Letters: Perspectives on political violence

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The limits of non-violence

Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 16 November) advocates the policy of peaceful protest, drawing on such diverse examples as last week's protest against tuition fees and Aung San Suu Kyi's campaign against the military regime in Burma. I am surprised then that I don't remember his condemning Tony Blair's violence in attacking Iraq or Israel's violent attacks on Gaza. Surely Mr Lawson feels peaceful protest would have been the better response?

He then lists advocates of non-violence, including Nelson Mandela. In fact Mandela remained in prison in the 1980s because he refused to renounce violence and discusses this in his autobiography. His followers in the ANC certainly had trouble renouncing violence, as the incidents of "necklacing" testify.

Bernard North, Sutton, Surrey

Sometimes voting doesn't work

Smashing windows is a timeworn sign of frustration coupled with powerlessness. Perhaps Dominic Lawson is inured to politicians' customary fibbing, but he forgets that the majority of university students are aged 18 to 22; this May's general election was for many the first time they had voted.

The unexpected surge in support for the Liberal Democrats was in part fuelled by student support for the party's high-profile pledge not to increase fees and its positioning as an alternative, non-Conservative opponent to the Government. In many constituencies, the support of student activists was vital to the party's campaign. The Lib Dems' immediate and breathtaking U-turns may quite reasonably make young voters lose any confidence in the democratic system, the operation of which surely presupposes that parties are mostly sincere in their pre-election proposals.

Since the electoral system will not provide electors with an opportunity to call the junior coalition partner to account until the Government falls, students have reasonable grounds to resort to non-violent direct action against the Lib Dems to attempt to break the Coalition.

John Coleman, Oxford

Last resort of the desperate

David Burgess (letter, 15 November), in disapproving of recent student violence, advocates debate by reasoned argument. Many of us would agree that this is a good idea; but we are not there yet.

It is not clear that the Government has engaged in reasoned argument. There are many eminent economists, including the Nobel prizewinners Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, who have argued that the present Coalition Government is making a big mistake in implementing savage cuts, and that a Keynesian approach – infrastructural investment to sustain employment and demand – would be better.

The dominant party in the present coalition has a long history of arguing for cuts in government spending and taxes, and for smaller government, and now they have a good excuse to do what they've always wanted to do. They are ideologically driven and ideology has little room for reasoned argument or pragmatism.

Mr Burgess can surely have not forgotten that many of the freedoms that many of us take for granted were won by violence in the face of deeply entrenched vested interests. These recent cuts can only further widen the already increasing gulf between the poor and the privileged, and we should not be surprised if some start to resort to violence as a reaction to their increasing difficulties, which were not of their making.

Dennis Leachman, Reading

A royal wedding in tough times

I am not a regular reader of your paper, but had to buy it this morning (17 November). I heartily congratulate you for not using the royal engagement as the lead – the only national newspaper to treat its readers with intelligence and respect.

Who cares if the offspring of a family that represents 1,000 years of oppression, injustice and inequality wants to get married? The only reason I can think of for wanting to read about it would be if Prince William and Kate Middleton asked to have a civil partnership, and therefore tested the laws on gay weddings, or vowed that the wedding, in these times of public spending cuts, will not cost the tax payer a penny. Otherwise it's just another royal scrounger on the payroll.

Keep up the good work.

Dan Carrier, London NW5

Congratulations on not giving the royal wedding the full front-page treatment. There are far more important issues than the nuptials of a millionaire couple who are out of touch with the reality of life faced by the rest of us – except the Etonians in the Con Dem Cabinet.

Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby, Lincolnshire

What has happened to The Independent? Page after page of literate, but very boring chat and speculation about a seemingly quite nice but unexceptional couple, one of whom happens to be a member of the Royal Family.

A bit of OK!-style celebrity gossip can spice up a newspaper, but if you're going down that road, for goodness sake find people with interesting private lives like footballers, soap stars and X-Factor contestants.

Jim Cordell, Manchester

I wish Kate and William all happiness for their future life together.

