Too late for visionaries
If Johann Hari genuinely wept on the night of Obama's election, good for him ("Why Obama disappoints us so much", 26 October). I almost wept with laughter as I read his deflated realisation of the nature of global realpolitik.
The time for wild-eyed visionaries like Kennedy and King is over. The promised land, after 9/11 and the credit-crunch, will for ever be a zone of ceaseless compromise and fudge. Messianic simplicity won't do, and nor will berating a politician who fails to deliver on any such absurd expectations.
Hope for equality and the pursuit of social justice remain admirable goals for all those in office, but the ridiculous burden of expectation which Obama created and fostered was never going to bear fruit within two years.
The blunt polarities of Obama's rhetoric, and the vacuity of the Tea Party candidates nipping at his frayed heels, simply demonstrate the intellectual void in contemporary American politics. The complexity and interdependence of globalised 21st-century politics, with all its vested interests and influences, renders Obama – like Blair before him – a well-intentioned figurehead, nothing more.
Hari suggests Obama names and shames those vested interests who remain obstacles to social progress and calls for a mass movement against them. To do so would be to uproot American society. Not very likely at a time of such enormous financial and political strain.
S Chapman, Sunbury, Middlesex
No, you can't
The real reason Obama has let us all down? The audacity of hype.
Khalid Haneef, Watford, Hertfordshire
Robert Fisk's account of the plight of Christian communities in the Middle East ("Exodus", 26 October) is a salutary tale of the unintended consequences Bush (the born-again Christian) and Blair (the closet Christian), in league with the Zionist zealots of Israel, have wrought in the region.
According to the census data collected by the Ottoman Empire, the Christian population in 1914 was 24 per cent in the modern-day area consisting of Israel/Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Turkey. For the first 400 years of Muslim/Arab rule over Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Palestine the Christians there remained in a majority. The demographic change started in the aftermath of the Crusades, when the backlash against indigenous Christians in the Middle East first took place. And yet for the next 800 years Christianity in these lands found space to thrive in harmony and peace until now.
The spectre of monstrous intolerance, fuelled by boundless petrodollars, stalks the Muslim lands and controls the hearts and minds of alienated Muslim youths in the West. The Saudi regime remains the linchpin of the West's strategy to exercise control over Muslim lands. And this, more than anything else, spells doom not only for Christians but the minority Muslim communities such as Ahmadiya, the Sufis and Shias in the region. May Allah have mercy upon us all.
M A Qavi, London SE3
Robert Fisk astutely and compassionately analyses the tragic decline of the Christian population in the Middle East.
This decline has been caused largely by Christians fleeing persecution. Egyptian Christians have been hounded for years. Lebanese Christians have been abused by the Israeli and Syrian occupations of Lebanon and by their fascist Phalangist leaders. Christians in many parts of the Arab world have been consistently made to feel like second-class citizens by oppressive dictatorships and oligarchies. Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands and its so-called security wall have isolated and marginalised Palestinian Christians. The situation in Saudi Arabia does not even bear thinking about. The list of oppressions is endless.
The treatment of Christians in the Arab world and in Israel, as well as Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands, will always be a source of deep shame to me as an Arab Palestinian.
It is not as if we don't have enough woes without adding to them by behaving like bigoted savages to our Christian compatriots. By doing so we are only strengthening the sickening belief in many quarters of a clash of East and West – as if Christianity were not born in our own backyard in Palestine.
Dr Faysal Mikdadi, Dorchester
Robert Fisk rightly points to the massive emigration of Christians from the Middle East. But Syria should be seen as part of the picture: a country whose Arabic-speaking Christian population has risen because of Iraqis fleeing to its welcome, and where many Muslims see the presence of Christians as integral to Syrian society.
One Sunni friend of mine from Damascus told me he is deeply concerned that the Christians will leave, one important part of the mosaic of communities which enables Syria to be special. I took a group of pilgrims there recently and they were astonished by the vibrant life of the churches from the Druze south to the Kurdish northeast.
Rather than constantly sidelining Syria, it would be helpful for the West to applaud its historic pluralism and see that as more authentically Arab than the heresy of Saudi Arabian Wahhabi extremism.
The Rev Stephen Griffith, London SW14
Thank you for highlighting the plight of Middle Eastern Christians in your cover story on 26 October. It's a story that has not received as much attention as it should. For the historical background to this saga, readers might be interested in The Lost History Of Christianity by Philip Jenkins.
