Letters: The appeal of Gambia

My uplifting and spirit-enriching visits to the Gambia
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The Independent Online

Alan Aitchison (letters, 8 January) states that he cannot understand why any non-Muslim would want to work or take a holiday in the Gambia.

The market town of Marlborough has had a twinning partnership with the Muslim fishing community of Gunjur since 1981. Some 1,200 people have travelled between the two communities, living in each other's homes. I was there on my 40th visit recently, living with the Muslim family with whom I have always stayed, in their compound, experiencing a warmth and generosity that is second to none, but with no electricity or access to clean running water.

All those of us who have had the privilege of living with friends in Gunjur have returned richer in spirit, and with a breadth of experience that has added immeasurably to our personal and professional lives. We have also been in a position to work alongside Gambian friends who want to bring about change in their community by providing clean water, pre-school education, women's literacy and health education.

It is precisely this solidarity between people which is essential in environments in which there may be major political constraints.

Dr Nick Maurice

President, The Marlborough Brandt Group,

Manton, Wiltshire

Obama is key to Middle East peace

Adrian Hamilton (Opinion, 8 January) is absolutely right that the key to Middle East peace is the Arab League proposal, but that key can be turned only by Washington.

The pro-Israeli lobby groups in the US have built formidable influence since President Johnson gave the green light for the Israeli attack in 1967, as they have worked with the grain of perceived American strategic interest in having a powerful Israel as the replacement regional policeman for a fading and unreliable Britain.

But, if that strategic interest is reassessed, as it surely ought to be given the disastrous outcomes of American Middle East policy generally, the lobbies will not by themselves be able to guarantee Israeli impunity in its rogue status.

So long as Washington guarantees Israeli impunity even a departure by the EU from its current craven and collaborationist policy will be ineffective. Nothing is to be expected from Bush, but Obama has kept a distance from the lobbies and may have the intelligence and policy space to re-evaluate how America's interests might be better served internationally.

There is a huge reservoir of goodwill across the world for the President elect: intelligent reappraisal and readjustment of policy toward the Middle East could do much to help that spread to the US as a whole.

Robert H Baker


I was bemused by Mary Dejevsky's attack on our call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza ("Oxfam is there to help people – not to dabble in politics", 9 January). There was a time when charities were expected to give hand-outs to people who were poor or exploited, with no thought to the economic or political reasons why. There was a time when, facing a conflict like that in Gaza, charities might have sat in silence while watching the people they work with being killed, and their ability to provide relief to them fundamentally obstructed. That time was a very long while ago, decades before Make Poverty History, and campaigns for debt relief, or to ban landmines.

Ms Dejevsky asks: "What business is it of Oxfam's – really –whether and when the fighting stops?" When that fighting deepens the gravity of a humanitarian crisis, undermines our ability to deliver relief, and kills the people that relief is intended for, it is absolutely our business.

Barbara Stocking

Chief Executive

Oxfam, Oxford

It is interesting that in Hoping's letter today (9 January), in some 230 words, Hamas is never mentioned. Hamas started this conflict and has the power to stop it. Their fighters hide behind women and children, they store rockets in homes, schools, hospitals and mosques, all in breach of the Geneva convention quoted by Hoping. But, like Robert Fisk, they are determined to see only one side of the problem.

David Kravitz

Netanya, Israel

Jack Cohen (letter, 5 January) seems to divide Palestinians into extremists and moderates. He fails to understand that condemnation of Israel is about the carnage and destruction it is unleashing on an innocent civilian population. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited (Article 33 of Fourth Geneva Convention).

Shaikh Mohommad

Croydon, Surrey

Hizbollah once again firing rockets at Israeli civilian towns should serve as a lesson in the futility of implementing a ceasefire without solving the problem of the Islamic terrorists. It also proves the point that occupation is not the cause of the conflict but merely a symptom of it – Israel ended the occupation of Lebanon some years ago, just as it did in Gaza.

The ideologies of Hizbollah and Hamas are simply not conducive to a peaceful solution to the conflict. One read of Hamas's covenant or witnessing Hamas using their own civilians, or even children, as human shields shows that peace can only come when the terrorists are gone.

The international community has had more than two years to do something about Hizbollah – but has failed to do so. Leaving Hizbollah intact is a disservice to the Lebanese population and to the Israelis. I hope the international community does not make the same mistake regarding Hamas.

Michelle Moshelian

Givatayim, Israel

S Gross asks, "Why on earth do the Palestinians garner such attention while the Congolese do not?" (letter, 7 January); the answer is simple. Palestinians are being bombed in my name while the Congolese are not.

Just as the US bombing of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq were heralded as justified responses to an attack on western democratic values, so the Israeli tanks and gunships fire on Palestinians as part of "our war on terror". I abhor the wanton carnage in Congo as much as I do the persecution of innocent civilians in Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Somalia. But none of the perpetrators of evil in those countries is claiming to be defending me or my way of life.

