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Saturday 15 April 2006
Letters: Tourism in Iran
Tourists find only smiles and friendly invitations in Iran
Sir: We are just back from two weeks in Iran. Nowhere have we felt safer or more welcome. Iranian people, who have enough reason to be resentful of the British, were open and smiling, so smiling, in cities and in small, provincial towns such as Takab. The women and girls were as often as not the first to approach, wanting to talk.
We talked in the streets, the squares, the teahouses, in the bazaars and the restaurants. As strangers, we were invited to join a picnic, one of the hundreds out for the last day of Nu Ruz on the green banks of the Zayandeh River in Ishfahan. The hubble-bubble went round among us blokes and no bring-your-own-mouthpiece nonsense. From our solitary table in the Resturon Parsia there we were drawn affectionately into the wedding reception, all a-buzz, at the other 20 tables.
There was never anywhere any hint of aggression, just calm discussion, in bits of English, even smaller bits of Farsi, about Iran's right to nuclear power, an equally rational distrust of countries that slaughter civilians in Iraq and incarcerate men in Guantanamo.
But Iranians are just as critical of their own leaders; one young bookshop owner said, loud and clear: "We hate our government, but what can we do?" And there seems to be a quiet revolution going on among the women; in Tehran and Esfahan, the hijab seems to be getting skimpier and curvier, and more and more hair is showing. The hijab can look more than a little fetching.
We did dutifully see a mosque or two, got half-drowned at Persepolis and frozen at the Towers of Silence. But what mattered were the people, those smiling, smiling faces, that beautiful, slow Iranian gesture of farewell.
ANN AND LESLIE WALTON
RAF doctor's judgement flawed
Sir: When we invaded Iraq I was a serving officer in the Ministry of Defence. I am also an academic international lawyer who chaired the editorial board of the UK's official Law of Armed Conflict Manual. Despite my "Establishment" background, I was opposed to the war on strategic grounds and have always been seriously concerned about its legality. Like Flight-Lieutenant Kendall-Smith, I have studied Lord Goldsmith's advice to the Prime Minister. I believe that advice was seriously flawed.
Given my position, I might be expected to deplore Kendall-Smith's conviction and the sentence imposed at his court martial. Far from it. He was justly convicted of the charges brought against him and the sentence was fair.
The judge and the officers who served on the court martial board were quite correctly concerned with the offences Kendall-Smith was alleged to have committed at the time he committed them; the legality of the invasion was utterly irrelevant to the charges he faced.
It may disappoint many - and it may be politically inconvenient for them that I should say that - but it is a fact, and one of which Kendall-Smith's lawyers should have been cognisant.
It serves no legitimate purpose to deliver the sort of ill-informed personal abuse that Matthew Norman used (Comment, 14 April) when he attacked Judge Bayliss for the manner in which he conducted the trial. There were other, more honourable, courses of action that Kendall-Smith could have chosen and which would not have resulted in him languishing in prison.
His position today is a result of his own flawed judgement, not that of either the judge or the court-martial board members.
DR STEVEN HAINES
HEAD OF DEPARTMENT, POLITICS AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, ROYAL HOLLOWAY COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON
Sir: How dispiriting, and how familiar, is the poverty of thought in the Assistant Judge Advocate's comments. What many would find to be exemplary moral courage is dismissed without evidence as amazing arrogance, but more significant are the remarks that, "Obedience of orders is at the heart of any disciplined force. Refusal to obey orders means the force is not a disciplined force but a rabble. Those who wear the Queen's uniform cannot pick and choose which orders to obey".
Others will have pointed out how poorly this would have gone down at Nuremberg, but what is so depressing is the thought process, the lack of fit between the general sentiment which we may all agree with, and the particular case that it fails so singularly to apply to.
Having a serious moral problem about a particular set of orders hardly amounts to picking and choosing and nor does a strong sense of justice turn a disciplined force into a rabble. In fact, rather the contrary.
HEAD OF DEPARTMENT, DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY, UNIVERSITY OF LIVERPOOL
Sir: Flt-Lt Kendall-Smith is not a war criminal, but a war hero. He said what many people around the world were saying, that the Iraq war was illegal. If there were more military personnel like him, then the world would be a safer place.
Why should these men and women sacrifice their lives for an American President and dupes of British and Australian Prime Ministers who told lies about WMDs so they could trigger a war.
Let's hope Kendall-Smith wins his appeal ; if he doesn't he has shown great courage in what he did and anyone who is likely to employ him in the future will know they have a doctor of great integrity.
