Letters: Perspectives on bigotry and faith

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Religious fundamentalists are ganging up on gays

I thought that the Equality and Human Rights Commission protected gay people from bigotry, prejudice and discrimination? If so, why is this taxpayer-funded organisation supporting four cases which are to appear before the European Court of Human Rights to allow anti-gay workers to avoid serving gay men and lesbians?

In other words, some bigoted people of faith are seeking permission to break the law of this land. It gets worse. Christian fundamentalists are lobbying Members of Parliament to back this blatant homophobia. So far, 13 members have already signed a motion. Quite rightly, there would be outrage if a similar motion was proposed to victimise Jews or Muslims.

Christians of African ancestry who hold "deep and sincere views" would do well to remember that men like me were born with same-sex attraction. As with race, it can never be changed, not even with electric aversion therapy which was offered to my partner Terry in 1976 to "cure" him of his homosexuality.

We must be eternally vigilant and resist all attempts to return to a primitive, medieval mindset. In work and public service, orthodox Christians, Catholics and others who think they occupy the moral high-ground are asking for the right to turn back the clock and discriminate against the LGBT community. They should hang their heads in shame.

Narvel Annable, Belper, Derbyshire

Equal rights for everyone defended, but not Christians

I was concerned to read that the so-called Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has backtracked on the decision it announced only last month, namely to support four cases involving discrimination against Christians in the workplace when the matter is considered by the European Court of Human Rights.

To a degree, that initial stance took the sting out of my frequent assertion that the Commission defends equal rights for everyone unless they are Christians; now its change of mind confirms it.

Secularists do not seem to understand that genuine Christian believers, do not just follow their faith in a religious building or demonstrate it by what they wear. They are also committed to apply what they perceive to be the principles of that faith during the rest of the week, including in the workplace.

Reasoned criticism is legitimate, but forcing people of good character and with exemplary work records to choose between their job, often a vocational one, and their conscience is surely contrary to the spirit of any fair-minded society. It is clearly not right that people should be forced to condone practices they believe to be wrong.

The Commission would do well to note that among others, Lord Woolf, former Chief Justice, has recognised that there is now an imbalance in the law as regards its treatment of people of faith and the Government should modify that law.

John Wainwright, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire

No moral decline in a nation that has respect for the law

Over the weekend, David Cameron and Tony Blair argued in print about whether Britain was in moral decline. Cameron said yes. Blair said no.

Five million people are in a state of almost lifetime unemployment. I believe the actual number of rioters and looters could range from a low of 5,000 to a high of 10,000.

Most of those arrested and charged are long-term unemployed. Their benefits are being drastically reduced by Cameron, Osborne and Duncan Smith and they have every reason to be angry.

When given an opportunity to show their anger by taking to the streets, most stayed in their homes. At best, 0.1 per cent (100 per 100,000) and at the worst 0.2 per cent (200 per 100,000) of the long-term unemployed took to rioting, looting and fighting the police.

These figures do not point to an England in moral decline, but a nation whose people respect the rule of law even if that law is putting their living standards at risk.

Cameron, by stating the actions of a few thousand rioters prove the nation is in a spiral of moral decline, is showing disrespect to the 50 million-plus law-abiding English people of all races who did not participate in the social unrest.

While Blair may be correct, he should reflect on the failure of 13 years of New Labour to address "The small minority of disaffected and alienated young people who were outside the social mainstream and who constituted an absolutely specific problem that requires deeply specific solutions".

Hopefully, Cameron will provide the funding required to provide security for the persons and property of the people of England.

George D Lewis, Brackley, Northamptonshire

For once I agree with Tony Blair. Labelling the riots in London and elsewhere on a broken society is so off the mark and rubbish that I find it hard to understand how a mainstream politician could put that argument forward unless they were floundering.

Our history, ancient and recent, is littered with riots. the Gordon riots, the Cable Street riots, the Brighton riots, The Toxteth riots, and of course the Poll Tax riots. All of these riots grew violent and ugly because of opportunists.

As someone who was caught up in the Poll Tax riots, they can be terrifying and one can easily be led to believe that the structures of society have finally collapsed. Nothing of course is further from the truth. They are not a mark of a broken society; far from it, they are a part of a civilised society blowing its top from time to time.

But what is hugely worrying is the reaction of our so-called leaders. Their kneejerk reactions as they awake from their holiday snoozes are far more worrying than the riots themselves. Their lack of wisdom and their simplistic views draw one to the conclusion that student gap years should be a lot longer and more robust.

