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Thursday 5 October 2006
The Government must fight to save this innocent life in Pakistan
Sir: Justin Huggler's Opinion piece "Where are the protests to save this Briton?" (3 October) raises some important questions over who we choose to fight for. The Government's apparent lack of consistent effort to try to save Mirza Tahir Hussain from execution is particularly worrying. Consecutive governments have had years to take action and stand up for Hussain, a British citizen, yet they have failed to pursue his case.
With increasing numbers of people travelling abroad for holidays, business and gap years the number of desperate stories such as this will only increase. Hussain's case really highlights how we rely on small, but effective, NGOs such as Fair Trials Abroad to fight for the rights of individuals in such tragic situations. They are totally under-resourced for the scale of the work they face.
As we see more international agreements reached to facilitate extradition and a greater push for mutual recognition and enhanced police co-operation, we need to ensure that we are paying full attention to the rights of the accused to a fair process: if that does not exist, we are failing to protect our citizens.
General Musharaf has the opportunity to take a stand and intervene to save an innocent life and to show that justice is possible. I urge the UK Government to use the, now vital, next three weeks to pursue justice for Hussain and urge your readers to do the same.
JEAN LAMBERT MEP
(GREEN), LONDON EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, BRUSSELS
Are Palestinians ready for peace?
Sir: I cannot make sense of the article by Sami Abdel-Shafi ("The strife of a people stripped of dignity", 3 October). If the Palestinian government gave up its fantasy of wiping a sovereign state (Israel) off the face of the earth, but instead recognised it and gave up violence, the Palestinian people would get unlimited aid. The walls would come down, the checkpoints would go and the economy would rapidly improve. It seems to me that Hamas does not really care for its people, who are now suffering extreme poverty, lawlessness and anarchy. To blame all this on Israel is sheer nonsense.
Sir: Democracy is more than winning a vote in an election. ("A storm of violence that we have done little to quell", leading article, 3 October). The key aspects of democracy include the existence, since the Treaty of Westphalia, of an international system of governance based on the nation state, the rule of law and peaceful actions to resolve disputes. Elections are an important part of a democratic process, but they aren't an end in themselves.
Democracies, have the right, and the responsibility, to clearly state their democratic priorities. The Quartet has done just that, by requiring that Hamas recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous Israel-PA agreements. For there to be a lasting peace, there will undoubtedly need to be concessions. But the international community should not be forced to deal with Hamas until they meet the three key international conditions.
It would be hypocritical for any democracy or any liberal newspaper to talk about the importance of democracy and then call for concessions towards a terrorist organisation that flouts international law. As with the expectation in Northern Ireland that Sinn Fein would abandon violence before the political process took over, Hamas must play by the same rules. We must not allow Hamas to make a mockery of true democracy.
BRITAIN ISRAEL COMMUNICATIONS AND RESEARCH CENTRE LONDON WC1
Sir: David McDowall (letter, 2 October) trots out the old mantra that Palestinian suffering is the direct result of Israeli occupation.
Most Israelis would vote for peace and territorial concession, but the Palestinians are led by a "government" whose hatred of Jews would not permit any peaceful co-existence and at each watershed of political dialogue, the Arab extremists have triumphed over the Arab moderates.
Instead of guns in the hands of the Palestinian youth, it would be good to see spades and picks, ready to build sewers, houses and schools, with the money that has poured into these territories over the years. Unfortunately, the money has been diverted into the coffers of the corrupt and it is so much easier to blame Israel for the hardships.
When Gaza was returned, instead of working for a showcase Palestinian land, which could prove to Israel and the world that having their own territory was the catalyst for peace, the area has been engulfed by turf wars and attacks on Israeli citizens.
Sir: The tragedy of the misplaced Palestinians may not be unique, as Lyn Julius contends (letter, 27 September) but it is unique in a post-colonial world for a supposedly fully paid-up member of the Western community of nations to occupy and oppress another people in order to seize its lands.
Israel has steadfastly refused to accept Resolution 242 and withdraw to its 1967 borders in return for a comprehensive settlement, in blatant contravention of one of the founding precepts of the UN: the inadmissibility of acquiring land by war.
New threats to personal privacy
Sir: "Spying on each other is just part of the world in which we live. Surveillance is not an activity reserved solely for the state", observes Andreas Whittam Smith in his comment on the Hewlett-Packard surveillance scandal (2 October ). Another example, from Greece, illustrates this point.
Between June 2004 and March 2005, telephone communications of MPs, police and military officials, amongst others, were being intercepted. The identity of the perpetrators has not been established yet, but it is known that the interceptions were made possible through interference with a privately owned mobile communications network. This revealed a reverse "Big Brother" situation that even George Orwell could not have anticipated: private individuals (or corporations) putting the state under surveillance.
However, when one thinks of individuals and corporations as capable of spying on the state, one realises the scope of surveillance possibilities in relation to other individuals. Further reference to Greece is most relevant here. The broadcast of tape recordings of private acts - surreptitiously obtained by journalists or other individuals working for them - has become a ritual faithfully followed by investigative TV programmes there, in spite of the existence of stringent privacy protections.
Of course, there is no need to look at examples from abroad to be reminded of the heightened modern risks for the ever-fading right to privacy in the United Kingdom: investigative journalism in this country provides one with innumerable examples of citizens spying on other citizens. Most worrying though is the fact that citizens are most often "accomplices" in a practice that undermines privacy protections, as the popularity of such TV programmes demonstrates.
