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Friday 25 July 2008
Letters: War crimes
Karadzic will face tribunal, but what of the other leaders?
The media circus over the capture of Radovan Karadzic has little to do with any notion of "justice" for his victims. Rather it is a continuation of the simplistic myth, peddled by Western leaders and the media through the Nineties, that the disintegration of Yugoslavia was the result of ancient ethnic hatreds and that the Serbs were the chief aggressors in the break-up.
The portrayal of the Balkan tragedy in terms of "goodies" and "baddies" disguised the West's own role in the break-up of Yugoslavia and made Western military intervention there much easier to sell to the people of Europe and America. It also made Western relations with the newly created republics of the region in the post-war period a lot more simple.
The disintegration of Yugoslavia was bloody and all sections of Yugoslavia's multi-ethnic population suffered pogroms and ethnic cleansing but, while the "international community" hunted for Serb war criminals, it supported the likes of Croatia's notorious President, Franjo Tudjman. He had the blood of 20,000 Croatian Serbs on his hands and had overseen the ethnic cleansing of 275,000 Croatian Serbs in the Krajina, but he was not troubled by the prospect of a tribunal in The Hague. Karadzic's arrest also provides an excellent opportunity for those who supported the West's war on Serbia, and who continue to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to rehabilitate the discredited doctrine of "humanitarian intervention".
Karadzic will probably be brought before a tribunal in The Hague to answer for the deaths of the 12,000 in Sarajevo and the 7,500 Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica. But the idea of bringing George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, or Tony Blair before a UN tribunal to answer for the deaths of 100,000 Iraqis or, for turning Afghanistan into an abattoir, is absurd.
Pitfalls of Labour's workfare scheme
As a university lecturer in social policy for 25 years, I studied workfare schemes in several countries (letters, 24 July). I spent a year in the USA as a visiting professor and the schemes there seem to be the main influence on Labour's Green Paper.
The overwhelming conclusion of the studies are, yes, the numbers on benefit were brought down but the major effect was to shift people in poverty on benefit into being in poverty in work. For single mothers, there was also a deterioration in their quality of life because they often had to get up at 5am to drag their children to day-care, drag themselves to work in low-paid jobs then back to pick up their children.
This scheme could not be launched at a worse time, when we are about to enter the deepest recession since 1929. Unemployment is going to rise sharply, so where are all these jobs coming from, or are the unemployed to be forced into menial tasks wearing yellow jackets like criminals doing community service?
There are alternative strategies. In Denmark, you get 80 per cent of your previous income on social security, you have universal and affordable childcare, excellent vocational education and free higher education with full grants.
The result is low levels of unemployment and high wages with a minimum wage of £10 an hour and only 2 per cent of children in poverty compared to 25 per cent in Scotland. It is funded by progressive taxation, including 67 per cent on the rich.
CABx threatened by new centres
Carolyn Regan's letter (17 July) attempting to justify integrated commissioning of community legal advice centres is disingenuous. Access to legal aid has already been severely restricted. Those who do not qualify for legal aid cannot be dealt with in the proposed centres and will have to be referred elsewhere. Far from enhancing access to advice, the impact of the proposed changes will be to reduce the help available to most of those who use Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABx).
The joint contract will destabilise the already fragile funding base of many CABx. It will adversely affect the voluntary help at the heart of local CABx and will be very much more costly to run. The knock-on effect for local communities will be even more costly when people unable to access help are thrown back on statutory welfare services already under severe pressure.
It would be a tragedy if, in pursuit of administrative tidiness, we were to lose the unique non-stigmatising service CABx have offered for more than 65 years.
Flaw in the speed camera argument
Mr Bridgstock claims that speed cameras are based on a flawed concept (letters, 21 July), but his argument is based on the logical flaw that, because a rule does not have the desired outcome in every case, it is not worth having the rule. But, apart from that, he ignores a reason for speed limits in built-up areas: noise.
Even if it were safe to drive through the village where I live at more than 50mph (which it manifestly is not), I should still want the speed limit enforced, because a car travelling at 56mph makes 10 times as much noise as a car travelling at 31 mph. The only effective way of achieving this is average-speed cameras, as used in Nottinghamshire. These also avoid the problem of sudden braking at single cameras.
Schools may be cause of crime
The increase in violent crime among the young may be at least partly related to the Government's schools policy. Most of the perpetrators of knife attacks appear to have significant special educational needs which have not been detected, or addressed, by their schools.
Having worked in the system for 30 years, I have repeatedly seen headteachers siphon money from the neediest children to increase provision for the "below average" students, where an improvement in grades can do wonders for the school's league-table position. The weakest children are often sidelined, follow an unsuitable curriculum and are given poorly qualified assistants instead of specialist teachers.
They end up leaving school with no skills, no ambition and a history of disruption, truancy and exclusion. If you want to get tough with the causes of crime, start right here.
Tax young drinkers into the pubs
There seem to be fundamental misunderstandings in the government's attitude to drinking (Extra, 24 July). Brown sticks 5p on a pint of beer. That's a captive market: people in the pub for a quiet pint or two will grumble, and still pay.
But a three-litre bottle of chemical cider with an ABV of 7.5 still costs £2.99, about the same price as a pint of beer at about 3.8 ABV. So your price/alcohol ratio is about 10.5 to 1.
