Letters: The Pope's gaffe

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Reasons why Muslims have over-reacted to the Pope's gaffe

Sir: Emperor Manuel was wrong. The Prophet Mohamed is not reported ever to have raised his hand against anyone before the last eight years of his life, when he led his followers into battle to defend Islam from destruction by the larger armies of the Meccans and their Bedouin allies.

Having conquered Mecca, he was magnanimous in victory and compelled none of his enemies to become Muslims. However, threats of invasion by the Christian Arabs of Ghassan, vassals of Byzantium, caused him to send out further expeditions in his last two years.

What is so dangerous in the present situation is that many Muslims believe Islam to be under threat in a way it has never been since the death of the Prophet. They see poverty, chaos and Western interference in the shattered remains of the great multi-national and multi-faith societies of the Ottoman Near East and Mughal India. They see Americans in the Baghdad of the Caliphs, Israelis in control of the third holiest site in Islam and Christian missionaries on the loose.

Now they hear scarcely veiled nuclear threats against the few Muslim states that dare to defy the Western world order. It is in this context that many are over-reacting to the Pope's gaffe. He would have done better to recall that Manuel made peace with the Ottoman Sultan.



Sir: That academic theological discourse is subject to the laws of unintended consequence is a sad reflection upon the times. The Catholic Church was principled in its opposition to the war in Iraq. The real tragedy of the crisis sparked by Pope Benedict's address is that it gives succour to those propounding the "clash of civilisation" thesis be they from the neo-conservative or Islamic fundamentalist school.



Sir: As a practising atheist I find Pope Benedict's assertion that reason is only compatible with Christianity to be deeply offensive. I therefore demand he issues an apology, which I will reject. I am organising a violent demonstration which I hope will prove that atheism is the sole repository of reason and anybody who implies otherwise shall burn in ... erm ....



Climate crisis could devastate oceans

Sir: May I add an element of oceanography to the dire warning contained in your review (15 September) of the latest signs and predictions of global warming?

The world-wide circulation of oceanic waters is primarily driven by the cooling of surface sea water at high latitudes to the point when the increased density causes it to sink, so drawing in warmer surface water from lower latitudes. Decreased salinity, due to melting of the polar ice cap, and reduced cooling will negate this effect: the "coolant pump" will cease to function.

This is being largely ignored in recent reviews of the effects of climate change - OK, it is sometimes mentioned that the climate of Scotland might come to resemble that of Labrador, while the rest of the world gets warmer, but that is only one local consequence. When the pump stops, the "Global Conveyor", the world's major currents that move the waters of all the oceans round the world, from north to south, east to west, from the surface to the ocean depths on an estimated thousand-year cycle, would cease, the oceans would become deserts, and there would be no replenishment of nutrients at the surface and no oxygen reaching the deep; there could be complete stagnation.

It does not take much imagination to appreciate the enormous momentum contained in the Gulf Stream/North Atlantic Drift system, yet this huge movement of water is already showing clear signs of weakening, as you have previously reported, and the same must be happening in the North Pacific. Reversing this trend will take enormous resolve and effective, speedy action. In our world-wide efforts to reduce carbon emissions, we must not turn our backs on any potential sources of energy to replace the burning of fossil fuels on which we are currently utterly dependent. The planet will survive the crisis, but not in the form to which current civilisations and the world's ecosystems are adapted.



Sir: OK, so now we know: the climate change doom-mongers were optimists. The polar ice caps are melting faster than anyone had believed possible and we are looking down the barrel of global catastrophe before the end of this century.

So what do I, as your average, over consuming citizen of the culpable West, do now? When offered the choice I will vote for the abolition of cheap air travel, I will vote against universal car ownership, I will support whatever measures are necessary to avert disaster, but I will no longer accept that this can be left to the choices of individuals. Only government action - law making, taxation, subsidies and international diplomacy - has any chance of turning this around and, in the meantime, if it's legal, I'm having it.

If I am faced with living through possibly the last decade (or less) of cheap petrol, cheap flights, and exotic fruits and vegetables all year round, then what sort of fool would I be to spurn these luxuries? So bring on the revolution and make hay while the sun shines.



Sir: In your "Disappearing World" feature you quote a prediction that by 2050 "hydrogen produces 25 per cent of all energy". Hydrogen cannot produce energy because there isn't any hanging around on earth - it has to be manufactured, which requires energy. At best, it may be useful as a means of transporting energy.



Lib Dems blur the edges again

Sir: A year ago the Lib Dems had something they lacked in the past. They had clear and distinct policies. Iraq was wrong and the very rich should pay higher tax. At home and abroad, you knew their position. Now they've thrown this away. Campbell talks about Iraq and Afghanistan not as quagmires to escape but responsibilities to be upheld. And taxing the very rich at 50 per cent is likely to become a load of "green" measures which will be picked up sooner or later by everyone else.

Kennedy may have had a weakness for the bottle but he had the courage to make the Liberals distinctive. Sober Campbell has blurred the edges all over again and taken away the case for supporting them.



The strange delights of Marmite

Sir: Everybody is right about Marmite, of course, but how many have enjoyed the delights of a "cured" Marmite and cucumber sandwich? Make the sandwich and leave covered for at least two hours. Water is extracted from the cucumber by osmosis rendering it soft and succulent. The extracted water dilutes the Marmite, which then soaks deliciously into the bread.



