Letters: Religion is just as much a force for good as it is evil

These letters appear in the December 20 edition of The Independent

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Your correspondents (19 December) rightly point out that religion played a part in the crazed thinking of the Sydney gunman. This does not mean that many Muslims do not want to live a decent, peaceful life, or that other types of believer do not do so either. The bad behaviour of some does not negate the good of others. The Taliban killers in Pakistan were fired by an extremism that is fed as much by politics and the frustration of the marginalised as it is by distorted ideas about Allah.

They, and we, are all human beings first, before they are any type of believer or unbeliever. If religion was not in their conceptual stew then something else would take its place.

Why not report on the good and peaceful things being done in the name of faith? These include food banks and soup runs, visiting the lonely and sick and, in the Muslim world, the wonderful initiative of Al-Azhar university in Cairo. In addition various religious leaders support dialogue and denounce the persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq. Branches of a reconciliation movement known as Family House are spreading through Egypt – why not report this?

Fr Kevin O’Donnell
Rottingdean, East Sussex


Dr Munjeb Farid al Qutob (letters, 17 December) ignores the Islamist undertones of the incident in Sydney. And Mohammed Samaana (letters, 18 December) claims that Muslims are always the oppressed, that everyone else is out to get them.

And here lies the core of the problem. Denial and an unwillingness to confront the issues that give a bad name to the great religion that is Islam will not do anything to reduce terrorism. Most practitioners of Islam lead a highly disciplined life based on strong values and love for humanity. Introspection and a mass movement led by religious leaders of every community is badly needed.

Arun Ratnam
Amersham,  Buckinghamshire


We have seen Christians as well as Muslims condone the killing of those who don’t accept their religious teachings. The crusades, Serbia, St Bartholomew’s eve, Northern Ireland and the Spanish Inquisition are just a few of the many instances when good Christians felt it their religious duty to wreak havoc on the rest.

Of course, much good has been carried out in the name of religion, but I can’t help thinking that this is not so much because religious people can be good, but rather because good people can  be religious.

D C Hooley
Newmarket, Suffolk


The vast majority of what Dr Munjed Farid’s Al Qutob’s says will be echoed by most readers. However, hidden away is “salvation”. I struggle to understand from what or for what I need to be saved. I live my life (without religious belief) trying to be as moral as I can. I know that I will die and have seen no evidence that I will continue to exist, in any conscious sense, beyond this. This view may be disconcerting to some but that is no reason to assert that a belief in a deity who can save me is a sensible way to live my life.

Roy Hicks


Your correspondents link religion with terror. If one studies the Sermon on the Mount and the writings of Peter in the New Testament, it is clear that the founders of Christianity were pacificists. Why is it that so few Christians have followed their teaching? So many of our cathedrals and churches have chapels etc dedicated to the remembrance of military exploits.

Roger Atkinson


Not shouting,  just talking

Howard Jacobson (13 December) tells how staff in a shop accused him of shouting when he tried to get information about a Blackberry Passport. This has confirmed my view about what some people regard as shouting.

Before retirement I worked in a behaviour unit with secondary pupils. If I asked them to sit down and get their books out, in an assertive way but absolutely not shouting, some kids would kick off as they said I had “shouted” at them. 

A friend, who is a librarian, had to talk to a student about the return of a very late book. No shouting, just telling her to return the short-loan book by the following day or she wouldn’t be allowed to borrow any more books. Later that day the mother of the student rang up to make a formal complaint as she said the librarian had shouted at her daughter and made her cry. No shouting, lots of witnesses, but being told what she didn’t want to hear equated to shouting.

I have thought for a long while that, as Jacobson says, “the surly, the disobliging and the downright rude believe they have a human right never to be admonished”. Also, some people do not understand that assertive clear speech is not shouting.

Christine Armstrong
Swanton Novers, Norfolk


Whenever my lovely, dulcet-toned mother-in-law admonishes her husband for bad behaviour such as drinking too much, or being rude in shops, he complains “Joan has been shouting at me”. She never has to raise her voice by so much as a decibel to be accused of this.

Veronica Willis
London SW10


Reading Howard Jacobson’s experience in the Vodafone shop I recalled my totally different experience when, aged 75, I purchased my Mac Book Air in the Apple shop. The staff were utterly polite, helpful, considerate, and I have to say completely wonderful.

Elspeth Allison
Fleckney, Leicestershire


I recently had my annual review with my pharmacist for the painkillers I take for arthritis. During the review I referred to the Cox-1, Cox-2, and Cox-3 systems. He threw a tantrum: “You are a patient. You should not know these things!” I told him I have a degree in biochemistry, among others. “You shouldn’t. Patients should do as they are told.” I have met this arrogant attitude from doctors of various sorts, now pharmacists are at it. I think I shall be changing pharmacy. Why are these so-called “professionals” quite so keen to keep knowledge as a privileged preserve?

David Critchard


We lose libraries at our peril

It is said that knowledge is power, and one only has to think of the various “powers” that have tried to ban books in the past to acknowledge this fact (“The great British libary betrayal”, 18 December).

From the earliest times libraries have played a part in storing and disseminating books and latterly public libraries have had a huge role in this. Of course, some authors have thought of the library as the enemy, having the idea that they might sell more copies to the public if such institutions did not exist. However, in many cases, and certainly with more serious literature, the opposite is true. Since the establishment of the large municipal libraries, publishers have been able to rely on a certain number of sales to such institutions to make publication viable and economic. Sadly, this is probably no longer the case. Only last week while perusing the TLS I noticed a biography of Archbishop Pole in which I was interested. It was priced at £70, despite having only 300 or so pages; quite out of the reach of the ordinary reader.

Do I need to spell out any further how important the public library is to society in general and to the book trade in particular? We lose our public libraries at our peril.

Robert Senecal
London WC1


Another aspect of library provision worth mentioning (18 December) is their local history collections. Each of these is unique, and they are much valued and used by local and family historians. The latter category includes people all over the world, who enquire and sometimes make long journeys to consult material about their ancestors. They are an important part of our national heritage and must be preserved.

DW Budworth
London W4


Where do you stand on brand?

Reading “Russell Brand and an RBS banker: whose side are you on?” (18 December) and the letter that “Jo” wrote to Brand, I was perturbed by his references to Brand’s past misdemeanours committed while he had a drug problem. Like Brand, I have made many silly mistakes in my distant past, but unlike Brand mine were not made in the public eye, giving me ample opportunity to get sober, grow up and become a contributing member of society. Lucky me.

Mr Cold Lunch might also want to reflect on his language. Using the word “bikes” to refer to women, celebrity or otherwise, is beyond offensive.

Had a pupil submitted this to me as an essay I would have advised that all accusations regarding Brand’s income were unsubstantiated and required further research. And I would have suggested a cold lunch is not very important in the grand scheme of things.

Sandra Mills
Blackwood, S Lanarkshire

The next time Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage “a poundshop Enoch Powell”, as he did on Question Time, Farage should reply: “Then you are a 99p store Che Guevara.”

That should result in a temporary collapse of the polysyllabic party.

David Woosnam