Andreas Whittam Smith's warning is an essential call for greater public alertness in demanding respect towards the fundamental human value of privacy.
LECTURER IN LAW BRUNEL UNIVERSITY UXBRIDGE, MIDDLESEX
Workers' rights in the flower fields
Sir: News that the Kenyan flower industry is facing problems because farms are looking to relocate to Ethiopia, lured by tax incentives, comes as no surprise to many observers ("Where have all the flowers gone?", 3 October). Just as in many other industries, the flower industry is in the race to the bottom, where multinationals seek out ever cheaper costs. During a recent visit to Kenya, War on Want noted that problems such as poor pay, severe overworking and sexual abuse are common in many farms.
However, some improvements have been made and the workers' movement is gaining momentum. While there are valid fears for the future of the industry and the 40,000 jobs it creates, it is important that this is not used as a pretext to further erode workers' rights.
INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMMES ASSISTANT, WAR ON WANT LONDON EC2
Can I speak to a human being?
Sir: Terence Blacker's ordeal with AOL's call centre (4 October) reminded me of a recent experience I had when phoning London Electric.
After sitting through the push-button options I selected to talk to an operator only to be told "We are currently very busy, please try again later", followed by the dialling tone. I repeated the process several times before deciding to select instead "If you are thinking of changing your provider please press 4". I was immediately connected to an operator without having to listen to even a single bar of "Greensleeves".
London Electric seemed to be willing to talk to me only if they might lose my custom. Terence's belief that for AOL "the customer exists only as a unit of potential profit" clearly holds good for some other corporations.
Tax breaks for green investment
Sir: Most people worried about global warming and climate change will accept that fiscal policy is a crucial motor of change; but why must our politicians see it only in terms of stick rather than of carrot ("Tories plan green levies", 3 October). Where is the problem in allowing capital expenditure to be set against tax?
The social group most likely to make a major attempt to reduce their personal dependence on fossil fuels are the property-owning retired. Many of them are rich in property, which they cannot easily realise, and which is a tax liability. If a government wants them to invest in the more expensive and more effective means of reducing carbon emission, they should be allowed to set their expenditure on such systems and devices against inheritance tax.
Such a scheme would encourage those who are deterred when they measure the extended pay back period of alternative energy systems against their own life expectancy, to see an additional, significant financial advantage in the investment. It would call for no immediate additional expenditure or loss of revenue income by government.
Unasked questions about breast cancer
Sir: I was interested to read the letters (3 October) on the possible links between chemicals and breast cancer. There is a study currently being carried out called "Breakthrough Generations: the UK study of the causes of breast cancer". In recent years insufficient attention has been paid to the causes of the disease. So many of my friends seemed to be getting breast cancer, but they didn't fall into the lifestyle risk categories: didn't smoke, didn't drink to excess, had healthy diets, took exercise.
This year this was brought into sharp focus for me as I was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine screening. I therefore was keen to fill in and answer the questionnaire from Breakthrough Generations. On studying the form I found there were several areas on data collection, which would have seemed to be important, that were not covered. One of those was exposure to everyday chemicals, but there was also geography - where a woman had lived throughout her life - and respondents' socio- economic background.
The reply I received to letters was that adding anything extra would have meant that women would have found the questionnaire too long to complete. With these significant rises in the incidence of breast cancer in the UK, surely it is urgent that further and more exhaustive studies are carried out?
Sir: Pete Barrett (letter, 4 October) writes: "Just because someone is unqualified, has no relevant experience, no references and none of the necessary skills to do the job is no reason to discriminate against them." Perhaps the Home Office would make them welcome?
Sir: As a Spanish person I was surprised by your article "Do they mean us?" ( 28 September). It says that in Spain English people are called Guiris. In fact that word is applied to foreign people in general and may have a positive or negative meaning depending on the context. When we want to name those English people, fortunately a minority, who go to Spain on holidays intent on drinking and making a disturbance, we called them "hooligans" .
Long live the library
Sir: As a school librarian I was incensed to read the heading "Endless hours spent in dusty libraries are ancient history" ("Textbook answers", 4 October), because it implied that libraries are stuck in the Dark Ages. In fact, they are bright, welcoming places with computers, books and other resources, staffed by skilled librarians. Students have to use a wide range of resouces for their homework, not just the internet and have to specify the resources used as part of coursework.
CRAWLEY, WEST SUSSEX
The end of ageism
Sir: As a 55-plus working woman, I heartily endorse Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's cogently expressed sentiments on the new anti-ageism legislation ("At last, we oldies can assert our rights", 2 October). Let's hope that the new law will help to change our ageist culture. The need for respect across this last bastion of repression must be taken on board by banking staff and employees of other public companies, whose frequently patronising, pat-on-the-head attitudes towards customers of A Certain Age is both insulting and intensely irritating.
HOVE, EAST SUSSEX
Memories of Marmite
Sir: My childhood might have been different without Marmite in it. When my grandmother moved from London to pre- Israel Palestine, she brought Marmite into the family she had married into. Marmite became my close companion. Growing up in Jerusalem, other kids, who had to smell that unique, potent scent emanating from my sandwiches, regarded Marmite as the English part of my roots. It certainly made me popular.
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