We have been persuaded by our politicians that the wars in the Middle East are in defence of “freedom” and “democracy”. They are not. They are sectarian wars between Sunnis and Shias, a conflict that has been going on for about 1,300 years. We should know about sectarian wars from the Catholic against Protestant wars – they tend be the most vicious, in which no holds are barred.
This should be obvious from the support given by the most authoritarian regime, Saudi Arabia, to the Syrian rebels supposedly fighting for “democracy”. Wrong – they get the support because they are Sunnis, fighting the hated Syrian Shias, who are supported by none other than Shia Iran.
This is not our quarrel – we should step aside and stay out, giving only humanitarian help to both sides. Furthermore supporting one side against the other will only encourage terrorist attacks against us. Did we learn nothing from Iraq?
John Day, Port Solent, Hampshire
If the UN inspectors’ results confirm evidence of a chemical attack, and if the footage of children cowering in fear and dying from gas last week is verified and not proved a cruel hoax, then war on Syria will be justified beyond reproach.
Let those arguing the opposite case go and live in the suburbs of Damascus already reduced to rubble and under daily threat of sarin poisoning. What Cameron, Obama, Kerry and their western partners are doing is wholly right.
Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex
There is no moral dilemma attached to dealing with Assad in Syria. A brutal regime is committing despicable acts against it’s own infant children, and should be stopped. Furthermore, those actions are contributing to an arc of instability from the Pillars of Hercules to the Sea of Marmara that will ultimately threaten the southern frontiers of Europe.
The real dilemma is that years of disarmament have left even Britain and France all but helpless in the face of these horrors – and having finally got the kind of US President the liberal elite of Europe have always dreamed of, that President is now largely indifferent to our futile whingeing.
We are beginning to reap what we have sown, and it will certainly get much worse unless we start to take serious responsibility for our own defence.
R S Foster, Sheffield
Why does not the massacre of a thousand Muslim Brotherhood supporters by the Egyptian military not merit the “humanitarian intervention” compassionately espoused by William Hague in Syria?
Both atrocities targeted innocent civilians and the number of victims was approximately equal. Syria is embroiled in a brutal civil war while Egypt could be on the cusp of one.
Perhaps the key lies in Egypt’s usefulness as a strategic Western ally, which must politically justify the continuation of military aid to the generals, in spite of the fact that their recent actions clearly constituted a coup. Assad is not a Western ally and clearly does not support Western interests in the region.
Unfortunately, while the West uses such selective criteria to deal with human rights abuses in the Middle East, it should not be surprising that its good faith and motives are constantly in question.
Anna Romano, Worksop, Nottinghamshire
The common denominator in every atrocity is that individuals acted with impunity. To stop atrocities you have to stop individuals believing that they will never be accountable.
Bombing infrastructure associated with regimes that such individuals are part of will not stop atrocities. The UN declaring that there will be no safe haven and investing in capturing and bringing all such individuals to justice might. It is better to fragment a regime by capturing, alive, the perpetrators, than consolidate it by targeting the regime as a whole.
Jon Hawksley, London EC1
I find the political outpourings of outrage over possible chemical weapons attacks in Syria just nauseating. It is also a shameless disregard for the many more casualties of conventional weaponry. What difference is there between being gassed and being shot or bombarded to obliteration?
We must above all not take sides in this dispute. The proper humanitarian response would be to channel all available funds into countries hosting the tragic refugees from the madness. Adding to the killing will not help them.
Robert Dow, Tranent, East Lothian
John Kerry is correct, the death of 500 by chemical attack is of course morally obscene. However, does he think 500,000 dead by US conventional weapons moral? After Vietnam, Cambodia and Iraq the world being lectured by the US on morals is obscene.
Gary Cheshire, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire
Overwork, then and now
Your report (21 August) about the death of a bank intern who was found dead after allegedly working for 72 hours without sleep reminded me of the days I worked as a local government social worker in the 1960s.
Part of my contract was that I was on 24-hour call with a telephone at home provided by the department. I paid for my private calls. My telephone number one year was in the local telephone book in four places, including emergency welfare inquiries, mental health, and social services emergency after-hours number. We had no clerical back-up staff and carried out additional duties nowadays dealt with by other departments and organizations.
I remember, for instance, working three days and two nights without sleep to deal with day-to-day work and out-of-hours emergencies. Even if one was out all night on casework emergencies – seeing relatives of suicide victims, sectioning, child care, homeless families, burials and cremations of destitute people – one still had to sign on for work at 8.30 that morning or one would be on the carpet with the Director of Social Services or his deputy.
Even when I was out all night – perhaps because of families being made homeless by a fire, or sectioning someone and taking the children into care – one still was paid no overtime or time off in lieu.
I can remember once I decided to claim for two lots of medication I had to buy from the chemist to disinfest myself because of scabies I had caught from a down-and-out elderly homeless client I had helped. I was told I could not claim because it was “an occupational hazard”. Those were the days!
Barbara MacArthur, Cardiff
A new ally for Gibraltar
Would it not make sense for Gibraltar and Cornwall to form a political union within the UK?
Gibraltar is already part of the Cornish European constituency. We have similar economic issues, both over-reliant on tourism. Also both share a cultural legacy. West Cornwall was invaded by Spain.
A light-hearted letter but a serious suggestion for both under-recognised regions. We are both not English but British Europeans.
Cornwall should also seek greater ties with our cousins in Galicia and Brittany, as a bridge between the “little Englander” attitude of our big neighbour and a true European identity of the Celtic regions, which Madrid should find less confrontational.
Tim James, Penzance
Losing the religious plot
Rabbi Sachs joins up all the wrong dots in his advocacy of religious over secular (“Lack of faith means Britain is ‘losing the plot’ says Lord Sacks”, 26 August). In a tangle of logical and historical non-sequiturs, he conflates secular society with individualism and religious faith with mutual trust and good faith generally.
You might think there had never been religious war and persecution, or co-operation and community based on overlapping interests and common sense.
Greg Wilkinson, Swansea
According to the outgoing Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, society is “losing the plot” as it becomes more secular and less trusting. Lord Sacks should choose his words more carefully, as atheists have long held that the basis of all religion is nothing more than a plot to control humankind. That is a plot worth losing, sir.
Henry Page, Newhaven, East Sussex
Recent exchanges about Brunel’s attempts to produce a railway driven by atmospheric pressure have, as on all such occasions, mistaken the problem he was trying to solve. People cannot remember or cannot imagine the effect on clothing of soot-flakes that could enter carriages from steam-engines. (I remember hearing of a bride’s going-away outfit soiled beyond wearing by them.) In this case, as in the case of the 7ft gauge, Brunel’s main interest was the comfort and convenience of passengers.
Tony Pointon, Portsmouth
“Setting off with a rifle to kill a deer is an intense communion with nature and landscape,” writes Bruce Anderson (27 August), seeing “mysticism” in the process, for good measure. What self-deluding claptrap! “I get a kick out of killing living things with firearms,” is presumably the sentiment he was trying to get across.
Peter Griggs, London SW16
Bill Smith (letter, 26 August) writes: “The problem with renewable energy is that we cannot control the supply.” Yes, that pesky sun and those unreliable tides - much better to rely on something like gas that will never run out and is available on demand.
Edward Collier, Cheltenham
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