Letters: Perspectives on Pakistan and Taliban

Thursday 05 August 2010 00:00 BST

Cameron misses the point

For the past four years I have been working as a university college principal close to the Pakistan-Afghan border, and I can understand how galling David Cameron's naive and insensitive remarks about terrorism must be to Pakistan.

From about 1980 onwards the West, the Pakistan military and the ISI created the Taliban to fight the Russians. We and they together set up the training camps where British citizens have learned violence more recently.

When the Russians left, there was a political vacuum; some jihadis moved into local administration and police, while others opted for extremism and violence. Parallels might be drawn with Irish nationalists after they had fought off British rule. There is no clear distinction between Taliban extremists and civilians, and I have personally encountered peaceful individuals who have turned to violence on seeing their loved ones killed inside Pakistan's tribal areas by invading US drones.

Why didn't David Cameron condemn this violation of every international agreement instead of bleating naive and simplistic platitudes?

Dr David Gosling, Cambridge

Cursed with an over-mighty army

It is hardly surprising that "Pakistan still lacks the infrastructure and the competent institutions to cope with the current disaster" ("A humanitarian disaster at home, a diplomatic crisis abroad", 3 August). A large chunk of foreign aid to Pakistan is consumed by its army, which is more interested in violating sovereignty in Afghanistan and Kashmir than restricting itself to a defensive role, leaving only a pittance for other developments.

Pakistan's main curse, ever since its inception in 1947, has been its army. Its generals are over-paid; they enjoy special privileges to landholding, foreign currency quotas and foreign travel. No other army in the world enjoys such privileges, including the power to run a country's foreign policy, as the Pakistani army has been doing vis-a-vis Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Pakistan is facing a natural disaster of monumental proportions, but its coffer is virtually empty. It desperately needs our help. But somebody ought to tell the visiting Pakistani President that charity begins at home; and that instead of enjoying the comfort and luxury of Chequers, he should have been visiting the flood-stricken areas of the Swat valley.

Randhir Singh Bains, Gants Hill, Essex

The real reasons for terrorism

So the Americans are going home. Do they feel they have completed their task in Iraq? In July 535 Iraqis were killed, 396 civilians, 89 policemen and 50 soldiers, and 1,043 people injured.

Let's hear less about Pakistan "encouraging" terrorism and more about how the US and UK attacked and occupied two countries and having failed disastrously, are returning home. And give a thought for desperate refugees like Osman Mohammed who died here rather than be sent home.

Janet Salmon, Richmond, Surrey

Minorities must amuse

If one has had the pleasure to read Christina Patterson's two recent articles "The limits of multi-culturalism" and "We need to talk about integration" we would learn that she is apparently not islamophic nor is she anti-semitic.

This is despite the statement, "A properly civilised society would accept that while lovely little C of E schools were once an excellent place for children to learn about the religion that shaped their culture, art and laws, you can't have them without having the madrassa run by the mad mullah next door", and despite comparison of the impoliteness of individual members of the hasidic community to the experience of black civil rights leaders among the Ku Klux Klan.

However what makes me sad in all of this is the statement: "If the Hasids are sometimes a bit irritating, and the soy-latte-sipping, farmers'-market-frequenting chatterati (of which, no doubt, I'm one) so sanctimonious that it makes you want to slap them, the Africans, Pakistanis, Caribbeans and Kurds make up for it." For it seems that the function, and acceptability, of minority groups, is determined, for Ms Patterson, by how much they amuse her.

In my opinion the evidence from these two articles can lead to no other conclusion than that Ms Patterson is anti-semitic and islamophobic. I cannot see any other way to read her broad sweeping attack on large sections of these communities that she justifies by reference to the obscene practice of female circumcision, a practice which is found in the tiniest minority of Muslim households and is in no way limited to the Muslim community.

Ed Zinkin, London SW1

As a self-declared modern orthodox Jew, transported from north-west London to a leafy suburb of Tel Aviv, I had some empathy with the feelings of alienation Christina Patterson experienced living in Stamford Hill. Nevertheless, I imagine that the "monosyllabic terseness" she experienced in Stamford Hill is not so different from the kind that would greet an English person in parts of Paris or even Glasgow.

My main point of contention arises from the words she used in one instance: "When I see an eight-year-old boy recoiling from a normal-looking woman (because, presumably, he has been taught that she is dirty or dangerous, or, heaven forbid, dripping with menstrual blood) it makes me sad."

