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Tuesday 1 June 2010
Letters: Slaughter on the high seas
Eighteen months on from Israel's criminal and merciless bombing of the people of Gaza, the state compounds its crimes by slaughtering aid workers on the convoy of ships carrying aid to the people of Gaza.
The bombing of Gaza by Israel, which began in late December 2008, killed more than 1,300 people and destroyed 20,000 buildings. For many months before the bombing, Israel denied Gaza adequate food, fuel and medicine. The bombing left 1.5 million people on the brink of catastrophe. Children make up 50 per cent of the population of the Gaza Strip.
Nevertheless, in the post-bombing period, Israel has continued its economic blockade against Gaza, denying its people adequate provisions and the means to rebuild their devastated community. Israel allows only a quarter of what is needed to enter Gaza each week.
The convoy going to Gaza carried only 10,000 tonnes of aid, little enough compared to what's needed. But even that was too much for the state of Israel. It despised the convoy and the message of solidarity with the people of Gaza it represented. On Sunday, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, declared it a "provocation intended to delegitimise Israel". But in brutally attacking the peace convoy Israel has shown the world its only "legitimacy" comes from the barrel of a gun.
Israel claims the Gaza aid flotilla represented an attempt to "delegitimise" Israel. Surely the illegitimate actions of Israel itself are the greatest threat to any "legitimacy" this rogue state may still possess?
Stealing other people's land, inflicting a brutal siege on 1.5 million civilians in Gaza, imposing a system of racist colonial oppression and ethnic cleansing on the indigenous population of the West Bank, bombing UN facilities in Gaza, attempting to bomb Lebanon back to the Stone Age, killing unarmed peace campaigners, and behaving like murderous pirates on the open seas are hardly the acts of any "legitimate" authority deserving our recognition or sympathy.
Gay equality is far from won
Reading about David Laws and his secret lover, James Lundie, put me in mind of Alan Bates and his secret lover, Peter Wyngarde, who complained, "I'm told to walk two paces behind Alan. If we go to a party, we can never arrive together. I have to arrive earlier, or later".
Fast-forward 24 years. To ecstatic cheering, the Labour MP Chris Smith bravely announced, "I am gay", to a rally in Rugby. Eventually he became a cabinet minister, reflecting honour and pride on the LGBT community.
Continuing to be defensive and closeted about his sexuality, the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury allowed homophobic elements in the heterosexual majority to portray being gay as a personality flaw, or worse. Mr Laws asserts that it was his right to keep his relationship with Mr Lundie private, unknown even to family and friends.
No doubt he would tell me it is none of my business to criticise. Wrong. It is my business. Over the past 10 years, his conduct has contributed to undermine and undervalue the lives of millions of gay people like me, making it more difficult to fight bigotry, discrimination and ignorance.
The personal and political tragedy was not only a great blow to the new coalition; it was also a reminder to all lesbians and gay men that the battle for gay rights and gay equality, even in the 21st century, is far from won.
The Daily Telegraph has done the country a grave disservice in depriving the government of an extremely capable Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I understand that had David Laws admitted his relationship he would have been entitled to a cohabitation allowance of £20,000 a year, a sum far in excess of the rent he claimed.
The poor pay for rich tax dodgers
It is Jonathan G Atkinson who needs to get out more (letters, 27 May) if he believes that the significant tax avoidance is not predominantly the preserve of the rich.
I am not too distressed by "the plumber, gardener or jobbing builder who offers a discount for payment in cash". Even given their large numbers, their collective evasion amounts to peanuts compared with "the rich salting undeclared income away in tax havens".
The first step towards collecting tax that is due must be to get rid of the gross affront to fairness that are "tax havens". Not many plumbers, gardeners or jobbing builders will see their lifestyles deteriorating as a result.
Sadly, the tendency of governments is to waste more money than is recouped on going for the smaller, easier target.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Jonathan Atkinson overlooks the basic inequality of the tax system in his criticisms of Pete Dorey (letter, 25 May). The poorer parts of society, and this will include much of the so-called middle class, have little or no scope for tax evasion or avoidance, because all their taxes are paid directly through PAYE, VAT and excise duty.
