Sir: I welcome your acknowledgement of improvements within the NHS as a whole and agree with many of your comments on A&E waiting times (leading article, 8 August). However, you lay blame for the less than immediate treatment of some patients on politicians and NHS managers. While much more needs to be done to improve the NHS, society must play an important role.
You acknowledge that A&E departments are seeing an ever growing number of patients; as an operational paramedic I too have witnessed this phenomenon. We are receiving about 10 per cent more 999 calls each year. The ambulance service, like the wider NHS, has dramatically increased efficiency, which means despite the increased workload we have vastly reduced the time taken to reach patients and improved the treatment they receive. However, if the workload keeps increasing at present trends this improvement will be unsustainable.
I have been called out to such ailments as blisters, flu, stomach aches and headaches. In addition we are ever burdened by very minor mishaps in shopping centres which prompt shop managers to dial 999 in order to prevent negligence litigation, ever prevalent in today's society. Alcohol induced fights, overdoses, suicide attempts and car crashes account for over 33 per cent of all A&E expenditure. These are all avoidable. Is it any wonder many people find themselves waiting for some time to receive treatment?
We are now in a situation where just 10 per cent of all 999 calls are an emergency and the majority of people who attend A&E have had neither accident nor emergency. Unless as a society we employ some sense of resourcefulness instead of impatience and common sense rather than selfishness, the NHS will begin to falter once more.
Understanding the suicide bombers
Sir: In 2002, referring to the despair which drives some Palestinians to become suicide bombers, Cherie Booth QC stated: "As long as you have young people who feel they have no hope but to blow themselves up, you are never going to make progress." Ms Booth also described the desperation of young Palestinians who felt they had no present and "no future".
In making this speech, the Prime Minister's wife was seeking not to justify but to understand suicide bombings. However, in recent weeks her husband has condemned all efforts to understand terrorism on the basis that acts of violence can never be justified.
Tony Blair now wishes to prosecute foreign and British nationals accused of "justifying" terrorist acts carried out at home or abroad. Control orders will be imposed on Britons found guilty of this crime. If Blair's proposed law is to be enforced according to his own definitions, will Cherie herself run the risk of being criminalised?
Sir: Reasonable people refuse to live in awe of the strength of other people's feelings. Beliefs that some people are willing to die for may still be false beliefs. Describing suicide terrorists as "desperate" suggests that somebody must be to blame for causing their desperation, yet nobody is under any real obligation to admit such guilt.
The fact that some Muslims are willing to kill themselves and others in the name of Muslim grievances makes those grievances deserve fair-minded examination but does not make opposing points of view cease to matter. What about Israel's right to survival and security? What about India's point of view on Kashmir and Russia's point of view on Chechnya?
Why should Westerners be blamed for the problems of Muslims everywhere from Bosnia to Mindanao? Why should the West be blamed for the repressiveness of pro-Western Arab regimes if anti-Western Arab regimes are even more repressive? Why should nations threatened by terrorist training camps and by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction not intervene militarily against states that have proved impossible to deal with reasonably?
Since when have minorities in Western democracies deserved to be listened to in proportion to the strength of their anger and not in proportion to their strength in votes? If suicide terrorists are driven by the desire to be remembered as heroes, we are bound to wonder whether they actually are hero-worshipped by many in their community. To what extent Muslim people feel they are at war with the rest of us is a question to which the answer is still unclear, but there must be no taboo against asking it.
Sir: S Abdelhay (letter, 3 August) sees a double standard in defining recent terrorist attacks as "Islamic terror" when IRA attacks weren't called "Catholic terror". But religion had nothing to do with IRA ideology. The organisation was motivated by Irish republicanism. Therefore they were called "Irish republican terrorists" not "Catholic terrorists". Palestinian terrorists are not called "Islamic terrorists" either because they are motivated by Palestinian nationalism not their religion. Al-Qa'ida, on the other hand, is called an "Islamic terrorist" group because it is entirely motivated by an interpretation of Islam. Where is the double standard in that?
Sir: Is it any wonder that members of our Muslim communities should feel aggrieved and alienated when for many years hardline Irish republicans could openly praise members of the IRA who perpetrated atrocities without anyone in government suggesting their praise should be considered as treasonable.
NORTH SHIELDS, TYNE & WEAR
Sir: As Mr Blair has stated, "things are very different now". Before March 2003 and his participation in the illegal invasion of Iraq Mr Blair did not need to scuttle off Saddam-like to an anonymous spider -hole for his summer vacation.
ST LEONARDS-ON-SEA, EAST SUSSEX
Arab society with a pragmatic approach
Sir: Dr Zaki Badawi's suggestion not to wear veils in public is a good one but perhaps doesn't go far enough. Full emancipation for women, including the banning of the hijab, dates back as far as 1956 in Tunisia. The Personal Status Code which brought this about included equality in education, justice, politics and marriage (polygamy and enforced arranged marriages were banned and equality in divorce was introduced).
Tunisia is still the only Arab Muslim country where women enjoy such freedoms and those in all walks of life, including top political and professional posts, have been able to follow their faith without any problems (as have minority Jews and Christians).
A pragmatic approach can sometimes result in more freedoms rather than less in this grey area of what constitutes true democracy, and greater personal safety would certainly result. Perhaps France has headed in the right direction with its schools policy, but here an initiative from the female Muslim community might be more acceptable.
