Spain, Iraq and others

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The Independent Online

How José Maria Aznar treated the Spanish people like serfs

Sir: I am one of them, one of the cowards that voted for José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero after the bombing in Madrid (Letters, 20 March). On Wednesday I had decided not to vote. It was very clear that José Maria Aznar's party was going to win again. But on Sunday morning everything had changed.

In 2003 Prime Minister Aznar had decided to help Tony Blair and George Bush in their war against Iraq. The response in Spain was impressive. There were massive demonstrations against the war. Over 90 per cent of our people were against it. The Catholic Church was also against it. But that was not enough for Aznar. He had the absolute majority in the Parliament, so he could do whatever he wanted. Our opinion was not important to him. He had become our master. Nobody understood his attitude.

Even now, most people in Spain don't know why he made that decision. Anyway, the war ended, and it was a success. But, where were Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? After six months it was impossible to find them. Now we knew it: everything was false. A handful of lies. Tony Blair and George Bush tried to explain all those lies; Aznar didn't try to explain anything. He was our leader and he thought his decisions, valid or not, should be respected - as if we were his serfs.

On Thursday 11 March, after the bombing, people asked for responses. Who had done such a hideous act? Eta, that was Aznar's answer. However, all over the world experts cast doubts on this. On Sunday morning it was clear that the authors were Islamic extremists. Again everything was false. Again Aznar was playing with us. It was the final straw.


The world is not worse since the Iraq war

Sir: Your claim that the Iraq war has made the world "more dangerous in every respect" (report, 20 March) is an absurd exaggeration. Are we really to believe that the marshland Arabs of Iraq are now in greater danger than with Saddam in charge? Hundreds of thousands of these Arabs simply disappeared over the last decade, in what has to be one of the least publicised genocides of modern times. These Arabs are now safe, and their homeland is being regenerated.

Are we also to suppose that the Kurds are in greater danger now that the man who used nerve gas on hundreds of their settlements has been deposed? Is Kuwait, which required protection from Saddam both by US troops in Kuwait and a no-fly zone in Southern Iraq, now more at risk of invasion than before? Or similarly Saudi Arabia?

Is Israel worse off now that Saddam's payments of $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers have ceased? And what should we make of Libya's volte face, a direct consequence of Saddam's removal? For sure, building a democratic, peaceful Iraq is proving hard, but already 80 per cent of Iraqis say they are the same or better off than a year ago, with even more predicting things will continue to get better.

Furthermore there is simply no evidence that "Iraq is becoming terrorism's best recruiting agent", only that the particular targets of the terrorists may have changed following the war. To dwell on this final down-side whilst dismissing all of the wonderful effects of the Iraq war is hysterical doom-mongering unworthy of the otherwise excellent newspaper of the year.

London N1

Sir: A year after the Iraq war started, the question, "Is Iraq better off now without Saddam?" is moving the goal posts. The police could make many communities safer here at home if they would go in shooting and clear out criminals and suspected criminals without legal process. Though many innocent people would be killed or jailed, crime would be cut and a strong warning given to other criminals.

It would make us all feel safer, wouldn't it? To justify this action, communities could be surveyed and asked if they now feel safer. I imagine at least 58 per cent of them would say "yes". But why stop there? Why not give us all guns and let us act unilaterally in the best interests of our own families - as is advocated in America? Is there a pattern there?

Thame, Oxfordshire

Sir: "Giving in to terrorism" is an interesting mantra that is frequently heard. It sounds like a phrase that might be employed in an advisory book on parenting; don't give in to the tantrums of an unruly child and it will eventually learn the parameters of behaviour in civilised society.

In the context of the "war on terror" the phrase supposes that the West is the paradigm of civilisation that the others must copy. Westerners are no more civilised than anyone else, of course, but dominate the world because of their astute use of cheap labour and a military might that is more or less a by-product of the Second World War.

It is this unassailable military power that forces the use of crude guerrilla tactics from an adversary rather than any inherent barbarism. Whilst the West insists on viewing this conflict as a parent/child relationship the terrorists will surely endeavour to find ever more diabolical ways of circumventing its attempts to discipline them.

London E8

Sir: On Saturday - a day of worldwide protests against the Iraq war - when incident was confidently expected, Greenpeace successfully scale the Westminster Clock Tower despite presumed security on a high pitch of alert. Is this the same security we are looking to to prevent a confidently predicted terrorist outrage in the future?

Horsham, West Sussex

Kosovo contradictions

Sir: As someone who worked in Kosovo, as a humanitarian worker, in the aftermath of Nato-led war, I am amused at the sudden discovery that many of principal question marks around Kosovo are unresolved (19 March).

Like Bosnia, the Kosovo "nation-building" project was stillborn through contradictions. Instead of tackling the major problems such as the province's final status, the prevalence of armed groups, refugee return and organised crime, the "international community" decided to brush these tricky questions under a carpet of billions of dollars of aid.

The result is that the Balkans has soaked-up huge sums of money with little real stability or prosperity. The violent riots we are seeing today, in Kosovo, are symptomatic of the "memory hole" we consign countries, once they have obtained "peace" and the headlines have moved on.