In these straitened financial times, however, when so many are facing severe financial hardship, I think the ideal place for the royal wedding would be either St George's, Windsor, or the chapel at St James's Palace. That is where many royal weddings took place until the 20th century.

The cost should be borne by the Prince of Wales and the Queen, who are very wealthy in their own right, with perhaps a small input from Kate's parents. This would show the Royal Family are in touch with the people, many of whom are experiencing hard times through no fault of their own.

Valerie Crews, Beckenham, Kent

I wonder how Julie Burchill thinks her heroine, Diana, would react to the way she congratulates the young couple (17 November).

She insults Diana's son, she insults her son's fiancée (though conceding that she might qualify as an air hostess), She insults her son's future in-laws. She expresses the wish to assassinate the Prime Minister because he has the gall to be delighted. She finally insults Diana's son by proclaiming that his family are monsters (or at least Munsters).

For heaven's sake cheer up and show some good will.

Robin Grey, London W3

Prince William cannot be heir presumptive ("A tweeted announcement", 17 November). Like his father he is heir apparent, since his place in the line of succession is secure. No one else can claim or be born into a stronger position; he is the eldest son of the next monarch.

Richard Quinlan, London SW2

That's next year's circus arranged. Just need the bread to go with it.

Mike Bor, London W2

Speculation about Ireland

David Prosser (Outlook, 16 November) should look closer to home before charging the BBC with sensationalist journalism regarding recent speculation of an EU bailout for Ireland.

I recall often walking past despairing homeless people sitting on Dublin's O'Connell bridge, as shown on your front page the same day, during the zenith of the Celtic Tiger boom several years ago.

Do all media feel they must resort to sensationalist headlines and imagery to fuel speculation that sells stories? Similar speculation seems to have resulted in severe market fluctuations, further undermining sensitive economies such as Ireland's – and the UK's for that matter (if we are to believe the justifications of George Osborne's budget-slashing).

Ross Cahalane, Godalming, Surrey

Culture of abuse at MI5?

If abuses of human rights by the security services are isolated incidents (it is hard to believe there have not been any) then you would expect the security services to be proactive in revealing them and punishing the perpetrators, which seems not to be the case.

What is more likely is that there is a culture of "we must do whatever is necessary" in secret and irrespective of the rights of particular individuals. That culture may save some lives in the short term, but it has far greater risks to society in the long term and must be eliminated.

To make that change it is better to be pragmatic, and if necessary grant immunity from prosecution, to allow the inquiry to gain a full understanding of current practises and the institutional changes that are needed. The compensation payments that have been made to former Guantanamo inmates can help end an unseemly legal battle, but they must not be used to fudge the issue.

Jon Hawksley, London EC1

I have recently watched yet another TV programme about the appalling injuries inflicted by terrorists on innocent Tube passengers and images of attempts by Yemen-based terrorists to destroy aeroplanes full of innocent passengers. Waterboarding, used to get information from terrorists, appears to me to be little more damaging than stuff that was inflicted upon me and many other National Servicemen in the 1960s, and we were also innocent. Professor Korff (letter, 15 November) and others protest too much.

Ian Hamilton, Richmond, Surrey

Reform within Islam is the key

You are right to agree with General Sir David Richards that, instead of direct military intervention, the West "should realistically aim at some form of containment strategy" for dealing with al-Qa'ida and other Islamist militants (leading article, 15 November), but it is not true that aid "is our best hope" for containing the threat they pose to us.

The American government alone, for example, has provided over $30bn in economic and military support to Pakistan since 2001 and $1bn in economic aid to Egypt every year. Has this reduced support for Islamist groups in these countries?

Though it is often assumed that Islamists thrive on support from the poor, studies by the Egyptian social scientist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Palestinian journalist Khalid M Amayreh, and University of Pennsylvania professor Marc Sageman, among others, all show that Islamists, particularly ones who are active militants, tend to come from middle-class, upwardly mobile, caring families and have had a good education, frequently with university degrees. This does not mean that there are no Islamists who are poor, but poverty does not play a major role in the radicalisation process. Indeed, the problem is primarily rooted in questions of religious identity.