One minor point: the woman in the photo on the cover page is holding a book written in Ge'ez, not Coptic. The former is the liturgical language of the Ethiopian, not the Egyptian, Christians.
Dr Mark Dickens, Clare Hall, Cambridge
Real Muslims are not like this
Julie Burchill's rant about Lauren Booth's choice to become a Muslim is pure bigoted drivel. Her whole diatribe amounts to nothing more than an ill-informed attack on Islam as some kind of despotic, murderous ideology.
Does she know any Muslims? I've lived in five Muslim countries and been greeted with nothing but unconditional hospitality. And yes I was living there with my western, atheist, non-hijab-wearing, girlfriend. I've also got a best mate and a brother-in-law who are Muslims. They haven't tried to cut my head off yet.
To become a Muslim is not "sucking up to Islamism". It's a personal choice of faith, not the adoption of a political philosophy. And finally, suggesting all Muslims and Catholics hate Jews is so absurd it's not even worth challenging.
Zak Brophy, Glasgow
Selling the family silver again
The previous Tory government sought to sustain the myth of the Thatcherite economic miracle by flogging off national assets, such as the utility companies, and using the capital received not to pay off national debt nor on capital projects but to prop up the revenue account and so keep taxes artificially low.
So it shouldn't surprise us that the Coalition Government is also seeking stuff to sell ("A magnificent forest. But the Government may wield the axe", 26 October). But, as the Tories' farming friends could tell them, selling off land, especially when the market is depressed, is an act of real desperation. Once it's gone, it's gone; no more is being made.
Brian Hughes, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Mark Avery, the RSPB's Director of Conservation, is right to stress the important work done for wildlife and recreation by the Forestry Commission (letter, 26 October). It is certainly vital that any land disposed should be subject to full public access.
In any case the Coalition's proposal to dispose of some Forestry Commission land has not been the subject of any public debate or consultation. Full public consultation should now take place, with local organisations and individuals being invited to give their views on the future of Forestry Commission land in their areas. Some land could perhaps be usefully transferred to local amenity bodies.
Surely this is the sort of thing that the Big Society is meant to be about.
Stephen Schlich, Broadclyst, Devon
Bus passes are good for health
Retaining free bus passes may have been seen as a cynical manoeuvre by the Coalition to keep the elderly onside (letters, 26 October) but in fact it is an excellent example of joined-up government thinking. Anything that keeps retired people interested in life and encourages them to go out and about promotes good health. Free admission to museums serves this same purpose. The more active older people remain the less pressure on social services and the NHS.
Julia Doherty, Uckfield, East Sussex
Your correspondents (letters, 26 October) offer various justifications for the free bus travel enjoyed by pensioners – a thank you for a lifetime of tax payments, "compensation" for being old, a contribution to the reduction of CO2 emissions.
My suggestion would be to change the entitlement criteria to just include those people who don't own a car, and who aren't provided with a company car, irrespective of age. It would be a thank you to these people for choosing a less polluting form of travel, "compensation" to those who can't afford to run a car and a contribution to the reduction in CO2 emissions.
The CO2 emissions effect could be quite dramatic, a game-changer even, if it causes people to trade in a car for a bus pass and perhaps just hire a car for occasional awkward journeys.
Michael Brice, Reading
I agree with my friend Gerald Elliott's comments (letter, 26 October). I would have no objection to being taxed on my winter fuel allowance. HMRC already taxes me on my state pension and knows my age and my wife's, so all that would be required is a couple of lines of computer code to collect the tax.
However, as for bus passes, with a 20 minute interval between buses into the nearest town, I would be very tempted to drive if I had to pay the full fare, so adding to congestion and pollution.
Professor Anthony C T North, Bramhope, West Yorkshire
A quango that will be missed
You report the abolition of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council as part of the quango bonfire. The AJTC is the successor, created in 2007, to the Council on Tribunals, of which I was a member for six years in the 1990s.
That council was established in 1958 to keep under review burgeoning and disparate tribunal jurisdictions, including those having a significant impact on the lives and liberties of citizens such as Mental Health Review Tribunals, Immigration Adjudicators and Appeal Tribunals and Employment Tribunals. Tribunals have a tendency to be somewhat insular in their approaches, so that, for example, severe delays might take place in one jurisdiction which steadfastly refused to learn anything from others. The Council drafted model procedural rules, organised conferences to bring tribunal heads together, drafted and reported to government on problems that arose in tribunal systems.