Therefore, every pound that is evaded or avoided by the wealthier parts of society from what the government regards as the necessary tax take has to be made up by the poorer parts of society.
Unless this problem is tackled the tax system can never be fair.
No hiding place for Brazil's woes
In just more than a month, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa will end, and attention will turn to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The media have highlighted the considerable social problems South Africa has, in spite of all the investment in new stadiums, facilities and infrastructure. The strategy seems to have been to plaster over the poverty and misery. This must not be the case in Brazil.
Today marks International Children's Day and while children in the UK may be dreaming of playing in the 2014 World Cup, for those in Brazil it could mean their nightmare continuing.
Despite economic success, Brazil still has considerable social problems, not least homeless children and a booming under-age sex trade. Unicef says 500,000 children are involved in prostitution, and of the three million homeless boys and girls 35 per cent of these will die before they are 18. Major tournaments such as the World Cup could encourage the child-sex trade and undo the good work.
Since 1993, Happy Child International has been active in the slums of Belo Horizonte and Recife, both of which will host games in 2014, helping to rescue and rehabilitate street children and re-integrate them into their families or into the community.
We, and our partners, will be pressing Fifa, travel agents and supporters' groups to make sure that, when the world's attention shifts to Brazil, problems such as child prostitution and homelessness are faced, and not hidden.
Sarah de Carvalho
CEO, Happy Child International, Leatherhead, Surrey
Tony Miles Prouten
Chair, 180° Alliance, United Global Action for Street Children
International Director, Oasis
Programme Manager, Viva Network
Founder, Jubilee Campaign.
Pardon is a brave act in Africa
Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have been pardoned by the President of Malawi and spared 14 years' hard labour for the crime of loving each other. Their arrest and inevitable sentence led to international outrage and petitions, protests from President Barack Obama, Madonna and Elton John.
President Bingu wa Mutharika's pardon was a brave act in the face of Malawian public opinion and religious tradition. Those of us who enjoy gay freedoms and toleration unimaginable in most of Africa would be happy to welcome Steven and Tiwonge to the UK should they apply for asylum.
But here they would be at the mercy of our Immigration Department, which has a reputation for being more naïve and misinformed than institutionally homophobic.
Following precedent in cases where sexual, instead of religious or political, asylum has been sought, these two vulnerable young men could be sent back from whence they came with the futile advice to "keep a low profile" or the reassurance "it cannot be beyond your ingenuity to survive".
We look to the coalition and its ethic of "change" to drag this Home Office department into the 21st century.
Please, no more privatisation
Like most voters, I suspect, I want to give the coalition a chance to prove itself. Certainly, I agree with Mr Cameron's sentiments about rejuvenating manufacturing. But I hope he does not make the mistake of assuming that shrinking the size of the public sector relative to the private should go hand in hand with further privatisation of public services.
Surely the truth is that contracting out of public services has damaged the private sector because investors have put their money into the companies trading on the easy, predictable returns from public contracts?
If the coalition wants to grow private industry, they should call a halt to any further contracting out of public services. Investors would then need to look to the kind of industrial company start-ups the government wishes to encourage.
This makes even more sense when you add in the evidence that contracted-out services are often more expensive than public counterparts, with no significant increase in quality.
I fear that the rush of policy announcements on new education providers indicates that the Tories in the coalition retain their traditional antipathy to the public sector. They risk running twin policies that are incompatible and will not produce the rebalancing of the economy they seek.
They're still The Nasty Party
The relish with which Mr Osborne announced that there were more economic cuts and pain to come and the pleasure that Mr Duncan-Smith takes in telling us that our pension age will rise in the near future show us where the Tories are coming from: they are still The Nasty Party.
The solution to too many unemployed, "making them work" or do voluntary work, failed under Thatcher because it was a cover to pretend that "something was being done". It had no substance then and has none now.
There is no bright future promised from our government and its "Big Society". Their blaming of the unemployed is slowly morphing into blaming pensioners for drawing the pension they paid into for more than 40 years.
Solutions are about cutting back on everything for the great mass of the population while duchesses joke in the USA about their own corruption, the last Speaker of the House grins at us from a House of Lords sinecure with a few convicted criminals lurking beside him, and their friends in banking continue to stuff their pockets with our money.
