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Monday 26 October 2009
Letters: Palestine and the West
West shares the blame for exile of the Palestinians
In "The Nowhere People" (22 October), Judith Miller and David Samuels tell us that the disinheritance and periodic mass expulsions of Palestinians meted out by Arab states "recalls the treatment of Jews in medieval Europe". No; it immediately recalls the treatment of Palestinians by Israel much more recently.
Israel instituted the massive ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the subsequent eviction from their villages of many of those who escaped that process, and the subsequent (still unfinished) stripping of most of the lands from surviving Palestinian villages in Israel.
As for settling the refugees, Miller and Samuels blame the Arab states, when the principal blame clearly lies with the original perpetrator which, in refusing the refugees their humanitarian right of return, has trashed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The western powers, which could have upheld this, and forced Israel's hand, instead became complicit in perpetuating Palestinian exile, just as they have become complicit in Israel's settlement policy in the Occupied Territories.
In so accurately describing the Palestinians as the "Jews" of Israel, Primo Levi understated the truth, for in reality they are the "Jews" for the entire western world. Before condemning the Arab states, blameworthy though they may be, we should look to our own moral failure to defend a disparaged and defenceless people.
Ardbeg, Isle of Bute
Talk of BNP 'rights' fuels violent racism
As a black reader, I was revolted by your paper of 24 October. In his piece, Sholto Byrnes bemoaned the way the panellists on Question Time treated Nick Griffin as a "pariah"; and your leading article claimed "the BNP needs to become a regular feature of political discussions".
The basis for both of these disgusting articles was that the BNP "have a right to be heard". Well, what about my rights? What about the rights of the millions of black, Asian, Jewish and mixed-race people?
As a young man, I worked on national papers covering race issues, such as the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The BNP's newspaper encouraged its members to write to me and I regularly received letters saying things such as: "Good, fucking niggers shouldn't be here in the first place!"
An anti-racist academic with whom I co-wrote an article on racism in football had to go into hiding after the BNP published his home address.
As a child, I was regularly beaten up by boys who openly supported the National Front. As a teenager, I witnessed white youths racially abusing black men, such as John Barnes, who had the temerity to play professional football in a "white man's country".
I was recently called a "fucking black bastard" and assaulted by a group of men outside a working-men's club, near which there was graffiti on a street sign, including a swastika and the letters BNP.
Mr Byrnes starts his article with the words: "I am the son of an immigrant". Spare me, Mr Byrnes. To the moronic, violent racists of the BNP you are white, because you look white. I am a "fucking nigger" because I look black.
If the BNP manages to secure a place in the political mainstream, which is likely if middle-class white liberals become fixated on the idea that it must be treated as a legitimate party, Byrnes will be able to rest assured that he has nobly upheld Griffin's rights.
But millions of law-abiding members of the ethnic minorities will suffer increased racial abuse and physical assaults as the BNP membership swells and becomes increasingly confident. Whose rights are more important?
Kings Langley, Hertfordshire
The BNP leader recently wrote: "There is a prima facie case for charging Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, William Hague and David Cameron with waging aggressive war against Iraq. The Nuremberg war crimes trials set the precedent when the leaders of Nazi Germany were charged with invading other countries which represented no military threat to Germany."
This redoubtable warrior for international peace and justice continued: "One person who should be in the dock alongside Tony Blair is Rupert Murdoch, who with The Sun and The Times, was the principal cheerleader for the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He was the chief propagandist. Murdoch is to Blair what Julius Streicher was to Adolf Hitler."
I have to admit my capacity to disagree with these opinions is extremely limited, emanating though they do from such a source. The lesson I draw is that if those who stand for peace and justice fail to take up a cause sufficiently forcefully, they leave that cause open to the danger of being hijacked by the opportunistic right.
Dr Hugh Goodacre
Senior Lecturer, University of Westminster,
One of the Question Time panel defended immigration on the basis that it encourages "the brightest and the best" to come here. This means that this panellist and her party would (continue to) discriminate against anyone not in this category; it also endorses the current practice of proactively robbing other (usually poorer) countries of their "brightest and best" – hardly a morally defensible position.
Does a Government elected by only 23 per cent of the electorate, with an unelected Prime Minister and cabinet, really deserve to be called a democracy?
The fearful reality is that the BNP is plausible and may convince disaffected voters, just as Hitler did, to use the flawed system of "democracy" to gain power. So it is democracy we must change. Party politics are inherently undemocratic and not until they are swept away can we create a world that is fair to all.
Otley, West Yorkshire
Winston Churchill's name was once again invoked on Question Time; the man who, in May 1940, had been ready to give Gibraltar, Malta, Suez, Somaliland, Kenya and Uganda to Mussolini.
