Letters: Religious symbols

It's not just a silver ring - it's an assault on our fundamental liberties
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The Independent Online

Sir: Millais School has found itself at the centre of controversy concerning a pupil's "right" to wear a silver chastity ring. According to Dr Shell (letter, 29 June) the pupil concerned is not merely trying to flout a dress code. He claims that she wants "a tightening, not a loosening, of boundaries". But underage sex is already illegal.

I am not in favour of under-age promiscuity. But what Dr Shell fails to realise is that this whole sad business is not about sex or chastity at all. Millais School doesn't have a sixth form. Almost all of the pupils there are forbidden by law to engage in sexual relations. The pupils have no more need to publicly proclaim their chastity than they have to proclaim their abstinence from shoplifting or drug-taking.

No; the real issue here is that a minority of people believe that their religious opinions and preferences overrule the customs and laws of society as a whole. They elevate their preferences to the level of principles and insist that everyone must respect them.

The insistence of one pupil on her "right" to wear a ring when all others are forbidden to do so might seem at best, harmless, and at worst, petty. But the attitude upon which this insistence is based is the same one which drove Salman Rushdie into hiding for so many years. It is the same attitude which lies behind every bullet fired by American anti-abortionists. It is an attitude which should be resisted by any person who cares about fundamental liberties.

I have written to the headmaster of Millais to express my strongest support for the stance he has taken in this matter. Readers who agree with me might consider doing likewise.



Muslim appalled by all terrorism

Sir: I consider myself to be a "sane, ordinary Muslim", so I guess that I would fit Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's criteria for someone to "stand up and be counted" with regards to the latest (and all other) acts of terrorism committed in this country (Opinion, 2 July). It galls me to see the usual suspects from opposite ends of Muslim opinion wheeled out by the media at times like this because, in truth, the "ordinary" Muslims Yasmin wants to hear from don't have access to the media as our views are not considered newsworthy.

Part of being British means that I should be able to dissent from the political and religious mainstream without fear of being declared to be "un-British". The Labour Party was - and this is hugely ironical in the current climate - founded by political and religious dissenters. Being a Muslim in Britain today is quite possibly the ultimate dissent, but that doesn't mean we are any less British nor, for that matter, should being British diminish our faith.

I am happy to stand up and be counted as one of those appalled by terrorism against innocent civilians in my country. But I reserve the right to be equally appalled by the acts of terror - what else describes missile attacks on human beings? - committed by our government and our "allies" against equally innocent civilians in foreign lands. To me, to do so emphasises that I am both British and Muslim.



Sir: Michael Madha (letters, 2 July) asks why the Glasgow and London terrorists are referred to as Islamists, when those of the IRA were not referred to as Roman Catholic. The answer is that the IRA did not claim to be killing people on behalf of the Vatican, whereas the current terrorists most definitely claim to be acting on behalf of Islam.



Felling forests for biofuel is no gain

Sir: The Independent has been very successful in raising public awareness of climate change and now of peak oil. Even more urgent than these, however, is the biofuel crisis.

Monocultures of palm oil and soya bean are spreading through the tropics at alarming speed, displacing indigenous farmers and wildlife (often violently), inflating the price of food staples and increasing global warming.

Carbon released by deforestation is reckoned to account for 25 per cent of all human greenhouse emissions. Cultivation of soil also releases carbon, and the Indonesian peat-lands are a huge carbon sink which, if drained, could push climate change over the tipping point.

Biofuels should more be more accurately described as agro-fuels. They are not a renewable source of energy when produced commercially. The energy cost of high applications of fertiliser and pesticides, plus processing and transport costs and the release of carbon from the cultivated land, make any gains from photosynthesis void.

Given that petroleum oil is the product of thousands of years' vegetative growth, if all the land on earth were converted to agro-fuel production there would not be enough to begin to meet current demands.

The pressure on poorer countries in South America, Africa and Asia from large corporations trying to meet the appetite of the gas-guzzling north is immense. I suggest two things: firstly a moratorium on agro-fuel production; and secondly incentives to countries forgoing the agro-fuel dollars.



Sir: I was very alarmed to read the following statement in your article on biofuels in "A milestone on the road to green fuel" (27 June): "The world needs to make tough choices: fossil-fuel burning accounts for 75 to 85 per cent of global CO2 emissions; deforestation accounts for 15 to 25 per cent, so we can see where the imperative lies".

This misleads people into thinking that we need to cut down forest to deal with the more urgent problem of where our emissions are coming from - fossil fuels. This could not be more wrong, as we are very dependent on what forest remains to reabsorb much of the carbon we emit through fossil fuels. More than 1.5 of the 8bn tons of carbon we emit is sequestered in this way despite the massive scale of deforestation occurring around the world.

Simply by letting tropical rainforest regrow in many areas we could dramatically reduce the scale with which we need to cut back on our combustion of fossil fuels. But if we choose to grow more biofuels in place of forests then we will need to cut back on our emissions from fossil fuels much more than will be possible through their substitution with biofuels. Consider that most biofuels cannot produce much more energy than the amount that was used to generate them through farming and processing. Forest on the other hand is nature's sequestration for free. It requires no input of energy from us. This simply is not one of the tough choices we need to make and the imperative obviously lies with protecting and restoring forest.



