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Saturday 6 February 2010
Letters: Religious morality and the law
Religious morality in Cherie Booth's court
Cherie Booth's decision to treat a defendant more leniently on the grounds that he was a "religious man" should be no surprise.
Her husband's conduct as Prime Minister presumably was condoned on the basis that he was a "religious man" and therefore what he did must be right, though how she squared this with the views of the head of her church on war in Iraq remains a puzzle only she can answer.
There is doubt about her capacity to uphold secular law in secular courts, and she should be at pains to remove this doubt if she is to continue to sit in judgement on others.
One has to admire Cherie Blair's astuteness in not sending a man to prison for assault because "you are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behaviour".
All of us atheists who have no idea of what constitutes acceptable behaviour must hope that she is not presiding when our complete ignorance of the boundary between right and wrong next lands us in court.
There is a serious flaw in Cherie Booth's legal logic. She let a devout Muslim out on probation for an assault, instead of sending him to jail, because "you are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behaviour". But if he knew it was wrong, and did it anyway, surely that is worse than if he had been an agnostic who had no idea of right and wrong.
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
Campaigners for atheism and secularism cannot have it both ways. They are always telling us of the deleterious effects of religion, and the superiority of a non-religious morality. If this is the case, should they not welcome Cherie Blair's suspension of a sentence because the defendant was a "religious man"?
Why you really ought to vote
Mark Steel's article "Just who do you vote for given this appalling choice?" (3 February) and the comments on it on your website make depressing reading. Clearly some politicians deserve the opprobrium which is heaped upon them, but the negative tone of the article and the comments do nothing to further the debate.
It is easy to whinge about the state of our political culture, but ultimately we are all responsible for the governments we have.
How many of your correspondents have ever stuck leaflets through letterboxes or canvassed electors on the doorstep to ascertain their views and identify their problems? Has any of them raised a petition or put pressure on his MP or local council? Politics is not a spectator sport, and whingeing from the sidelines will not improve anything.
At the end of the day we will end up with a government, of whatever colour. Someone has to run the country. How will not voting change that?
Not all politicians are corrupt. Many of them do good work on our behalf, particularly in parliamentary committees. And despite the whingers, progress is being made. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid are just two examples of change brought about by committed activists. These changes are not achieved by moaning.
So stop knocking those of our politicians who do a good job for us and get off your backsides and go and do something for your fellow men.
I wonder if I can be of some assistance to Mark Steel. He seems to be advocating abstention in the general election, which I would suggest is an infantile disorder.
We all have to look at parties at election time through our own interests. This isn't selfishness, but reality. For example, I am concerned that the pensioners' free bus travel and the winter fuel allowance, both introduced by Labour, will be whittled away. There is a danger that the minimum wage will be frozen and that there will be cutbacks in SureStart.
And at long last Gordon Brown has finally recognised that our voting system is unfair.
Mark Steel asks the question of the moment: "Just who do you vote for given this appalling choice?"
There used to be two and now there are six Independent MPs in Westminster. It would be a harsh critic who said they were other than a major asset to the House and the country. As 99 cent of the electorate do not belong to a party, perhaps they are Independent too.
In the 2010 election there are going to be a lot more Independent candidates, myself included, and there is the Independent Network supporting them.
Independent candidates can more fully represent the opinions of voters at a local, national and European level, as they are free from pressure to toe party lines. They are a credible alternative to party politicians and represent the future of the democratic process.
I'm sure Mark Steel knows the answer to his own question "Just who do you vote for given this appalling choice?' The answer is the Liberal Democrats and I'm sure he will come round to it like the rest of the country. Would that he become a leader and not a follower.
Only the Liberal Democrats have the principles, the policies and the political will to make Britain a fairer society. Whenever Nick Clegg is asked about what he would do in the event of a hung parliament, his reply is that it is up to the electorate to decide.
After the next election the party with the most seats should be allowed first to try and form a government. Neither Mark Steel or anyone else should ignore the less-than-remote possibility that the party with the most seats will be the Liberal Democrats.
Councillor David Pollard
Gordon Brown is playing Shrek to David Cameron's Lord Farquhar.
With luck, the plot of the movie will play out for real as the people of the land realise that a less veneered guardian of the common good is a far better choice than a shape-shifting frontman for the self-interested.
G E Purser
No glamour in bipolar disorder
Two articles on bipolar disorder published in The Independent on 3 February seemed to me to provide contradictory messages about mental illness.