Peter DeVillez

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Don't demonise the white working class

I write as a white male of working-class East End origins, in dismay at the racist, sexist and condescending diatribe from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown against the so-called white working class (5 January). Assertions supported by extreme anecdotes are rolled out to taint a great but declining swathe of the country (or at least the male half) as irredeemably tainted by irrational racism.

The issues are complex. The demographic and economic decline of the British working class has many causes. The demise of communities as working people moved up and out, and the process of de-industrialisation, are potent forces in explaining this phenomenon. "Working people" left behind by these major transitions have seen their communities overwhelmed by immigrants and asylum seekers. This is fact.

Those left behind have tended to be the poor, the unskilled, the welfare-dependent and the aged. Many, my 90-year-old parents included, have built supportive and trusting relations with their new neighbours. Others moulder in deep resentment. While not exonerating the latter, one has to accept that, like immigrants fearing a white backlash, such people often feel frightened, alienated and isolated in what were once stable communities. They have a right to be heard. If the mainstream parties do not address their concerns then inevitably the lunatic fringe will.

The country needs an open and honest debate on the issue of immigration – its demographic, economic, cultural and social impacts. Ms Alibhai Brown's recourse to demonising stereotypes offers nothing to this debate. Shame on her.

Chris Forse

Snitterfield, Warwickshire

Geo-engineering: you must be joking

Surely, serious scientists cannot be serious about the reality of geo-engineering as a countermeasure to climate change (2 January). Even ignoring the tedious international agreements likely to be involved, aren't there enough imponderable variables in the biosphere feedback system without adding more?

Apart from the obvious fact that once started, most of these projects would need to be pursued indefinitely to maintain stability, how would their impact be assessed? If, for example, a severe drought occurred somewhere on the globe during a geoengineering experiment, would this be due to the experiment or in spite of it?

John Killingbeck

Market Weighton, East Yorkshire

Shoddy treatment for nation's savers

Interest rates are at an all-time-low of 1.5 per cent. Once again our financial masters have decided to put the welfare of borrowers before all else. As for the nations' savers, they have become the economy's sacrificial lambs. Was it not Gordon Brown's esteemed predecessor who, not so many years ago, was imploring us all to make additional provision for our retirements by saving?

As a saver on a very modest income, I am now viewing the underside of my mattress as possibly a more viable haven for my nest-egg than the savings account in which it presently resides. Given that there are more savers than borrowers in this country of ours, the shoddy manner in which the majority are being treated is nothing short of despicable.

George Wilson


The lessons of fairy tales

Ellie Levenson (Opinion, 7 January) hasn't quite got it right; those parents who want to protect their children from knowledge of baddies cannot succeed, because us humans – including children – have good and bad within us. What those enduring fairy tales are about is our human psyche, which is why they continue to appeal to each generation. The stories of the fights between good and evil teach us how and why we should overcome (not destroy, that's impossible) the evil tendencies we all have, that we need courage, and that wit wins over brute strength. Just as stories about searching for the holy grail are about searching for our personal "treasure", which we find, after a long search, to be within ourselves.

Henrietta Cubitt


Gas-price rises?

I wonder how long it will be before our parasitic energy companies use Russia's embargo on the supply of gas to eastern and southern Europe as an excuse for increasing their prices again?

Jon Ericsson


ID-card costs

While we have become accustomed to New Labour incompetence when it comes to contract negotiations, if all it might cost a future government to scrap the dreadful ID scheme is a few tens of millions, then all I can say is – result (leading article, 9 January). It would be a lot less then the cost of proceeding with it. It would also be interesting to see if any of the present government get jobs with the companies involved in the years to come.

Andrew Calvert

Ruislip, Middlesex

Just not cricket

On a finger-chilling day (8 January) I looked at The Independent. Judging by the sports pages, it could have been the start of the English home cricket season: more than five full pages, 10 per cent of the edition, devoted to our summer national game. What a pity those concerned could not act like mature adults and prevent cricket becoming a major news item. Good luck to Andrew Strauss and his team in the West Indies. We hope their results will bring similar coverage.

Peter Erridge

East Grinstead, West Sussex

EU presidency

The reform entailing a permanent President of the EU is one of the changes in the Lisbon Treaty which would improve the workings of the EU (John Lichfield, 3 January). Six-month stints rotating 27 times is a recipe for discontinuity and confusion. The EU faces many challenges in 2009 and in the case of two dominant issues – the economic downturn and climate change – looks set to play a key role. Let us hope that the co-operation engendered by the recent Sarkozy-led Presidency is not lost over the coming year.

Roland Rudd

Chairman, Business for New Europe, London EC2

Humble homes

Your correspondent Peter J Hurrell (Letters, 9 January) is disgusted that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, whose faith exalts the humility of "a master who was born in a stable and crucified on a cross", has been granted a six-bedroom retirement home in Chiswick. If only for the sake of his blood pressure, I do hope Mr Hurrell doesn't visit the Vatican too often.

Sean Cordell