Letters: Poverty breeds conflict between communities


It is poverty that will breed conflict between our communities

Sir: Three days before your report "Britain 'is sleepwalking into New Orleans style segregation' " (19 September) we were walking in a predominantly Muslim part of our Blackburn community. We have agreed to walk there regularly because we believe that if an Asian woman in a hijab and a white priest in a dog collar are seen talking together the messages sent out will speak louder than staged interfaith photo opportunities or reams of social commentary. Our walk also gives us the opportunity to gauge how people are feeling.

Last Friday we stopped to talk with one young shopkeeper. We asked him what his concerns were in the light of recent events. He replied that he didn't have that many concerns. His main one was getting up early and ensuring that his business was running well and serving the community. He added, however, that he knew of lots of young people who were unemployed, who spent all day watching Sky News and all night fulminating with their friends about issues such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Iraq and US dominance.

Jobs - or the lack of them - are at the root of the problem. Even in the 21st century, the devil makes work for idle hands.

We live in one of the most segregated communities in the country. And we agree with much of what Harriet Harman and Trevor Phillips say. We see a desire to provide beautiful buildings for the centre of Blackburn, but much less drive to advance economic regeneration. We see an educational policy whose intention is to give parents choice but whose by-product is schools which deepen the physical segregation of Asian-heritage and white pupils.

Where we would take issue with the social analysis, as it has been reported, is in its focus almost exclusively on ethnic minority communities. There are ghettoes of poverty for both Asian-heritage and white "working-class" citizens. Addressing the economic needs and other legitimate concerns of the latter community is as important as focusing attention post 7/7 on perceived Muslim enclaves.

An integrated community is one which is economically vibrant. As religious leaders we can do all sorts of things to promote cross-cultural understanding and to offset the segregation of our schools. But we cannot address the economically static nature of our communities. Local and national government must focus more energy and imagination on long-term economic investment, lest we all find ourselves not sleep-walking to New Orleans style segregation or to apartheid - both are already realities - but to real and preventable conflict between communities who already share one aspect of identity in common: they are very poor.



In Iraq, US repeats the folly of the past

Sir: In your analysis of the Iraq options (21 September), under the heading "Stay for the long haul", you start the minus column with the assertion that "comparisons with Vietnam become irresistible". Indeed they do! Every day they become more obvious and alarming. As one of many British reporters who covered the Vietnam conflict, I have watched with dismay as the US has plunged once more into the quagmire. No lessons have been learned. Within a single generation, the folly of the past has been repeated and aggravated.

In Vietnam, the US committed massive force and claimed a quick victory. Despite a "pacification programme", there was mounting insurgency and bloodshed with deadly bombings of civilian and military targets. The insurgents were rearmed and reinforced across porous borders that the US could not seal. US attempts to establish credible governments in Saigon did not work because they were seen to be puppet regimes. As the violence mounted, the US launched its costly "Vietnamisation" programme to turn over security to the local army and police.

This surely is the story of Iraq so far and it seems very likely that it will continue to follow the Vietnam plot with its dismal and humiliating ending.

In his history of the Vietnam war published in 1983, Stanley Karnow wrote about the war memorial in Washington and of the 57,000 names of the dead: "They bear witness to the end of America's absolute confidence in its moral exclusivity, its military invincibility, its manifest destiny. They are the price paid in blood and sorrow for America's wakening to maturity, to the recognition of its limitations." If only !

In the 1960s, a Labour prime minister refused to let Britain get involved in Vietnam, despite our "special relationship" with the US. I wonder if Tony Blair will ever understand why.



Sir: In your analysis you list as the fourth, and most likely, option, "Stay for the long haul".

Is it starting to occur to other people too that this might have been the intention from the beginning? This would explain why America is now building four huge military bases in Iraq, with high walls and shopping malls. It would also make strategic sense for them - a nice big military bootprint would project American force right to the heart of the Arab world. And as for the "mess", why, if those walls are high enough, you can just let the natives slug it out among themselves.

My feeling is that the Coalition doesn't want a way out. It wants reasons for staying.



Sir: The Baathist regime was one of the most oppressive in Iraqi history. It is naive to expect new rulers to emerge without some external influence. Which is preferable, those who have experienced our democracies or those from the surrounding states where dictatorship has reigned for even longer?

On your front page on 21 September you outline four possibilities. To stay for the long-term offers the best solution but it looks like imperialism. This is a misunderstanding; it is self-interested philanthropy. And to succeed the country and its people must be flooded with the resources and infrastructure which we take for granted. Only then will the reactionary forces of tribe and religion be quelled.

This is our real challenge - to support the work of our armed forces with civilian engineering and technology, and an unapologetic enthusiasm for social progress instead of politically correct lip-service to the existing medieval social order. The disillusion expressed by the people is due to the lack of electricity and clean water, and whichever authority supplies these will be given the crown.



Sir: Emollient addresses to bloodstained dictators by diplomatic missions, whether official or unofficial, are a necessary condition for pursuing such honourable aims as trying to avert the even more bloodstained invasion and attempted subjugation of Iraq.

