Letters: Perspectives after the massacre in Norway

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Universities told to spy on students

The raging debate over extremism in the aftermath of the nefarious attacks in Norway has missed a point about the role of universities in laying out the foundations for a harmonious society.

Universities have always been at the forefront of advocating tolerance, freedom and most importantly, as the chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, elegantly put it, learning to respect and rejoice in each other's differences, whatever our ancestry or convictions.

This was true until our Home Secretary decided to instruct lecturers and university staff to spy on Muslim students and even recruit some of them as secret informers to face up to the menace of Islamist jihadism. I have been asked myself to become a spy or a secret informer after being given a lecture by an academic, who disparaged the noble faith of Islam.

Wasn't this a vivid example of the xenophobic and Islamophobic sense of panic so embedded in the Western psyche? Hasn't Theresa May stigmatised the entire Muslim community by targeting Muslim students only? Do we now expect her to instruct universities to spy on European students to fight extremism? What is needed is a rational and even-handed strategy that does not demonise a sizable segment of our society.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob, London NW10

I am not a bigot, and even after the Oslo attacks I am willing to believe that there are many moderate Christianists who do not hate us or wish to destroy our way of life. But how are ordinary people supposed to tell the difference between the moderates and the extremist Christianists, who are all potential terrorists?

If Christianists want to live in our country they must adapt to our secular culture. In my opinion, to protect the public from fundamentalist terrorism, all Christianists must be forced to register with their local police station. We need to know who these people are, where they are, and what they are up to.

John Redresser, Hutton, Somerset

A high price for free speech on the internet

The tragic events in Norway once again raise the issue of freedom of expression. The extremism in one man's word can very easily be translated into extremism in another man's deed. The advent of the internet and the ease and speed with which hate is disseminated means that this issue needs to be addressed urgently. Laws of the 19th and 20th centuries cannot be used to regulate technologies of the 21st century.

The right to unlimited free speech must be balanced with the duty to speak and act responsibly. A person who incites hatred should be considered as culpable as the fanatic who pulls the trigger, or detonates the bomb. In today's stressed-out world there are too many crazed people out there, with too many weapons, for this kind of catastrophe not to occur again and again.

Let us start by condemning all violence unequivocally, whether it is by a lone lunatic or by states against their people. We cannot have one standard for the Syrian and another for the Bahraini.

Percy Aaron, Vientiane, Laos

Museums that make violence look like fun

I read a newspaper that had the gunman in Oslo, with his gun, prominently on the front cover, together with his saying, "It is better to kill too many than not enough."

The same paper carried an advertisement from the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, which said: "Charge down to the Royal Armouries Museum this summer for loads of family fun ...

"Discover: the world of the warrior through the ages from the medieval knight to the modern-day soldier.

"Hands-on: Ever fancied handling a medieval sword ... Our special handling sessions let you get up close to weapons and armour from the collection ...

"Commando Kidz! Are you up for the challenge of the Adventure Zone's inflatable assault course?"

Young boys (especially) want fun and excitement, and handling weapons and playing at war seem to fit the bill perfectly. Should these holiday offerings be regarded as harmless fun and instructive excitement, or are they part of a deep-rooted and pervasive culture of institutionalised violence in which the killing and maiming of people is accepted as the norm?

Is it pure coincidence that this country has some 100 army and war museums, but only one embryonic peace museum?

Dr Peter van den Dungen, Peace Studies, University of Bradford

Various suggestions are being proffered to resuscitate our flatlining economy, from a further £50bn round of quantitative easing to reducing the 50 per cent income tax band.

At the same time, the Government is committed, via the Climate Change Act, to a 34 per cent greenhouse gas reduction by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. Just under a third of UK energy consumption is used in the domestic sector, 84 per cent of this for heat. At current depressed rates of housing replacement, retrofit of old housing stock (representing up to 97 per cent of total housing in 2050) will be crucial to achieving such targets. Accelerated retirement of existing fossil-fuel electricity generation capacity also reinforces the case for conservation.

Given all of the above, would it not make sense for the £50bn proposed for QE to be spent instead on an enhanced programme of domestic energy efficiency investment, generating green employment in the beleaguered construction sector, pump-priming local economies, and increasing living standards and disposable income for those suffering most from our continuing economic predicament?