Instead of providing aid to often corrupt governments in the Muslim world, it makes more sense to pressure oil-rich Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar to provide such financial support, along with reducing our overt intervention in flashpoints like Afghanistan and making it clear that aggression will be met with severe retaliation. In the end, Islamism needs to be dealt with by gradual religious reform from within to bring mainstream brands of Islam into line with modern concepts of human rights and democracy.

Such efforts by Muslim reformers deserve our support, but that does not translate to simply giving more financial aid to Muslim countries to promote economic prosperity and urging them to call elections, as former President Bush did in the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Aymenn Jawad, Brasenose College, Oxford

Attack on council news

The Independent has allowed itself to be used as a vehicle for Newspaper Society and government propaganda ("Vanity publish and be damned", 12 November). Yes, some council publications carry advertising but 45 per cent of them don't. Ads comprise less than 10 per cent of another third. Only 4 per cent of them publish more than quarterly. Are they really a serious threat to local weekly and evening newspapers?

Twenty per cent said they had taken action to try to help struggling newspapers in their area. In a number of cases the council publications are printed by the local newspaper group and in some instances even produced by them, generating significant additional income.

Councils need to publish them to give their electorate information which newspapers won't carry. Democracy will suffer if they are not allowed to do this.

The National Union of Journalists can comment evenhandedly on this because it has members working in both areas. The only outcome of this nasty little campaign will be to make journalists working on council newspapers redundant. It won't make viable regional newspapers which are struggling whether because of new media or the economic downturn or the insatiable quest for increased profits rather than re-investment in the product.

Tim Jones, Vice Chair, Public Relations Council, National Union of Journalists. Amble, Northumberland

Wide outreach from Oxford

We are told by your report "Oxford targets Britain's top private schools" (15 November) that over the past two years more than a fifth of Oxford University's "outreach" events were put on for pupils at independent schools.

However, as part of their own outreach activities, schools like The Manchester Grammar School typically invite to such events very many students from local state schools and colleges. Furthermore, MGS shares with many independent schools a firm commitment to wide social access, so that large numbers of students from low-income families receive means-tested financial support – some 300-plus pupils at my school.

So when university tutors from Oxford and elsewhere visit MGS the consequential outreach to state schools and to low-income families is rather more than at first might meet the eye of the casual observer.

Dr Christopher Ray, High Master, The Manchester Grammar School

The visits to which your journalist referred were not related to entry to Oxford, but were academic visits to talk about a given subject to A-level students. This type of visit is common in all schools, and is nothing to do with recruitment for Oxford.

Furthermore, these talks were open to students from our partner schools in the maintained sector, as are a large range of the school's other activities. The article failed to refer to the 85 students from maintained schools, boys and girls, who last year received help and tuition from the St Paul's community with their applications to Oxford and Cambridge.

Dr Martin Stephen, High Master, St Paul's School, London SW13

New words for new things

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's reference to the "infinite reach and depth" of English when compared with other languages (Opinion, 15 November) is illogical in the context of shared human capacities, aspirations and interests across the globe.

As John Lichfield states in the same edition of your paper: "Young people's French is as fluid and inventive as young people's English." Faced with a new phenomenon, the restraints on people discussing or analysing it are unlikely to be linguistic.

Different languages may deal with novelty in different ways, whether through importing a word from elsewhere or coining a new one, but deal with it they most certainly have the capacity to do.

The range of linguistic response to "things" in the world is also one of the fascinating and rewarding aspects of language learning. The Chinese term for computer, for example, can be translated as "electric brain", which though different from the gloss of the English term, provides a lively description of that particular human invention.

Caroline Corney, Senior Lecturer, School of Languages and Area Studies, University of Portsmouth

No time to smile

Sean O'Grady comments on the lack of a smile from President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina in the G20 group photograph ("A summit high on rhetoric, low on achievement", 13 November). I believe President Kirchner has just buried her husband, so perhaps she could be excused this time?

Elaine Murray, Edinburgh