Zimbabwe asylum-seekers, Cost of identity cards and others

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The Independent Online

Blood of Zimbabwe asylum-seekers will be on Blair's hands

Sir, I am am a white Zimbabwean who arrived in this country in 2003. Unlike the Zimbabweans in detention waiting to be sent back to Zimbabwe I hold a British passport; my father was born here. I am therefore not being sent back to Zimbabwe and certain death.

I bought your paper today (27 June) because on the front page is a picture of a scene in Zimbabwe that is familiar. All I can say to the British government and to the Home Office is this: send back those men in detention and their blood is on your hands. If they are sent back they will simply disappear. Mugabe is mad and the madness will continue until he is stopped.

I applaud people like Sir Bob Geldof who work to end starvation and suffering in Africa. The problem, as those of us who have lived there can tell you, is corruption. In Zimbabwe food meant for all who are starving is only given to those who will vote for Mugabe.

I cannot conceive what the vast majority of black Zimbabweans are going through. Their homes demolished, their businesses destroyed. When I lived there I bought bananas and other vegetables from children trying desperately to eke out a living, very often to support younger brothers and sisters because their parents are dead.

The lot of the average Zimbabwean amounts to poverty, starvation and an HIV rate that is possibly the highest in the world. What will it take for Britain and America to step in? How long? Were Zimbabwe an oil producer or had weapons of mass destruction then something would happen very quickly.

I thank you for your efforts to highlight the problem. To the asylum seekers in detention: I want you to know we are praying for you, as I am sure many people are.



Sir: Your front-page article on the crisis in Zimbabwe (27 June) concludes with a chilling question from a mission doctor: "Does anyone in the outside world know what's going on here? What are people waiting for?"

The African Union, on receiving an appeal from more than 200 civil society groups across Africa last week, answered these questions by saying that the continuing demolitions of homes and the spiralling human rights crisis in Zimbabwe are an "internal matter". It is exactly this appalling conspiracy of silence amongst African leaders that is giving Robert Mugabe the message that he can continue to destroy lives with impunity.

South Africa's President Mbeki and Nigeria's President Obasanjo have an opportunity to reject this false "African solidarity" when the AU meets in Libya next week. African solidarity should be with the people of Africa, not their repressive leaders.



Unacceptable cost of identity cards

Sir: The idea of a national identity card is something we could discuss endlessly: some see it as a great anti-terrorist measure, others see a control-freak mentality that makes the Soviet Communist Party look like amateurs. I believe that whatever electronic measures the Government puts in place will be sheepishly adopted by the law-abiding public, while genuine terrorists will come up with ways to circumvent the cards.

What can't be argued is that a cost of £399 or even £93 is utterly unacceptable. Either this is another tax-collection device in thin disguise or there is something very sadly wrong with governmental procurement.

Much smaller organisations routinely use security cards with a cost per person way below these figures, and we all know how the cost of electronics benefits from scale. All of use except, it seems, the Government.



Sir: Daniel Clarkson's suggestion that everyone should compulsorily have an identity tattoo on their forehead (Letters, 28 June) may be satirical at the moment, but there is something not that much less extreme which it's already easy to envisage.

It is perfectly possible that eventually we may be required not merely to carry our identity card at all times, but to wear it visibly on outside clothing at all times. Already more and more people are required to do this at work, and it is a common sight to see people coming out of office blocks still wearing their identity cards. I have heard no reports of widespread refusals to adopt this practice, and it must have the effect of making it an accepted norm.

At the moment the legislation will not require the carrying of identity cards at all times - indeed this is among the reassurances which the Government has kept giving on the subject - but I think most people assume that eventually it will be amended to include this requirement. Certainly the enthusiasts for ID cards are not going to be satisfied unless it is, and at this point the question of wearing it visibly is bound to be raised.



Sir: The Prime Ministers' latest effort to sell us increased surveillance on ourselves seems to centre on the barrow boy principle - "Not £300, not £200 but ... 93 quid!" Perhaps he's going to compensate us for being spied on by throwing in a free dinner service?



Sir: We are told that the card will combat identity fraud; tackle illegal working and immigration abuse; stop criminals having multiple identities; stop benefit cheats and of course combat terrorism. One wonders what else this card might be capable of; could it even find those weapons of mass destruction?



Stand by for greener domestic appliances

Sir: The environmental cost of leaving appliances on standby, highlighted in your cover story on 23 June, is hardly a new concern: experts have raised it at least since 1997. Nonetheless there has been barely any response by regulators and businesses.

Our research on new product development (see www.article13.com) showed only a fifth of all FTSE 100 companies researching and designing new products to meet the goal of environmental sustainability. The vanguard of companies doing so has found measurable benefits in terms of cost savings, access to new markets and development of new market partnerships.

Since we can not expect households to change behaviour overnight and switch appliances off, we must either wait for more businesses to voluntarily improve the design of electrical appliances or wait for the regulators and politicians to enforce the necessary changes. The former is surely preferable, but requires a new spirit of commitment by business to use innovation for environmental as well as economic benefit.



Sir: We at the CSUUIU applaud your concerns about carbon dioxide emissions from electrical equipment left on standby (report, 23 June). We would like to point out, however, that your use of the "double decker bus" unit (in your reference to "enough carbon dioxide to fill 80 million double-decker buses") was inappropriate. It is hard for most people to envisage 80 million of anything, let alone buses.

