Treatment of Muslims, Saddam and others

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Blunkett treats Muslims as second-class citizens

Sir: Dr Rowan Williams suggests that signals need to be sent to Muslims "that will persuade moderate Muslims to sign up to toleration and pluralism". I warmly welcome the comments from Dr Williams (report, 22 December). I would however like to add that the vast majority of Muslims across the globe (and especially in the UK) do not believe in "tolerating" others, but have developed a mutual respect, understanding and empathy with people from other faiths, beliefs and cultures.

The roots of Islam lie in the Judaeo-Christian faiths and all Muslims revere the other two faiths as part of their own belief. Pluralism and freedom of thought are key principles of Islam, and Muslims have historically lived peacefully side by side with members from various faiths as well as with those who professed to have no faith.

It seems that as British Muslims we have to restate the obvious. Many regard the UK as our home and we are proud to be part of it and the plurality of thought and attitude that make up our nation. Let us not forget those Muslims that fought in the great wars and who gave up their lives for King and country.

We have now reached a juncture which will have consequences for many years to come, because of New Labour's attitude to British Muslim citizens. This Government has paid lip service to the families of those British citizens who have neither been charged nor been given access to lawyers or legal advice whilst they languish in Guantanamo Bay. There have been no tangible results. Added to this, the internment of foreign nationals without charge in the country adds insult to the lives of those people (including Muslims), who fought for the freedoms that we enjoy today. Allied to those freedoms is the basic right for people to be given access to legal advice and assistance and to be provided with details of the charges against them. The Blunkett doctrine has led many Muslims in the UK to feel that they are second-class citizens and that their rights are not as important.

For those of us working to maintain good relations between communities the future is uncertain when the Home Secretary takes such measures.


After Saddam, the struggle goes on

Sir: As an American living in the UK, I am relieved to see that as a whole the British reaction to the capture of Saddam Hussein is more subdued than the reaction in the US. While there should be some celebration over the capture of a brutal dictator, the praise being heaped upon President Bush and those around him should be tempered.

The goal at the onset of the current conflict was to force a change of power in Iraq, with proponents advancing the somewhat dubious theory that Iraq and its arsenal of weapons were at the forefront of world terror. This initial goal was achieved some time ago, but achieving the goal created unforeseen problems that still need to be dealt with. Stability and self-determination are the current prime objectives. The capture of Saddam Hussein will have little or no effect on the current situation.

There can be no doubting that Saddam Hussein's legacy of genocide against his own people puts him in the same league as Stalin or Pol Pot, and a fitting punishment should be accorded to him by those who suffered from his tyranny.

Saddam's willingness to taunt the US for so long has made him a despised figure in the United States. However, the settling of a grudge should in no way confuse the fact that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating. Irrespective of the jubilation, the conflict is continuing to show signs of hopelessness similar to Somalia and Vietnam and the wisdom of forcing the conflict in the first place must still be questioned.

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Sir: Johann Hari refers to over 100,000 Iraqis who rose up against Saddam in 1991 and were gunned down ("The trial of the Iraqi dictator will force us to confront our own misdeeds", 17 December). The Americans had encouraged this uprising, but in the event they feared the instability of the outcome. They also feared losing control of the situation and denied the Iraqis access to weapons. The Americans stood by while the Iraqis were slaughtered.

Before the first Iraq war the provisions for health and education were on a par with the first world, although there was little or no political freedom and much repression. But there would have been no Iraq wars if the country's economy was based on spices or green beans. There were many other targets for "liberation".

Good riddance to Saddam. But Mr Hari fails to appreciate the range of objections to the war. The Afghan war and the second Iraq war were both fought partly in defence of global capitalism, because 9/11 had been a blow to confidence in that system.

Tiptree, Essex

Sir: I would like to add my voice to the industry praise and richly deserved best editor award The Independent received in the What the Papers Say awards, particularly with regard to your coverage of the Iraq issue. I have always held your paper up as my favoured daily. Over the last 12 months I have been constantly reminded of why.

This year has seen more "newspeak", and more malevolent propaganda from our leaders, in trying to convince the public of a need to invade Iraq, than at any time I can remember.

