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Saturday 29 September 2012
Letters: Speak freely - but use your sense too
Given the history of East-West relations and prevailing conditions in the Muslim world, it's not clear how the publication of provocative anti-Islamic cartoons or films differs in substance from shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, as Michael McCarthy thinks (letter, 26 September).
The internet has made it impossible to confine expression of opinion to the mainly tolerant cultural context liberal freedoms presuppose.
At least in the short run, the problem of how safely and responsibly to affirm free speech in an illiberal world – where ridicule may constitute "a positive instigation to some mischievous act" (J S Mill, On Liberty, 1859) – is intractable. We need to acknowledge this, as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown does with her plea for restraint ("Where's the 'freedom' in the freedom to abuse?" 24 September).
If you ask Deborah Ross (25 September) it's OK to poke fun at Jesus; to mockingly suggest, indeed, that his miracles were the work of his woefully under-appreciated missus. But I wonder, could Muslim readers explain why nobody expects the Christian world to respond with a global wave of violent riots, protests and terrorist attacks? Or why Ms Ross, apparently, feels no desire to change her identity, hire armed bodyguards and flee the country?
Could it be because nowadays, even Christians – who haven't always had the finest reputation for tolerance – are generally just a tad more grown up about this sort of thing?
Why this back-to-front logic of blaming the victim who reacts to provocation? If I poke someone in the eye and they react with a certain amount of violence towards me (unless they happen to have the patience of a saint) am I then justified in blaming them for reacting the way they do? There is no doubt that the film and the cartoons are a poke in the eye for many Muslims and their faith, so please don't then blame them for reacting the way they do. Of course the Muslims could adopt a more enlightened attitude, but then so could the provocateurs.
The Lib Dems are fighting fit and raring to go
I read your Lib Dem "Conference Diary" (27 September) with interest, and having spent yesterday evening talking to colleagues who were either at Brighton for the past six days or had followed the Conference very closely on television and in other media, I have to say your report bore no relation to what I was told.
All of my colleagues were in a very positive mood and felt the Lib Dems had turned a corner. Nick Clegg's speech was received with great enthusiasm, as was the news that Lord Ashdown would be prominent in the 2015 General Election campaign team. Liberal Democrats can see beyond the bad press and know that their party is making a difference in government.
As for Charles Kennedy being forgotten: his name was mentioned several times in our discussions and whenever I have encountered him in recent years, members have given him a warm welcome.
May I suggest you leave the sour grapes accounts to other newspapers' reporters who just cannot bear to think that the junior Coalition party might be doing something right after all.
Your correspondent Malcolm Naylor accuses Lib Dems in government of being intellectually feeble. His rather hollow attack pays no heed to the increased tax allowances to help the lower paid, the largest single increase in the state pension for decades, the "pupil premium" to assist disadvantaged children, the 5p fuel derogation relief to our remote island communities, the scrapping of Labour's costly ID cards, a Green Investment bank now set up and operating in Edinburgh etc.
All are genuine achievements secured by having Lib Dems in government for the first time in over a generation. Yes, we are shackled by being in a Coalition with the Tories, but don't let anyone claim the Lib Dems are feeble or duplicitous. The truth is that Clegg and Co are punching well above their weight in government day after day.
How many of us have apologised for not doing something they promised to do? Only those honest enough and honourable enough to say sorry.
In any wholesome society this is good and decent behaviour. Yet when a politician behaves honourably he is lambasted. What does that say about the society that these people inhabit?
There are many politicians who have ridden roughshod over their election manifesto promises in the past, without any acceptance or recognition of their own failings or wrongdoings. Clegg has demonstrated that he is a genuine and wholesome politician, which is most welcome and enlightening.
Trident is utterly obsolete
It is sad that our military chiefs can only consider the scrapping of Trident on the grounds it is a threat to other weapons projects such as the Joint Strike Fighter and the Type 26 Frigate. Trident is long obsolete in terms of strategic value with no present or future enemies likely to use or be deterred by such a weapon. Morally there is no situation which can justifiably call for its use – and not at that price as Britain faces further austerity.
Candidates for Archbishop
If you believe the Church of England is "likely to move to the right if Richard Chartres becomes Archbishop" (report, 27 September), then you know absolutely nothing about it. We are a church of very independently minded members, as a visit to any parish church will tell you. We do not obediently toe a party line. Who the Archbishop of Canterbury happens to be is very nearly irrelevant to most of us for most of the time. The fact that his appointment is announced from the Prime Minister's office makes him even more irrelevant. It helps if he is a friendly, kind, competent theologian with an incisive mind like Rowan Williams, but it is by no means essential.
Second, the Church of England has a compulsory retirement policy which applies to any ordained person above the rank of assistant curate: and that retirement age is 70. Bishop Richard Chartres is 65, which means that, whatever his qualities, he has to retire within five years. The next Archbishop has the onerous task of organising the next Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops from all over the world. This is due to take place in the summer of 2018, which is just less than six years away. Is Bishop Chartres really a realistic candidate?
We need to talk about Kelvin
Poor old Kelvin MacKenzie, how he has been misunderstood! ("Police should apologise to me over Hillsborough", 27 September.) After all, there can have been nothing in his previous experience to warn him that police and politicians don't always tell the truth – nothing that might have stopped him jumping in so enthusiastically with both feet to write the infamous "The Truth" front-page headline in The Sun.
Maybe if Kelvin MacKenzie had sent some journalists to investigate Hillsborough and find some witnesses to corroborate police statements, something any responsible editor would have done, he wouldn't be in his current position.
You must remember this
I read Chris Elshaw's letter (26 September) with foreboding. The implication was that no one needs to remember anything as it can always be looked up. In fact we do need to be able to recall important information, and exams help to teach memory skills.
I teach accounting to adults. What they are taught are essential work skills and knowledge. If they cannot retain this information, they are less useful as employees. No employer will give staff extra time to look up how to do their job. Although every student is different, broadly speaking, students brought up on continuous assessment are the ones who struggle to recall what they did last term or, sadly, even last week!
Badgers versus bees
HMG is keen to observe the "precautionary principle" over badgers, which "may" infect cattle and are to be "culled". But not with bees, which pretty certainly are declining because of certain pesticides in general use, which are not to be banned.
In neither case is the scientific certainty 100 per cent: is it a matter of who does the lobbying?
Smoke-free streets next?
"Where there's still smoke: Swiss stub out their plan to ban smoking in restaurants" (24 September) outlined the countries where smoking is still allowed, among them Japan. Having visited Tokyo recently, I can report that, while it is possible to smoke in restaurants and cafes as stated, there are areas in the street that are designated "no smoking".
Initially I found this strange but, on reflection, perhaps a street is more public than an indoor space.
Bus passes for all
The winter-fuel allowance for all old people is hard to justify. Free bus passes are different as their advantages are not just financial; they are an incentive to elderly people to give up their cars, making roads safer and a little less congested. They also encourage people to go out of their homes to the benefit of their health and social lives.
Hastings, East Sussex
Any Government will face a political backlash if it takes away anyone's free bus pass or winter-fuel allowance, even if they are in no way financially impoverished. But it would not be so controversial to limit pensioner benefits to those who are not in full-time work, as surely the perks aren't intended for them?
At the United Nations on 25 September President Obama said, "There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents". On the same day you reported the research by Stanford and New York Universities on American drone attacks on Pakistan. It found that barely 2 per cent of victims were known militants. Actions speak louder than words?
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