All sorts of things about Churchill are simply ignored. Gallipoli. The miners. The Suffragettes. The refusal to bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz. His carve-up of Eastern Europe with Stalin. His dishonest and self-serving memoirs.
But we have not forgotten the truth about him in the old pit communities. Nor have they in the places that he signed away to Stalin. The BNP is as welcome to Churchill as it is to Mosley.
Lanchester, County Durham
Any gloating over Mr Griffin's discomfort on Question Time is premature. We know the elaborate audience-screening that goes on before programmes like this. The real test of Mr Griffin's place in the spectrum of British politics will be known after our next visit to the ballot box.
M A Qavi
If we continue to demonise our MPs, we not only inhibit their ability to address the important issues at hand, but also encourage otherwise reasonable people to support fringe parties as "protest votes".
We need as a society to address the feeling of disenfranchisement in those specific areas from which the BNP draws its support. The continued denigration of the political establishment serves no good purpose and will only perpetuate "freak-show" politics where groups like the BNP maintain a role.
Unfortunately all that was "slain" on BBC Question Time was the rare and golden opportunity to ask Justice Secretary Jack Straw about iniquitous planned legislation that will allow certain inquests to take place in secret (22 October).
This means that if Straw so desires, the embarrassing death of a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan, a Muslim or Caribbean detainee in a police station, or a failed asylum-seeker awaiting "repatriation" can be dealt with without family or friends having any right to details of their death.
How best to help the poorest pupils
Kenton Lewis (letters, 23 October) extols the virtues of St George's Medical School's use of an "adjusted criteria scheme" as a way of levelling the playing field between applicants from different backgrounds. Like Durham University's "GCSE modifier," this considers applicants in relation to the peer group within which they studied, and uses a mathematical formula to compensate for educational disadvantage.
The problem is that such schemes treat "school context" as if it were the same as "educational context". The former takes no cognisance of such factors as home or socio-economic background, access to private tuition and so on, all of which are an important part of an applicant's wider educational context.
Crude formulaic approaches based on school type rather than an individual's personal context will inevitably disadvantage some of the very same students whom St George's and Durham aim to help, like bursary-holders in independent schools or free-school-meal recipients in high-achieving state schools.
Indicators of socio-economic background and disadvantage (say, postcode and free school meals) would be infinitely fairer than factors relating solely to school type.
Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference,
Market Harborough, Leicestershire
Tax homes' size, not their value
We have new figures showing the UK population increasing faster than previously expected (22 October). This shows the need to make good use of our land to house everyone. The Lib-Dems suggested a "mansion tax" based on the value of a property.
But wouldn't tax on land area taken up be more suitable, to encourage people not to take more space than they need? Apartment blocks could be taxed on the overall land area, divided by the number of units, each in proportion to its square footage. The fixed land area of a property would be much easier to compute than its variable value.
The tax would only apply to residential property or the residential part of a multi-purpose property. It would be local, set according to local needs, probably replacing the existing council tax, and avoiding the arbitrary banding and out-of-date valuations used for that tax.
H Trevor Jones
I agree with Michael Ricketts (23 October) that Brief Encounter should be on Rob Sharp's list of filmic weepies, but for me the real tear-jerking moment is when Fred Jesson (so beautifully played by Cyril Raymond) acknowledges his wife Laura's deep sadness.
As the parent of a child who stammers, I was immensely heartened to read your report on Schools Secretary Ed Balls launching an initiative to help children who stammer, at the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children. Balls also publicly identified himself as a past stammerer. The article mentioned some famous stammerers, such as Gareth Gates and King George VI. The Stuttering Foundation's website ( www. stuttering help.org) lists many more: they include James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis, Marilyn Monroe and Julia Roberts. The site also provides excellent free resources.
Edward S Herrington
Jonathan Miller (The Big Interview, 23 October) laments the loss of his incomparable intelligence to trivial but brilliant theatrical productions when he should have been transforming psychiatry. He should not distress himself; many advances have been made there, not least in the study of hubris.
In answer to your question; "Has the costume drama had its day?" (22 October): no. Such dramas represent standards of good writing and manners that are being lost in a plethora of soaps, crime dramas, and reality programmes. Emma is the only classic serial being shown at present, and takes up just one hour a week for four weeks; crime dramas and soaps, on the other hand, go on forever.
Life from Earth
If we sent a load of hardy plants such as moss and grass seed, perhaps even buddleia, to the Moon, would there be just enough dampness for them to grow? If they did, would they eventually create breathable air? Instead of us looking for life on other planets, why not send some?
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