Toronto, Canada

Sir: I must disagree with your contention that "Kosovo has been a model of nation-building" (leading article, 19 March). The post war arrangements did nothing to resolve the concerns of either group, the Serbs having been forced to leave in large numbers and the ethnic-Albanians having been deprived of any hope of independence. For Kosovo, read Ulster, Kashmir, Biafra, Matabeleland, Sudan, Eritrea, South Vietnam, Rwanda and a host of others, the results of short-term fixes whose intrinsic problems are put off for another day, for another generation to sort out.


House sharing

Sir: Kate Barker's report (17 March) on the housing situation sees the problem as one of supply rather than price. Merely to focus on volume will not solve the problem of affordability for those on low to moderate incomes. House prices are a function of the price of land and this will continue to be the case in a highly populated island with tight restrictions on greenfield development.

An increase in social housing provision, whilst desirable, is only a partial answer since it is generally aimed at tenants receiving housing benefit.

One solution would be to revive the system of equity sharing. In the 1980s my practice designed and built 120 low-cost "starter-plus" houses in Peterborough. They were designed to enable first-time buyers to get on the property ladder with a home that could easily be expanded in line with family needs. The Development Corporation offered a 30 per cent equity share loan at zero interest. On the sale of the property the Corporation received back 30 per cent of the sale price.

To alleviate the affordability problem, especially in the South-east, prospective home buyers in essential occupations should be offered up to a 50 per cent equity share facility against the purchase of a new or existing home.


Unreviewed poetry

Sir: Jane Savage admits that she has "not read a great deal of modern poetry" yet thinks poets should "write better" (Letters, 20 March). She should perhaps be criticizing the lack of reliable, accessible commentary on the dozens of poetry volumes published each month. Even those by poets who have tasted celebrity, who have won awards or who are "set texts" still don't reach the newspaper review columns.

I review for the TLS and I know that the best work is often to be found in those books (often from small presses) that will never even be sent out by editors and certainly never reach bookshops. But there really is no substitute for voracious reading. I don't give up food because I've had too many hamburgers. Nor do I assume that they are the only thing on the menu.

Stonely, St Neots

Sir: Like Jane Savage I too deplore the quality of some modern poetry. The solution is not to discount all modern poets in favour of the dead. Where does she think her "quality" poets came from? They were distilled by readers from the mass of poetry written in any age and only the good survived. Every effort to encourage reading of all poetry is to be loudly applauded. Bad poetry will not last anyway but neither will the good unless it is read.

Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

Sir: If Jane Savage finds modern poetry disappointing, clearly she is not reading some of our better poets. For starters, I suggest that on her next visit to a bookshop she looks for collections by Philip Gross and U A Fanthorpe (who was a nominee for Poet Laureate). I can guarantee that their language is not "intellectually ornate" but goes straight to the heart.


Bermudan law

Sir: Eric Cowell (letter, 18 March) is quite right to point to the lack of rainforests on Bermuda. But what he and the scientists at London Zoo may not know is that this beautiful island, England's first colony, boasts what was probably the first species protection legislation in history.

This was a law passed in in 1616 to protect a seabird called the Cahow. This was a tiny endemic petrel which carried so much fat on its body that, eaten in large numbers, it staved off the complete starvation of the first colonists in the totally dry El Niño year of 1615. Having learnt the vital need to protect a single species, the colonists went on to pass laws to preserve herons, turtles and the palmetto tree.

In 1659, Governor William Sayle, a strict puritan, preached to the colonists on the need to protect the island forests for the sake of "many generations to come". However his precocious notion of "sustainable development" was largely disregarded by settlers and the Bermuda Cedar disappeared for ever.

Research Director, Centre for World Environmental History
University of Sussex

European viewing

Sir: Given that necessity is the biggest incentive to language acquisition (letter, 19 March), could we not have a few terrestrial digital television channels dedicated to relaying some of the best European television? Who knows, they might even get more viewers than BBC3 and 4 put together.

Going digital for such a service would be worth the slight loss in picture quality, just to watch the evening news in French and see the world from another perspective.

New Barnet, Hertfordshire

Commons challenge

Sir: There is a simple reason why we cannot have an elected second chamber at present (report, 19 March). Virtually every possible method of electing a second chamber would produce a more representative body than the House of Commons. Any elected second chamber would challenge the legitimacy of the Commons. We need to reform our system for electing MPs and then deal with the House of Lords.

Newport , Isle of Wight

Gaelic streets

Sir: I was saddened to read that residents in Fort William did not want their streets given Gaelic names (report, 13 March).

Having walked the mountains in this beautiful area I was impressed with the local people's pride in their culture and history, and especially impressed that so many would help us pronounce some of the ranges with Gaelic names.

Have things changed so much in a few years that people no longer care for their own culture which makes Scotland such an interesting place to visit?

Sydney, Australia

Irritating signs

Sir: The advice by the Metropolitan Police not to do anything about suspicious packages (letter, 17 March) reminds me of other annoying signs. I am barred from my local "recycling centre" by an edict which states "children must be kept in your car"; my family is grown up and I have no wish to be accused of kidnapping: and on an adjacent road the instruction is to "queue in both lanes" - lorries and buses frequently do but cyclists have great difficulty.

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk