Letters: Pastor Terry Jones

Unfairness to Muslims
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The Independent Online

Muslims and their holy book are once again embroiled in anger and suspicion on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York (report, 10 September).

Pastor Terry Jones, to the relief of many the world over, has apparently decided to call off his "Burn a Koran day". Through his symbolic gesture he planned to convince the world that Islam and its followers are "evil". His decision may have been partly in response to critical reactions to his plan, but most of the criticisms were based on the possible backlash against, and repercussions for, American troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries around the world and on the effect on America's image abroad. The morality, legality and ethics of the act itself were not considerations. In fact, the American constitution protects such acts.

Among the many people decrying the intended burning was Hillary Clinton, who described the action as being carried out by a small group of unrepresentative people headed by Pastor Jones.

Unfortunately Muslims could not become the beneficiary of the same logic when a much smaller number of people than Pastor Jones's group decided to attack the World Trade Centre killing over 3,000 innocent individuals, and subsequently the London Underground and buses, taking many more innocent lives.

Each and every Muslim the world over was considered culpable. Muslim-specific laws, programmes, and policies have been put in place to prevent future terrorist attacks. The war on terror was imposed by the combined military might of the Nato alliance on countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, and has resulted in the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

The Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard is slated to be in the list of honours of the German Chancellor for defending "freedom of speech". Salman Rushdie has already been knighted. Perhaps Pastor Jones is in line for similar honours.

Anwer Kirmani

Borehamwood, Hertfordshire

Why can't Muslims take "insults"? As a short, ageing, ginger-haired Scotsman, I have been in line for strings of "insults" in my time. In every case, the key as to whether they hurt or not is the respect with which I view the deliverer of the jibe and the level of my self-confidence.

Pastor Terry Jones is a complete nonentity whose views are worthless to any thinking person. So come on Muslims, buck up your self-confidence and shake off the "insults" from this meaningless man.

Robert Swan

West Bergholt, Essex

Credit to Patrick Cockburn (Comment, 10 September) for pulling no punches in his article on the ongoing conflict and persecution against Christians by Muslims, and credit too to Pastor Terry Jones for abandoning his plans to inflame the tension further. Let us hope that the tiny minority will also see sense and stop this nonsense of encouraging a further 80 million Turkish Muslims to join the EU.

Steve Parker,

Ebley, Gloucestershire

Book-burners always have the same agenda: to incinerate our freedom of expression and inflame our sensibilities. Whether it's the Koran, The Satanic Verses or the Sauberung of "un-German" books in Nazi Germany, we should always resist those who wish to tell us how to think.

Stan Labovitch,


Musicians' feud with Ryanair

Jessica Duchen's "Is Ryanair taking musicians for a ride?" (1 September) cannot stand uncorrected.

Ryanair applies its carry-on baggage policy fairly and evenly. If a case fits within our carry-on bag dimensions, it goes on; if it doesn't, the passenger is required to check it in. All passengers agree to those dimensions when they make a booking.

Ms Duchen's claim that Ryanair "ordered" this musician to pay €190 for an extra seat is untrue. This young violinist, or her father, agreed to our baggage policies at the time of booking one of Ryanair's very low fares and were subsequently advised, in Frankfurt Hahn, that their outsized musical instrument case must be checked in, which they refused to do. These passengers then chose to purchase an extra seat for the instrument, which again was entirely their choice, not ours, but as they left this decision too late they missed the flight, simply because they refused to comply with the rules they agreed to at the time of their booking.

If a musician booking a Ryanair flight and agreeing to our carry-on bag dimensions shows up at the airport with an outsized bag, then they will be required to check it in as hold baggage. If they don't accept that, then their alternative is to travel on another airline, or book an extra seat for their musical instrument, in which case Ryanair will happily allow the instrument case to travel on the spare seat. Ryanair does not and cannot "force" passengers to put musical instruments into the hold or place instruments in the overhead compartment since in many cases (eg guitars) they don't fit.

We will not allow Ms Duchen or the spurious claims by the "Incorporated Society of Musicians" (which is akin to Monty Python's People's Front of Judea) to alter our carry-on baggage policy which is clearly communicated to all passengers.

Stephen McNamara

Head of Communications, Ryanair Head Office,

Dublin Airport

Jessica Duchen's comments about musicians taking their instruments on flights are absolutely correct. Musicians do not demand "special treatment" – all we ask for is equitable treatment; it is simply a necessity for many instruments that they be carried on board.

