5 January), includes, along with Stalin, Hitler and others, Fidel Castro in his gallery of "tyrants". On what grounds?
Sir:What makes the Rev Kim Fabricius (Letter, 5 January) think Blair needs to repent over the Iraq war? We know that Blair, and Bush, prayed for guidance from on high before they engaged in the war. Is the Reverend saying that God should repent? Perhaps a Muslim PM praying to Allah might have got a different answer about invading Iraq? This just shows the danger in having politicians who make decisions based on conferences with imaginary friends in the sky, instead of rational analysis.
National Secular SocietyLondon WC1
Attack on the sick
Sir: What a nasty, uncaring society we have become when we have the grotesque spectacle of Gordon Brown and David Cameron competing as to how best to slash the right to invalidity benefit. This is one of the most rigorous tests of entitlement and affects the most vulnerable groups. This vicious display will only confirm how far we have descended to the American way of "healthcare".
Sir: When the clocks go back at the end of October, the press regularly carries letters advocating summer time throughout the winter months. Early January is a good time to judge the effect of that. We could have an extra hour of light at the end of the day if we were willing to accept a further hour of darkness in the mornings. It is not a very attractive prospect, even here in south-east England, where the effect would be less severe than elsewhere in the UK.
Sir: Sorry, Gillian Coates (letter, 7 January), your two daffodils on 4 January were overtaken by my six daffodils in bloom, outside my front door, before Christmas. Sadly, I now have less to look forward to as "spring" arrives.
Hilary S Haskell