Is there any truth in the rumour that the United States is changing its motto to Nunquam discimus – “We never learn”?
Having created al-Qa’ida by arming and training Bin Laden and his Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, the US now seems keen to further support their protege by arming Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.
The Afghan adventure was an opportunistic attempt to drive out the Russians – although, from what we read, life in Afghanistan was better under the Russians, especially for women, than it had been before or has been since. I suggest that the current interference in Syria is largely an attempt to deprive the Russians of the port of Tartus, their only naval facility on the Mediterranean.
Claims that the Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons are flimsy, and bear an alarming similarity to spurious justifications employed by the Bush/Blair axis. They are a bit rich coming from a country which stands accused of using so much depleted uranium in Iraq that tens of thousands of Iraqis were born with deformities.
Some months ago I received a furious email from a non-Muslim Iranian friend: will the West not be satisfied until every secular country in the Middle East has been turned into a fundamentalist Islamic state? How do you think we should answer him?
The great error of the US in supplying arms to one side in the Syrian civil war is that it will reinforce the perception among many Muslims of the US as a religious aggressor in the homelands of Islam. It therefore serves to escalate the perceived conflict between “the West” and “Islam”. It will also of course (as Robert Fisk points out) merely exacerbate an already perhaps irreconcilable conflict in Syria itself.
Behind this error of judgement lies a tendency in the West to see war as a judicial process, a way of righting wrongs (in this case, the use of chemical weapons) rather than a means of achieving a desirable outcome, namely peace. This legalism or moralism seems to skew western thinking, especially but not solely in the media, on the subject of war in the Middle East, and elsewhere.
Emeritus professor in the history of political thought, University of Dundee
Gove’s ‘island story’ is a good place to start
The trouble with history, as any fule kno, is that there is so much of it. It thus makes sense to start with a bit of it which is highly significant, not so huge as to be overwhelming, and sufficiently close to home to be naturally interesting. The history of one of the most remarkable countries in the world’s history – Great Britain – is therefore, as it happens, an excellent place to start.
Whatever one thinks of Michael Gove’s politics, I see nothing remotely objectionable in teaching our children “our island story in all its glory”. Any decent teacher will hopefully inspire children to grasp the forces that propelled us from huts to houses and from religion to reason, and then to think beyond this island starting point, and to understand the relative importance of other times and places.
Sorry Professor Evans and colleagues (letter, 13 June) but you fail to convince.
South Harrow, Middlesex
When I went as an exchange teacher to teach social studies in New York City in 1966, I was astonished to find that the teachers’ instruction book for the city included this: “The aim of the Social Studies programme is to indoctrinate the students with the merits of American democracy.”
I objected to that and raised it with my Jewish liberal colleagues, who were embarrassed by it and explained that it was written 10 years before in the era of the McCarthy witch-hunts.
Will we, in 10 years’ time, be equally embarrassed by a history diktat written in the era of Govian anti-liberal political bias?
Anthony D Wood
The Department for Education’s response to the letter from over 100 historians and history teachers (13 June) outlining legal concerns with the government’s approach to history teaching is yet further evidence of its failure seriously to address the charge of political bias.
Few would disagree with the DfE’s comment: “It is absolutely absurd to claim that teaching the history of Britain is illegal or politically biased”. But if the DfE spokesmen seriously believe that reforming the teaching of history in order to “celebrate” Britain’s role in the world does not constitute political bias, then I suggest they consult a dictionary.
For the sake of clarity, the letter was not referring to the “GCSE revamp” as claimed in the headline. This had not been unveiled when the letter was written. It was referring to the Government’s approach to the teaching of history, as outlined in statements made by the Education Secretary and the Prime Minister, and in the draft National Curriculum for History released last February.
History teacher, Ashtead Surrey
Reasons to stay in the middle lane
I have no quarrel with the comments by Jackie Hawkins (letter, 15 June) regarding fast-lane hoggers, who like tailgaters are clearly a dangerous menace.
