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Readers respond to articles recently published in The Spectator

6 November 2004

12:00 AM

6 November 2004

12:00 AM

Israel’s rapacious wall

Anton La Guardia (‘A just wall’, 30 October) is spot-on in pointing out that Israel’s brutal wall is pushing the Palestinians ‘into reservations’. I have just returned from a week in Bethlehem, where I was warmly welcomed as a Jewish participant in the Olive Harvest Campaign, which calls on international volunteers to help the Palestinians harvest their olives in the face of harassment from the Israeli army and settlers. I have seen for myself how the wall is stealing Palestinian land and driving the Palestinians into ghettoes.

However, I disagree with Mr La Guardia’s contention that the Palestinians are ‘co-authors of their own tragedy’ and therefore, he implies, equally to blame, as a result of the suicide bombings. This ignores Ariel Sharon’s deliberate provocation of Hamas by assassinating its leaders — notably just after the signing of the road map. Hamas has several times offered a ceasefire if Israel will stop its assassination policy; the Israeli response has been more assassinations. To point this out is not to support the suicide bombings; of course they are immoral and counterproductive. But imagine what would have happened if, during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, the British government had assassinated Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. The IRA would have responded with a brutal bombing campaign on the British mainland. Such a reaction would have been unjustifiable, but the ultimate responsibility would have rested on those who had deliberately wrecked the chance for peace.

Deborah Maccoby
London E5

A pair of prats

Quite a week for the Harold Pinter family. First Mrs Pinter makes a prat of herself by joining the laughable Guardian campaign to write idiotic anti-Bush letters to the voters of Clark County, Ohio — thus (inadvertently) giving the Bush campaign a bit of a lift. Then Mr Pinter recycles his by now rather moth-eaten abuse of the US and gets The Spectator to publish it (Letters, 30 October). Ho hum. These licensed fools of the Guardian school may be politically fatuous, but at least they retain a marginal share of entertainment value. Scribble, scribble, scribble, while the audience laughs.

Herb Greer
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Harold Pinter wants to indict President Bush as a war criminal before the International Criminal Court. Sorry, no can do. The USA has refused to sign up to the court, along with China. Blair is fair game, however, for prosecution as a war criminal under Article 8 of the ICC statute.

Girish Thanki
London N14

Managing anger

Brendan O’Neill is assuredly correct when he asserts the rightful position of anger as a positive emotion in some circumstances (‘The anti-angry brigade’, 23 October). We have, after all, a rather authoritative example of righteous anger put to good use against money-changers in the temple. However, Mr O’Neill goes too far when he would have us believe that it is emotional correctness gone mad to be told ‘which emotions it is OK to express and how we should express them’. No: that is called learning how to behave in polite adult society. I might be repelled by a colleague’s physical appearance, or incredibly attracted by a friend’s spouse, but decency and good sense tell me it would be unwise to express my emotions to the parties concerned. We all need to learn when and how to express our emotions, anger included — a lesson which, alas, too many of those I encounter on the public highway these days appear not to have learnt.

Martin Hogg
Stellenbosch,
South Africa

Rising tide of waste


I read Ross Clark’s article on the government’s recycling initiatives with a sense of profound weariness (‘Rubbish policies’, 23 October). In between the clichéd complaints about fortnightly bin collections which householders ‘suffer’ and the impending burden on beleaguered farmers (subsidies anyone?), he fails to address the point that individuals and businesses are responsible for the waste they produce.

Granted the legislation surrounding this may be complex, and perhaps for smaller businesses it may prove costly. Mr Clark’s proposal to apply a surcharge at the point of production/import to be refunded when the item is recycled is a nice idea, but unworkable in practice. The mind boggles at the additional bureaucracy this would create. Desperate to get rid of last year’s sofa or perhaps your mum’s 25-year-old carpet? Fine, as long as you can provide precise details of the manufacturing source. I don’t think so, somehow.

Having worked in a local-authority recycling department dealing with businesses and householders alike, I firmly believe that the greatest obstacle to recycling in this country is the absence of any sense of social responsibility — or sheer bloody-mindedness. A sizeable minority appears to feel that wrapping up waste properly and placing cans in a recycling box is somehow beneath them, or that it’s perfectly acceptable for obese families to produce more rubbish in a week than the average Third World country does in a year. Why? Because they pay council tax, of course.