Sir: The advertorial by HSBC bank about climate change in The Independent of 27 June was welcome. HSBC's endorsement of future greenhouse gas emissions "Contraction and Convergence" (C&C) as "the best and fairest way" to face down the global climate crisis is very welcome. Getting an international C&C deal is still achievable. If started soon it may yet obviate the need to relocate London inland away from the rising seas.

So, as our new leader, Mr Brown's choice is obvious - make a stand for C&C with the banks. There is only chaos in retreating to the high-ground while the rest of the world's climate refugees do too.



Minister without mucky boots

Sir: Pandora (29 June) misrepresents the post of Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when attacking the vegetarianism of Hilary Benn. The fact that he does not eat meat does not preclude Mr Benn from being qualified. I imagine he eats fruit and veg of all kinds as well as perhaps dairy products. Where else are they produced in the UK but in rural areas?

I would rather trust Mr Benn with this post than certain members of the "green wellie brigade" I come across in my local supermarket, who think it perfectly acceptable to wander around the food aisles with horse manure on their boots.



The oil that could fuel independence

Sir: Peter Croft (letter, 22 June) argues that North Sea oil is England's on the basis that extending the line of the land boundary out to sea would leave three quarters of hydrocarbon fields under English jurisdiction.

Leaving aside the absurd suggestion that oil fields hundreds of miles north of Aberdeen could, by any definition, be deemed to be English, Mr Croft should be aware that that the Scottish sector of the UK Continental Shelf has already been defined by the co-ordinates set out for the boundary in the Continental Shelf Jurisdiction Order. These coordinates would result in around 90 per cent of current North Sea oil revenues accruing to an independent Scottish Exchequer.



Private schools are a poor road to equality

Sir: Wow, the heads of the "top" independent day schools (Letters, 30 June) have the answer to increasing social mobility. Perhaps it has escaped their attention that the decline in social mobility coincides with the growth of the independent school sector.

Seems like a good idea: claim advocacy of "equality" and get public money to subsidise selection, including cherry picking working-class students, and leave the rest of us to send our children to sink schools.

Their sector offers no means of increasing equality in our society. The biggest increase in access to high-quality education for all coincided with the introduction of comprehensive education; this is the way forward for education, not academies, and "independent" schools.



Happiness is... the mutual sector

Sir: In quite rightly drawing attention to the Co-operative Group's success in both the Which? survey of consumer satisfaction and its top ranking in environmental terms (report, 29 June), a chance has been missed to link this with the high ratings of other parts of the mutual sector.

In the Which? survey John Lewis and Waitrose come out well; several recent surveys of financial services have seen traditional building societies comparing well with the plcs and, in another part of the forest, council tenants continue to vote in favour of staying with their councils rather than being hived off to quangos. One does not have to operate on the corporate capitalist model to provide customer satisfaction, innovation and high service standards. Au contraire.



Shakespeare is safe with Oxford

Sir: Your article "Shakespeare in peril" (30 June) was erroneous: there are no plans or proposals whatsoever to dilute or diminish the place of Shakespeare in the Oxford English syllabus. In fact, Oxford University has just recruited two additional distinguished Shakespeare experts.

There is currently a review of the English syllabus, and individuals have differing views on how Shakespeare fits into the exam structure. However, I can assure you that no proposals for dropping the Shakespeare paper have been put forward and the English Faculty is determined that Shakespeare should have a permanent home at Oxford.



Remember Rosebery

Sir: Ben Chu should check his list of Scottish Prime Ministers (The Big Question, 29 June). Has he forgotten Lord Rosebery? One of Victoria's Prime Ministers who if needed to prove his Scottishness could also be called Viscount Inverkeithing, Baron Dalmeny and Primrose and Earl of Midlothian among others.



Latin laxity

Sir: I can't write a letter in Latin but I can spot a solecism. A few months ago, the Green Goddess called a recycling bin the sine qua non of bins. Now, Jemima Lewis (30 June) writes "The New York Times... is the sine qua non of sober, morally upright journalism". The Independent is the non plus ultra of Latin misuse.



Tax the rich

Sir: It is not true that "in the past, unemployment benefits have been an unconditional right" (Anthony Giddens, Opinion, 28 June). Benefits have always been conditional on availability for work. The responsibility "actively to look for work", which Giddens advocates, was introduced under the Conservatives. Work obligations have been strengthened further under New Labour. Given that, as Giddens acknowledges, Labour "has not made a sufficient impact upon inequality", it's now time to shift the focus to the responsibilities of the wealthy through, for instance, the tax system.



Wimbledon woes

Sir: Having once again been unsuccessful in the public ballot for tickets at the Wimbledon Tennis Championship, I saw the usual smattering of minor members of the Royal Family, politicians and reality TV celebrities on Centre Court. I must therefore ask what was the secret of their success in this year's ballot and what must I do to be successful next year, since the chances of appearing on reality TV are non-existent and marrying even a minor Royal remote.



A sporting chance

Sir: I see that the former prisons minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, has now been appointed minister for sport (report, 29 June). Do you think this is because, the UK having won the European prisons championship with extreme ease (having vastly more prisoners per thousand than any other country), Gordon has decided that Gerry's talent might be put to better use in our area of greatest national weakness?