There are deep reasons for the riots and shallow ones too, but talk of a broken society is a damaging and false sound-bite.

Brian Jameson, Edinburgh

It is interesting and enlightening for those who have never given much consideration to the plight of the underclass to be confronted by the plethora of explanations filling innumerable pages of their newspapers for the sudden violent eruption on the streets of England. But it is no news at all for those who work among the dispossessed.

The problems are well-known, the solutions clear. What is, and always has been, lacking is a willingness by successive governments to provide the means to deliver the solutions.

This requires a substantial investment in infrastructure, premises for social, educational and sporting activities which are open when people need them, and are staffed not only by volunteers but by highly trained, properly paid, full-time community workers and support staff for all ages and needs, on duty at evenings and weekends. There is no need for lengthy inquiries, providing an excuse for further governmental prevarication. David Cameron knows exactly what needs to be done for the good of the whole of society, and he knows where he can go to get the money for it.

If he fails, his words will ring as hollow as his predecessor's claim to be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime", and no doubt he will eventually meet the same discredited fate.

Sierra Hutton-Wilson, Evercreech, Somerset

Libya's plight far from over

We hear of the unchecked optimism and celebrations in Tripoli, residents excited at the freedom of their city, freedom fighters relieved to finally see an end to the savage violence and threats to their lives.

But, no matter what happens to Gaddafi, Libya's plight is far from over. Just a look at the so-called "free Egypt" shows a country split in two, questions arising over the legitimacy of the army's current leadership, and a string of broken promises regarding presidential elections.

Far away is that day back in February of so much joy, so much hope. Protests continue on a regular basis in Tahrir Square, which became notorious during the Egyptian uprising, as a place of both violence and excitement.

In Libya, many tribal militias are unwilling to accept the leadership of the Transitional National Council. Even Gaddafi himself has pointed out the risks of division in the country and tribal warfare. Perhaps the outlook for Libya is less bleak than another decade of Gaddafi, but it certainly wouldn't look as rosy as those jubilant rebels in Green Square suggest.

Our Prime Minister is getting a lot of credit for heading one of the first western governments to support the Libyan revolution, but how long will this praise last? Not very long, I suspect, if this really does turn into a tribal war.

Whatever happens, Libya is not out of the danger zone just yet: it will take time to restore order and calm. Gaddafi did this by fear; let's just hope whoever takes the reins next can do it by democracy.

Jessica Wilde, London N6

Our link with the Arab Spring

Professor Hinde (letters, 20 August) is quite right to highlight the superiority of the Islamic Declaration of Human Rights over the UN Declaration and our own Human Rights Act in making it clear that rights come with responsibilities.

Rather than giving in to the pressure of people such as David Cameron and abolishing the Human Rights Act, we should be pressing to have it amended to include our responsibilities as citizens. That would help ensure that the Act was used responsibly.

But we should recognise that while Islam has a better understanding of the link between rights and responsibilities, rulers of Islamic countries have been just as dismissive of the rights of their citizens as have many of the West's leaders, including those who profess to be Christians. Under both Christianity and Islam, leaders accrue power and wealth while the citizens are disempowered and poor.

The causes of the Arab Spring and the UK riots are more closely linked than the government, and indeed many commentators, would like to accept.

Lesley Docksey, Buckland Newton, Dorset

Discipline ruled the old schools

I am also a "post-war baby boomer" of the same age as Sue Thomas (letters, 20 August) but I do not believe that we were any more eager to learn than children of today. What has changed drastically are the teaching methods and the attitudes of parents towards teachers.

We all sat in rows, facing the teacher who stood at the blackboard at the front of the class. We were strictly disciplined and would not speak unless spoken to. We learned our times-tables by rote and our generation is probably still quicker at simple mental arithmetic problems than a youngster with a calculator or a young cashier on a till.

Finally, if we got into trouble in school and our parents found out about it then we were in double trouble. They did not storm the school and assault the teacher.

Mike Stroud, Swansea

Language class ban is wrong

Yet another "money-saving" policy that bites hard on poor and vulnerable people: as from now, free classes in English as a second language will be denied to some 80,000 migrants, including refugees and asylum-seekers, because they are neither in work nor registered as looking for work.

This will bite hardest on women, who comprise about two-thirds of that number, but is bad for everyone affected, including the wider community. If you can't pay 50 per cent of the course fees (about £1,000 per year) you'll get no tuition, but if you're unemployed and living on benefit you've no hope of paying.