Nigel Tuersley, Tisbury, Wiltshire

To allow us to keep more of our income, the Government might consider raising the personal allowance by a couple of hundred pounds, rather than removing the 50p tax rate. Those paying top-rate tax would benefit – albeit small change by their standards – and the rest of us would have more for essentials. Is this blinding glimpse of the obvious too simple for the Chancellor?

S Lawton, Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

At last, the truth is officially out. For years we have been told that the monarchy is vital for our economy. For months we were assured that the royal wedding would boost manufacturing and tourism. Finally it has been confirmed that the cost of the Royal Family is threatening the nation's financial recovery.

The Duke of Edinburgh must be delighted that his family is helping to bring the national debt of his adopted country in line with that of the country of his birth.

Rod Auton, Chesterfield

In contrast to the audiences at pop concerts and Test matches, judging by their expressions, the people pictured at Goodwood don't seem to be very happy (Picture of the Day, 27 July). Perhaps they had just heard the latest economic growth figures.

David Thorne, Knighton, Powys

Given the state of the economy, we had better not mark the Olympic torch relay by taking a day off work, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer may hold it against us.

Angelo Micciche, St. Erth,Cornwall

Bring life back to town centres

I have great sympathy with your recent correspondents who oppose supermarket development in Hereford and Tenbury Wells. I hope Tenbury wins its battle, but I fear that Hereford is already a lost cause.

I know the city quite well as I sometimes do my shopping there. In recent years I have seen a preponderance of charity shops and tacky cut-price stores emerge in what used to be quite a thriving centre. Further supermarket development will only make this worse – unless some imagination is shown.

While holidaying in Europe I have been frequently impressed by the liveability of so many towns where the centres remain a mixture of shops, offices and homes. Given the housing shortage that the country faces, why on earth can't planners and developers (and governments) direct their energies into bringing life back into town centres instead of blighting the green areas on the their outskirts? Instead of shoddy shopping centres by day and no-go areas inhabited by drunks at night, people would be seen tending their hanging baskets, children playing outside on pedestrian areas, neighbours chatting by their front doors, and whole families out for an evening constitutional on warm evenings, as I have witnessed in Italy, for example.

The very existence of people living normal lives in town centres would drive out the drunks. Commuting distances would be shorter for many, reducing pollution, congestion and carbon emissions. Also, one only has to look upwards in town centres to see that many shops support fading architectural gems on first and second floors which owners would delight in restoring.

Society is polarised in so many ways and this seems a relatively easy way of helping to redress that imbalance. I do not understand why something so obvious hasn't already happened in towns across the country.

Patrick Cosgrove, Bucknell, Shropshire

Eager for the beautiful Games

I was delighted to see the images of athletes in today's Olympic supplement (27 July): all but one of them women; young, attractive, scantily clad. Only Miss Joan Hunter Dunn was missing.

Call me old-fashioned, but I look forward to many more such images as our young heroines mount the podium, their bosoms swelling with womanly pride as the music of our gloriously understated National Anthem resounds across the arena.

Chris Simmons, Driffield, East Yorkshire

I rejoiced to see your Olympic supplement. Could this be a precedent? Will you henceforth be confining all Olympics news and topics, before, during and after the event, to weekly and daily supplements which I, along with many of my fellow East Enders, priced out of a local event, our streets too humble to route the marathon, can instantly consign to the recycling bin?

Your Saturday Information "50 Best Ways of Escaping the Olympics" is overdue. We need to plan well ahead to beat the last-minute rush.

Peter Forster, London N4

Japan rebuilds after tsunami

The article "The slow road to recovery" (7 July) states that the reconstruction effort following the earthquake and tsunami in March is being hindered by protectionism, red tape and cronyism.

It asserts that "after four months, only half of the homes for the estimated 300,000 made homeless by the disasters have been either shipped in or built". It suggests that offers to provide housing have been declined.

The reality is that, as of 19 July, 98,222 temporary dwellings had been made available, which could accommodate around 295,000 people (assuming three people per household). The alleged shortage of supply in housing, if any, is therefore minimal, and nowhere near the 150,000 claimed by the article.

