Letters: The British-born who find it hard to feel British

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Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes "cheering news" (14 November) about increasing numbers of British-born citizens with African and Asian ancestry achieving managerial and professional careers. But she falls in with one aspect of inequality and racism that is deeply embedded in European society. These British-born citizens she is talking about are as British as all the other British-born citizens but sadly, as we know only too well from the July 7 bombings, many of them feel second-class citizens or even not British at all.

If they have some of their family roots in a non-European culture then they (and Britain too) are the richer for it. Our aim should be for all Britons to feel first and foremost British, whether they are British blacks or British whites or any other kind. Labelling people "black Britons" or "Afro-Caribbean and African Britons" as Alibhai-Brown does makes the subtle insinuation that they are firstly something else and secondly British.

I go into schools as a "live witness" in Holocaust education projects and often find myself challenging British-born Britons who are not white that they have as much right to feel themselves to be British (and English) as any other British-born Briton. As they were born in England and I was not, I consider them more British than I am. They know this rationally but they don't feel it - too many ignorant and prejudiced people treat them as "not English" and we need to raise awareness of this.

It is not a particularly English problem. I go into schools in Germany as well as England and recently I had an interesting dialogue with a class of 31 students, all German citizens, only two of whom were German-born and white, with two more white but not born in Germany and all the rest German-born but not white. This majority struggled with the idea of being as German as the white ones and richer than those who possess roots in only one culture.



White phosphorus shells at Fallujah

Sir: It is surely inhumane to use tank shells or high-velocity rounds against civilians. It is surely appalling to drop high explosives on women and children or to fire cannon shells and missiles at them. So why the big fuss about white phosphorus?

There is no evidence that the US Forces deliberately targeted civilians with any munitions. Indeed, the assault on Fallujah was signalled well in advance, and women, children and old men were allowed to leave the city. If the insurgents had come out en masse into the middle of the desert, the US would have happily engaged them there and so avoided any risks to civilians. The insurgents chose not to do so and instead relied on the reluctance of the US to cause civilian casualties as protection.

Your outrage is simply posturing, a silly and illogical attempt to charge the US with war crimes. If you think all war is wrong, fine, then all weapons are equally as bad, whether white phosphorous, a bullet, or the butcher's knife beheading a charity worker. If you think this war is wrong, fine as well, but it is wrong because of the cause, not because of the weapons or tactics used, and it is not more wrong somehow because white phosphorus was used on the enemy.



Sir: In his letter (15 November) the US ambassador goes to surprising lengths to make clear that Mk 77 firebombs are not napalm. As I am sure he is aware, although the chemical composition is different the effects when dropped on people are the same.

Photographs from Fallujah show women and children with horrendous burns which have been caused by the indiscriminate use of weapons, conventional or not, in what the US forces considered a "free fire" zone. This alone constitutes a war crime and Mr Tuttle is trying to obfuscate this terrible truth.



Sir: US Ambassador Robert H Tuttle makes the assertion that US forces do not use white phosphorous as a weapon. This statement is at odds with the following account from US artillerymen at Fallujah:

"White Phosphorous proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [High Explosives]. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out." ("The Fight for Fallujah", Field Artillery Journal. March-April 2005).

The lethal sparks of burning phosphorus, the choking gas and the intense heat force the enemy into the open where the survivors can be killed through more conventional means. While the legality of its use can be debated, it is clear from these soldiers' account that US forces used it as a weapon at Fallujah.



Sir: Mr Tuttle claims that the Mk 77 firebomb, which he admits US forces used in 2003, "is not napalm, and it is not illegal".

Well, the active constituents of the Mk 77 firebomb are different from napalm only in that they consist of kerosene and polystyrene rather than petrol and polystyrene. Would the good ambassador like to explain to us why being burnt with sticky petrol is unacceptable whilst being burnt with sticky kerosene seems to be all right? Perhaps he would like to try it out for himself so that we can see it is harmless? No, I thought not: just weasel words.



GP hours favour the majority of patients

Sir: Your support for flexible working for GPs (leading article, 12 November) is interesting. Apparently, full-time workers want to be able to see the doctor of their choice at a time convenient to them. Isn't this an example of the "squeaky axle getting the grease"? Full-time workers, in general, are not frequent users of the health service; the main users being the elderly, frail, and those with long-term conditions, who prefer routinely to see their GPs during the day. They too value continuity of care.

As a GP, I would either have to work much longer hours, risking patient safety and falling foul of the European working time directive, or I would be doing shift work and be less available for patients during the day. Until we have many more GPs - and it takes nine years to train them - it is difficult to see how we can offer the flexibility that Patricia Hewitt and The Independent advocate, without jeopardising the service to the majority of users of the NHS. No amount of imaginative skill-mix and extended prescribing rights will bridge that gap.



US atheist resists creeping theocracy

Sir: I am at a loss to understand the point of Mr Norman's letter (11 November), citing the Chinese Communist Party as an example of aggressive atheism.

Over here, at least, my door bell hasn't ever been rung by Chinese Communists trying to force the Communist Manifesto down my throat and I haven't been accosted by them in the street urging me to take a pamphlet or two. I haven't seen them on numerous TV channels performing fake miracles; selling "miracle" water or exhorting me to follow their "faith" so that I may become rich. To my knowledge, no member of the Chinese Communist Party has ever organised a meeting in support of discrimination against gays and lesbians over here, and nor have they sued to get Chairman Mao's sayings displayed in public buildings.

To equate the atheistic Chinese Communist Party with all atheists is rather like suggesting that the Catholic Church represents all religious people. The key difference is, thankfully, the Chinese Communist Party restricts its activities to running the most populous country in the world, whereas the Pope peddles his superstitious wares globally to a similar number of people.

As an atheist, my only agenda is to prevent the insidious establishment of a theocracy here in the US.



Sir: If Richard Dawkins' atheism can be called a belief (letters, 15 November), can I say that my not collecting stamps is a hobby?



Teach children how to learn

Sir: What blinkered vision Tony Blair has. He recognises the need to improve our children's literacy skills, but his solution is to spend even longer making the same mistakes by starting when they are younger! Sue Palmer (letter, 11 November) has expressed very clearly the common-sense approach needed, which is to look at the more successful education systems of other countries and learn from them. Surely this should be obvious?

Our schools are full of unwilling pupils discouraged and disillusioned by our present system. Even those who wish to learn find themselves in classes where it is impossible to do so because too often teachers are unable to make themselves heard. What an appalling situation. The early years need to be spent preparing for formal learning so that when it begins children are all confident, receptive, and therefore able to enjoy the process.