Letters: Sinister G8 proposals


Sir: While congratulating you on your cover story of 27 October highlighting the measures taken by repressive regimes to prevent the worldwide web from being used to expose their misdeeds, I must admonish you for then failing to properly report the G8 summit on counter-terrorism. The G8 recommendation, inter alia, to criminalise those websites deemed as containing propaganda in support of terrorism must surely be of concern to those of us determined to see that the web remains free of state censorship.

Years of conflict have surely demonstrated that claims made by "the enemy" are invariably deemed "propaganda", while statements by our government are founded upon the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Likewise, the definition of "terrorist" is open to several interpretations, some for example being regarded as partisans or freedom fighters, or indeed anarchists.

The quote "the first casualty of war is invariably the truth" was exemplified by Prime Minister Blair's casus belli for our invasion of Iraq, since when I have regularly visited the Aljazeera website to ensure that I remain properly informed. We now know that Blair persuaded President Bush not to bomb Aljazeera during the invasion of Iraq. One must accordingly wonder whether this latest G8 recommendation might for example now be used as a covert means of excluding us from this constant source of embarrassment to both the American and British governments.

After centuries of deception by governments worldwide, the web has at last given the individual the opportunity to make up his or her own mind as to what is truth and what is propaganda in cases of international conflict and repression. We must fight unswervingly to protect that right.



End state funding for faith schools

Sir: Religious leaders congratulate Ministers for their "sensitivity" in abandoning plans to make faith schools more inclusive (report, 27 October); Ministers tell the public how they took into account lobbying by religious leaders. This sends a stark message: the views of those who don't profess faith in a supernatural being and want their children to be educated to think, rather than be indoctrinated into a particular ideology, count for little or nothing.

Among all the mutual back-slapping, there is no mention of those who supported the proposals and/or wanted them to go further. This includes not only teaching unions and the National Secular Society, but also the majority of the public at large.

Contrary to Government protestations, those who support faith schools are a minority in Britain. A recent Guardian/ ICM poll indicated that close to two thirds of us are of the opinion that "the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind".

If parents want to send their children to a faith school, it is they who should pay for it - not the general public. Religion is a matter of private belief. In a secular state, it has no business dictating government policy.



Sir: The role of the existing faith schools in our education system is both complex and divisive. They owe their privileged status to the role that they played in helping to develop a universal school system in the 19th century. Generally, at least on this side of the Irish Sea, their role in educating children as the citizens of tomorrow is fairly benign.

However, as a school inspector, I have some personal experience of the difficulties we may face as a society in accommodating many of the Muslim schools that wish to become state funded. I was due to take part in the inspection of a Muslim school last year, only to be informed by the inspection contractor at the last minute that the school's governors refused to accept the presence of any males, including inspectors, on the premises.

For a state-funded school, this struck me as wholly unreasonable - but I'm still not sure what offends me most; the school's manifest insularity, or the misguided and short-sighted appeasement demonstrated by those responsible for carrying out the system of school inspection. The Secretary of State for Education assures us that all faith schools will be wholly open to accountability and inspection. My own experience suggests otherwise.



Sir: The result of Alan Johnson's humiliation by the Catholic church is that new faith schools can now be built bigger than the faith group needs. So, entirely at public expense, the church - or Islam - takes control of educating yet more than the present one in four of our children - and the choice of schools for conscientious unbelieving parents and career opportunities for similarly conscientious teachers gets yet narrower.



Sir: What a day to be British. The right of publicly funded bodies to discriminate against four-year-olds based on the religious or atheistic views of their parents is staunchly upheld. Bravo!



The dark side of Lord Longford

Sir: Those of us who had dealings with Lord Longford in Fleet Street 35 years ago would scarcely recognise Jim Broadbent's curiously buoyant portrayal of him as a man of "broad humanity" in the Channel 4 film ("The quality of mercy", 23 October).

Longford was running his "Festival of Light" campaign at the time, a feverish anti-porn coalition of tut-tutting worthies like Malcolm Muggeridge and (for reasons that always escaped me) Bishop Trevor Huddlestone. Their diligent fieldwork seemed to involve endless forays into strip joints here and abroad from which his lordship would emerge, eyes a-popping, to confirm to the assembled tabloids that the world was on a high road to hell.

Longford's reaction to sceptical journalists descended frequently into threats that he would complain to their editors and get them sacked. I covered the Festival of Lights rally in Trafalgar Square. When Longford and his hymn-singing cohorts marched away to conclude their business in Hyde Park I stayed behind to witness the police move in on a group of gays dressed as nuns and beat the living daylights out of them.

When Longford and Muggeridge read my report they descended on the paper's editor, Harold Evans, and harangued him thoroughly. The fact that he would later find Myra Hindley "utterly plausible" is no surprise at all.



This UN employee is biased against Israel

Sir: John Dugard was given a mandate by the 49th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to investigate violations of international law in the West Bank and Gaza.

In his article "Despite the 'withdrawal', the siege of Gaza goes on" (5 October), Dugard exploits his office to make bogus "political analysis" of the motives of Israeli security measures - a matter entirely outside his competence as a human rights rapporteur. Although the political issues Dugard addresses are indeed a subject for legitimate debate, with valid claims to be made on either side, Dugard blatantly abuses the mandate with which the UN entrusted him by hijacking it for the purpose of political grandstanding.

It is very saddening that a rapporteur working in the service of the UN places his personal political agenda above his official responsibilities and risks discrediting UN institutions and undermining their ability to fulfill their multilateral missions.



Planning regulations and climate change

Sir: A robust, democratically controlled land-use planning system can play a great role in reducing carbon emissions. Chris Patten, while Secretary of State for the Environment, described planning policy as "in many ways the most effective tool of environmental regulation available to us". Yet this whole principle is now under attack.

Next month's Treasury-sponsored Barker review is considering how planning restrictions can be diluted to make development easier. The Department for Transport's Eddington review is likely to recommend less public say over major infrastructure projects such as new roads and airports. And forthcoming changes to housing policy are likely to make it easier to build on greenfield sites, which will increase car use regardless of the energy efficiency of the roads themselves.

If politicians are serious about climate change, they need to get serious about planning.



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