Sir: A West Australian custom is to spread butter and Vegemite on toast and then slide on a lightly poached egg, over which one drops a little chilli sauce. But do not to poach the egg in a microwave. Pressure builds up and, with the cold chilli sauce on top, has been known to cause an embarrassing explosion which covers the eager consumer with sticky goo and encourages kids to roll about with mirth.



Sir: The minutiae of Rebecca Tyrell's domestic life used to drive me mad every Monday morning, but now I have found the solution: simply spread the entire page liberally with Marmite.



Our quarrel with the World Bank

Sir: Dominic Lawson suggests that Christian Aid is calling for the UK to withhold funding to the World Bank and the IMF because of the tough line of Paul Wolfowitz, the President of the World Bank, on corruption ("We should be applauding the World Bank for its stand on corruption, not berating it", 15 September). This seems a wilful misunderstanding of the position stated by 3,000 people who marched past the Treasury on Thursday - protesting about economic conditions on aid.

For the record, Christian Aid supports all serious efforts to tackle corruption by the international community.

What we are calling for is a redirection of UK aid money because of harmful economic conditions attached to World Bank and IMF aid - conditions that force poor countries to liberalise markets and sell off public services. We, along with many of our partner organisations in Africa and Asia, warmly welcomed the UK government's announcement of withholding of £50m of its funding to the World Bank for this reason.

But it does not go far enough. At the annual meeting in Singapore this week we will be watching to see whether the World Bank and IMF respond to this pressure by one of their major shareholders - the UK - and end their damaging lending practices. If they do not, we will continue to pressure the UK government to direct further aid funds by alternative channels, until harmful economic conditionality is ended once and for all.



Reporting of Israeli actions in Gaza

Sir: Like most Zionist Jews, I have been unable to read The Independent for a number of years. Your headline "Gaza: the children killed in a war the world doesn't want to know about" (19 September) reminds me why.

At a time when the UN is meeting to discuss the crisis in Darfur, where there are fears of genocide, and there is talk of a constructive dialogue being established between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, The Independent returns to one-sided Israel-bashing in the most emotive of ways - devoting its entire front page to Israel killing children, a subject used throughout the years to marginalise and dehumanise Jews.



Sir: I cannot thank you enough for your recent campaign to bring attention to the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, nor encourage you enough to continue this campaign so the world cannot say it didn't know about the desperate situation in Gaza.

I just returned home to the US from doing human rights work in Palestine, and it is absolutely maddening to me how the US media never tires of defending and making excuses for Israel's crimes against Palestinians.

I understand that speaking out against Israel's gross violations of human rights ensures you an onslaught of criticism. However, you must believe in the urgency of your work and continue with your campaign to bring attention to the plight of Gaza.



Sir: Harry Perry's paean of hate against Israel (letter, 13 September) offers scant hope for any peaceful resolution of the conflict and misses many vital points.

Israel exists by decision of the League of Nations and the UN. The partition boundaries of 1948 were set on the basis of land purchase by the Jews, and their extension occurred because of unsuccessful Arab aggression. Few countries have such a claim to their territory.

I am sorry about the plight of the displaced Palestinian Arabs, as are many Israelis, but over half the Israeli population is descended from Jewish refugees from Arab lands, who were resettled at Israeli expense.

Mr Perry might like to reflect that the increase in oil revenues to Arab states and Iran this year amounts to about $140,000 per refugee. If the notably under-populated Arab states had compassion for their compatriots, every refugee could live in a palace.



Who stays at home?

Sir: Why does Naomi Shaw (letter, 19 September) assume that mothers have to stay at home if children are to get more parental attention? The majority of families still have two parents, after all.



The Blair school

Sir: I don't know whether to laugh or laugh. The latest episode in the "smooth and orderly transition/legacy" comedy show (Harman and Hoon as this week's supporting act) introduces us to the "Tony Blair School of Government" at the LSE. It will only take the minute required to read this letter to learn the lessons and graduate: sideline Cabinet and Parliament, sit on sofas and behave as though you and you alone have a mandate to govern. Mine's a PhD, thank you.



Warning voices on Iraq

Sir: There was much to admire in Lord Ashdown's "You Ask the Questions" interview (18 September). However I challenge his assertion that "no one could have guessed at the mess we would have made of the peace in Iraq". There were voices at the time saying that the war was about short-term regime change and political gain without thought for the medium- and long-term consequences for the people of Iraq. Tragically, those voices have been proved right on all counts.



Change of policy

Sir: Civil servants, education experts and under-employed junior ministers - not to mention conference organisers and caterers - must be rubbing their hands with glee. A mere four years after scrapping compulsory languages at secondary level the Government has ordered a review of the policy. Ministers had been "taken by surprise" at the numbers dropping the subject. Well I never. One despairs to think of the hours, the reams of photocopying, the nights in expensive hotels that went into the first decision - and now it's like déjà vu all over again.



Go to jail

Sir: I was delighted to see your headline "Crook in jail despite posting $250,000 bail" (19 September) - jail is surely where all crooks should be, even if there is some debate as to whether Mr Jeremy Crook should be there or not. To then read on that Mr Crook has a lawyer called Mr Law just made my day.