Letters: The great debate about Islam

The great debate about Islam is already happening
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The Independent Online

I support Johann Hari's call to eradicate religious dogmatism ("We need to stop being such cowards about Islam", 14 August), but I find irresponsible the information he presents as facts.

First, he provides a brief synopsis of The Jewel of Medina and fails to mention that the stories in Sherry Jones' novel are historic fiction. He then authenticates her narrative of the Prophet Muhammad's marriage to Aisha by claiming that you can read the story of The Jewel of Medina in the Koran and Hadith. The events in Mr Hari's synopsis are non-existent in the Koran.

As for the Hadith, while there are various accounts of their relationships, the mainstream narrative is a far cry from the ones in Mr Hari's synopsis. Aisha's marriage was not consummated on the day of her marriage but years later, she was not banned from playing in the street, the prophet defended Aisha when she was slandered for adultery, and rubbished such accusations made against her, and he did not "decree that his wives must cover their faces and bodies"; covering of faces and bodies predated the birth of Islam, long before the prophet's birth.

As a Muslim, I have been involved in Islamic discussions and debates among friends and families free from any dogmatism. The open debate about Islam Mr Hari is proposing is already taking place among the Islamic diaspora.

R N Chowdhury

London N9

Historic Bletchley buildings in peril

I have had your article about Bletchley Park (20 August) emailed to me by wartime colleagues from MI6 Section VIII. We handled most of the outgoing signals intelligence and Ultra traffic to military commanders in the field. This traffic went out from our wireless station – known as Windy Ridge – some five miles west of Bletchley Park. The unit was originally at Bletchley Park but transferred out to Whaddon Hall in November 1940 as Bletchley Park became more crowded.

For years I have campaigned to preserve the buildings and ensure this national treasure is given its rightful place as the pinnacle of our wartime heritage. Letters to Gordon Brown (when he was Chancellor) were sent on to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who sent them on elsewhere, and so we went on. Letters to MPs were politely answered. Letters to Milton Keynes council achieved nothing.

At 82, why should I care what happens to the place anyway? Well, apart from the pride we should all have for the work done there, my mother was a Red Cross nurse in its clinic, my father ran the MI6 wireless stores at nearby Whaddon Hall and I worked there as a junior engineer on installing our secret gear in aircraft, motor torpedo-boats and in the signals liaison units that carried the Ultra messages directly into the HQs of our commanders in the field such as generals Bradley, Patton, Montgomery, Dempsey and Crerar.

My wife Jane and I were at Bletchley Park a fortnight ago and were disgusted to see the state of Huts 3 and 6, housing two of the more vital parts of the operation. These are the most famous wooden buildings in the world but may soon become the most famous pile of matchwood.

I am particularly concerned with the indifference shown to the transport buildings that housed the essential fleet of coaches. There were something like 10,000 employed in BP, as we called it (never "Station X") and they were billeted out in little towns and villages immediately surrounding the town of Bletchley. The staff worked round the clock in three shifts and these coaches ran up a mileage of 28,000 miles a week – on those local journeys – and Milton Keynes planners think these buildings are not important!

These buildings are within a stone's throw of Bletchley Park mansion itself. Any development on the site would blight the whole place for ever.

Geoffrey Pidgeon

Richmond, Surrey

It is good to see MPs and others supporting your campaign for Bletchley Park. A plaque in Bletchley Park from the US Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers acknowledges that "the achievements of the 12,000 men and women at this site . . . greatly shortened the war and thereby saved countless lives".

Bletchley Park is far from being a static museum. Enthusiastic volunteers have rebuilt the Bombe, which decoded the Enigma codes, and the Colossus computer which decoded Hitler's private communications, bringing to life the Ultra-secret technology developed here during the war. Other volunteer museums on site include cinema, Churchill memorabilia and, with Colossus, early British computers that are being brought back to full working order.

Companies based in some of the less dilapidated buildings cover internet marketing, voice over the internet, electronic countermeasures, a novel form of lighting, and several other fields. The company I am with promotes and sells SpaceWire, a networking technology used by Nasa and other space agencies and companies around the world. We and the other tenant companies continue the tradition of the highest technology innovation, benefit from an address that is known and respected world-wide, and contribute a steady revenue stream that helps to cover operating costs.

I wish you every success in your campaign to fund the repairs necessary after 60 years of neglect, but feel it is wrong to look to the US for funding. Could I suggest that you approach BT, who used the site for much of the 60 years, and who would gain greatly from sponsoring this hidden hotbed of technology and communication.

Paul Walker

4Links Limited, Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes

I would like to express my horror that Bletchley Park faces such a bleak future, and congratulate The Independent for campaigning against disrepair and demise.

My grandmother was a codebreaker at the Park during the Second World War and always expressed an immense pride at having been involved in such an important operation, pride which I am sure she shared with all those who worked alongside her. The fascinating and vital work that took place there is an important part of our history. So much is done to ensure the current generation acknowledges Remembrance Sunday each year, and yet if we are not careful we will deny future generations their heritage and the chance to remember such an imperative event in Britain's history.

Churchill famously said of the Park's staff: "My geese that laid the golden eggs – and never cackled". So, before it is too late, let us cackle on their behalf.

Alexander Gates


I was delighted to see that The Independent is to launch a campaign to save Bletchley Park. The site deserves national recognition, and preservation, for several reasons.