There is no vision other than blame, no leader with a bright future in their eyes. Every party head has come through the bland mediocrity of political researcher or organisational consultancy where the only cry is "cover your back" or "keep your nose clean", not one with an idea other than his or her own career.
Mr Cameron, meanwhile, infiltrates the only avenue of complaint in his party, the 1922 Committee, and legislates for a minimum five-year term.
It is all so much like Animal Farm. We even have the hopelessly naive democrat Snowball in the centre holding up the edifice. How soon before we look from one to another of our political leaders and discover that, as Orwell closed his classic, "already it was impossible to say which was which".
As an example of why the possessive apostrophe is still a necessity, Simon Carr's political sketch (26 May) has no equal. He wrote, "Peter Lilley's wife tried to get into a Downing Street function saying, 'I'm one of the ministers' wives', The policeman: 'I couldn't let you in if you were the minister's only wife'." It's wonderful, but without the possessive apostrophe, it would have been rendered meaningless.
Oh, not Calcutta
Robert Fisk wrote his usual wise and powerful article when penning "Power to change" (27 May). But just one point: Calicut is not Calcutta. Vasco da Gama reached India from the west, arriving on the Malabar coast. Calicut is to be found there, in Kerala. It was to become perhaps the most important early European trading entrepot in India, but nothing to do with Calcutta.
When As If is off
We enjoy Sally Ann Lasson's cartoons and many a breakfast time I will exchange ironic glances with my husband over the latest. But if, grudgingly, we must allow her her annual fortnight by the sea, would it not be a good idea to use the space in the paper to showcase some new up-and-coming talent who might be glad of some support?
Perspectives on sectarian terrorism
The mosque massacres
It was distressing to see images of Pakistani commandos carrying victims of the attack on the Ahmadi community in Lahore (29 May). But it was also distressing to know that these commandos are agents of the same state that has criminalised the Ahmadi faith and has failed to perform the basic duty of all states: to protect its citizens.
The Pakistan constitution, ostensibly, provides for freedom for its citizens to "profess, practise and propagate" religion, but the definition of "Muslim" in the constitution is specifically designed to exclude Ahmadis. The constitution also includes Ahmadis in the definition of "Non-Muslims".
Other "fundamental rights" in the constitution which have been of little benefit to the Ahmadis include the right to equality before the law and the right to freedom of speech. The latter is subject to reasonable restrictions imposed in the interest of "the glory of Islam".
The Pakistan penal code specifically criminalises aspects of Ahmadi worship. Ahmadis who "pose as" Muslims, refer to their religion as "Islam", call their place of worship a "mosque" and recite the azan (the "Muslim" call to prayer) are punishable by up to three years in prison and unlimited fines.
These add legitimacy to the persecution of the Ahmadis, so the state of Pakistan is not immune from blame for what happened. Pakistan must repeal such laws if it seeks to protect all its citizens and treat them all as equals.
The truth about Ahmadi Muslims
I am a member of the Ahmadi community and I wish to thank the British government and the many other governments who offer protection and peace to their citizens. In this country, people of all faiths and backgrounds can express their views and conduct their lives in a peaceful manner, knowing they will be protected if their lives were in danger.
In Pakistan, Ahmadi Muslims, by law, have had all their religious rights taken from them. In 1974, the government of Pakistan under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, declared Ahmadis as non-Muslim. Since then, many of the Ahmadi community have been killed for such simple acts as calling their place of worship a mosque, saying "Peace be on you" to other Muslims or simply expressing religious views.
Ahmadi Muslims do not agree with other mainstream Muslims that Jesus will come back and a Mahdi will accompany him to kill all non-Muslims. This deadly belief is the cause of all the terrorism and extremism within Islam today. We believe the second coming of Jesus was to be a spiritual one, not a physical one and that was in Qadian more than 100 years ago.
We practise Islam according to the Holy Koran which is not only a book of religion but one which covers science, politics and sociology and much more. Scientifically, no man has ever come back from the dead and back down from heaven. Jesus died and will not physically return again.
For our peaceful beliefs we are killed.
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