"Presumably"? Where does such presumption come from? Has she ever witnessed an eight-year-old Jewish boy being told that "normal-looking" women are dirty or dangerous? I am 41 years old. I have been a practising Jew all my life and I have never heard of such an atrocity. Her leap from non-fact to "presumption" seems unwarranted.

Nor can I imagine any sane person teaching an eight-year-old that a "normal-looking" woman would be "dripping with menstrual blood". I have no idea where she dreamed up this peculiar response to seeing an eight-year-old recoiling from a woman (which doesn't strike me as the most unusual thing an eight-year-old has ever done), but it kind of makes me sad.

If the presumption that eight-year-old boys are routinely taught that women are dirty, dangerous and dripping with menstrual blood is something that only applies to orthodox Jews then I am seriously concerned that her irrationality arises from an unexamined prejudice against orthodox Jews.

Daniel Sevitt, Ra'anana, Israel

Having read Christina Patterson's article of 28 July, I feel deep disquiet at the polemicism and stereotyping that permeate it. Yes, I do know Stamford Hill, and no, I am not a Hasidic Jew, and yes, I do accept that, as with all communities, it contains individuals who do not or cannot interact with those around them who come from outside their group.

However did it not occur to her that her stigmatisation of entire cultural niches, based on the activities of the few, goes well beyond bad manners, and into the world of the beer-fuelled ranting that, no doubt, people who think that they are liberals believe that they have nothing in common with? Well done, Ms Patterson, you have demonstrated the tyranny of liberalism for all to see.

Simon Jackson, Barnet, Hertfordshire

Cuts will hit women hardest

Mary Dejevsky makes some interesting points. ("Let's not fight this gender war", 3 August). Sadly, her core premise – that women aren't really doing too badly – is undermined by the daily lived experiences of women around the UK. Women earn less, own less and are more likely to live in poverty than men.

Dejevsky is right to observe that women rely more heavily on the public sector – both as its employees and because they access services such as the NHS more frequently. Women are also more reliant on the welfare state than men – a greater proportion of women's income is typically made up of welfare payments and tax credits than that of men. This situation is not primarily founded in the choices of individual women, but is driven by the inequalities that persist between the sexes. For example, nine out of 10 lone parents are women and some 300,000 pregnant women are thought to lose their jobs every year.

But while the root causes of women's economic inequality – and thus their greater reliance on state support – is something that must change, it doesn't follow that they deserve to get hit hardest when times are tough.

In choosing to reduce the deficit primarily through cuts to spending and welfare, the Chancellor made a decision that was bound to hurt those in poverty most. In failing to assess the way in which these measures would impact on women's equality, the Government showed a staggering disinterest in where the axe would fall. We believe the Government failed in its legal duties and left itself open to legal challenge.

While the coalition has done what it can to portray this Budget as reaching into all our pockets, pushing hard the idea that "we're all in this together", the reality is that some will be worse affected than others, and it is women who will bear the brunt. Fawcett don't relish taking this step, but faced with such blatant disregard for both equality law and the lives of millions of women, we could no longer stand by.

Anna Bird, Head of Policy and Campaigns, The Fawcett Society, London, EC1

Thanks for Mary Dejevsky's article about the Fawcett Society's legal challenge on "sexist" public sector cuts. This is a classic example of equalities campaigners only concerning themselves with one side of the equality equation.

Our experience in Brighton and Hove is that while the public sector has put a welcome focus on making sure its workforce reflects the diversity of the communities it serves, it has stopped way short of applying this principle to men. As a result, not only is the workforce still predominantly female, but so too are the people who benefit from services (with council figures showing that women are 50 per cent more likely to benefit from the local services it funds).

It would be great to hear the Fawcett Society – in its stated quest to campaign for equality for men and women – campaigning for men to be equally represented in the public-sector workforce, for men's projects to receive equal funding and for services to benefit men and women equally.

But this will never happen while equality campaigners keep looking at inequality from just one side of the equation.

Glen Poole, Chair, The Men's Network, Brighton and Hove

A friendly wave for drivers

Anna Oxbury (letter, 3 August) is, of course, right. Pedestrians do have the right of way at marked crossings. She is perfectly free to stride out staring stonily ahead.

