Racial abuse, Iraq, sex education and others

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The Independent Online

The sadness I feel on being racially abused for the first time

Sir: I am a 42-year-old, British-born, educated, modern Muslim who is happily married to a lady who wears a headscarf, and I was treated to my first ever case of racial abuse recently. Stepping out of our car with my four children, a gentlemen looked and stared at us and, when I stared back, he shouted: "When are you going to bomb us you ****".

I had always prepared a reply for such a situation along the lines of: "It was Christians who killed six million Jews; Christians who killed hundreds of thousands in Japan; Christians who rape and murder children in Zimbabwe; Christians who murdered Aborigines and Maoris; Christians who murdered Algerians, Libyans, Syrians, Palestinians and so on." But I realised at that moment that what I would have said would not have meant a thing to him. He obviously believed that the Taliban, al-Qa'ida and all Muslims are one and the same.

All this talk of Muslim Councils sending letters to mosques or Bush/Bremer/Blair saying terrorist acts are not what Islam preaches etc and that 99 per cent of Muslims are peaceful people is nonsense and is causing even more problems as you are still connecting the religion of Islam with terrorism. In fact, I have just done the same thing.

The saddest part of this episode was that this is the country that my four daughters will be living in and they are completely unaware of the blind hatred people have for them and the British are completely unaware of the love and respect my daughters have for this country and its people.

Cheadle, Cheshire

America's aggression has led to this chaos

Sir: Like many Iraqis, I am increasingly worried by the escalation of violence in Iraq, especially the recent confrontations between some Shia militias and the occupying forces ("On the brink of anarchy, 6 April). What angers many are the aggressive tactics used by US forces towards followers of Muqtada Sadr, which has resulted in deaths of tens of people. The burning question is why did the American Administration decide to close the Sadr movement's newspaper and arrest some of their clerics?

The answer may lie in the US's wish to hinder any possibility of Muqtada Sadr's supporters holding positions in the forthcoming transitional government. What they have so far failed to understand is that for it to have some credibility, any future un-elected government must incorporate as many of Iraq's groups and parties. The lack of this is the main criticism facing the current Iraqi Governing Council. Without representation, Sadr supporters will form an armed opposition group, claim they have been sidelined, and might eventually gain seats in an elected government.

The actions of the US administration in Iraq clearly reflect a lack of strategic planning, since they have now opened a second battlefront for themselves. In addition, this grave mistake will undoubtedly hinder any political steps to democracy in Iraq and will increase instability and violence. The Americans have a lot of answering to do to the Iraqis and the world.

Milton Keynes

Sir: Thirty years ago, the British government made a major mis-judgement by putting troops into Northern Ireland ostensibly to protect the community. One of the first, crucial steps towards escalating the violence was placing paratroopers in Derry. This provoked a response, a step up on the escalator of violence, gave a vicious minority a uniformed target and in the process "legitimised" the IRA who were again freedom fighters targeting the army. Instead of helping, as now can all too plainly see, the political error of judgement has driven the communities further apart, the very communities that were supposed to be helped by military action.

History shows us that new leaders seldom learn from former leader's mistakes, possibly because they spend so much time denouncing their predecessors and convincing themselves they are right. It takes a very great leader for peace, a Gandhi or a Mandela, to turn away from violent, revengeful politics to commissions of truth and reconciliation and non-violent actions. Sadly leaders who go for war greatly out number those go for peace.

If we extrapolate the history of Northern Ireland into Iraq, what the US and UK has done is to create a vacuum into which both internal and external extremists have been drawn. The self-righteous chest-beaters say we cannot leave because of the very vacuum we have created. What are we to do? How many of our soldiers need to be sacrificed on the mis-judgement of our leaders? The truth is we should not have gone there in the first place and should not be there now.

We are now staring at 30 years or more of internal strife in Iraq, a lot more complex than the two-sided situation in the Northern Ireland: Shia vs Sunni vs Kurds vs Baathist vs Marsh Arabs. After 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland and a few years of fragile peace process, the two communities are more polarised than ever (report, 6 April). Is this the fate we have helped create in Iraq with the death and injury toll to come on a far greater scale?

London SW2

Sir: The Prime Minister is reported as saying "Muqtada Sadr does not represent the vast majority of Iraqi Shias, he represents a small band of extremists." Does he not see the irony in such a remark? His government does not represent the vast majority of Britons and his foreign policy decisions are influenced by a small band of extremists (Bush et al).

Canvey Island, Essex

Faith in the NHS

Sir: I was sorry to read Christina Patterson's report of her lost faith in the NHS (Review, 5 April). I was diagnosed with breast cancer from a routine mammogram at Southend Hospital. At my first appointment at the breast unit I was told compassionately but factually about the tumour. I was allocated a breast nurse and a telephone number to use at any time. I was alone but at no time was I made to feel insecure or alarmed about the treatment. The team I met before and during my short stay in hospital were amazing - they always found time to answer any queries and did everything possible to make the stay as comfortable as possible and I was in no way the model patient!

On my return home the breast nurse phoned to check everything was progressing well. I was fortunate to have a grade one tumour but the surgeon still explained the different stages of cancer and treatment. I was fully involved in the recovery programme. The follow up radiotherapy was again met by a team of experts who left me with every confidence in the NHS. Sometimes there was a wait, but patients who were unexpectedly ill needed to be seen urgently- and there was always an apology.

