Forget 'British' labels - people born in England are English
Sir: At last the English are coming out of the closet in your correspondence columns (Letters; 12, 13 August).
Who feels British? Certainly the Scots and the Welsh don't, and sporting allegiances today would suggest that the English no longer do either. British is a technical definition of UK citizenship, but says nothing of what we feel about our country as people born in England.
Britishness also has colonial and military associations about which we feel increasingly uneasy. Let's scotch (as it were) this nonsense about English being a racial definition which can only apply to white
Anglo-Saxons. The English are one of the most mongrel races in Europe.
We have some African and oriental blood in our veins going back at least to the 18th century, never mind our complex provenance before the Conquest. We have had the Normans themselves, the Huguenots, the late 19th and early 20th century Jewish immigration, the continuous flow of Scots and Irish into England, and the wonderful mixture of Afro-Caribbean, Indian and other cultures and races from 20th century migrations.
The well-meaning attempt to encourage people in our ethnic minority communities to cherish their cultural heritage of origin by using a cumbersome and inelegant nomenclature (Black British, British Asian, etc) must have a segmenting and divisive effect on our society. Let's talk less about race, let's cherish our cultural diversity, and accept and enjoy the fact that if we are born here we are English. And, by the way, let's try and keep religion out of it.
Sir: A correspondent writes to complain about the words "Britain" and "British". He is behind the times. Partly to accommodate semi-autonomous Scotland, perhaps also to be able, as chief henchman, to sit next to the United States at the UN Assembly, we are now everywhere known as the "United Kingdom" or, demotically, the "UK". How long before citizens, of whatever origin, become the Ukinese?
THORMANBY, NORTH YORKSHIRE
Israel's 'traumatic' exit from Gaza
Sir: I am mystified by the fuss Israel is making over the removal of a mere 2 per cent of its illegal settlers from the occupied territories. Israel managed to ethnically cleanse half a million Palestinians from their homes in a matter of weeks during the 1948 war.
In recent years, it has destroyed thousands of Palestinian homes. So where are the bulldozers now? Are we supposed to be so impressed by the "trauma" of removing 8,000 squatters from Gaza that we no longer expect Israel to abide by 30 years of UN resolutions and international laws demanding the removal of the other 98 per cent of settlers from the occupied territories?
Sir: Dr Mikdadi (letter, 16 August) says he can live side by side with Israel yet he can happily subscribe to a "binational state". This is not a recipe for "all living together" but for the destruction of Israel.
A binational state would mean that while Gaza and the West Bank would be annexed to Israel, all its inhabitants, Arab and Jew, including the Palestinians, would have citizenship. While this sounds like an attractive solution, it would mean that within a short time, there would be a majority Arab population and a minority of Jews in the area, given the high Arab birth rate. This would naturally spell the end of Israel as we know it.
A binational state is a formula for anti-Zionism, the denial to the Jews of their right to self determination while not denying that right to Arab peoples. An eventual two-state settlement, with a Palestinian right of return to Palestine, not Israel, is the only viable option in this intractable conflict.
Sir: In reply to Nicholas Berkowitz Werner (Letters, 10 August), a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians is not only of the "utmost importance", it is an "urgent and crucial necessity", whether or not it would affect al-Qa'ida's terror campaign (whatever that means). Such a settlement, acceptable to the majority of Palestinians and involving the withdrawal of Israel to its 1967 frontiers, may not satisfy the so-called al-Qa'ida's leaders, hiding away in north-western Pakistan, but it would certainly defuse support for "Palestinian" terrorism and give Israel some chance of living in peace.
Unfortunately, as Mr Werner probably well knows, such a solution would not be acceptable to a large and influential section of Israeli opinion, and anything less would not be acceptable to the Palestinians. With the US unable or unwilling to "enforce" such a solution, I do not see what the answer is, and al-Qa'ida may be proved right in saying that there will be no peace for any of us as long as a "Zionist entity" (at least in the form of an independent state) exists in the Middle East!
Sir: Paul McCann (Opinion, 16 August) asks whether, after Israel's disengagement, Gaza will remain the world's largest prison camp. The crucial point is that prisoners are locked in and terrorists are being locked out. The pertinent question, especially for the UN Palestinian Refugee Agency, which Paul McCann has represented, is whether Gaza will remain the world's largest refugee camp and terrorist training ground.
Mathematicians struggle for truth
Sir: Seeing Boyd Tonkin's article on "Magic numbers" (15 August) I thought, as a mathematician, I ought to step aside from my "essentially tragic life", not "look at my shoes", stop "struggling with my demons" awhile, and suggest that perhaps a wrong impression is given of mathematics as a development of just a few strange and egocentric minds.
Instead it is a world-wide collaborative effort involving tens of thousands, struggling to understand, to see what is true and why it is true, and in so doing to develop a language and notation for description, verification, deduction, and calculation. It describes structures and analogies. It makes difficult things easy. So it is a basis for the modern technical world.
Mathematics can also take over for its study what Shakespeare claimed for the role of the poet: "And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown/ The Poet's pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name."
All this explains its fascination, and the joy of communicating at all levels in the subject.
EMERITUS PROFESSOR UNIVERSITY OF WALES, BANGOR
Saudi care for the two holy sites
Sir: What rubbish ("The destructions of Mecca: Saudi hardliners wiping out their own heritage", 6 August). Perhaps your readers would be interested in what is really happening. Every artefact discovered has been preserved and protected and will be displayed in new museums in Makkah and Medinah - indeed some artefacts are already on display. In all more than $19bn has been spent on expanding and maintaining these two holy sites.
