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Friday 19 February 2010
Letters: Peace in Israel
Israel will find peace by talking, not assassination
The Israeli tactic of decapitation, whereby the leaders of Hamas or the PLO are assassinated, has never proven effective.
British agents could quite easily have murdered Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness during the height of the Northern Ireland conflict in the 1980s. They chose not to, and by doing so allowed the republican movement to follow a political evolution which developed into the ceasefire and subsequent political agreement the fruits of which we see today.
In 2004 the then leader of Hamas, Adbel Aziz Rantisi, offered Israel a 10-year truce in return for negotiations on a political settlement. Israel's response was to incinerate Rantisi and his son, along with a young mother and a five-year-old boy, with a Hellfire missile. This policy of murder has stymied any possibility of political development within the Islamic militant movements in the occupied territories.
These actions may satisfy Israel's thirst for revenge but they will never bring her peace. To find peace Israel will have to do what Britain did and talk to the people they hate.
Lanesboro, Co Longford, Ireland
It really is time that President Obama took on the powerful Jewish lobby in the US and made the threat of sanctions as serious for Israel as he has planned for Iran. I dread to imagine what retaliatory havoc would be unleashed by Israel if Ehud Barak was eliminated by Iranian agents carrying forged passports.
Mossad could have forged any passports it wanted, but deliberately used Western European ones. The message is brutally clear: "Stop bleating and wringing your hands about the Palestinians. You are all antisemites and Holocaust deniers anyway. Protected by America, we will continue to do as we wish." A Millwall supporter might put it more concisely: "No one likes us; we don't care."
No torture if we value human life
It seems strange that a reasonably educated man in the UK should defend torture, and, indeed, advocate its use (Bruce Anderson, 15 February). But as this sentence provides the explanation: "There is a threat not only to individual lives, which is of minor importance, but to our way of life and our civilisation."
It is precisely if we don't value individual lives, all of them, that we get to the position where we can accept torture, where we talk of collateral damage instead of dead children, where we concentrate on assassinating people we don't like rather than on eliminating poverty and anger.
Much though I dislike what the Taliban regime stands for, I wondered why a British commander was allowed to say: "We are going to Afghanistan to capture or kill the Taliban" even though, if they were to be put before a British court, they had done nothing that warranted a death sentence.
If we see individual lives as "of minor importance", we give ourselves carte blanche to do whatever we like.
I never thought I would find myself having even a grain of sympathy for Bruce Anderson, whose politics are about as far away from mine as you can get, until I saw the tsunami of self-righteous moral posturing in your letters columns over his article on torture.
Anderson goes over the top, as is his wont. However, the question "What would you do if you could save hundreds of lives by using information obtained under torture?" remains unanswered by your preening correspondents.
Would your correspondents resolve the dilemma of using information obtained under torture by telling themselves that the information must be inaccurate because it was so obtained, or let hundreds die and claim that they couldn't have used the information because it violated their personal moral code.
Ethical dilemmas of this sort are difficult. They won't be resolved by knee-jerk reactions from liberals who want to feel good about themselves.
As Bruce Anderson's frighteningly deluded incitement to torture apparently seeks to slam the door on legality in the UK, it might be worth his bearing in mind just one paragraph from the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Article 2, S2.
"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture."
Countries who ignore this, have been designated "rogue states", including by Britain.
Homeopathy fails the evidence test
Because an evidence base in medicine is so critically important, homeopaths will always grasp at any scrap of science that appears to lend support to their bizarre claims. Dr Fisher (letter, 12 February) is no exception.
And it is a bizarre belief that a substance that has been diluted to nothing is an effective treatment by virtue of water having retained a "memory" of it. To turn this implausible claim into one worth considering requires good evidence. It just isn't there.
Dr Fisher cites three randomised double-blind trials by the University of Washington as evidence for its efficacy in diarrhoea cases. I found reference to two, conducted by the same researcher, concerning children with diarrhoea in Nicaragua in 1994 and in Nepal in 1990 and these were not conclusive. And there is no suggestion that there was any positive follow-up study or further research. The strong suspicion has to be that any follow-ups were either not conducted or were negative.
If homeopathy were genuinely effective in cases of childhood diarrhoea, one of the world's biggest killers, not only would this promise to save millions of lives, it would mean that we had a theory of matter that violated all the known laws of physics. If there was ever any seriously good evidence of repeatable, properly conducted trials scientists the world over would rush to find more about this strange aspect of nature. Nobel prizes would be won, reputations secured.
Dr Fisher appeals over the scientific evidence to anecdote. It's the patients, he says, attending the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital who have kept it going. So what? We know that patients consistently report positive experiences of alternative therapies and come back for more, and not one satisfies the demands of evidence-based medicine.
