Letters: Why Blair opposes withdrawal

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The Independent Online

Sir: In his otherwise interesting Opinion piece (28 July), Douglas Hurd repeated a tired old piece of propaganda: "There is no case for immediate withdrawal of British and American troops."

British and US politicians seemingly never tire of repeating this nonsense. The fact is that coalition troops make the situation worse in Iraq every day. It is also true that Sunnis and Shia got along without major problems before the invasion; the communities are intermarried and were certainly not at each others' throats before the US interim administration under Paul Bremer began to use "divide and rule" as a tactic to govern the country.

The way to put a stop to this is to immediately withdraw all foreign troops. US and UK politicians claim there would be civil strife if troops were withdrawn, but this is not the real reason for their objections. They have shown us that they place little value on Iraqi lives, and civil strife would not bother them in the slightest. Their problem is that they want a pliable puppet regime in Baghdad, and they know that immediate withdrawal will undermine that aim.

As usual, our politicians are incapable of expressing their real motivations for their actions but hide them under the pretence of caring about human rights.



Sir: Douglas Hurd is to be congratulated on his lucid and realistic appraisal of the causes behind the London bombings. To argue that they have nothing to do with the illegal invasion of Iraq and the 100,000 deaths there seems ludicrous and insulting.

Tony Blair's assertion that to draw this connection somehow plays into the terrorists' hands is a pathetic attempt to cow opposition. Millions of us marched against his policies and said that perpetrating such loss of life in Iraq would not make our streets safer. Our own intelligence services said the same thing.

What is wicked though is the attempt by Blair to demonise a minority of the British population in order to save his own political skin. The acts of the bombers were political acts. Obliquely accusing an ethnic minority by dint of their religion of somehow being complicit in these criminal acts is a dangerous game. I hope for all our sakes that the British public sees through Blair's deception and that we continue to stand together.



Sir: After accusing Tony Blair of appeasement, your correspondents have responded rather naively by calling for a policy of withdrawal from Iraq (letters, 27 July). If the 7 July massacres were caused by anger over Iraq, then any pullback of troops would surely represent the most shameful appeasement possible. Such a spineless policy would only embolden a new generation of Islamic terrorists who would be tempted to bomb us out of Afghanistan as well.

Before contemplating such a feeble policy of capitulation, it is helpful to remember what happened in Spain after the Madrid bombings. After pulling its troops out of Iraq, Spanish police uncovered evidence of further terror plots from Islamic extremists and there is little doubt that the same thing would happen here. The terrorists of 7 July, like those of 9/11, were not political protesters but religious fanatics animated by a deranged cult of death and martyrdom. As Tony Blair has said, there are some ideologies with which there can be no reasonable accommodation.



Why dyslexia often goes undiagnosed

Sir: In his letter of 21 July, Jeremy Axleus talks of the massive discrepancy between privately educated children diagnosed with dyslexia (22 per cent) contrasted to those in state schools (only 2 per cent). His rather simplistic explanation of these alarming statistics is that middle-class parents have latched onto the bonus of extra time their dyslexic children can receive for examinations.

I believe it is in fact a reflection on an education system which neglects to diagnose so many special needs children in schools. As a parent of a child with a statement of special educational needs, I know exactly how much time, perseverance and fight it took to get through this antiquated system to receive the help he so needs. I fear there must be huge numbers of undiagnosed children with moderate to complex needs receiving no additional help in the classroom.

Do not smirk with scepticism at the parents who have successfully won this battle for their children, but look more closely at the system that allows children with special needs in all schools to escape diagnosis.



The ultimate green product: breast milk

Sir: I was surprised and dismayed by the inclusion of a recommendation for Hipp Organic First Infant Milk in the article, "The 50 best green baby products" (30 July). The aggressive marketing of formula milk is a major contributor to the UK's low breastfeeding rates: 25 per cent at four months, compared to 90 per cent at four months in Norway.

However "nutritionally close to breastmilk" formula milk may be, it still carries with it comparatively higher risks of allergies, gastrointestinal infections, obesity, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Surely the ultimate "green baby product" is breastmilk: designed exclusively for the human child, cheap, instantly available, packaging free and with incomparable health benefits?



Sir: The list of "Fifty best green baby products" is actually a list of 50 unnecessary products for angst-ridden middle-class parents to waste their money on. Truly green products would be those with minimal packaging which are locally sourced. Instead of expensive cleanser in a plastic bottle babies can be washed with soap or plain water. They can eat mashed-up home-made food and sleep on cut-down, worn old sheets. Most of the products listed are unnecessary and therefore could never be considered green.



We are on the threshold of an Orwellian era of "thoughtcrime"

Sir: It is always difficult to raise issues of freedom of expression at a time when security is foremost in people's minds and lines can be blurred between solidarity and liberty. As such it is imperative that our politicians respond to terrible events with thought and equanimity while remembering the hard-won democratic freedoms they are supposed to defend.

The images of the three main parties united on new anti-terror laws offers a picture of solidarity, but it also sets an uneasy tone for democracy when members of a governing elite decide such fundamental matters among themselves, without question and without accounting for dissent. They are moving into dangerous territory when they begin to proscribe knowledge and opinion.

When do certain kinds of knowledge become terrorism: is this for a government to decide? Once the law admits that some opinions can legitimately be treated in this way, will reading about the Zapatistas on the Web become a terrorist act? Will reading Che Guevara's Bolivian diary and Noam Chomsky's critiques of Western power become terrorist acts? The possibility that we would have to defend such cases is a move away from liberty towards authoritarianism and implies a step towards the Orwellian nightmare of "thoughtcrime".

Nobody should know how to make devices designed to maim and kill, but democracy does need all opinions to be expressible in order that they be dismissed or argued down, not left to fester and mutate, as John Stuart Mill argued almost 150 years ago. This is an idea so fundamental and uncontroversial that it is at the centre of all liberal democracies worth the name, and at the heart of the universal declaration of human rights.



Sir: Proposed new anti-terrorist offences may well criminalise the mere defence or endorsement of a terrorist act. If so we are in for trouble. Terrorism in English law is defined to cover all modes of political violence, however trifling. Are academics and commentators no longer to be permitted to defend any political violence? Are Ted Honderich's Violence for Equality, or Peter Singer's Democracy and Disobedience, to be put on the banned books list? The only thing protecting these books at the moment is that, in the eyes of the law, an argued endorsement is not an incitement. The thought that the government may be thinking of changing this should send a shiver down the spine of anyone who still has one.

As Lord Hoffman said in A v Home Secretary (2005): "The real threat to the life of the nation ... comes not from terrorism but from laws like these".



Niger: media images prompted action

Sir: Your editorial (25 July) asks why governments of the rich world wait for pictures of starving children before giving food aid. Aid administrators can become "case hardened". They were deaf to Niger, just as they were to Southern Sudan in the late 1990s, because their budgets were already stretched and there was no political pressure to respond. There was plenty of notice of this emergency; we were talking with other agencies about the looming disaster in October. Niger families used their usual ways to cope with food shortage: children were sent away to relatives or neighbouring countries and the cattle were slaughtered. Before the May UN appeal we, and other agencies, had already started emergency feeding for severely malnourished children.

But it was not until the media gave this famine in a far away country a face that many governments responded. The solution is threefold: for the Millennium Development Summit to accept the UK proposal for a substantial international emergency fund; stronger input from NGOs on the ground into UN decisions on relief operations; and for the public's recent commitment to Make Poverty History to extend to forging continuing links between "us and them" that spur us all into action long before we are confronted with images of starving children.



RSPB task force to save sea birds

Sir: The analysis of fishing logbooks, revealing that half of all fish species have gone from ocean hotspots in the past 50 years, provides graphic evidence that our greatest global commons - the high seas - are being systematically plundered by overfishing ("Up to half of ocean species lost to overfishing", 29 July).

Longline fishing, which annually kills tens of thousands of seabirds, is pushing 19 of the world's 21 albatross species ever closer to extinction. Reversing overfishing is an uphill struggle but preventing seabird deaths is much easier. To do so, the RSPB is developing Operation Ocean Task Force to train longline fishermen around the world in the simple tried-and-tested methods that prevent seabirds getting caught and drowned on longline hooks.

Globally, we have a mountain of ocean law rhetoric, but working at grass roots with fishermen is urgently needed to halt this longline juggernaut.