It was home to the successful British codebreakers in the Second World war, it saw the triumph of intellect and determination over the forces of Nazism, it saw the start of a fruitful intelligence co-operation between the USA and Great Britain, and in one of its huts the world's first computer was set to work. It therefore has a significance which extends far beyond the shortening of the war, important though that undoubtedly was, as it can be seen as the birthplace of the computer revolution.

I wish The Independent every success in its campaign. The time is limited, and future generations will not thank us for allowing such a historic site to decay.

Mark Baldwin

Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire

Graduates in the debt trap

The Government can hardly be surprised that first-time buyers are a disappearing breed: their own student loans policy has institutionalised debt for an entire age group, as thousands of young people slide backwards into growing debt each year.

Your figure (report, 14 August) for the average student debt is over £14,000. The average graduate salary is £18,500 but huge numbers of graduates have to take jobs that don't demand degrees and so pay less. Nevertheless, the interest rate on their loan (at present 4.8 peer cent, and 3.8 per cent from September) means this year's student debt will go up by £532 a year from September, whether they're earning enough to begin repaying it or not.

The Government itself was guilty of a morally questionable sleight-of-hand when it set interest rates for student loan debts in line with a higher rate of inflation as measured by the Retail Price Index (RPI), rather than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) they trot out for the rest of us to convince us things aren't so bad. This stealth increase is estimated to have netted the Government an extra £500m a year.

Estimates are that a graduate spends the first five working years paying off the interest, but those in lower-paid jobs will spend much longer, feeling they're trying to walk up the down escalator of debt. The idea of them taking out a mortgage is laughably distant, but not many find much to laugh about when they look at their finances.

Christine Butterworth

Penzance, Cornwall

Serota's contract at the Tate

The Tate say, about the expiry of Sir Nicholas Serota's fixed-term seven-year contract: "There have been major changes in UK employment law meaning the director in fact should be treated as a permanent employee . . . and the contract expiry date of 31 August had no binding effect." ("Serota gets a job for life", 16 August.)

Guidelines issued by the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform make it clear that neither statement is true. Only after the renewal of a fixed-term contract should the employment be considered as permanent. Furthermore, there are exceptions to this when "the nature of the profession or work should be regarded as an objective reason for renewing fixed-term contracts".

Charles Thomson

Co-founder, The Stuckists, London N2

Aberdeen: not all designer labels

I am greatly disappointed about an article about Aberdeen in Extra (12 August). The writer misrepresented the city as a land of milk and honey.

Residents who earn upward of £50,000 will most likely not feel the effects of the credit crunch. The writer seemed unaware of the £50m debt the city council is in, which forced them to close schools, many in the more deprived areas of Aberdeen.

More people in Union Street are carrying Primark bags than those of designer shops. And how about the juxtaposition of the extreme wealth and power that exists in the Tullos area, home to Shell HQ, when just down the road is Torry, one of the poorest areas of Aberdeen?

Instead of looking at the effects of the global credit crunch on Aberdeen, perhaps an observation of the effects of "casino capitalism" would have been more accurate.

Ryan Gavan

University of Aberdeen

Jurors who do their own research

If the subject were not accuracy of research it would be pedantry to point out that Dr Husbands (letter, 21 August) misquotes from Kind Hearts and Coronets (to "determine", not to "ascertain" the truth is "the whole purpose of this assembly", not "the entire object of these proceedings"), and chooses an unfortunate example indeed for his jurisprudential argument, because Dennis Price's character is convicted on a capital charge of which he is innocent.

What is or is not "relevant material" is for the judge, who knows the law of evidence, to say, not for lay jurors, whether individually or en masse.

Thomas Tallon

Bexleyheath, Kent


Political paradox

Denis MacShane (opinion, 20 August) warns against "conservative neo-con" language. As I thought "neo-con" itself was a contradiction in terms I'm now confused at the extended oxymoron. Perhaps that's merely because I'm a traditional progressivist.

Patrick Dawkins

London NW2

Man's best friend

Perhaps some consolation can be derived from the appalling results of the Kennel Club's meddling with the gene pools of pedigree dogs (The Big Question, 20 August). Without their grotesque deformities we would have no living examples of the results of eugenics at work. If we have to have Crufts, it should be to remind us of the close escape our species had during the last two centuries. Pedigree dogs have sacrificed their health to provide a living lesson to us. Imagine what humanity might look like now if the eugenicists had had their way.

Mick Hare


Curbing crime

If Home Secretary Jacqui Smith wants to "control" Gary Glitter, she should persuade New Labour to install CCTV cameras outside his home, place a tracking device in his car, take his DNA and fingerprints, place him on a national database, force him to carry an ID card and install a microchip in all his dustbins. Oh, I forgot, New Labour is already trying to control everyone. In New Labour eyes we are all guilty.

Barry Tighe

London E11

Price of Russian gas

Your correspondent Askold Krushelnycky opined: "Russia has tried to punish Ukraine by enormous price increases in gas and even turning off supplies" (article, 20 August). Clearly prices that Ukraine pays for Russian gas have risen significantly over the past three or four years, but can your correspondent explain why Ukraine should pay less than half the price that Germany or the UK pays? As for Russia cutting off Ukrainian gas supplies, surely that was in response to Ukraine not paying for gas previously supplied?

Rob Hughes

London N20

You have been warned

To continue the discussion on "helpful instructions", I was recently informed by a pot of pasta sauce: "Caution, pot may become hot on heating."

Caroline Poulter