Post-war buildings without brutality
When the architects Alison and Peter Smithson coined the term New Brutalism, they never intended it to apply to all buildings of the post-war period as you seem to imply in Jay Merrick's article "Battle to save Brutalist buildings" (6 February).
The piquancy and sense of space of housing of the period by, say, Taylor and Green in East Anglia or Eric Lyons in the Home Counties points to this. The Hertfordshire County Council architects produced elegant schools with tiny sinks and low window sills; no brutalism there. Much post-war architecture has been well tended and has survived for well over half a century.
Good news for the Twentieth Century Society: I have two bits of already listed "Brutalism". A "granny flat" here in London, Grade II*, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson in the 1950s, and a playroom, attached to a Grade II listed cottage in Wiltshire, designed by Theo Crosby.
Both are excellent buildings. The Government's decision not to list the Smithsons' Robin Hood Gardens reminds of the difficulties that my husband, as a junior minister, had way back in the 1960s in getting St Pancras Station listed. Will some sensible insider not insist on stopping ignorant vandalism? Too much has already gone.
NHS hospital that traded in drugs
I was appalled by the behaviour of managers of Surrey County Hospital ("Hospital 'exported NHS drugs for a quick profit' ", 17 February).
We seem now to employ top public-sector managers who have no concept of public service or of being public servants. They have no understanding that public bodies can only do what they are empowered to do by statute; and in the NHS, that means health care, not trading in drugs. And they have no understanding that if the public sector starts trading, the private sector will rightly complain vociferously. These macho-managers have so lost the plot, that they focus only on the bottom line of what they see as their business.
And David Cameron's latest brilliant idea is to empower these managers. Give them free rein! To set them up in thousands of barely accountable new quangos. So, public services will be in the hands of NHS bureaucrats, managerial super head teachers and Chief Constables. Forget the last 25 years of focusing on the so-called "customer". Let the professional manager reign.
At least it will free up MPs' and councillors' time to concentrate on their expenses claims.
Can Hanson ever fit in here?
You report (16 February) that Pauline Hanson, a rabble-rousing anti-immigrant former politician, has decided to grace us with her presence by moving from Australia to England.
A short visit would be OK as long as she does not break the ban on incitement to racial hatred. After all, we believe in free speech. But permanent residence is another matter. I am amazed that this is presented as a decision purely for her and that no barrier is expected from UK immigration controls, even to an Australian national who declares: "Australia will always be my home."
What about an integration test? Much talk has been heard recently about the need to ensure immigrants adopt British values. If done properly, this is a laudable aim. But how can an immigrant who hates multi-culturalism really adapt to a modern British environment? Will she really add to the sum of social peace and mutual respect that most Brits are trying to build?
I would prefer she stayed away, thanks very much. If not, Alan Johnson should explain why he is letting her in.
Sarah Ludford MEP
Liberal Democrat European Justice & Human Rights spokeswoman, London N1
My kind of loan
You report (17 February) that Barclays Bank will take a bad debt charge this year of £8bn. These are presumably loans which Barclays believes will not be repaid. Can your City Editor advise whether Barclays have a special form on which one can apply for one of these loans?
Pope on the BBC
Given the Pope's recent and high-profile attempts to interfere with the democratic law-making of this country, coming out against our laws on gay equality, can the BBC guarantee impartiality and no political manoeuvring should the Pope take up their invitation to contribute the "Thought for the Day" slot, which offers no right of reply?
British Humanist Association
I was deeply disturbed by Matthew Norman's article of 17 February If Ray Gosling did indeed kill his partner, it is not a "noble act of civil disobedience, as well as an act of mercy". It is rather murder or at least manslaughter. All human life is precious and to kill someone is to devalue its meaning and worth. A real act of "civil disobedience" is to campaign for properly valued and funded hospices where people can die pain-free with dignity and can be helped to find peace about their death.
The Rev David Stewart
Power of sunlight
Your Business Diary is somewhat disingenuous, with its frivolous attack on whichever council is requiring "solar" panels on new homes (17 February). It seems to suggest that the sun shines only in a straight line from the south – whereas in fact from noon until sunset any object facing west will be in direct sunlight. In any case "solar" panels is something of a misnomer. These days, the panels are made up of photoelectric cells. They don't need direct sunlight to generate power, only daylight. Most roofs can manage that for most of the day.
Now that we have learnt about the UFO sighted over Michael Howard's house, perhaps Ann Widdecombe was privy to more than we know when she famously remarked that "there is something of the night about him".
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