The article "You don't have to be bipolar to be a genius – but it helps", which included a section of celebrity "tortured talents", gave off the impression that there is a certain glamour to bipolar disorder, because people with greater intelligence or skill in music or literature are more likely to suffer from it.
My conviction that this couldn't be further from the truth was reinforced by the eloquent piece on the same page written by Robert Westhead, who suffers from bipolar disorder, about his experiences with the condition. It took him many years of depression, a suicide attempt and being sectioned to get a proper diagnosis and the treatment he needed.
From my work on mental health in the Muslim community, which sometimes has a difficult relationship with illness of this sort, I know that making sure we reach out to as many people as possible who are suffering in silence with mental illness is one of the key challenges we face. My fear is that research such as that covered in your article will cloud this message, and could stop some people from seeking much-needed help.
Muslim Youth Helpline
Waiting to join the police
Your article concerning police officer recruitment (3 February) makes reference to delays in new police officer recruits joining Cleveland Police, and I believe gives a misleading impression that we are cutting officer numbers because of budget pressures.
While I recognise the frustration of those who are keenly waiting to join the police service, the process generally takes around 18 months and we are simply aligning anticipated vacancies to our recruit intakes.
In Cleveland we have the highest number of police officers in our history (1,727) and we will continue to focus on providing the best possible front-line services to our local communities.
Deputy Chief Constable
Save girls from this barbarity
Saturday is the United Nations International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation. FGM – otherwise known as female circumcision – is seen in some cultures as essential to preserving girls' chastity and chances of marriage. It is barbaric and can have a devastating impact on physical and mental health. FGM is common in the UK and widespread in some African countries, Indonesia and Yemen.
I feel so strongly about this that I have included it in the storyline of one of my novels and I have campaigned on the issue for many years. I steered through the Female Genital Mutilation Act, which makes it unlawful to take British girls abroad for genital mutilation and imposes stringent penalties for performing and procuring FGM.
I support the charity Plan, which works with communities overseas to convince them of the health hazards and iniquity of the practice. Plan also sees a solution in finding alternative sources of income for the women who work as cutters.
We urge the Department for International Development to prioritise secondary education for girls in its new education strategy – an educated woman is less likely to allow the mutilation of her daughters.
Baroness Rendell of Babergh
Online tax and the horror of (.-)
It was good to know, from recent letters, I was not the only one struggling with an on-line tax return. My first hurdle was on receiving my URL, a 12-figure number offered in helpful groups of four. But if you used it as shown with spaces, there was no room for it.
Soon "You have completed 5 per cent of your return." Then I had the dreaded red terror response: "Wrong format. Enter (.-) only." With the brackets? With a zero? I phoned the help-line many times.
We all know the nightmare of "help-lines". Here was something extra. You do not get music. You get a voice that reminds you of the deadline for completion and of the help available to you (which doesn't seem to exist). And you wait for a long time, and hear this hated voice many times. More than once I was offered a duet of numbers that referred to each other.
By the end of the week I was informed that my form was 95 per cent completed, and the end was in sight. The mathematics were superb. The software is numerate but not literate. I sent it in. Some days later, I received a telephone call to tell me what to do about the (.-). I had other suggestions.
Considering the alacrity with which a number of MPs have already been able to repay their over-claimed expenses, why did they feel it necessary to milk the system in the first place?
Seaford, East Sussex
Obsessed with Terry
Liz Hoggard (4 February), in the second of eight paragraphs containing 515 words on the subject of John Terry's extramarital dalliance with an ex-team-mate's ex-girlfriend, writes: "The media obsession is frankly mystifying." I think that's a bit unfair Liz; it's only your fellow hacks trying to make an honest living.
Road to the past
In view of the current worries about potholes in roads, why don't we go back to cobblestones? Every few years, at the road junction near my house, the asphalt is worn away to reveal the pristine, smooth, granite Victorian cobblestones. Cobbled roads would also obviate the need for speed-restricting humps for residential areas.
Bored with stardom
Why all the fuss, in recent letters, about who was or was not in your list of "100 years of stars"? Greta Garbo was the greatest film star in Hollywood when she suddenly retired. Years later she was asked why and simply said: "I grew tired of making faces." That puts film stars in perspective.
"One or both of the new aircraft carriers may have to be jettisoned because of defence cuts" ("In these tough economic times", 4 February). How do you throw an aircraft carrier overboard?
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