The article makes the sweeping statement that "Japanese laws make it difficult for local authorities to accept foreign services and even those offered from outside each prefecture". There are no legal impediments to local authorities accepting foreign or out-of-prefecture services. Likewise, there is no evidence of the United Nations having been "led ... to label Japan's response to the crisis as one worthy of a developing country, not the third-largest economy in the world".

The scale of the recent disaster was unprecedented in modern times. The reconstruction process will be long and arduous. One of the most pressing issues at present is to match the right housing with the right people, in a transparent and accountable manner. Japan is tackling this task of rehousing the homeless with sincerity and vigour, and not in the inept, haphazard way implied in the article.

Ken Okaniwa, Minister, Embassy of Japan, London W1

Who demands 'sexy' women?

The Observer's invitation to its readers to view Christine Lagarde as the "world's sexiest woman" is unworthy of The Observer. Equally unworthy is Mary Ann Sieghart's use of that invitation to justify a rant (25 July) against what she argues are the demands of society to sexualise women in general – whatever their talents.

I know no one who "expects" women to wear extravagantly high heels or who "demands" that they subject their bodies to excruciating cosmetic processes. I exclude from this women themselves.

Those women who recognise, and apply their God-given or acquired talents will have no need to raise their self-esteem by responding to dubious advice on fashion or other means of securing the approval of their peers. Self-respect is the first step towards mutual respect between men and women.

On that, I suspect Ms Sieghart and I are not far apart.

Philip Wilson, Barnet, Hertfordshire

I am willing to undertake a research project, purely in the interests of science and truth, with a view to reporting back to Independent readers on exactly how Julia Roberts looks, without make-up, first thing in the morning ("L'Oréal ads banned over 'airbrushing' ", 27 July).

John Richards, St Ives, Cornwall

Labour must find its vision

On 27 July 1945 the post-war Labour government came to power. The 66th anniversary of this event may be an appropriate time for the British Labour Party to start thinking seriously about its future.

The fact that the young people murdered last Friday were attending a summer camp organised by the Norwegian Labour Party suggests that they were inspired by a socialist vision of society and believed that politics mattered because it was a way of changing people's lives for the better.

In Britain, politically active young people are more likely to pursue single-issue activism on matters such as animal rights, climate change or racism. They tend to share the widespread cynicism about politicians of the older generation.

Unless Labour is willing to present itself as a party dedicated to the pursuit of social justice for all and to follow that vision wherever it may lead, it has no reason to exist. Unless it can communicate that vision to young people, it won't.

Dr Les May, Rochdale, Lancashire

Credit rating gobbledegook

I cannot understand why anybody gives any credence to the gobbledegook produced by the credit rating agencies. Apparently Greece has had its rating cut to CA, from CAA1, but only pretentious economists will be able to explain what it all is supposed to mean. The reality is that the latest Eurozone agreement makes it less, not more, likely that Greece will default as the interest rate it must pay has been vastly reduced.

In any event these credit rating agencies, all based in the USA, seem to be acting politically, rather than economically. What Greece owes amounts to pocket money compared to the indebtedness of the USA, yet that country maintains its AAA rating. What tosh it all is.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

Winehouse, fame and self-pity

The death of Amy Winehouse is less remarkable than the response to it. Your own solemn and rapturous coverage was an embarrassing attempt to march in step with the young.

Essentially, Winehouse did self-pity, which is what adolescence is for. Older people, editors among them, defer to the natural wisdom of youth.

Meanwhile, many youngsters are so disappointed with life itself that they yearn for fame, solution to all griefs. Failing which, they live at second hand through people for whom fame, as with Winehouse, proves fatal.

Edward Pearce, Thormanby, North Yorkshire

Speak louder

BT may be boasting that the Speaking Clock is 75 years old (report, 23 July) and is well used, but nowhere in the Phone Book (which has dumbed down from its original name of the Telephone Directory) can one find reference to the Speaking Clock. On page 6 under Travel is "BT Timeline". Why don't they call it the Speaking Clock as everyone else does? It would make them significantly more profit.

Donald P McDonald, Scone, Perth

British pride

Christina Patterson ("Raise a flag for democracy", 27 July) has hit upon another of life's conundrums. Just as I am certain about the importance of doubt, I am proud to be British because we are not proud to be British.

Jeremy Walker, London WC1

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