Fair justice can be expensive. Challenges to government can be inconvenient. So it is no surprise that the Government has chosen to rid itself of what has always been a Cinderella body but which has a long record of intervening on behalf of tribunal users. It is a seriously retrograde step.
There is no way the Government can ensure that tribunals operate fairly and effectively. It, or some other governmental body, is frequently a party to proceedings. Even if the Council is to be abolished – a decision that I devoutly hope will be revisited – there must be some way in which its functions can be transferred to some other agency such as the Civil Justice Council.
Without this, tribunal systems will soon grow apart, bad practice will set in, cheapskate non-statutory reviews will replace proper administrative justice and expensive and damaging chaos will ensue. We will all be the losers then.
Michael Dempsey, London E1
Employers who need migrants
The Government's proposals possibly to soften the planned cap on migrant workers (report, 26 October) are welcome, but the plan still raises the question of whether the industry sectors that are hardest hit by the cap will be able to afford the recruitment costs under the cap. Overall, a fifth of recruiters are struggling to find skilled workers since the cap was introduced, but there's a much bigger problem that needs addressing.
Sectors such as care, manufacturing and construction are particularly suffering from a skills shortage as a result of the cap; 30 per cent recruitment agencies struggle to find the right skilled workers for the care sector, reporting hundreds of vacancies for qualified social care workers.
The two options being considered by David Cameron are: to allow firms to transfer staff from offices overseas to Britain for limited periods, counting towards the limit; and for companies to take on highly qualified foreign staff in return for paying a high visa fee. These are not going to help those sectors, such as the care industry, that already face massive skills shortages or have very limited funds.
I understand how some may see this as a positive move to prevent non-EU migrants from undercutting British job-seekers, especially during a time of high unemployment. But the Government needs to design the migrant system so that it is flexible enough to accommodate the needs of all sectors.
Matthew Sanders, CEO, de PoelKnutsford, Cheshire
Philip Hensher (Notebook, 25 October ) is quite wrong about George I procuring the death of Graf Königsmark, his wife's lover. So was the film Saraband for Dead Lovers (Letter, 26 October) which cast the libellously ugly Peter Bull as the quite pleasant-looking George.
The leading source, Ragnhild Hatton (George I, Elector and King, 1978), makes a convincing rebuttal of those charges. George was, too, a good deal more merciful than most of his ministers. After the 1715 rising, Robert Walpole, not yet first minister, led the charge to have all seven convicted Scottish nobles beheaded. George resisted, saving four of them. (A fifth, Lord Nithsdale, anticipated Mr Toad, escaping from the Tower to Italian exile in woman's clothes).
The King, a sensible Lutheran, was also embarrassed by Church of England bigotry. Favouring tolerance toward Dissenters and Catholics alike, he encouraged a plan by his first minister, James Stanhope, to sweep away the Test and Corporation Acts, the Schism Act and other pieces of Anglican triumphalism. English prejudice defeated him and statutory religious discrimination lasted another hundred years. An ignorant misconception of George I has lasted longer.
Edward Pearce, Thormanby, North Yorkshire
I suspect the BBC of keeping a big box of poppies from one year to the next and dishing them out to presenters (leading article, 25 October). As the daughter of a soldier who survived the trenches of the First World War, I would see him weep on Armistice day for his friends, whom he saw dead and dying around him. The BBC are diluting the power of Poppy Day by flashing them about so long before 11 November.
Chris Thomas, Worthing, West Sussex
Further to trains being "terminated" (letter, 27 October), I was surprised to be told by the announcer on a London Midland train that Euston was to be our final destination. This made me question the sermons that I have preached over the years about heaven. The same person also reminded us to take all our belongings "including children" with us on leaving the train.
Canon Richard Postill, Solihull, West Midlands
I wanted to share with you my excitement when I found out that you had changed the quality of the paper you print The Independent on: the feeling and the experience is much better than any other newspaper you can read.
It's a great decision you've made, as it feels like reading a hybrid between a daily newspaper and a magazine. Congratulations: the format is now as good as the content.
Stephen Martincic, London SW1