We are proud of our rich Islamic heritage. A pride reflected in the title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a title taken by our King. We are also aware of how precious this Islamic heritage is and how important the preservation of this heritage is, not just to us but to the millions of Muslims from around the world who visit the Two Holy Mosques every year. It is hardly something we are going to allow to be destroyed.
AMBASSADOR ROYAL EMBASSY OF SAUDI ARABIA LONDON W1
Decline of languages at university
Sir: Amid the current concern regarding the sharp drop in students taking A-levels in modern languages, it may be perhaps of interest that the University of Glasgow, a member of the elite Russell Group of British Universities, in an attempt to deal with its financial deficit by "right-sizing" itself, has just designated its School of Modern Languages and Cultures as a "targeted", "risk" area of "lower priority".
In spite of its considerable student numbers and its highly successful courses, the SMLC staff members are now being strongly encouraged to apply for a "voluntary severance scheme". This development seems to be quite paradoxical, considering the general concern about the state of modern language teaching in the United Kingdom.
DR JAN CULIK
SCHOOL OF MODERN LANGUAGES AND CULTURES UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW
Sir: Mary Dejevsky's article "Why bother to learn another language?"(16 August) reminded me of my own language learning.
Roughly speaking I learned literary German in school, spoken German in Germany. Dealing with a German landlady, acquiring a German girlfriend were triumphs for my confidence in speech. Getting der, die, das right or the correct adjectival ending were what got me marks in school. I could have written nonsense as long as the grammar was right.
Living in the country is the answer. That's why the Welsh (about a fifth) are bilingual. They use Welsh in the street as well as in the school.
J C GORDON
RIPON, NORTH YORKSHIRE
Funding for robust think-tanks
Sir: It is not beyond the wit of "ultra-smart people" in UK think tanks to raise funding for projects without selling their editorial independence (Johann Hari, 10 August). I could cite plenty of examples of private sector sponsors absolutely respecting our researchers' integrity and independence.
Mr Hari suggests that, if we want think tanks to develop policy free of undue influence "then we will have to pay for them". But public funding has drawbacks too, not least the way that governmental bodies' risk-aversion can lead them to commission opinions that do not challenge government policy.
We surely get more robust thinking from think tanks whose mission is clear and who value their independence than we would from relying solely on public-sector policy development - and we can trust the intelligence of readers to spot when findings have been skewed towards sponsors' business interests.
HEAD OF RESEARCH, NEW LOCAL GOVERNMENT NETWORK LONDON SE1
Sir: It is not true, as Johann Hari asserts, that the Foreign Policy Centre "refused to respond" to his questions about whether the Foreign Policy Centre "took money from a wing of the tyrannical Chinese government for their research". The consequent impression given by his article that we do indeed receive funds from the Chinese government, or its proxies, is wholly erroneous.
DIRECTOR FOREIGN POLICY CENTRE LONDON NW1
Remember the poor air passengers
Sir: Whilst I sympathise with the workers at Gate Gourmet for the deplorable treatment they have been subjected to by the company's management, I cannot condone the wildcat "sympathy" strike by BA baggage handlers.
In John Wight's letter (15 August) defending the illegal strikes by BA staff, he tells us: "I would like to see more, much more, of the same around the country". This kind of action would lead not to better pay and conditions but to millions signing on the dole queue.
Also, Mr Wight may want to think a little of the passengers, many of whom may be the overworked and underpaid employees he talks about in his letter, miserably stranded in Heathrow and airports all over the world; as well as some passengers being imprisoned inside grounded planes, their holidays ruined. If BA staff want to strike, fine, but it should be balloted and with notice.
Sir: Regarding all the discussion about the respective public interest in cricket and football, I saw a case when I went down to my local tennis courts for a game. There were a couple of teenage boys playing cricket against the fence. They were using a football as the wicket - symbol of the changing times.
Fine for pavement riders
Sir: I am one of London's post- 7 July "newbie" cyclists and read Robert Hanks' article on cycling (15 August) with interest. Whilst most of his advice was useful, he is incorrect in stating that "cycling on pavements is fine"; it is an offence for a cyclist to wilfully ride on any footway or footpath and it has been a fixed penalty offence since 1999, with offenders liable to a fine of £30. I may be a wobbly newcomer to cycling but I know enough not to endanger pedestrians by cycling on their pavements.
Sent away to torture
Sir: Steve Crawshaw of Human Rights Watch is right to be sceptical (13 August) about the value of promises not to torture prisoners coming from countries where torture is routine. We should not deport people to those countries, even if their activities here constitute a threat. The alternative is to intern them here. If the law does not now allow us to do so, then that is the rule of the game that should be changed.
Sir: Meat derived from cells in a laboratory dish would be totally unacceptable and totally repulsive and unethical to a vegetarian ("Why meat may not be murder for vegetarians", 13 August). For those who are unclear, the term "vegetarian" means one who eats no flesh, fish or fowl. That would include anything produced from the cells of animals, living or dead.
Sir: Your recent correspondents on how to make corrections to Sudoku puzzles without messing them up all miss the obvious procedure. If the puzzle is first covered with Sellotape, then you can write, using a water-based felt pen, and erase, to your heart's content. An even greater time saving can be made by using non-see-through tape.
MICHAEL K BALDWIN
SITTINGBOURNE, KENTReuse content