As long as local authorities continue to deal with the ever-increasing amounts of waste generated by our bloated consumerist society, this situation is not going to improve. While the measures now in place may leave something to be desired, they’re certainly a step in the right direction, and the sooner we get used to it, the better.

Lizzie Slater
By email

Not my style

In his review of Neville and June Braybrookes’ Olivia Manning (Books, 30 October), Philip Hensher takes me to task, as editor, for not having ‘done something to improve the Braybrookes’ plodding prose’. That was not my remit. If a besieging mob of Mr Hensher’s frenzied fans were accidentally to suffocate him and I was then asked (highly improbable) to prepare for publication his last bequest to posterity, I should not dream of substituting my drearily subfusc style for his adventurously polychromatic one. Similarly, it was never my purpose to try to transform the Braybrookes’ far from inadequate authorial voices into my own.

Francis King
London W8

Variety in Brixton

While I agree with most of Rod Liddle’s article on supermarkets (‘Free market my eye!’, 23 October), I must take issue with him in one respect. He says that London is worse than Wiltshire for local shops, and cites south London as an example. I, too, live in south London — in Brixton, as it happens — and my visits to a supermarket are few and far between. The reason? Within ten minutes’ walk of my house there are a bakery, a butcher, at least half a dozen fishmongers, three delicatessens, a fruiterer, a large fruit and vegetable market, several corner shops and stalls selling household and cleaning equipment — all at a fraction of the prices found in supermarkets. There is also an organic-food delivery firm based in the area. All this makes it exceedingly easy to avoid supermarkets, if you have the time and inclination.

Lesley Taylor
By email

A slur on my comrades

I am an Englishman living near Exeter. I was interested to learn from Jane Gardam’s review of Doris Lessing’s Time Bites (Books, 23 October) that the latter had told girls of Exeter School that when she was young ‘there was the Soviet Union, Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini of Italy, the British empire’ and that she now rejoiced that ‘they are all gone’.

I am 81. For me there were also these things. I spent five years of my youth fighting Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini of Italy in company with many brave young men and women from various parts of the Brit
ish empire. I captained a Wellington bomber of 221 Squadron when the other four in the crew were all Australians. They would have been surprised to be lumped with the enemy in a sour condemnation like this.

Francis Bennion
Budleigh Salterton,
Devon

Rian all at sea

Is Rian Malan from the ‘no need to check facts, let’s just make it up’ school of journalism? In his letter (2 October) he alleges that the Pugwash Conferences workshop he was invited to in February 2004 was held ‘at a seaside resort’ and that ‘God knows how much it cost’. (Malan was invited to the meeting and agreed to come, but then failed to arrive without notifying anyone.)

As is customary with Pugwash, committed scholars and public figures participate in the meetings, often covering their own air fares, because of their commitment to enhancing global security by thinking and acting in new ways. In point of fact, Pugwash had minimal funds for the February 2004 meeting, so overseas participants arranged their own travel and the workshop was held in the modest homes of the parents of our two South African organisers (Profs Marie Muller and Nola Dippenaar of the University of Pretoria), not some ‘seaside resort’. Participants cooked their own meals, washed their own dishes etc., to save on expenses. Mr Malan doesn’t need to ask God how much it cost — he can ask me. The total was about US $1,000, which for eight participants comes out at $135 a person for two days of lodging and meals.

I hope Mr Malan is more rigorous in his fact-checking on Aids than he was in seeking to belittle the Pugwash Conferences and its work on this important issue. However, as my colleagues explained in your pages, there are sound reasons to doubt it.

Jeffrey Boutwell
Executive director,
Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs,
London WC1

Longer still

Paul Johnson (And another thing, 23 October) asks whether any reader knows if Proust wrote a longer sentence than Victor Hugo’s 823 words mentioned by Graham Robb in his life of that author.

By my admittedly erratic and inaccurate counting he did. In Terence Kilmartin’s version of Remembrance of Things Past (Vol II, 1981, pages 638–640) there is a sentence of rumination on inversion which contains (approximately) 937 words, 53 commas, six semicolons, three dashes and one colon. Does it count, being a translation?

T.T. King
Brentwood, Essex

If you would like to email letters for publication in The Spectator, please send them to letters@spectator.co.uk, including your postal address and telephone number.


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