On the question of middle-lane hogging, surely the whole point of safe driving on any roads is the ability and willingness to adjust to the prevailing conditions and immediate situation. When on a motorway I frequently drive at around 70mph, leaving the outside lane free for the speed merchants.
Thus I may spend a considerable time in the middle lane, passing slower vehicles, and when a gap appears in the slow lane ahead I make a judgement based on the length of that gap and the likely speed of the more distant car (or lorry) in sight. In addition, if I am aware a junction is coming up I would tend to stay in the middle to allow new traffic on to the road.
Experienced drivers factor in all these variables and more when driving alertly and flexibly. However, from your correspondence pages it would seem that others prefer a more rigid, fundamentalist approach, with eyeballs bulging and steam hissing from their ears as they hop round one slow-lane vehicle at a time, driving on the moral highroad from illusion to pomposity.
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
My friend Bubs (beard, Harley-Davidson, etc) has an amusing way of dealing with middle-lane hoggers. He overtakes, moves across to the left-hand lane, slows, pulls into the outside lane and overtakes again. He reckons two circuits like this gets them to move into the correct lane.
Things we are not allowed to know
Steve Richards argues (13 June) that government workings are transparent and that it is our fault if we don’t know what they are doing. I couldn’t disagree more.
Here are three major counterexamples. First, Blair deliberately hid from us the weakness of the case on which the Iraq war was fought. Second, tens of billions of pounds of our money have been spent on private finance initiatives the true costs of which are too “commercially sensitive” for us to be told anything about. Third, major companies have apparently not been obliged to pay huge tax bills but again we are not told how this could possibly have happened.
Bring on true transparency, but don’t hold your breath!
Michael W Eysenck
Share out the royal riches
Ostensibly our culture prohibits personal gain in public office. As a local government employee, I had to “declare” small gifts of biscuits at Christmas destined for the communal tea room, and on the grander scale we are aware of the MPs’ expenses issues.
I find it incongruous that royals seemingly take advantage of their positions to accrue wealth, whilst maintaining popularity through spin doctors and PR experts (“Revealed; Prince Charles’s secret life as a multimillion-pound property dealer”, 15 June).
Perhaps now is the time to thank them kindly, assign them pensions, redistribute their wealth, and consign them and all feudal anachronism to fairy tales and pantomimes – the right places for kings, queens and princes.
Weston super Mare, North Somerset
Two families in unequal Britain
There was an exquisite depiction of the vile but accepted inequalities in our society in the juxtaposition of two stories on page 9 of your 13 June issue. The ex-wife of an oil tycoon is awarded £17.5m in a court settlement. An 11-year-old boy is refused a school dinner because his parents owe £1.75.
The ex-wife apparently claimed that “justice had prevailed”. The school governors evidently have the brass neck to hold that justice was also served in the case of the hungry young boy. Perhaps so – depending on one’s definition of justice – but where is the moral equivalence?
Newbold Verdon, Leicestershire
Don’t try to save these coins
It looks to me as if at least two of the pound coins shown in the stack illustrating your article “Regular saver accounts ideal for those trying to get started” (15 June) are counterfeit. The lettering on the edge is too crude to be genuine.
I believe that about 3 per cent of the coins in circulation are counterfeit, so you seem to have been unlucky if you photographed a random selection. If you wish to save you would be well advised to ensure that you avoid presenting false coinage to your bank.
‘Culture’ doesn’t excuse mutilation
The authorities are failing to prosecute those guilty of carrying out female genital mutilation in the UK. If this is because of “multiculturalism”, it’s a misunderstanding: all cultures change all the time.
Those, like me, supporting the right of peoples to choose their own ways of life should not excuse extreme violence, irrespective of whether it’s perpetrated in the name of “culture”. There are individuals and organisations within the cultures in question opposing FGM. They should be supported and those who practise FGM should be prosecuted.
Director, Survival International
Your leader (15 June) concludes that the outcome of a conference of meteorologists assembling on Tuesday to discuss recent cold summers will be more hot air. I hope so; summer starts on Wednesday.