Bush's celebrity critics, Blair's version of history and others

Thursday 22 July 2004 00:00

Bush's celebrity critics are victims of freedom, not censorship

Bush's celebrity critics are victims of freedom, not censorship

Sir: Those who bleat about censorship in the United States ("America sings a new song of celebrity censorship", 21 July) seem not to understand the difference between government regulation and suppression of thought and expression, and the right of free association for individuals and organisations.

No one in the government is stopping Linda Ronstadt from spouting off about Michael Moore; the police aren't burning piles of assorted Bush-hate books; the military isn't shutting down theatres screening Fahrenheit 9/11.

No, in fact what is happening is Elton John complaining that celebrities should be allowed to say whatever they want and not have their bank accounts suffer any consequences, as though they are somehow entitled to our undying admiration and regular tithes. Well sorry, but this isn't an issue of freedom of expression. As free individuals, we each may listen to whom we choose and give our hard-earned money to persons of our choosing. Similarly, a casino owner may freely decide what types of acts he wishes to host at his establishment. By all means Ms Ronstadt, take your tired show out on the street; invite your fans over to the homestead for a private concert.

If I were to walk into the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and start a dissertation on the superiority of the Aryan race, I would no doubt be summarily escorted out. Would it then be valid for me to claim I was censored amidst a "climate of fear"?

Those who cry "Censorship!" where there is none cheapen the sacredness of one of the fundamental guarantees of human liberty.

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

UN and Iraq: Blair's version of history

Sir: Historians will be grateful to Clare Short for pressing the Prime Minister in the Iraq debate on Tuesday on why, having failed to get the Security Council's agreement to a second resolution authorising the use of force against Iraq, he nevertheless committed Britain forthwith to joining the US in its attack on Iraq , thus preventing the UN inspectors from continuing their work for the few more weeks or months that Hans Blix had asked for.

Mr Blair asserted, surprisingly, that he would have preferred to give Blix more time, but that continued inspection could only have been effective if supported by a further UN resolution containing an ultimatum with a deadline for Iraqi compliance, failing which force would be used. But, said Mr Blair, "certain countries" (clearly meaning France) had opposed any ultimatum in any circumstances: and since there would have been no point in a resolution without an ultimatum, he had given up on the UN and concluded that there was no alternative to using force.

Ms Short correctly pointed out that this misrepresented what had happened: a majority in the Council, including France, Russia and Germany and most of the non-permanent members, wanted to give Blix more time, but were not prepared to leave it to the US and the UK to make the judgement on whether Iraq had failed to comply and to decide when force should be used, decisions that were for the Security Council in the future.

The issue was not whether there should be an ultimatum, as the Prime Minister claimed, but whether the Security Council should give Washington and London carte blanche, before Blix had had a chance to complete his inspection, to decide whether and when to launch an attack on Iraq, without a further opportunity for the Council to consider that decision in the light of Blix's eventual findings.

That "automaticity" was what the US and UK were demanding, and it's not at all surprising that the great majority of Council members wouldn't agree. The transcript of the television interview with President Chirac on 10 March 2003 in which he set out France's position, does not support the accusation later made by our ministers that France would have vetoed the use of force in any circumstances: France, like most of the other members of the Council, was not prepared to agree to authorise the use of force at that time, before Blix had had time to complete the inspection, nor to delegate that decision then and there to Washington and London.

It seems important that Mr Blair's version of these crucial events, on which the illegality of the war largely hinges, should not be left uncorrected on the historical record.

London SW18
The writer was a member of HM Diplomatic Service, 1965-94

Sir: Following the reports and inquiries on Iraq, we still do not know the Government's true role in selling a flawed prospectus for war to Parliament and the nation. But this is not surprising in view of the powers they have to frustrate us.

It seems bizarre for an interested party to be able both to draft the "charge" and select the "judge". Over the years the assumption has always been that these anomalies were overlooked because all judges and former judges, who head these things, were fine, upstanding, incorruptible men and women beyond reproach. Nevertheless, this is the kind of practice one would more expect to find in a banana republic than in the Mother of Parliaments.

Since the Government has succeeded in bringing these things into such disrepute, immediate reform would seem to be in order. Perhaps the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls could get together to devise a fair and independent process, whereby the terms of reference and "heads" of all public inquiries and government reports could be selected by visibly disinterested parties.

It is doubtful that even this government could find fault with such a proposal, and yet ....

London NW6

Sir: The Iraq war, the death of Dr David Kelly, the attack on the BBC, the Hutton report, the Butler report - is Blair making fools of us all - and of Parliament? Is he going to get away with it? If he does, it will be an indelible stain on our nation's parliamentary history.

How on earth could a British prime minister get away for so long with such appalling lack of judgement and blatant deception? I am afraid that the answer has to be because the Opposition has allowed him to get away with it - Parliament has not been doing its job. I applaud The Independent for its sustained efforts to expose the truth about Bush, Blair and Iraq - I pray that you will continue until the job is done and Blair is exposed for what he really is.


Sir: Why are politicians so cagey? Why don't they give a straight answer to a question? Well maybe it's something to do with the sort of coverage given to one word, "rejoice", on the front of The Independent (21July).

A poor choice of word given the reception it received when used in connection with the Falklands war, but still just a word trying to convey an opinion about the overthrow of a murderous dictator. As long as The Independent joins in the media frenzy that accompanies any such "slip up" then we'll continue to suffer both politicians afraid to speak openly to the press, and the subsequent growing public disillusion about politics.

Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

Sir: I am drawn to the similarities between the Butler report and Henry II's reported involvement in an unpleasantness at Canterbury. Having heard the King declare, "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?" four of his attendant knights took him at his word and, probably without his knowledge, made their way to the cathedral and killed Thomas Becket on the altar steps.

This was a heinous crime for which the King took full responsibility. This is where the similarity ends. Henry paid public penance for the murder, the knights were exiled.

The Prime Minister says he takes full responsibility for the intelligence débâcle but refuses to admit there was any failure to disclose vital information. Whether this was a sin of commission or omission we may never know but until he says sorry and asks the nation to forgive him, neither Parliament nor country will respect him. Henry II survived his humiliation and continued to be an able ruler.

South Cadbury, Somerset

Sir: The comments from Labour Party big (and small) wigs over Blair's record ("What is the verdict on your leader?", 21 July), make clear that that it is not just Tony Blair who doesn't "get it" but the Labour Party as a whole.

Praise is heaped upon him, with odd phrases such as Iraq being the "the downside" of a glorious success (Bill Morris) and David Puttnam's "leaving Iraq out". These people clearly see the deaths of thousands of people and continuing chaos in Iraq as some minor lapse of policy.

London W3

Remember Honduras

Sir: That development aid to Honduras is being cut (report, 20 July) is even crazier, as Patricia Hewitt took time off during the World Trade Organisation conference in Cancun to open the Department for International Development's regional office in Honduras. No sooner has it opened than it is shut.

The only reason much-needed aid is being withdrawn from some of the world's poorest countries is that last year the Secretary of State for International Development was told to find £100m for Iraq. It was all meant to be overpowering, celebration, oil running, and reconstruction in Iraq. It hasn't quite worked out like that.

However, now that the Chancellor has increased DFIDs budget by 9 per cent, an excellent settlement, perhaps ministers should reconsider their abandoning of desperately poor people in Honduras, and the other 140 million people around the world who have had aid withdrawn to bail out Iraq.

(Banbury, C)
House Of Commons

After divorce

Sir: Kenneth Redgrave (letter, 19 July) suspects that in most cases of 50:50 parenting arrangements made after a separation or divorce, the children would suffer through having no single home base and no single set of friends. This argument is frequently used against fathers seeking more contact with their children.

According to the Government, 90 per cent of separating couples agree contact without recourse to lawyers. It is likely that in many or most of these cases, there is at least a 70:30 split, if not 50:50, of the child's time between parents. There may be instances amongst these, in which the children suffer stress or disorientation, but such examples are surely the rare exception rather than the rule.

Mostly, children adapt readily to having two homes, and enjoy it. I have never heard of or met a young person who did spend substantial time in two homes, but subsequently regretted it in later life, saying something like: "Maintaining a relationship with my Dad after the divorce was cool, but on balance not worth the hassle of having my clothes and schoolbooks and stuff distributed between two homes."

Stockport, Greater Manchester

Good riddance

Sir: It is encouraging to see the collapse of Yasser Arafat's control over the Palestinian Authority, which will hopefully open the way to a truly democratic, people-oriented governing body.

He is the man who introduced suicide bombing to the Middle East and the man who walked away from peace talks in 2000 in favour of launching a new wave of violence that still grips the region today. Whilst the Palestinian people continue to suffer as a result of lack of investment in basic services, the 2003 Forbes Rich Lists ranked Yasser Arafat at number six in the category for monarchs and dictators, with an estimated fortune of $300m hidden away in Swiss bank accounts.

London NW6

Causes of drunkenness

Sir: It seems strange with the sudden discovery of binge drinking there seems to be no criticism of the distillers or retail outlets, particularly supermarkets, who make a vast fortune from alcohol and promote its sale quite cynically at 20-somethings. Or the wine bar that rakes it in while its customers get plastered, but takes no responsibility for getting them home. Tough on the causes of crime, Mr Blair? Not if they are making money.

London SE4

Hats and beards

Sir: What a pity the balanced, intelligent article on antisemitism in France (20 July) was marred by the accompanying picture. It showed three Lubavitch rabbis, ultra-orthodox gentlemen with wide brimmed hats and long grey beards who are by no means representative of the majority of Jews, whether they be in France, Britain or Israel. Such stereotyping only helps to fuel the misrepresentation of Jews. Articles about Christians are not invariably illustrated by a photo of a group of vicars in dog collars, or Catholics by a flock of nuns in habits.

New Barnet, Hertfordshire

Taxes of a lifetime

Sir: Hamish McRae's reference to "tension between working people who pay most tax and pensioners who become large recipients of public funds" (Opinion, 21 July) ignores the fact that many like myself are founder members of the National Health Service and for a large part of our working lives paid tax at a standard rate of 33 per cent only to see our investment in public services frittered away by reductions in income tax now enjoyed by current workers.

Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Live wires

Sir: In the article about the cleaning up of the river Wandle (20 July), Alan Suttie, says: "I am sure the supermarket trolley is becoming an indigenous species and will eventually breed." This is already happening. The eggs take the form of paper clips. Hatching seems to be triggered by the presence of dust and fluff. The larval form is that of wire coathangers which hide themselves in dark places like the backs of wardrobes, where we suspect they feed on moths and dustmites. Eventually they move outside and metamorphose into the adult trolley form.


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