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Monday 29 March 2010
Letters: Stanley no monster
Stanley was no monster but a hero to the Congolese
As Stanley's biographer, and the first to have access to his voluminous archive in Brussels, I am well-placed to respond to your article (19 March) in which Stanley is represented as a monster in an effort to undermine imaginative plans to re-erect his disfigured statue in Kinshasa.
Why shouldn't the Congolese restore the statue of a man who defined the borders of their country, and built the first trading station where Kinshasa now stands?
You say Stanley stole the Congo for King Leopold II of Belgium by "convincing 450 chiefs to mark an X on legal documents". In reality, Stanley's treaties sought only the right to build trading stations. This enraged Leopold. "The terms which Stanley has made with native chiefs do not satisfy me," he told a minister. "They [must] delegate to us their sovereign rights ... [and] grant us everything." Stanley would not comply. Belgian officers, he replied, should not treat the Congolese "as though they were conquered subjects ... They are not subjects, but it is we who are simply tenants. These chiefs own the soil."
Leopold then appointed a dozen officers, under a retired British general, to obtain the treaties he wanted. Stanley's originals were "lost" and forgeries were substituted. Only one undoubtedly genuine Stanley treaty survives. Signed on 31 December 1881, near present-day Kinshasa, it demands no sovereignty, and does not bar non-Belgian traders.
Your report unfairly attempts to link Stanley with the "Red Rubber" atrocities in the Congo during the mid-1890s. He had been sacked as the king's chief agent a decade earlier and never worked there again. After the atrocities, Stanley asked Leopold to admit an international commission of inquiry. The king never spoke to him again.
And Stanley never cooked his dog's tail and ate it, never laid waste to towns on Zanzibar, and had a normal sexual relationship with his wife. From a workhouse childhood, through extraordinary perseverance he became the world's greatest land explorer. He admired the Congolese, and, like them, was betrayed and deceived by Leopold. Henry Bundjoko, the curator of Kinshasa's National Museum (whom you quote) hit the nail on the head. "It's thanks to Stanley that we have Congo," he said. "It's better not to forget."
US support blocks peace in Palestine
As usual, Rupert Cornwell and Adrian Hamilton (18 March et seq) put their fingers on the root of the Arab/Israel problem. As a former diplomat and head of the Middle East Department (and one-time student kibbutznik), I have long been convinced that the only possible basis for a lasting solution is the full "land for peace" deal (back to the pre-1967 green line, plus international oversight of Jerusalem and peace treaties all round), much echoed since the UK proposed it in Resolution 242 some 40 years ago.
But there is no chance of the Israelis accepting this as long as the world's only super-power continues to give them unconditional military, economic and diplomatic support, whether they pursue their dream of "greater Israel" or not. There is no chance of the US withdrawing this blank cheque, regardless of the party in power in Washington, as long as the (gentile) bulk of the US electorate remain persuaded by Aipac's superbly effective Zionist lobby that it is somehow in their interests to maintain it.
Thus the Quartet will remain ineffectual. But the three non-American parties might achieve real progress if they quietly agreed on a long-term, well-resourced approach to the heart of the problem, in the minds of the US electorate. They need to build a global coalition (except the US and Israel) around the 242 vision, spell out the fact that traditional US policy actually helps only Zionist and Islamic extremists, and damages everyone else's interests, and concentrate on getting this message across to ordinary American voters.
Adrian Hamilton's suggestion (Comment, 25 March) that Israel should be allowed to pursue its own interests without coercion by the West can be justifiable only if Israeli interests are in some way not compatible with the implementation of a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, based on UN Security Council resolutions.
This is palpably not the case. The mutual recognition of the Palestinians and Israelis to each others' right to live in peace within legally defined borders based on international law has to be in the security interests not just of the Israelis and Palestinians themselves, but also of the US, the West and the Muslim world.
C Cameron (letters, 27 March) did not mention that the Balfour Declaration clearly states that "His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."
By the time of the Roman conquest in 63, the Jews had been living in their country for more than 1,500 years. The Mernaptah stele (1200 BCE) mentions Israel, indicating that it was a significant socioethnic entity that needed to be reckoned with. The Tel Dan stele (800-900 BCE) mentions the House of David. After they became dispersed all over the world, they managed to preserve their historical memory and maintained their strong emotional attachment to the land of their origin.
Recent genetic research has found most Jewish populations were not significantly different from one another at the genetic level. Palestinian, Syrian and other non-Jewish Middle Eastern populations were also close to the Jewish populations. That means modern Jews are descendants of the Jews who lived in the Middle East 1,900 years ago. That is why the Zionist movement was successful in re-establishing the independent nation-state of the Jewish people in the the land of its origin.
In 1947, the Palestinian Jews accepted the UN partition plan because they knew another people lived there and territorial compromise was a must. Had the Arabs done the same, there would have been no refugees and the lives of thousands, on both sides, would have been spared.