The bloke who has a couple of pints usually goes home afterwards; youngsters start with booze from an off-licence, partly because booze is a lot cheaper than it is in clubs and bars, so clubs and bars offer a cheap-drink happy hour.
Why not tax off-sales heavily to drive the price up, thus forcing youngsters into the more controlled environment of the pub, and enforce the law barring alcohol to people who appear drunk? If you add the responsibility of making sure that youngsters drink more sensibly to the publican's burden, we might see the end of alcopop races and drinking games.
'Lost' centuries of the arts
Obviously, as ex-director of the Poetry Society, Christina Patterson has a more than passing interest in any discussion of contemporary poetry, and I much enjoyed her football analogy when talking about Joanna Lumley's "attack" on it as either obscure or self-indulgent (23 July).
Liz Cowley, author of the book to which Ms Lumley wrote the contentious introduction, is quoted as saying in agreement, "With rare exceptions, I stopped enjoying poetry written any time after the 18th century". Would either or both of them have no music after Mozart? No plays after Sheridan? No painting after Gainsborough? Probably not.
Palestinians have their rights, too
In Lior Ben-Dor's haste to rebut the idea that Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is apart-heid [letters, 22 July], he conveniently forgets to mention another important piece of historical context and background: Palestinians also have a historical and legitimate connection to the land currently dominated by Israel's vastly superior military and economic power.
The embassy letter is a classic piece of diplomatic dissembling which ignores the grievances that drive the problem he deplores. How many Palestinians have been killed, wounded or displaced in the process of establishing and securing the State of Israel? He does not tell us.
The ideological roots of the segregation being practised by Israel may be different to those which led to apartheid in South Africa, but their effect is the same, which is why Donald Macintyre described it as "like" apartheid. He was quite correct to do so.
Lior Ben-dor may well be upset by Donald Macintyre's comparison of apartheid conditions in occupied Palestine and South Africa (letters, 22 July], but then the truth is often painful to face.
I have recently twice visited the West Bank and have seen many of the conditions so graphically described, the endless petty restrictions, the daily humiliations, the 607 roadblocks, the racist planning and housing policies. Little of this has anything to do with the "security measures" that Ben-Dor claims are a necessary response to constant threats.
Most are simply spiteful actions intended to make life difficult for the Palestinians and to demonstrate Israeli power. Here, there are indeed parallels with the behaviour of the South African apartheid regime.
Norton-on-Derwent, North Yorkshire
I had to write in about Alex Hogg's assertion that Israel's Arab citizens are confined to 8 per cent of the surface area because the other 92 peer cent is reserved by a veil of corporate ownership for Jews only (letters, 23 July).
The fact is that Arabs, who form about 20 per cent of Israel's population are confined to about 3 per cent of the surface area because about 5 per cent of the land is uninhabitable, especially as Arabs tend not to get the grants to "make the desert green again".
Yes, Arabs can apply to Israel's Supreme Court if they want to live on otherwise Arabrein land. But imagine the outcry if the only way British Jews were allowed to live in London was if they applied to the courts while the racially or ethno-religiously acceptable simply had to meet the rent or purchase price?
It's still bigotry
Adrian West objects to Lillian Ladele being labelled "homophobic", because her homophobia is based on "sincerely held" religious beliefs (letters, 22 July). It is precisely this privilege of religious belief that is problematic. Beliefs are usually "sincerely held" whether they are religious or not, and bigotry should be no more respectable when it is motivated by religious rather than secular beliefs.
Prison is no answer
It is ironic that the taxpayer will have a bill for the incarceration of the Darwins (reports, 24 July) which will be at least as great as their ill-gotten gains. Realistically, this wretched couple present no threat to society and yet our judiciary consider that prison is the appropriate place for them rather than, for example, a hefty community service order. And we wonder why our prisons are overcrowded. It is a shame that Johann Hari (Comment, 24 July) was not sitting in judgement on them. His sentencing would have been far better thought out.
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
I enjoyed Jonathan Gibbs' "All the World's a Crime Scene" (22 July) and was pleased to see that Scandinavian writers made the cut. But he got one location wrong: Kerstin Ekman is one of Sweden's leading writers, and not only in the crime genre, so it is a shame to see her placed on your map somewhere in the middle of northern Finland. Her gripping novel Blackwater is set in Sweden, closer to the Norwegian border.
When Balls was told
In the Ed Balls interview ("SATs? It's gas prices that could wreck Brown's autumn, warns his great ally", 23 July), he claims that the first he and his department heard of the ETS SATs marking fiasco was at the beginning of July. Markers and supervisors were banging their collective heads against walls in May, and made certain the powers-that-be knew about their frustrations. I should know, my mother was a marker and, among the people she wrote to about the chaos before the end of May, was the Rt Hon Ed Balls MP.
Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Walk on the mild side
Julie Ives (letters, 21 July) raises fears that the authorities would stop our bus passes if they knew of all the over-age sex that went on. It could be no bad thing. It would cut down the activities of the over-active, ageing lotharios if they had to walk to their assignations.
Martin Mottram (letters, 22 July) has indicated his displeasure at some of your columnists' minimal use of punctuation, but you bring in another issue with the use of a US English term "Period" in the headline. Please desist. Full stop.
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