But your original correspondent Julien Evans no doubt feels that this is one of many occasions in the day when it just feels courteous and right to say thank you to someone (a waiter, a ticket collector, a receptionist, a lollipop lady) who, when you think about it, has no option but to help you. We do it all the time. It adds a touch of humanity to an otherwise impersonal transaction – and, of course, it costs nothing.

It's also true that the inscription "But I had right of way" would be an appropriate addition to many tombstones.

Gerald Haigh, Bedworth, Warwickshire

I have read the correspondence about etiquette at zebra crossings. A quick recheck of my Highway Code shows within rule 19: "Traffic does not have to stop until someone has moved on to the crossing." So it should be only polite to thank someone who has stopped voluntarily to enable you to pass. Additionally, it is common for drivers to acknowledge other drivers who have extended the same courtesy.

Alan Careless, Torquay, Devon

The Spanish way of death

It was good to read Robert Elms's article on the Spanish corrida (31 July). Normally newspapers only refer to the bulls when using photographs of a matador being gored or thrown, and then only to fill space through the quiet season.

While the British buy plastic-wrapped cuts of meat and curse the barbarity of "bullfighting", the Spanish also deal with death through flamenco and art. Hopefully Robert's article might start a debate about differing responses to and expressions of death and encourage a deeper look at the reasons for the Catalans banning the fiesta nacional.

Ray Leary, Ilford, Essex

Sorry to be both boring and beastly in one sentence, but Steve Edwards' wording "vicarious bloodlust of people who would never dare face the horns themselves" (letter, 3 August) applies, mutatis mutandis, to any spectator sport whatsoever.

Tom Aitken, Richmond, Surrey

Doctors' duty to speak up

Gagging orders in the NHS are an issue that is worrying Jonathan Punt (letter, 4 August).

I want to make clear that any doctor who reports genuine concerns will have nothing to fear from the General Medical Council. In our core guidance, Good Medical Practice, we say that doctors have a responsibility to flag up issues about inadequate resources, a colleague's conduct, performance, or health. We also say that if doctors have good reason, raising a concern is justified even if it turns out to be groundless.

We are currently reviewing our Management for Doctors guidance, which states that doctors in a management role must make sure that adequate systems are in place for complaints to be thoroughly investigated and that those who raise concerns are protected from unwarranted criticism or actions.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive, General Medical Council, London NW1

Drama at the supermarket

As a mere mortal, I feel unable to challenge polymath Jonathan Miller's assertion that Marks and Spencer is more interesting than the West End theatre ("I haven't seen a West End show in 10 years, says Jonathan Miller", 3 August). What could be more dramatic than a crucible of marinated olives, more poetic than a pound of fruit from the cherry orchard, or more operatic than a pizza verde – as you like it?

Stan Labovitch, Freigericht Neuses, Germany

It was sad to hear that Jonathan Miller does not get asked to do anything in the theatre any more. However, now that he is known as an anti-celebrity celebrity the job offers are sure to come flooding in.

Ivor Morgan, Lincoln

Outdated theories

Ian Nicholson writes that "teaching six-day creationism may be bad science and education" (Letters, 31 July), yet adds in the same sentence that "theories of creation are a valid and reasonable belief, held with justification by many respected scientists". Which respected scientists?

He feels that secularism is trying to "control the educational agenda", and calls instead for a "pluralist not a secular" approach, in which children are encouraged to "examine different beliefs [and] ... a range of options". Yet pluralism and free inquiry are at the very heart of a secular and humanist approach.

But pluralism surely does not mean that all beliefs have to be treated with equal respect. Creationism has no more right to a place on the curriculum than alchemy, astrology, or perhaps the stork theory of reproduction. In the words of Carl Sagan, "Our minds should be open, but not so open that our brains fall out".

David Simmonds, Epping, Essex

Abuse censored

Jon Venables has been sentenced to two years for child pornography offences (report, 24 July). He will be on the sex offender register for 10 years and barred from working with children for life. He is also subject to a sexual offences prevention order for five years. This bans him from owning or using a computer that does not have specialist software installed, blocking images of child abuse. Why aren't all computers sold with that software installed?

Anne van Staveren, Feltham, Middlesex

Cut-price bomb

If the Government wishes to save money while retaining a nuclear deterrent, should it not be investigating the possibility of buying our nuclear weapons from India or Pakistan rather than the USA?

David Burton, Wellington, Telford

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