No doubt William Shawcross (letter, 22 September), who assumes that George Galloway's remarks to Saddam provide a knock-down case for the prosecution, would have roundly denounced Saddam to his face as a brutal tyrant. He would have been carted off to jail, where he might have welcomed some emollience from professional diplomats to extricate him, and could have rendered no possible service to the suffering people of Iraq.



How to widen the university gates

Sir: Your editorial "Universities must be made to open their doors wider" (22 September) advocates Sats and says "in the US these tests have led to top universities recruiting more students from deprived neighbourhoods". This ignores the huge debate in the US about Sats, where, for example, Bob Schaeffer, a harsh critic of Sats says, "There is a straight-line correlation between family income and Sat scores." In the US there is private coaching - as there would be in the UK - to boost SAT results.

Also, universities cannot be expected to shoulder the burden of providing basic subject education for what you call the "brightest, rather than the best educated children".

The answer to raising state school entrance to elite universities is simple if unpalatable: raising state school standards and results.



Sir: I would have thought it was obvious to anyone with half a brain that the fall-off in applications to university among working-class students was caused by the fear of debt.

Middle-class parents can consider helping their children with tuition fees; working-class parents do not have that option. I am aware that some students are exempt, but they are only the very poorest. For the majority, the prospect of £9,000 in fees, before even thinking about actually eating or living or buying books, is horrifying. Tuition fees should be abolished tomorrow, if the Government really wants an educated society.



Sir: I took my 11-plus nearly 40 years ago, and I remember being advised at the time that it was the sort of test that I couldn't really work for, and that I was just to do my best and not worry about it - in effect, an aptitude test. When I was studying at an American university and I saw their college Sats, I thought, "This looks like an 11-plus for 17-year-olds."

I wonder if you could possibly explain to me why the first of these is a brutal experience which we must never again visit on our 10- and 11-year-olds, but the second is quite the right thing to visit upon our 17- and 18-year-olds? The experience of comparative failure is far more painful and indeed public for teenagers than it is for children. Why not sort out where children stand in the academic pecking order when they are young enough not to mind a deal - and then ensure that all of them have a good and appropriate education thereafter?



The climate is a political issue

Sir: I welcome the fact that The Independent continues to give extensive coverage to the crucial issue of climate change -the greatest threat facing this planet.

It is disappointing however that your paper continues all too often to treat climate change as some sort of abstract scientific matter, rather than what it should be, a key political challenge.

The Liberal Democrats have put taking action to cut the carbon emissions fuelling climate change at the heart of our agenda and devoted a whole afternoon at our party conference to debating the issues. Despite this, and your otherwise generous coverage of our conference, your paper failed to cover a single word that was said in these debates.

If the media continue to treat climate change as a scientific issue rather than a political one, we are unlikely to see the political progress we so urgently need.



No pay cut for young barristers

Sir: Young barristers will not have their fees cut in Crown Court cases from October as Bruce Houlder QC asserts in his letter ("Poor pay driving bright young lawyers from the criminal courts", 17 September). Although fees for 1-10-day cases have not increased in recent years, overall payments to barristers for criminal work have increased by 20 per cent in real terms since 1997.

The savings in public spending announced on 5 July will only affect the most senior barristers (QCs) and those working on longer cases. Bar incomes from criminal legal aid work alone regularly exceed £100,000, with top-earners paid up to £750,000 a year. Senior barristers often earn triple the rate paid to junior colleagues in complex cases. The proposed savings will reduce this to double the junior rate.

Arrangements for buying legal services in all criminal legal aid cases are currently being reviewed by Lord Carter, who will make recommendations to the Lord Chancellor early next year. It is irresponsible and wrong to take disruptive action that would damage the interests of defendants, victims and the justice system while that review is under way. I encourage the legal profession to support and assist Lord Carter's review to ensure a fair and enduring improvement to the legal aid system that will be fair to taxpayers, victims, defendants and practitioners.



Financial advice

Sir: Miss Moss is probably too young to remember the American comedian Richard Pryor advising in the 1970s, that "cocaine is God's way of telling you that you have too much money".



Becoming British

Sir: How is it that Edward L Fox ("Why I'm becoming a British citizen", 22 September), a US citizen who can return to the land of his birth freely and without fear of arrest or worse, can purchase UK citizenship for £280 and not even have to state a reason why, when this newspaper regularly reports enforced repatriation of equally worthy individuals to whom the opportunity to stay in this country would save from almost certain torture and death? If this illustrates our priorities, it does not make me feel proud to be a citizen.



Political spectacle

Sir: What is the Labour Party conference for? There are no members. Money is raised over London's better restaurant tables. Policy is made up by Mr Blair, sometimes on a sofa, sometimes on the back of an envelope.



The price of coffee

Sir: Eric Chadwick (letter, 21 September) may like to know that, at least in HM Revenue & Customs, any of us taking a cigarette break must deduct the time from our working hours and make it up later. However, our many colleagues who go off to the office kitchens three or four times a day (caffeine/tannin addiction perhaps?) and stand around on each occasion for 15 to 20 minutes gossiping before returning to their desks are not required to deduct a single second, even though they too are being "unproductive".



Remember the Sixties

Sir: History is repeating itself. America is trapped in an unwinnable guerrilla war, and has just announced plans to put men on the Moon. Is George Bush planning a trip to Dallas any time soon?



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