PUNCHBOWL, NSW, AUSTRALIA
Sir: Flt-Lt Kendall-Smith's objection to service in Iraq is not even intelligible. He was not a combatant sent to kill and maim, but a doctor sent to heal the sick and wounded. These might even have included Iraqi civilians, as well as captured insurgents whose activities he must logically judge to be lawful and good.
Military training an asset in business
Sir: Janet Street-Porter's rather trite piece ("What a silly way to train a prince", 13 April) was annoying. Apart from its many unsubstantiated assertions about the character, intelligence or mental balance of various members of the Royal Family, Ms Street-Porter tells her readers that military training is a silly way to train anyone.
First, all Army officers are trained at Sandhurst, not only the richest or most blue-blooded, as implied by her description of it as a "top-drawer establishment". And if it is such a good establishment, why is she railing against its training?
Second, since many of the best-run companies use military techniques to improve the leadership and management of their executives, it seems strange for Ms Street-Porter to denigrate the idea of military training. I can't think why she chose Rocco Forte or Richard Branson as her paradigms for effective training, but it is just as likely that their organisations will choose a military-style weekend to bring their managers up to scratch.
Finally, I hold no brief for Army officers in particular; I am an officer in the Royal Air Force.
C M I BARKER
Janet Street-Porter seems to be rather confused about Prince Harry and his training at Sandhurst. Since we are constantly being told that what our society needs most is leadership, it seems fairly sensible that the two princes should learn something about the art at an academy whose raison d'être is just that.
And the focus of much of that training and education is a set of values which is similarly worthwhile. I would have thought a touch of selfless commitment, courage, discipline, integrity, loyalty and respect for others might go a long way, whatever the trainee's background or prospects.
The Army has no monopoly on virtue but its training and values are entirely transferable to civilian life. Perhaps Janet Street-Porter would like to visit Sandhurst and see this for herself. She would be most welcome, provided she left her prejudices at home.
MAJOR-GENERAL, COMMANDANT, THE ROYAL MILITARY ACADEMY SANDHURST, CAMBERLEY, SURREY
The history of Sinn Fein MPs
Sir: Gerry Adams was not "the first Sinn Fein MP to be elected to the House of Commons since 1918" when he took West Belfast in 1983 (10 April). Two Sinn Fein MPs were elected to Westminster at the 1955 General Election, in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Mid-Ulster. Both were serving prison terms for a raid on the depot of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at Omagh the previous year. They were disqualified because they were felons.
In Mid-Ulster, the same Sinn Fein candidate was re-elected at the by-election, but was again unseated after an petition brought by the unionists. Not that the victorious unionist saw much of the Commons; he too was disqualified six months later when he was found to hold an office of profit under the Crown.
CONSERVATIVE RESEARCH DEPARTMENT, LONDON SW1
Sir: In an otherwise admirable article Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 11 April) got one thing wrong. When Blair says "I acted in good faith" it does not mean "I'm not a liar" it means the exact opposite: "I am a liar (but I had to)". Alternatively it means "I was completely hoodwinked but I am not going to admit it."
New 'Old Europe'
Sir: France, Italy and Germany, "Old Europe", is on the receiving end of lecturing from the pulpits of globalised capitalism whose agenda, it is implied, should be beyond challenge. I do not recall this agenda appearing in any election manifesto. Were it to have been spelt out before implementation it would have proved a vote-loser. But globalisation is now so well entrenched it is difficult to imagine practical alternatives. But such an act of the imagination should be made. One of the attractions of the European Union ought to be the fact that if individual nations cannot step outside globalisation, a powerful group of nations could at least challenge its discontents.
THORNTON CLEVELEYS, LANCASHIRE
Sir: Culling grey squirrels is not going to save the red (Red Alert, 10 April). As long as humans destroy the ecological niche of the red squirrel, the species will always struggle to survive. Reds spend more of their time in the trees, forage over a wider area and find it more difficult to digest acorns than greys do. These factors mean they occupy a different niche from their American cousin. The only sustainable way to save the red is to repair its ecological habitat, replanting vast areas of coniferous woodland.
Sir: Peter Lewis believes there is a Male Nipple Mystery (Letters, 13 June). There is no mystery. For engineering problems, a basic platform is first produced. This platform is then configured to meet the end product requirements. For the human body, the basic platform contains nipples. The switch to configure sexual characteristics occurs two months after conception. If the basic platform did not contain nipples and the end product was female, it would be difficult for nature to reverse engineer the system to insert nipples. Perhaps Mr Lewis should visit the Science Museum.
C ENG, PETERBOROUGH
Sir: One way for teachers to show respect to pupils (Letters, 13 April) is to call them children instead of kids. I bet the boys at Eton are not called kids.
WIGSTON MAGNA LEICESTERSHIRE
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