Your paper and all who contribute to it have been stalwart in their refusal to bow to this tsunami wave of spin, half-truths and student theses. It has seemed palpable at times this year just how much pressure has been applied to the media to tell the story a certain way, and I thank you for your robustness in the face of this pressure. I implore you to remain as you have been, and not become an agent for the "war is peace" and "ignorance is knowledge" campaigns, which seem to have such a stranglehold on our lives at present.

Prestwick, Ayrshire

Sir: Those intelligence experts were right all the time about the weapons of mass destruction. It's just that they are not very good at geography.

Stroud, Gloucestershire

Confronting evil

Sir: Over a sustained period the media has looked to the Vicar of Soham and has not been disappointed, receiving reflections on faith in the face of evil and on what has been wrong in some of the public reaction to it. Now for a short period it has also besieged my neighbour the Rector of Grimsby for words about Maxine Carr.

He has been seen in everything from the local paper to Sky News carefully setting out his hope for a sensitive and healing way for her to be able to return to Grimsby and his reflections on how she should be seen as one of a large number who have been badly damaged by their encounters with Ian Huntley. His opinions about Carr's situation seem to be so close to Bruce Anderson's (Comment, 22 December) as to make very little difference.

Therefore one has almost to admire either the creativity or laser focus of Anderson's mind that he is able to write everything from "We can take it for granted that the church no longer has a serious role in public discourse, and no longer wants one" to "it is to be hoped that the prison chaplains whom she encounters are rather more Christian than some of their brethren in Grimsby".


Pilots and alcohol

Sir: Your front page story "Air pilots' union blocked random drink tests" (22 December) paints a highly simplistic picture of the views of the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) on air safety, pilots and alcohol. We do not believe that random testing of pilots is the automatic course to take, and there are more effective regimes that can be put in place to tackle these important issues.

Random testing in the US produced 38 positive out of 38,000 tests. People with real problems such as alcohol dependency tend to conceal it from officialdom. In the US they have moved to a Peer Intervention programme, which they see as a more effective control. Figures suggest this is 10 times more effective than random testing.

BALPA is pushing for this system in the UK (and worldwide) and pressed for this unsuccessfully during the passage of the Transport Safety Bill. Nevertheless we are in discussions with a number of airline operators to introduce the system.

Through an alcohol rehabilitation programme we believe we have reduced the number of people with an alcohol problem to way below the national average of 5 per cent. We are not complacent about these issues and we have argued forcefully for radical change, including an international standard of rules that all airlines and flight crews can conform to.

Hayes, Middlesex

Christmas takeover  

Sir: Terence Blacker dislikes the religious element of Christmas ("Christmas would be fine if it weren't for religion", 17 December). Without the religious element Christmas would not be celebrated at all. Even back in Roman times, when the celebration was of the rebirth of Mithras the "Sol Invictus", the temples were scenes of an orgy of consumerism. Christianity simply took over an existing celebration.

Godalming, Surrey

Voting system

Sir: Deck the halls with hollow laughter. The Liberal Democrats have been assured that Labour (no longer New) will hold a review of the voting system after next June's elections (report, 23 December). As Marie Woolf writes, "proportional voting would lead to more Liberal Democrat MPs and it could stop Labour winning an outright majority" because Labour can't win a majority of votes. Labour is feeling the heat in its heartlands from the the post-Brent East Lib Dems. Unfortunately turkeys don't vote for Christmas, and we have been here before.

(Lib Dem)

Room service

Sir: Travelodge should be congratulated for creating the flexibility to make its rooms available by the hour ("Tired motorists wake up to catnap and coffee scheme," 22 December). However, I wonder some users of this short-term drive-in facility might actually leave the premises in need of a catnap, or possibly even a post-stay cigarette.


Political leaders

Sir: Dictators are characterised by Andreas Whittam Smith (opinion, 22 December, 2003) as political leaders who feel they "must create fear among their populations, distrust of sinister foreign forces and a perpetual atmosphere of crisis if they are to survive". This reinforces my view that I live in an elected dictatorship.

Eastleigh, Hampshire