But the Arabs rejected the UN plan and started a war to prevent by force the implementation of the partition. They lost the war and brought disaster on their own people.
Dr Jacob Amir
Here's how to make sure of your vote
The letter from Lyn Atterbury ("You can vote, but you can't", 24 March) wrongly suggests that the Electoral Commission is baffled about how to make sure overseas electors can vote at the general election.
We think it is extremely important that everyone eligible can vote in a general election, including those living overseas. This is why we run campaigns to make sure people know how to register, and their options for casting their vote, whether in person, by post or by proxy.
Under present legislation, candidates have until 11 days before polling day to decide whether to stand. Only after that can the ballot papers be printed and postal ballots sent out. Parliament sets the election timetable, not the Commission, and we have argued consistently that this needs to be reviewed. More good news is that there is still time to go to www.aboutmyvote.co.uk and register or apply for a postal or proxy vote.
Director, Electoral Administration, The Electoral Commission, London SW1
Predictably, the Conservatives are coming out with a long list of bribes for the electorate. Each will cost significant sums but we are told it is not a problem because they have found a way to fund the bribes. For example, they claim that raising the threshhold on inheritance tax (cost £1.5bn) can be funded from a £25,000 levy on non-doms.
Excellent; let's have the £1.5bn and reduce the public sector debt. Now, would the Conservative Party please explain how they will fund raising the threshold on inheritance tax through a real £1.5bn further cut in public spending.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
Paedophiles drawn to secretive Church
Michael McCarthy (27 March) asks, "How could Catholics do such a thing?" I find such wide-eyed wonderment in the face of recurring sexual abuse by priests astonishingly naïve (as is the assumption that morality and religion are one and the same).
He speaks reverently of the "blessed sacraments", of "literally" consuming the body and blood of Christ, as if it were more than just an empty ritual passed on for generations, slavishly followed by indoctrinated children who grow up to pass the baton of irrationality yet again.
He asks, "If these priests had lost their faith, then why did they not leave the Church?" A paedophile naturally embraces an organisation which by its very nature is secretive. With little more than a declaration of faith and the veneer of piety, such a man is given exclusive access to children, and given free rein to violate them in every sense, which includes peddling superstition and self-loathing in the form of "original sin".
The question isn't why wouldn't they leave the Catholic Church, it is most certainly why would they? Until the religious learn to face up to the fundamentally flawed, hypocritical and corrupt nature of their (collective) faiths, further generations of children will undoubtedly suffer.
Alongside the State of Grace teaching referred to by Michael McCarthy, there is another very ancient teaching in the Church which is well expressed in number 26 of the 39 Articles, "Of the unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the sacrament".
This principle provides not only merciful latitude to the priest who is over-scrupulous. It also gives the corrupt priest a perfect excuse to continue in wickedness.
South Cave, East Yorkshire
That a Catholic charity should fight the right of gay men and lesbians to adopt children is profoundly offensive (report, 18 March. I understand the hurt such an attitude can cause.
As such, after careful reflection I have come to the conclusion that it is time for society to question seriously the right of the Catholic Church and its members to have anything to do with the adoption or upbringing of other people's children. Not only is there clearly a disproportionate tendency to-wards child-abuse within its ranks, but also there is a pathological inability to accept that they are in any way capable of doing wrong.
Colour me a fan
I have always considered purple a particularly fetching colour, especially now since I realise it denotes opposition to certain right-wing European connections (letters, 27 March), so I congratulate the government front bench on their sartorial choice. Perhaps the rest of us could follow suit and register our dislike of the Tory MEPs' new alliances on the far right?
Wagner a racist
With regard to Stephen Fry ("My love of Wagner is tearing me apart", 26 March); Wagner can hardly be blamed for what the Nazis made of his music any more than Handel can be blamed for the Aryanification of his oratorios. Where many of us do have a problem is with Wagner's own pamphlet, Das Judentum in der Musik, in its vicious attack on all things Jewish, especially the composers Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer.
Read all about it
Something good has been happening to London's evenings. The Standard is becoming an interesting newspaper. With its series about the capital's dispossessed, it seems to be jumping ahead of practically every other newspaper, national or otherwise. So, I'm glad that if The Independent is to be acquired by new owners it's to be by the Lebedevs. It's even more interesting that this "ex-KGB man" as the BBC likes to call him, is a friend and colleague of Gorbachev. Hmmm. Things may be looking up.
Steve Tiller London N1
No big flutter
In your piece on Thomas and Lewington's excellent Butterflies of Britain and Ireland (26 March), you say the new edition mentions two species new to the British Isles. One, the Geranium Bronze, undoubtedly is, spread from its native South Africa through import of pot plants, but the other species, Real's Wood White, is almost identical to the Wood White. It is new merely because no one looked closely enough before.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Time for a change
Can anybody explain why we moved our clocks back less than two months before the winter solstice, but had to wait more than three months to move them forward? Why do we not join the Central European Time Zone? I wonder how much electricity would be saved?
Sir Richard Mynors
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