Letters: Turkish repression

Turkish repression of the Kurds bodes ill for EU membership
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The Independent Online

Sir: In your front page article (1 October) amongst other reasons as to "Why Europe should embrace its Muslim neighbour", we are informed that "today's Turkey, a Nato stalwart, lends credibility to the notion of a European defence force". But, in ethical terms, what type of credibility is this? Turkey's armed forces were implicated in "actions" against Kurdish communities during the 1990s that many have defined as being clearly genocidal in nature and scope. Yet, there have been no war crimes or genocide trials to hold members of the armed forces to account.

Many of the people implicated in genocidal actions and war crimes are still very much part of the Turkish armed forces structure. In thinking about the "credibility" of a European defence force, should we not first consider whether any of these "elements" will form part of the envisaged "defence force"?

Over 3,000 villages were destroyed during the 1990s, thousands of people were murdered by state-inspired death squads that derived covert support from sections of the armed forces, and over three million Kurds were forcibly displaced. It is unfortunate that the Kurdish "genocide" issue hasn't even apparently been debated by EU ministers during accession negotiations. Nor does it seem to be reflected upon by the media here, even "on the eve of crisis talks over Turkey's bid to join the EU".



Sir: Your front page article (1 October) praises the liberal policies of the Ottoman Empire towards its religious minorities. It is absolutely true that, in its heyday, the Ottoman Empire was truly enlightened in its treatment of its minorities. This, however, could not be said of the Ottoman Empire in its final phases. One has only to think of the Armenian genocide during the First World War, which, to this day, the Turkish state adamantly denies ever took place.

Up until the present time in Turkey, despite constitutional guarantees of religious liberty, the tiny residual Christian community is subjected to considerable discrimination and restrictions. Just one example is the closure by the Turkish authorities of the Greek Orthodox Theological School of Halki in 1971, making it well-nigh impossible for Greek Orthodox parishes to continue functioning, since no new priests are being trained.

Until the Turkish government faces up to its past and ceases its persecution of religious minorities, it is not ready to enter Europe.



After Bali, again the question is: why?

Sir: Another bombing in Bali, Indonesia, one more attack on Western tourists in the Muslim world and the media and government here in the West are left scratching their heads again asking why.

Although killing of innocent civilians cannot be justified, whether by indiscriminate cluster bombs or suicide bombs, we can still look at the aims of such Islamic Jihad movements and ask why the west has gone wrong in handling their complaints in the past. Why are they resorting to such extreme measures now?

Look at almost any major Muslim country - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Algeria - and what do Muslims see? Suppression of legitimate Islamic dissent that often leads to imprisonment, torture and death. The Western powers support these governments.

A peaceful protest against the corrupt behaviour of western tourists would be met with police brutality and possibly much worse. When such oppressive secular governments meet legitimate Islamic political dissent with such evil acts, all with a nod and wink from their Western backers, then this will force some people into more extreme forms of trying to change what they see as being wrong in their own societies.

None of this justifies killing innocent civilians ... that is rightly condemned in Islam. But I would hope that when so many untold thousands have been tortured and killed for speaking peacefully, when political parties are banned for having an Islamic reform agenda, all with Western backing, then the West should understand why some Muslims will make the wrong choice in feeling they have no option but to take more extreme measures.



Sir: I watched with horror as more terrorist explosions are reported on Bali and then waited for the efforts to explain the causes and "justify" Islamic concerns in articles and editorials and letters pages.

When will reality hit home? This spate of terrorist attacks by " fundamentalist" Islamic groups has one aim - to destabilise western democracy and lifestyles as a means of re-establishing an Islamic hold on the peoples of the world. Using the same Koran that "moderate" muslims pore over they justify terror and stifle what little debate does go on in Islamic circles.

Islamic terrorism will not be successfully tackled until Muslims tackle the basis of their beliefs and the terrors contained therein. I have lived my 52 years as a white male and shouldn't feel threatened, but as a gay atheist democrat I have often felt very threatened by even the most "moderate" Muslim because of the inherent threat contained in their beliefs against not only my sexuality and heresy but also for their stance on women's and individual rights.



Sir: As a British Muslim I welcome the list of grounds for deporting people who foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence published by the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke. The Government is, at last, beginning to grasp that most British people wish the Government to take action against the perpetrators of terrorism; this overwhelming majority includes British Muslims.

The civil rights argument sponsored by liberals from their safe dens in Shropshire and the lawyers who profit from promoting civil rights simply do not resonate with those of us who live and have to travel in the densely populated areas of Great Britain. Those savagely killed have lost their civil rights and are no longer customers for the lawyers. The Government must act to preserve the majority.

At the moment there is no challenge to the outbursts of fringe Muslim fanatics. These brainwashed youngsters seem to believe that random mayhem will serve to promote Islam. There needs to be a strategy to combat terrorists who are, whatever they may believe, ignorant of Islam.

It also needs to be said that there are many problems within the Muslim world, such as the situations in Iraq and Palestine, but these are territorial and political not religious. They will never be solved by emotional reactions but only by deep thought. Mr Blair should struggle to urge Mr Sharon to work with him to find a way forward to resolve the situation in the Holy Land. Mr Blair also has a unique relationship with Mr Bush and this needs to be developed to find a way to bring peace to the troubled land of Iraq.



