Terror, language teaching and others

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Terrorists hate our interference, not our way of life

Terrorists hate our interference, not our way of life

Sir: Following the train bombings in Madrid, Labour politicians have been telling us that "terrorists hate democracy and our way of life". However, the evidence I find to support this view relates only to a particularly bad habit of certain Western nations.

Our bad habit manifests itself in laying to waste another sovereign country's essential infrastructure and seizing its key resources, followed by the arrival of banks, businesses, speculators, soft drinks, cigarettes, fast food chains, illegal drugs and bland satellite TV. At its most shameful (US support of the contras in Nicaragua), the habit works to undermine democratically elected governments on the basis that they refuse to buy into the Western democratic vision of private ownership and profit motive.

Leaders of western democracies won't accept that the hateful cancer which struck in Madrid last week may be the result of their own bad behaviour. In reality, what the terrorists seem to want most of all is for that bad behaviour to change.

Like heavy smokers, leaders of Western democracies seem unable to connect the cancer with the decades of self-indulgence and abuse which brought it on. We urgently need to establish the aspects of our behaviour which make terrorists want to kill us. I question whether it has anything to do with our preference for shopping at Marks and Spencer, working a 40 hour week and voting every four years. Our foreign policy might be a good place to start.


Victory for peace, or for Bin Laden?

Sir: Horrific as the bombings were in Madrid last Thursday, commentators seem afraid to state the obvious - that they represent a great tactical victory for al-Qa'ida.

The Spanish mass taking to the streets was quite understandable. I joined the mass antiwar protest in London. But the Spanish government was brought down and it looks as if as a result Spanish policy in Iraq will change. What nation will support George Bush now without thinking twice?

Bin Laden is no fool. Does he have the forthcoming US election on his list and maybe a British election in 2005? The Spanish bombings have serious ramifications for us all.


Sir: Spanish voters have punished their governing party for blindly supporting the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. I trust that equally wary American and British electorates will soon also sweep aside the principal architects of a discredited neo-conservative "pre-emption" ideology. Bush and Blair must pay the price for their illegitimate war and for making the world, especially Britain, more vulnerable to terrorism. Roll on the general election!


Sir: This may be the first time in the modern era that terrorists influenced the outcome of a nation state election. The vote means the terrorists have won a major strategic victory and calls into question Spanish resolve and courage.

I doubt the Spanish people fully understand what they have done with this vote - they have encouraged more such attacks across the globe. In effect, it is a vote that sanctions the very activity that the Spanish people believe they are against. The Spanish people have accepted political blackmail and offered comfort to the terrorists' means because it generated the ends the terrorists were after.

Plano, Texas, USA

Sir: Twice in slightly over 18 months, a major European election has been decided in favour of social democratic parties on the basis of their anti-war policies - first in Germany, now in Spain. Would Labour not be wise to learn from this experience?


Sir: It was the Spanish government's blatant and precipitate manipulation of the tragedy in Madrid that cost it the election. Bush and Blair should take note that ordinary people expect their governments to be truthful on vital issues and not spin facts to justify their policies.

The war in Iraq is a major and costly distraction from the containment and management of terrorism. The effort and the billions spent would have been better used to help the millions of the poor and disadvantaged in this world and to address the gross injustices and inequalities in this world that serve as the breeding ground for those that propagate violence.

It is not democracy that is under attack as claimed by Blair so much as the arrogance, hypocrisy and selfishness of the West.

Vilassar de Mar, Spain

Sir: What strange times are these, when a socialist election victory in Spain can be presented as a "blow" to a supposed Labour government. All too true, alas.


Sir: City crush United, England are rampant in the West Indies and the Spanish voters kick out the warmongers! A Sunday to remember, an Independent front cover to frame!


Blinkered protests

Sir: The day after the carnage in Madrid I approached a "pace campaigner" carrying a blood-splattered placard of Britain's Prime Minister.

Though not a Labour voter, I asked, "Have you one of Bin Laden too?''

"I'm not responsible for Bin Laden," came the angry retort, "only for my government!"

Is such a response dangerously blinkered? Tunnel vision of which Bin Laden would approve? There are many sides to every argument, but surely it is essential to draw a distinction between politicians who, in time of war, seek to minimise casualties and those who deliberately set out to maximise loss of life.

In parts of the world Bin Laden is regarded as a hero. He is, in fact, a dangerous, well-organised mass-murderer, a serial killer who, like all criminally insane individuals, manages to square his conscience with the most depraved acts conceivable. Behaviour that might bring a smile to his face must, dispassionately, be scrutinised.

Stop the War campaigners gathering in London this month will be televised around the world. Unless they carry, at the very least, equal numbers of blood-soaked Bin Laden placards, this mass murderer and his deluded supporters will not only be smiling but elated.