Musicians travelling with companies such as Ryanair will continue to be exploited unless we can bring about a change in questionable airline policies. The ISM is campaigning for all airlines to sign up to the minimum standard regulation that would allow you to carry a musical instrument as hand baggage if the item were guitar-sized or smaller. We will be launching an online petition at ism.org.

Deborah Annetts

Chief Executive, Incorporated Society of Musicians, London W1C

Joblessness not a 'lifestyle choice'

Sorry to disappoint George Osborne, but the only people who think that it's a "lifestyle choice" to stay on out-of-work benefits are right-wing fantasists who have never spent any time attempting to exist on unemployment benefit ("Government to cut further £4bn from welfare bill", 10 September).

Paul Tyler

Canvey Island, Essex

I find it astonishing that the Government is agonising about middle-class benefits and how to keep David Cameron's election promise to preserve them.

Why not just tax them? And family allowance too. That way the poorest beneficiaries will not be affected, and our multi-million pound footballers will not enjoy tax-free child benefit.

Peter Tallentire


We don't think that the Government has properly thought through the impact of its welfare reform on disabled people. We understand that budgets need to be balanced, but simply cutting them could be the road to ruin for many. Where is the understanding that it costs more to live as a disabled person, or that to find employment many will need individually tailored support?

Crucially, we've yet to see the evidence from the Government that disabled people who are unable to work will continue to receive the support they need.

Being disabled is not a "lifestyle choice" and we want the Government to fully understand the consequences of any action it takes.

Richard Hawkes

Chief Executive, disability charity Scope, London N7

I am gratified to hear the Government is cutting benefits from those whose lifestyle choice is to be not rich. I only hope they follow this with hitting those employees whose lifestyle choice is to exist at levels below senior management.

Howard Pilott

Lewes, East Sussex

Dementia hope

The research showing that B vitamins may slow the progress of dementia ("Dementia: hope at last", 9 September) will, if confirmed, bring enormous economic benefits to the country but, as the treatment cannot be patented, not to the University of Oxford, where the research was conducted.

Vince Cable may wish to ponder on the role of public goods, such as the knowledge that Oxford has generated, as he develops his thinking on the future of university funding. If universities are to depend much more on income from patents, vice-chancellors are unlikely to encourage this type of research.

Professor Martin McKee

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,

London WC1

Smoke's no joke

I write from the poolside of a Turkish hotel. Here are many nationalities, mostly French, Belgians and Turks. All of them smoke constantly. Sitting here means breathing their smoke and hearing their incessant coughing. I am grateful for NHS education that stopped me smoking years ago. But it feels like sitting in the midst of a grotesque mass suicide.

Susan Hamlyn

Kusadasi, Turkey

Perspectives on learning languages

The benefits are wholly mythical

Back in the 1970s when I suffered the horrors of compulsory French lessons – and associated punishments for being hopeless – it all seemed so pointless and the best justification the teachers could come up with was that French would be useful when I went on holiday. Yet try as I might, I never could find any Frenchman (or preferably French girl) to chat to during our annual camping holiday in Wales.

I recall being told about the wonderful job opportunities open to bilingual students in the then Common Market; yet no one I knew who studied a foreign language to degree level ever landed one of these legendary posts; they either became teachers or took jobs where a casual grasp of language sufficed.

Forty years later and the same reasons were peddled to my children. They, too have seen through these myths; whether travelling in Europe or meeting friends with GCSEs and A-levels in modern languages at the job centre.

French, German, Spanish etc are useful skills in some situations, rather like carpentry or needlework, but should be seen for what they are – hobby skills that can be acquired by those who are interested and should not be forced down the throats of those who are not.

Mark Blackman

London SE14

Win power and influence people

Language skills would also be useful for politicians. I contend that the reason why British governments of all colours make such a hash of negotiating with Europe, is that almost all ministers are monoglot, and are accordingly despised by their more multilingual European colleagues.

There was one exception: Ian Taylor, minister of technology under John Major. He is a fluent French and German speaker, and a passionate European. In the 1990s, he persuaded, almost single-handed, the member states, in their own languages, to follow the UK lead in privatising and liberalising their telecoms industries. This they all did by 2000.

This was possibly the only time that the European Union has ever danced to an Anglo-Saxon tune. If a junior minister in an otherwise Europhobic government, speaking three languages, could achieve this, what will a Deputy Prime Minister speaking five be able to do?

Richard Sarson

London SW20