HONORARY CONSUL TUNISIAN CONSULATE ALDERSHOT, HAMPSHIRE
Vandalism against Islam's holy sites
Sir: I would like to thank Daniel Howden ("The Destruction of Mecca", 6 August) for drawing public attention to the state-sanctioned acts of vandalism against the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.
The rulers of Saudi Arabia claim they are the custodians of Islam's holiest shrines. However they are quietly destroying the physical remains of Islam's cultural history. They are applying the strictest rules of behaviour enforced by their religious police, in the name of the narrowest sect of Islam, the Wahhabi. Meanwhile they are destroying the sites that hold deep spiritual meaning and represent the cultural heritage of over a billion Muslims who follow a more diverse and tolerant form of Islam.
This systematic destruction is a clear abuse of power by the Saudi state. As we are monitoring radical and violent trends in mosques in the West, we should not forget the dangerous orthodoxy controlling the cradle of Islam.
DR MAI YAMANI
RESEARCH FELLOW CHATHAM HOUSE LONDON SW1
How our war ended with an atrocity
Sir: Sixty years ago I was in Lockerbie learning how to set a minefield and defuse Japanese mines when we heard the news on the wireless that an atomic device had been used against Japan.
We were stunned. We had read in Amazing Science Fiction of these bombs and were horrified that such a thing should have been employed. It wasn't until later that we knew that we should not have to fight in Japan.
Some have said that it saved a million lives. I do not know whether or not that was so. As one of that million, I know that we were never asked. But I get very angry when fools suggest that this atrocity was justified.
Oil price has a green lesson for Brown
Sir: Rising oil prices show just how important it is to use energy much more efficiently. The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, can help us move in this direction by using his pre-budget this autumn to make energy efficiency more attractive for individuals and business.
A zero-rated tax disc for the cleanest cars and higher rates for gas-guzzlers would give people an incentive to buy greener cars. And Mr Brown could introduce a windfall tax on oil companies' colossal profits, and use the revenue to pay for renewable technologies and decent alternatives to motoring.
Such measures would help tackle climate change as well as reduce our dependence on volatile oil supplies.
ECONOMICS CAMPAIGNER, FRIENDS OF THE EARTH, LONDON N1
Sir: Michael Petek (letter, 9 August) makes a good joke by wondering who's robbing whom when oil is $60 a barrel. But beware, behind this statement is the nub of the problem of our perceptions.
We in the West have always regarded the globe's resources as ours of right. We called it the British Empire and I'm not sure what George Bush calls the present American imperialism. Particularly in the USA, home of rampant capitalism, there is no right of complaint when market forces work against you, and for certain it is no pretext for war.
Given our attitudes, past and present, the only wonder is that organised Middle-East militancy did not surface forcefully decades ago.
HORSHAM, WEST SUSSEX
The victims of late pub opening hours
Sir: Your leading article of 6 August applauds extending pub closing times by an hour. However residents living on the homeward paths of drunken revellers may not share your enthusiasm.
They already suffer alcohol-related noise, disturbance, crime and disorder late at night and now, as a result of the Licensing Act 2003, their sleep will be broken even later. The same shouting, swearing, screaming and fighting will go on just the same but even later. The streets will still be strewn with vomit, stink of urine and be littered with takeaways, and the cars will still be vandalised.
I can understand the drinkers wanting to drink later and the pubs wanting to sell more alcohol, but I can't understand how a government apparently obsessed with being fair to minority groups can be so blatantly unfair to residents living near pubs, bars, restaurants and clubs.
Sir: While I understand the intention of the warnings under your Sudoku grids (letters; 4, 5 August), I am confused by the inclusion of "yesterday's solutions". The solution of Sudoku is not where the numbers end up but the logic by which it is solved, which cannot be deduced from the final grid. It is like trying to pass a maths exam by giving only the final answer instead of showing your working.
Bin Laden's peace
Sir: I read with interest your headline "We would have made more progress against terrorism if we had brought peace to Palestine rather than war to Iraq" (8 August). A negotiated settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians is indeed of the utmost importance. However, I believe it is naive to think that a two-state solution giving sovereignty to a Palestinian state alongside Israel will have much effect on al- Qa'ida's terror campaign against the West. Does anyone truly believe that al-Qa'ida will rest while "a Zionist entity" still exists in the Middle East?
NICOLAS BERKOWITZ WERNER
Blair snub to Cook
Sir: Tony Blair is not intending to attend Robin Cook's funeral. A perfect example of Mr Blair's narrowness of mind - and in sharp contrast to Robin Cook, who seems to have harboured no bitterness at the shoddy treatment he received at the hands of Mr Blair. Of course, there should not be any surprise at this: it is an entirely appropriate reaction from a mendacious and callous politician such as Mr Blair. However, even if Mr Blair will not miss Mr Cook's integrity, decency and humanity, many others, myself included, will.
Surviving a cycle crash
Sir: Do I detect a certain bravado in Rob McIvor's letter (8 August)? Whilst I agree heeding traffic law is a must, it must also be in all road users' interests for cyclists to wear properly designed helmets (and also gloves and high-visibility clothing). To write them off as "pointless" is dangerously irresponsible. From someone who had a nasty fall from a bike and avoided a head injury because I had a piece of that "plastic" on my head.
Sir: So, "only villains smoke in Hollywood" (9 August). Nothing new there, then. Jerome K Jerome wrote in Stage-Land (1889) that "on the stage a cigarette is always the badge of infamy".