Nailsworth, Gloucestershire

Cycles of violence

Sir: Robert Fisk (15 March) writes: "The killers are those who kill - and that includes our pilots as well as their bombers." But he fails to make a key distinction: at least our governments and our pilots do not set out with the deliberate intention of indiscriminately killing only innocent civilians. Worse yet, if we believe, as told, that 80 per cent of Spaniards were opposed to the Iraq war, and assume that those killed in the Madrid atrocity were a cross-section, then al-Qa'ida (if indeed it was them) have killed 160 people who were against the Iraqi war but only 40 who were in favour.

So although I agree with almost all Robert Fisk says, and have throughout been opposed to the war in Iraq and the travesty of justice at Guantanamo Bay, I think he is weakening his argument by over-simplification. Bush, Blair and Aznar are stupefyingly wrong, but let's not equate them with the indiscriminate Bin Laden.


Sir: If you live by the sword, then your innocent citizens (though luckily not you) may well die by the sword. Aznar, Blair and Bush should choke on their words of condolence to the victims in Madrid. It is their atrocious criminal violence that has led to this counter-atrocity.


Sir: Can we now look forward to a suitable period of mourning for the hundreds of Iraqi citizens also bombed and killed - or don't they count?

Liskeard, Cornwall

Language lessons

Sir: Foreign language classes for seven-year-olds (report, 11 March) are long overdue. I emigrated to Spain just over a year and a half ago. One of my reasons for so doing was the chance to make my son really good at another language.

He entered a Spanish state school when he was six and is now close to bilingual at the age of seven and a half. He has the kind of perfect Spanish accent that his parents will never manage, however hard we try.

British schools fail at language tuition because they don't start early enough. Most of us come out of school with lousy French accents and the need to use a dictionary lavishly if we tackle dead languages such as Latin and Greek.

Living in a largely expat community I am conscious of the differences between the English and other nationalities such as Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians. Most other nationalities quickly add Spanish to their repertoire of languages, while many of the English can't or won't try. The only kids who manage to learn the language really well are the ones who start no later than seven. After that age children seem unable to think in a second language.

Alicante, Spain

Ban ivory trade

Sir: You claim that a total ivory trade ban "arguably encourages poaching by raising the price" (leading article, 12 March). This is not proven. The total ban on trade in rhino horn is producing results and so was a total ban on ivory trade after 1989. Anything less than a total ban is almost impossible to police and enables poachers to continue to exploit the legal loopholes to sell their illegal ivory.

Poaching and illegal ivory trade increased after the last "one-off" ivory stockpile sale was agreed in 1997. Seven African countries and India, who have some of the most endangered elephant populations in the world, are completely opposed to the sale of new ivory for precisely this reason. Let's not take the risk of losing any more elephants for the sake of a few trinkets and ornaments.

Campaigns Officer,
International Fund for Animal Welfare
London SE1

Tax loopholes

Sir: When does a "loophole" become an "allowance" (Andreas Whittam Smith, 15 March)? As a basic-rate taxpayer, I avoid being taxed at the higher rate by virtue of my relatively low pay. According to Mr Whittam Smith's logic, I should write a cheque to the Treasury for 40 per cent of my salary, in order not to benefit from this pernicious loophole.

If the Government wishes to take more of its citizens' salaries (or company profits) in tax, then the Government should legislate accordingly. Why should taxpayers or their advisers have to ask for permission to obey the law?


No need to kill whales

Sir: As a Norwegian I would like to point out that Norway is a rich country. The reason Norway hunts whales is not because it needs to but because it can. Lofoten Islands may be poor as Pete Marchetto believes (letter, 13 March), but this is because government and council jobs are centralised. When I visited Lofoten there seemed to be many happy locals serving tourists, so everybody on Lofoten is not out whaling!


Opera in Tashkent

Sir, I don't go to the opera much (letter, 13 March), for the reason your correspondents have pointed out - it's expensive. But this is not the case everywhere. When I was passing through Tashkent two or three years ago, the Navoi Opera House was pointed out to me. It's an unattractive Soviet building. I went to a dramatic, if slightly unpolished, performance of Gounod's Faust. The large audience was predominantly young, including many teenage couples, and appreciative. If I lived in Tashkent I would go to the opera often. My ticket cost approximately £1.



Sir: While Tony Blair might be called many things, to call him a cunt (letters, 12, 15 March) is an outrageous insult - but not to the Prime Minister.

Oswestry, Shropshire

Sir: The Commons graffito perfectly fulfills Alexander Pope's definition of wit: "What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed."


Random distribution

Sir: Stuart Batty (letter, 15 March) observes that birthdays deemed worthy of celebration are not evenly distributed throughout the calendar and asks why this might be so. The answer has to lie in the field of chaos theory, which explains the unpredictability of complex systems such as the weather and the stock market. Apparently random data is generated by a large number of variables which interact in such a way as to produce clumps of events close together, rather than the even spread that intuitive logic would assume.


The real thing

Sir: So Coca-Cola may help finance a partial reconstruction of Rome's most famous ruin (report, 10 March)? Will it be renamed The Cola-sseum?

Settle, North Yorkshire

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