Sir: With Darfur poised on a knife-edge, the international response remains confused, inadequate, timid and criminally negligent. While the UN lacks the will to intervene and the African Union lacks the means, Britain should play a meaningful role in this colossal spiral of misery that has engulfed the region for three and a half years and robbed 400,000 lives.
The case for urgent deployment of a strong, mobile, fast-reacting UN force in Darfur to protect civilians and keep aid channels open is beyond dispute. Although the Security Council two weeks ago called on the Secretary-General to arrange for the rapid deployment of the UN Mission in Sudan, this was conditional on the basis of the acceptance of the Sudanese government. They have said no, and vowed to emulate Hizbollah in Lebanon and smash any incoming force.
Aid agencies remain the sole lifeline for some 2.5 million people who swell camps for displaced people. But the deliberate targeting of aid workers since the signing of an unpopular peace deal in May has led to the deaths of eight humanitarians in July alone. And worse is to come with the Sudanese government this week renewing aerial bombing and sending thousands of troops to the region.
Unless Khartoum drops objections to a United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur, most if not all foreign aid organisations are likely to pull out of Darfur, leaving its already devastated civilian population further exposed and at risk.
Britain has the armed muscle and has made clear its willingness to join a UN-sponsored response unit. The question is whether the UK and other nations will act now to prevent further tragedy in Darfur or merely express sorrow and act later to deal with its aftermath. The onus is on them to go it alone and put the lives of the most vulnerable before anything else.
CEO, GOAL UK, LONDON W1
Gaza's young people denied an education
Sir: I would like to thank your paper for exposing the onslaught of terror and devastation inflicted upon the residents of Gaza by the Israeli army in the last few months, and for committing to covering the issue at a time when the international media has ran away - just when the going got tough.
Gaza is home to 1 million young people under the age of 30 who are not only deprived of a secure future due to the constant physical and psychological warfare waged against them through missiles, sound bombs, starvation and house demolitions, but they are also deprived of aspiring to a better future through Israel's ban on travel to West Bank universities.
This policy collectively punishes the 24,000 disabled persons living in the Strip, as well as all young people who dream of taking better care of their disabled relatives, friends, and community members. There is currently only one trained occupational therapist in Gaza, and yet in May 2006, the Israeli High Court upheld a ban on travel for 10 students who wished to study occupational therapy in Bethlehem University, despite there being no evidence of them posing a security risk.
Israel not only continues to maim Gaza's residents with its air raids and targeted killings, but deprives the survivors from any pain relief and sanctuary. Israeli military policy has reached a new level of inhumanity and made the world's biggest open-air prison more like an open torture chamber, where there is no escape from suffering and death is the norm. The world's media must keep an eye on Gaza now more than ever.
COORDINATOR, RIGHT TO EDUCATION CAMPAIGN BIRZEIT UNIVERSITY WEST BANK - PALESTINE
Sir: Depressing as your recent articles on the dire situation in Gaza have been, I felt great relief at seeing a British newspaper covering the issue. As a student of Middle Eastern politics with a number of friends living in the Gaza Strip, I was at a loss to explain to them why the suffering there was being largely ignored by the media in the UK. I congratulate The Independent on calling attention to their plight.
Sir: If, as reported in The Independent (18 Sept), some Israeli officers have voiced their concern about the use of cluster bombs in southern Lebanon, perhaps they could volunteer their services to the impossibly difficult task of de-mining the fields and villages which have been smothered with these monstrous munitions. Quite why a relatively impoverished state such as Lebanon should have to foot the bill for this and the clean-up of the toxic environmental fall-out of Israel's indiscriminate bombing, defies all comprehension.
DR RAOUL BIANCHI
Emperor was no friend of the Pope
Sir: The row over the Pope's quoting of the words of Manuel Palaeologos has missed the context in which the emperor was speaking.
Manuel presided over the disintegration of the Byzantine domain, crushed between the mercantilist adventurism of the Catholic West and the equally expansionist ambitions of the Ottoman Turks, who, through assumption of the Caliphate claimed the leadership of the Muslim world. Their sultans repeatedly justified the assault on Byzantium by quoting a (subsequently largely discredited) hadith (saying) attributed to the Prophet Mohamed which predicted the conquest of the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, by a jihadist army. Little wonder Manuel was so reticent about Islam - yet he had little cause to celebrate Catholicism either.
Manuel's civilisation was almost unique in the 14th century Mediterranean world in eschewing any concept of holy war - the Orthodox Church refused Communion to Byzantine soldiers who killed in battle - and it was this among other religious differences which led to the Roman Catholic Church preaching crusade not only against the Muslims, but against the Byzantines as well. If it was the Muslim Turks who finally ended the Byzantine Empire by capturing Constantinople [now Istanbul] in 1453, its demise had been rendered largely inevitable by the earlier sack of the city and the dismemberment of its territories by the troops of the Catholic Fourth Crusade in 1204.
In this context, Manuel's criticism of the jihadists of his day was frequently matched by similar Byzantine criticism of the contemporary Catholic Church's eagerness to impose its particular form of Christianity by force. The Ottomans by contrast were relatively tolerant of their Christian subjects, although later waves of Islamic fundamentalism were to change this.
The irony of the debate today is how Manuel's exasperation so resonantly echoes the sense of anger and futility felt by many of all faiths and none at those in both the Christian and Muslim communities who, while worshipping the same God, hijack both faiths by seeking to justify violence against each other in the name of that same God. One might have hoped, after five centuries, that the world might have moved on.
