I read with interest Andrew Buncombe's article regarding the difficulties faced by people with disabilities in Bangladesh (6 January). I am a British-born Asian and have been insulin-dependent for most of my life. It never ceases to amaze me how prejudiced Asian people are towards any condition which they feel should be swept under the carpet, and not discussed lest it may impinge on the prospect, in the case of women, of child-bearing.
I remember as a child hearing an arranged marriage being planned for a relative of mine. His parents were discussing prospective potential girls, and when the name of one came up the mother said in horror, "No! We cannot have her as his wife! She has something wrong with her eyes!" At the tender age of eight, I then realised I would have no hope with this sort of mentality when I decided to get married.
And I was right. Not only did I have few inquiries about marriage, whereas my sister had interest from families flowing thick and fast from the age of 16, but my only prospective suitors were doctors, apart from one man with mental-health issues.
Umme Ranjona's fight for justice made me think about the prejudice towards Asians with disabilities or medical conditions, particularly women, here in the UK. Sadly, such discrimination is deep-rooted not just in countries like Bangladesh but also in developed countries where Asians reside, be it the UK or America.
When an Asian woman I know was diagnosed with a kidney disorder that meant she would have to undergo lifelong dialysis, the comment that stuck in my mind from a family member was: "Nobody will want her now."
Effect of Gaza crisis on British Muslims
British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD) has been working very hard to promote democracy and human rights to British Muslims, in particular the disengaged young. In our democracy workshops, we are already witnessing rage and cynicism we have not seen before. We believe good secular democracies can help counter intolerant religious indoctrination being promoted by fundamentalist extremists. However, the current situation in the Middle East has the potential to seriously undermine the efforts of BMSD and other similar organisations striving to instill confidence in British Muslims in a democratic system of governance.
The ongoing indiscriminate onslaught of Israeli Defence Forces upon Palestinians in the Gaza Strip has drawn rightful condemnation from across the world, with Muslims and non-Muslims together voicing their outrage at the worsening humanitarian crisis in the region. The disproportionate response to rockets fired by Hamas in protest at the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip has resulted in the deaths of several innocent civilians including women and children.
Furthermore, the reluctance of the British government to exert influence over Israel, and her ally the USA, to halt the military action, is eroding the fragile trust in democracy that many Muslims in Britain had started to develop, in particular those vulnerable to indoctrination by those who consider democracy as anti-Islamic.
They are rapidly losing any remaining faith in international laws, painstakingly developed to prevent the very catastrophe that is taking shape in the Gaza Strip. Some may turn to violent terrorism and many more will give up on democracy altogether, imperiling all our hopes for a better future.
Dr Shaaz Mahboob
British Muslims for Secular Democracy,
The horrors perpetrated by the Israeli government and its army in Gaza are long past the point where they can be adequately described or responded to. Added to the already unbearable experience of watching them is our shame that in the UK only Nick Clegg has seen fit to express unequivocal condemnation, our disgust at the shameless ineffectiveness of Mr Blair (what does he do for his huge salary?) and our fear that we, along with our fellow British citizens, will now be viewed, in the distorted perspectives of some Islamic extremists, as fair game in more terrorist attacks.
Words are equally inadequate to convey sufficient admiration for the heroic NGOs and UN staff, whose rage is almost palpable, but who carry on despite their own lives being jeopardised. We also greatly appreciate the icily polite but insistent Channel 4 News reporters who try nightly to confront an Israeli spokesman or woman with the evidence of the latest outrage. Finally, we were pleased to learn from our excellent MP for Hastings and Rye – a moderate and loyal Labour man – that he has written to the Foreign Secretary and to the Attorney General asking them to examine the legality of Israel's actions, warning of our complicity in this and urging an end to the trade of arms to Israel.
Is it too much to hope that every MP does likewise and that, belatedly, our government will take an unambiguous stand, distancing itself once and for all from the moral bankruptcy of President Bush, who has clearly given the green light to the Israeli government to carry on killing indiscriminately up to 20 January?
Gillian, David & Laurence Bargery
St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex
While I do not wish to give Robert Fisk the oxygen of publicity that he so tiresomely craves for his own agenda, I have to say that I found his list of lies fascinatingly selective (7 January).
While I could address all of his assertions, I will restrict myself to antisemitism. If he thinks this is a scandalous lie, he should go and look at some of the graffiti currently being plastered over bus-stops in parts of north-west London, or is he going to tell us that "Jihad 4 Jews", and similar sentiments, are legitimate anti-Zionist statements?
UK ceramics saved for the nation
Janet Street-Porter ("It is potty to lose our true arts heritage," 7 January) points out the difficulties inherent in saving great art for the nation, questioning why Titian's Diana and Actaeon is worthy of a £50m fundraising campaign, while another remarkable part of our culture, the pottery industry, is deemed unworthy of similar investment and is "vanishing into oblivion".