My GP has been kept informed by the hospital and in turn has given me the back up that I needed.

Billericay, Essex

Neighbourhood watch

Sir: There is another aspect to the problem of rented accommodation that Hermione's Eyre's excellent article briefly touched on (Opinion, 5 April). In my case it's living in and owning a house next door to a "bought-to-rent flat". The gardens next door are ill-kempt, paint work is neglected, curtains are rarely ever changed, litter is quite commonly strewn about the front garden and fences are not properly maintained. Thus lowering the appearance and tone of the area.

I tried to contact the owner of the property being rented in order to discuss fly tipping and root infestation adjacent to my property, and found it quite impossible. The Land Registry supplied me with the owner's names and the mortgagees who are Halifax Building Society who on my request would not give me the residential address of the mortgagee, pleading the "Data Protection Act". I contacted the Inland Revenue, because I was of the opinion that the renting arrangement might well be a form of tax evasion but they too refused to say anything, also pleading the DPA.

The local authorities were unable to help as they themselves had problems in finding out the addresses of house owners in the area. In their case it was at the request of the police in pursuit of criminal activity. I had extensive correspondence with my MP who simply referred me to a succession of Government officials but not one of them was able to help. The Data Protection Act might more aptly be called the "Data Censorship Act".

Cheshunt, Hertfordshire

French royalty

Sir: You state in your leader ("A salutary lesson in diplomacy from the French", 7 April) that the French dispensed with their royal family "rather brutally, never to look back". Not so. Having declared a republic before guillotining King Louis XVI in 1793, the French later found themselves ruled by an emperor from 1804, three further kings from 1814, and, after a brief republic between 1848 and 1852, another emperor. After the fall of Napoleon III in 1870, it is highly likely that had it not been for the intransigence of the Comte de Chambord, the Bourbon pretender who refused to accept the tricolor as the flag of France, the monarchy would again have been reinstated.

Indeed, many would say that the present republic, headed by an executive presidency both powerful and not exactly lacking in regal magnificence owes just as much to the principles of monarchy as does our own system.

London SW8

Sex education

Sir: I am amazed that teachers are misreading the content of teen magazines ("Teachers want age ratings on girls' teen magazines", 7 April). I read Sugar, Bliss and many others on regular basis and they do not imply that "everyone is doing it" or glamourise sex.

In fact, these magazines do the opposite. In the "question and answer" pages, when referring to sex, they specifically state that sex under 16 is illegal and that you should always use a condom. These magazines supply their readers with correct useful information which is lacking in most school curriculums.

I have a younger sister and when she begins high school (she is 8 now), I see nothing wrong with her reading Sugar. Age certificates on magazines will make teenage girls feel uncomfortable buying them.

The problem is not the magazines - it is the conservative way in which the Government, teachers and others want to "hide" sexual behaviour from all teenagers regardless of the fact that they need to explore to understand. Sex advice should be more freely available.

Age 15
London W7

Going for a song

Sir: Following Janet Street-Porter's dismay at the opera houses' initiatives to attract new audiences (Opinion, 8 April), may I urge anyone planning their first foray in the art form to try the Benjamin Britten International Opera School, hidden just behind the Royal Albert Hall?

Here you can catch the frontline of bright young singers who will soon proceed to the international houses, but no seat is more than £20, nor more than a stone's throw from the stage. The Independent described our last production, Handel's Sosarme, as "simply knockout". Our next production, Poulenc's ravishing Dialogues of the Carmelites, opens in June.

Promotion & Marketing Officer
Royal College of Music


Execution league

Sir: The statistics on the numbers of executions in China and the United States ("America joins the world's most repressive regimes in league table of executions", 7 April) are indeed shocking. Perhaps even more shocking is the number of executions attributed to one of the world's smallest states, Singapore. On a per capita basis Singapore is way ahead of the US and Iran and somewhere between the upper and lower estimates for China.

Newcastle upon Tyne

Waste not

Sir: How is it that government can waste millions of pounds through incompetent procurement ("MoD ordered helicopters that cannot fly in clouds, 7 April) whilst at the same time be constantly harassing locally elected councils on their expenditure by sending in nit-picking, unelected, auditors?


Fast change

Sir: Your report ("The Times, they are a-changing", 7 April) missed the obvious. In High Water from 2001's Love And Theft, Dylan sings: "I've got a craving love for blazing speed/ Got a hopped-up Mustang Ford/ Jump into the wagon, love/ Throw your panties overboard..."

Doesn't sound too much like the "sigh of the weary" to me.

Woodbridge, Suffolk

Back pedalling

Sir: I hadn't realised that fallacies are, like bicycles, to be pedalled (letter, 7 April). Didn't the teacher from Stockton mean "peddled"?

Longhirst, Northumberland

Magna who?

Sir: The letter from VJG Brown (7 April) brings to mind Tony Hancock's impassioned plea: "Magna Carta: did she die in vain ?"

London SW9

Health food

Sir: To add to your letters on misleading signs, I certainly won't be returning in a hurry to eat at a pub I recently visited in North Yorkshire. A sign on a blackboard next to the menu board in the bar implored you to: "Try our delicious homemade pies and pastries - you'll never get better!"

Stockport, Cheshire