Yet without a reasonable command of English you probably won't get a job, unless it's within a community speaking your mother tongue. Moreover, you won't be able to participate in the daily life of the wider society and are at risk of being stranded in isolation or in an effective ghetto with fellow migrants of the same origin.

The Government proclaims its commitment to integration and to the objective of getting people into work, while aspirant migrants from non-EU countries are required to learn English before their application is considered.

This unholy mess is compounded by the practice of continuing to offer translated versions of a whole host of public documents, notably by local authorities, implying that knowledge of the official language of Britain is unnecessary.

For example, my local authority routinely offers in translation items such as refuse-collection instructions and complaints forms in 12 languages including French, Polish and Spanish as well as Albanian, Somali and Urdu. An utter waste of money that would be better applied to teaching English to people who desperately need to learn.

Paula Jones, London SW20

Sally's more a big bother

So Sally Bercow says she has entered the Big Brother House to "stick two fingers up to the Establishment". What gives this silly girl the idea that any of us, Establishment or not, really care. She's already blighted her husband's career as Mr Speaker, and made herself a laughing stock.

Ah well, the Establishment, the rest of us and the House of Commons have survived worse things than Sally Bercow, most of them more intelligent: like Humphrey, the No 10 cat.

Alan Carcas, Liversedge, West Yorkshire

I've never heard of seven of the 11 so-called celebrities in the first Channel 5 Big Brother ( "A-listers stay away as sheen comes off Big Brother's return to Channel 5", 19 August). And two of the four I know are the symbiotic Jedward who do nothing but sit around.

This group of D-, I- and M-listers must be the most desperate attention-seeking narcissists ever to appear on the show. I wish them well.

Nicholas E Gough, Swindon, Wiltshire

Canary Wharf is an exclusion zone

The irony of citing Canary Wharf as one of the country's pioneering enterprise zones (18 August) is not lost on the residents of the Isle of Dogs, nor on a generation of young people in the borough of Tower Hamlets who, despite being overlooked by the monolith at every turn, are still highly unlikely to ever walk its gravelled squares unless employed as street-maintenance workers or shop assistants, in spite of their many talents.

With the borough readily confessing that young people aged 14 to 19 are one of their main strategy concerns it is ever the case that, regardless of how many developers, investors and social planners throw themselves at pockets of social deprivation across country, the people who stand to benefit most from this kind of intervention continue to be the developers, investors and social planners who proposed the initiatives in the first place.

Having worked with primary-age pupils in the borough for nearly five years, I am left in no doubt that, except for visits from a dedicated team of bankers who listen to their reading skills, our future teenagers will not get much closer to accessing the wages and benefits of Docklands than looking at it from the top of Balfron Tower.

Lucy Johnson, London SE23

The magic of Stanley Matthews

Your feature on public statues (Arts & Entertainment, 19 August) excluded Stanley Matthews, who has the unique distinction of four statues in his home city (Stoke-on-Trent). One, in the centre of Hanley, is fairly conventional; but the remainder, which occupy a single plinth outside Stoke City's ground, the Britannia Stadium show Matthews at three different stages in his career, in the act of dribbling and crossing.

The three local sculptors, Julian Jeffery, Carl Payne, and Andrew Edwards, have together produced one of the most imaginative works of commemorative art in recent times. Unfortunately, the Potteries has yet to honour Arnold Bennett with a statue.

David Montrose, Blythe Bridge, Staffordshire

Sorry, Leonardo

You have the headline "Loan of fragile Da Vinci sketch draws criticism" (20 August). May I suggest that to refer to Leonardo as "da Vinci" is like calling Michelangelo "Buonarotti", Titian "Vecellio" or Dante "Alighieri".

Geoffrey Gammon, Surbiton, Surrey

In short ...

Guy Keleny (20 August) writes interestingly on dwarfs and Tolkien, but he is wrong to think that this 20th-century fantasist invented the form "dwarves". The Oxford English Dictionary gives, "The history of Laurin, king of the dwarves", dated 1818. It also cites the 14th-century words: "Durwes al so he bysette Thikke and schort and gud sette" (which is a pretty good description of dwarves). The two forms appear to have co-existed for a long time.

Martin A Smith, Oxford

Mind your back

You say "an estimated 1.3 million new cyclists [took] to the roads in 2010" (report, 22 August). Are there any estimates of how many took to the pavements?

Gordon Stevenson, Troon, Ayrshire