Janet Street-Porter is right to acknowledge that the Art Fund – an independent charity – invests money from our 80,000 members to secure the finest art the world has to offer for the enjoyment of the British public. But this is not just Old Master paintings. Over the past decade, we have also supported UK museums and galleries with more than £1m in grants to buy important ceramic works.
All over the country, you can see Art Funded works that reflect the extraordinary achievements of the British pottery trade that have been acquired with our help. We hope very much that they will inspire future ceramic artists, as she suggests, and help to revive this historic industry.
Director, The Art Fund,
Can I reassure Janet Street-Porter that the London 2012 Organising Committee has not awarded the largest contract for commemorative ceramics for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to China. We have not yet awarded any major contract in respect of ceramics, porcelain or tableware. When we do, it will be issued via our standard "Compete For" procedure which is advertised on our website at www.london2012.com.
The Olympic Delivery Authority, the organisation responsible for delivering the venues and infrastructure for London 2012, has awarded 98 per cent of its contracts to date to UK companies.
Chief Executive, The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Ltd, London E14
Perks for owners of electric cars
Electric and hybrid vehicles no doubt have a large role to play in cutting pollution and, as your report explains, technology is helping to improve vastly their performance ("The electric car that can break the speed limit", 26 December)
But I must point out that Westminster City Council still allows electric vehicles to park free at its parking bays, and it's also free to recharge your vehicle after you pay a small registration fee. Drivers of these environmentally friendly vehicles can also park in prime West End car parks from as a little as £3.85 a week, while ordinary vehicles can cost up to £30 a day.
We already have the largest number of free on-street recharging points in the country, and we are very keen to expand this further. Combined with the recharging points across our 13 car parks, we have a total of 60 points. Westminster has led the way in encouraging a more environmentally friendly way of travelling around our city to help address the well-documented problems with air pollution. But there are also powerful economic arguments for using an electric or hybrid car, scooter or van which I hope will compel even more commuters and companies to follow suit.
Cllr Danny Chalkley
Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport, Westminster City Council
Banks need to keep savers sweet
I, like George Wilson (letters, 10 January), am considering the options for my small savings, acquired through hard work, careful spending and avoidance of debt, when their current fixed-rate terms expire. I, like him, am thinking under the mattress, or the floorboards or perhaps up in the loft. What then for the nation's banks and building societies if he and I and millions like us were to decide to withdraw our deposits because there seemed no point in continuing to invest them? Keep us savers in the equation, Mr King; you run enormous risks if you don't.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
In the matter of saving, the supermarkets could probably help. In the month before Christmas I noticed that my local supermarket offered a savings-stamp scheme whereby for every £49 saved, one £1 stamp was given free – a 2 per cent bonus on every £50 saved over a single month – better than the bank rate, tax-free, and more profitable than putting one's money under the mattress.
Milburn and mobility
Alan Milburn is to study the social mobility we don't have any more. To make it interesting, I suggest he takes a sample of 24-year-olds who left comprehensive schools with a B in art and a D in geography and compare their progress with that of Prince Harry, in whose post-school training and development we have invested an awful lot of money with excellent results.
Water at airports
Your correspondents (letters, 8 & 9 January) would not find a water fountain at Southampton airport either. I had the temerity to ask, and was told firmly: "We don't have any, you can purchase water." Undeterred, I went into the ladies loo to fill my trusty travelling bottle, only to discover that the taps were a single-flow type, and it was therefore impossible to fill the bottle with anything other than warm/hot water. How fiendish is that?
Service with a smile
Like J Hall (letters, 9 January), I have stayed in hotels staffed by foreign nationals doing jobs that, because of poor pay and unsociable hours, Brits don't want. However my experience has been far more positive. I have found them pleasant, always willing to put themselves out to help. Could it be that the service I received was a result of the fact that I didn't look upon them as "Eastern Europeans" or "Africans" but as people doing a hard and unrewarding job in order to make an honest living. Maybe your correspondent should look to his own attitude and he may find that the treatment he gets will improve dramatically.
Three cheers for pub
I would like to thank Wetherspoons for their new prices: a main meal for £2.99, and a pint for 99p. This makes it possible for a pensioner like myself to eat out in a sociable setting. If cheap alcohol is to be criticised (leading article, 6 January) please aim this at the supermarkets that make it possible to buy sufficient alcohol to get well and truly hammered for the amount given a child in weekly pocket money. And unlike the pub, they do nothing for the community.
I can't help but agree with F Garrood (Letters, 9 January). Even before Christmas my local supermarket was shamelessly plugging the wherewithal for Shrove Tuesday. Not just plain flour, but eggs and milk as well. Utterly ridiculous...