Concern for welfare of game pheasants

Sir: The suggestion by Mark Richards that 35 million pheasants are factory farmed to be shot and then half of these "may be left to rot in specially dug pits" is scandalous (letter, 3 October). There is simply no evidence of burying birds. Game is the only meat product to record double-figure growth over the last four years.

The emotive and incorrect reference to millions of birds being subjected to "freakish masks" and "tiny cages" is untrue and contributes nothing to the ongoing sensible animal welfare debate. Game farmers, independent vets and Defra officials are closely involved in discussing the existing code of practice for game rearing. Despite the best efforts of animal rights activists, the Government has already made its feelings known regarding this latest attempt to smear a legitimate and well-run activity.



Sir: If the idea of farmed game birds troubles Mark Richards perhaps he would like to compare their life cycles to those of broiler chickens, millions of which are purchased daily from our supermarkets; a pheasant may live for six months, of which two weeks maximum are spent indoors, while the chicken may have six weeks, all of them spent indoors. Which is more problematic in terms of animal welfare and even the health of the humans who eat such creatures?

My husband "beats" on several local shoots and says it would be extremely rare for an injured bird not to be retrieved by the dogs trained for that purpose and then killed.

It may also interest Mr Richards to know that my husband often returns from shoots saying that the "guns" were so hopeless that more than half the birds got away, probably to strut across the road into a passing car driven by an anti-bloodsports campaigner. Such is life.



Sir: In his diatribe against pheasant shooting, Mark Richards complains, "Dead birds may be left to rot in specially dug pits." Has Mr Richards not noticed that some dead people are left to rot in specially dug pits? It is often referred to as Christian burial.



Wolfgang's right to protest

Sir: Dr M Schachter (letter, 31 September) casts some doubt on Walter Wolfgang's loyalties to this country following his well-publicised minor heckling.

What differentiates our values from that of the Nazis whom Mr Wolfgang fled is that we do not relate a person's right to protest and express a difference of opinion to their background. Freedom of speech for all persons is a fundamental right and Walter owes us no debt as such for compassion and civilised behaviour.

As a descendent of Indian immigrants to the UK, who had experienced the rather different flavour of British colonialism, my loyalties lie with the recognition of these freedoms rather than in adopting a stance of unquestioning gratitude to the state. The spectacle of Mr Wolfgang being bundled from the conference room with only Mr Forrest daring to come to his aid is a humiliation for all of us.



Sir: In 1951 I attended a Conservative public meeting in a small Suffolk town prior to the general election of that year. I was 13 at the time. At the end of the meeting a Communist local councillor was escorted out as he had asked several hostile questions. As a naive youngster I thought that the local Tories were very intolerant.

Fifty years later an elderly Labour Party member is ejected from the conference of his own party for expressing mild dissent. The concept of democratic expression has certainly developed a lot in my lifetime.



Sir: At a Labour Party rally in Liverpool in 1964, I saw a protester being violently ejected for calling Harold Wilson a "Yankee puppet". Perhaps Anthony Lipmann (letter, 3 October) can be consoled by the knowledge that the slow slide into totalitarianism started a lot earlier than he imagined.



Flying the flag for Europe

Sir: Pandora's item "Last flutter for Westminster's EU flag" raises interesting points. The EU flag is not a national flag, but two or three years ago the Government ordained that it was to be "treated as a national flag".

It is wrong to say that "all flags ... must be OK'd by local authorities ". Local planners can only control flags flown for commercial advertising purposes, and flagpoles which might be dangerous to the public, such as those close to roads. Virtually any other flag - club, civic, personal and others, - can be flown without permission.



Lawful democracy

Sir: Congratulations to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams on saying (Podium, 3 October): "We have to introduce into our discussion the idea of 'lawful' democracy; democratic institutions that earn credibility not just by corresponding to 'popular will' but by placing themselves under law." But surely he is talking about Britain as well as Iraq.



Repentant king

Sir: David Simmonds asks "Why anyone would want to claim King David as their own," citing David's "securing the death of Uriah the Hittite in order to marry his widow, Bathsheba" (Letters, 3 October). How about because when subsequently confronted by Nathan, who speaks truth to power and calls the King to account over his misdeed, David doesn't have the prophet bounced out of court, or say "Hey, I wasn't there", or otherwise spin the sin; rather he owns up and confesses, "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:13). A repentant leader - now there's a thought.




Sir: In his recent conference speech Tony Blair said: "Nations aren't built by dreamers. They rise by the patient courage of the change-makers. That what we have been in New Labour. The change-makers." He was certainly right about that. He has changed Labour from a party with 400,000 members to one with under 200,000.



Scotland and England

Sir: Whilst I acknowledge the existence of racism against the Scots how does Jane Hutchings (Letters, 28 September) feel about the "rampant racism" against the people of England inherent in our lack of political representation compared to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? England is now the only part of the UK which is solely and directly governed by the Westminster Parliament with its grossly unfair "first past the post" electoral system. This lack of devolution for England is responsible for such injustices as the "West Lothian Question", the Barnett Formula, student fees and foundation hospitals.



Sacrosanct spellings

Sir: No doubt Dr John Coleman has a point (letter: "Simpler spelling inevitable", 29 September) but I refuse to sit on my ass while typing this letter.