The correct use for the double-decker as a unit of volume is illustrated by the following example (which may or may not be true): "The average Minneapolis family consumes around 24 tonnes of baked beans each year, enough to fill a double decker bus." Note how the image of a bus full of beans allows even the least imaginative of readers to picture what 24 tonnes actually looks like.

We haven't been around long (about ten minutes, in fact) but are hoping to produce a booklet for journalists which will detail the correct employment of various units in popular usage, as well as formalising relationships (such as the number of "double-decker buses" to the "Albert Hall"), and providing conversion factors where appropriate.



Electronic answer to Sudoku worries

Sir: In response to the recent letters on ambiguous solutions to Sudoku, asking how the setter can ensure the solution is unique, the simple answer is: "By checking it out on a computer".

Typical Sudoku puzzles set in newspapers give you between 20 and 30 initial values, depending on the desired puzzle difficulty. Humans may find these puzzles tricky to solve but a computer program can make short work of applying all the rules (including trial and backtrack for the more difficult puzzles) to give a solution within a fraction of a second.

Although it is quite possible to set a Sudoku puzzle with ambiguous solutions, the far more likely reason for any apparent ambiguity, in a puzzle that has been carefully compiled for humans to solve, is that some earlier mistake has been made in the solution.

Any undetected repeat of a number, in a given row or column, can easily cause an ambiguity to appear elsewhere. Equally, if a puzzle is transcribed from the newspaper on to a separate sheet of paper, the greatest care must be taken. I know to my cost that the slightest transcription error can lead to solutions that are apparently inconsistent, ambiguous or horrendously difficult (and sometimes all three).



Muslims do not need hatred law

Sir: Dr Rashed Akhtar (letter 28 June) states: "Muslims have no protection when headscarves are pulled or graves desecrated or mosque windows broken."

Dr Akhtar's knowledge of religious history is impressive; but this assertion is wrong. No change of the law is required for any of these crimes to be prosecuted today (and they must be prosecuted) and the religious nature of the offence would be an aggravating factor allowing for a more severe sentence.

If a man as learned as Dr Akhtar believes there is no protection for Muslims under the law, what is the general state of perception of the criminal justice system in the wider British Muslim community? An urgent information campaign is required if Muslims feel that they cannot be protected from assault and criminal damage and that only a Racial and Religious Hatred Act will protect them.



Sir: Dr Rashed Akhtar says that the Religious Hatred Bill is needed to protect Muslims "when headscarves are pulled or graves desecrated or mosque windows broken".

All these things are already illegal. What Dr Akhtar and everyone else who favours this Bill has signally failed to do is produce a single example of an offence that this proposed religious hatred legislation would catch that is not already covered by existing law. If it will not provide any further protection from assault, harassment or threatening behaviour what will it do?

It will, of course, restrict free speech and create expectations in communities of a protection for their religious beliefs. And that is why it is so dangerous. Imagine the bitterness that will arise when religious bodies try to bring prosecutions for insults to their faith and (if the Home Secretary is to be believed) are thwarted at every turn. It can only cause more tensions among communities that already feel beleaguered.



Sir: Odd but strangely inspiring to see Bruce Anderson and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on the same tack on the same page (27 June).

Mr Anderson asserts that "There is nothing wrong with religious hatred; there is everything wrong with religious-inspired violence." One, of course, is the cause of the other and they are both equally wrong.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown asserts that "Love is one small way we close the gaps, and the chasms between peoples." Love is, of course, one huge way we close these gaps and chasms and perhaps is the only way. Who needs legislation?



Labour legacy

Sir: I hope someone is keeping a list of all these inflammatory pieces of legislation that we're seeing from New Labour so that they can be repealed when some other party finally wins a general election.



Use of the apostrophe

Sir: Mike Palfrey suggests that the apostrophe is a good-for-nothing layabout, and serves no useful function (letter, 28 June). Not so. The apostrophe is a very good indicator of intelligence. If I ever see an advertisement in which one is misused, then I never become a customer of the perpetrator of the error. If he isn't bright enough to get his punctuation right, then he is unlikely to be bright enough to give me good service. Long may that layabout enliven our glorious language.



Modest demand

Sir: Hundreds of thousands of people will be in Edinburgh for the Make Poverty History march. And what should we shout in response to the traditional cry of "What Do We Want?" Can I suggest the words of Edinburgh-born Irish freedom fighter and trade unionist James Connolly in 1907 describing his demands as being most moderate: "The Earth. We only want the Earth."



Remember Sneath

Sir: Much as I enjoyed Simon Carr's obituary of William Donaldson (27 June) I was surprised that no mention was made of Humphry Berkeley's The Life & Death of Rochester Sneath. Berkeley, posing as this fictional public school headmaster, wrote many letters whilst an undergraduate at Pembroke College in 1948 and was persuaded in 1974 to publish the letters and the responses. I suspect that, like many Cambridge undergraduates, William Donaldson was well aware of the Sneath letters and it was this idea which was "pinched" rather than Don Novello's.



Random writings

Sir: When the monkeys eventually manage to type out the complete works of Shakespeare, will this, according to Victor Taylor (letter, 27 June) fail to be a work of art by virtue of its randomness?