DEWSBURY, WEST YORKSHIRE
Sir: What has the world come to? I watched a BBC news programme on the reactions to the Pope's speech, and came across a clip showing a heavily armed Israeli soldier, presumably Jewish, guarding a church, presumably Christian, somewhere in the West Bank against attack by an infuriated mob, presumably Muslims.
DR FELIX FRANKS LONDON N3
The high price of a 'toxic' childhood
Sir: I am both delighted and saddened to read Deborah Orr's article (13 September) regarding the damage society has done to children, as discussed in Sue Palmer's book Toxic Childhood. For far too long the stress on getting both parents to work has bothered me, as a mother who felt strongly my place was to raise the children I had produced.
I taught in primary school before having my family and I have never forgotten the sadness in a child's voice as she explained to me how lonely and frightening it was to walk home every day to an empty house. So then there has to be child care - often left in the hands of youngsters from other countries who are here to learn English. The verbal interaction the children get is likely to be more limited than with their parents.
For a long time there has been pressure on single parents to "get back to work" as soon as a child turns school age. Perhaps we need to start seeing parenting as one of the greater skills in life: a role that cannot be fulfilled by a succession of day-care centres, child-minders and the like. It is in the interest of the whole of society to raise the next generation as balance human beings, surely worth the cost of supporting single parents a little longer.
The cost to society of picking up the pieces is horrendous, let alone the sad fact that children may well never recover emotionally and physically from such a "toxic" childhood, and need support from the state in one form or another for the rest of their lives.
Clothes for skinny models can kill
Sir: Banning from the catwalk models who are thin to the point of looking ill can only do good for the rest of the female population,
Even if a woman is not suffering from an eating disorder, it makes sense to realise that clothes are going to look different on some one who has a healthy body. I say this with first-hand knowledge: at my worst I weighed just under six stone. I now, three years later, weigh 7st 7lb and am a size 8.
When I was at the size that I could have graced a catwalk if I had been taller, I no longer had thighs or a backside; instead I had two protruding bones where my hips had been. When I saw a dress on a catwalk and tried it on it looked like the dress I had seen. Now if I put the same dress on it looks like a totally different garment as it hangs round the newly developed curves, and immediately there is disappointment that I have not got the look that was on offer.
The long term affects of maintaining a figure that equals a catwalk model can be horrific. People do die of eating disorders, and if like myself, you are one of the lucky ones that recover you can be left with a sentence for life: I have osteoporosis as a result.
If we promote a healthy look on the catwalk clothes will look great on real people and we will be taking a huge stride towards overcoming eating disorders.
GREAT YARMOUTH, NORFOLK
Marmite conquers the mighty ocean
Sir: There is only one way to truly appreciate Marmite: in a small yacht five hours out of Oban, having fought down the Sound of Jura and cleared the Mull of Kintyre with Islay disappearing astern.
The sky blue, the air comfortable but the wind tearing at force seven gusting eight as you head out into the North Channel of the Irish Sea with the waves rising 20 feet in huge long, choppy, rolling swell. Tired near to exhaustion working the sails and tiller, but glorying in the experience.
Then someone brings you well- toasted Scottish baps, dripping with real butter and oozing thick Marmite. Then comes a muscle penetrating, bone refreshing, energy restoring total body sensation that sweeps through the whole frame. Two of those burning baps and you are enduringly empowered for the next few unforgettable hours responding to the power of the sea all the way to haven in welcome Glenarm. Marmite does not come better than that.
Sir: I am heartily sick of Marmite. Please may we have Vegemite for a change ?
Hunting without cruelty
Sir: Terri Judd's article on increased attendance at hunts (9 September) did not mention that many newcomers have joined hunts precisely because of the introduction of the Hunting Act; not as a protest against it, but because of the replacement of live quarry by drag hunting. Many newcomers have said that a mounted chase is indeed an exhilarating experience, but they were strongly deterred from taking part because of the element of cruelty in hunting prior to the ban.
J P ROBERTSON
BURY ST EDMUNDS, SUFFOLK
Sir: Deborah Orr's article on abortion (16 September) defeated her aim of a balanced debate by using phrases such as "ever-rising predilection for abortion", which further the stereotype that abortion is a fashion statement, and that women needing abortions are feckless. Abortion rates last year increased by just 2 per cent compared to 2004 and may be related to the use of less reliable but STD-preventing methods of contraception and better diagnosis of foetal disorders. Please don't contribute to the stigmatisation of women availing themselves of a necessary procedure, chosen as the lesser of evils.
Clare Short's crime
Sir: As a neutral who has never voted Old or New Labour and is never likely to, I am amused by the furore provoked in the party by Clare Short. Obviously by the standards prevailing these days it is a greater crime to criticise the leadership than to engage in a probably illegal war killing thousands. Robin Cook and later Clare Short rose in the estimation of most right-thinking people by having the courage to stand by beliefs rather than self-interest.
Sir: Patricia Hewitt's suggestion that privatising the NHS will make it more efficient and that there should be no limits to privatisation (report, 18 September) is barking mad. There is no evidence that private health care is more efficient than the NHS, and plenty to the contrary. How can an organisation that has to pay shareholders, cannot borrow money as cheaply as the Government and, under new rules, must pay staff the same as the NHS, be expected provide cheaper care?
HEALTH SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GREEN PARTY, LONDON N19
Sir: Jeremy Laurance (15 September) is right to say that acupuncture is time-consuming when done in the traditional way, but there is also a modern (Western) form of acupuncture that is much quicker to perform; the treatment usually takes about five minutes once the patient is in position on the couch. Most of the research to date shows that the modern approach is fully as effective as the traditional version.
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