The Spectator

Feedback | 1 May 2004

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The BBC of print

It is an indictment of the pitiful state of our ‘democracy’ that Britain’s future role in Europe should depend on the whim of one egregious Australian-born businessman (‘The man who calls the shots’, 24 April). How to stop similar circumstances arising again? Our broadcast media — i.e. the BBC — is the envy of the world. Our tabloid-dominated press is by contrast a laughing-stock and a scandal. The solution is obvious: we need a British Press Corporation, an equivalent of the BBC for print media. The ‘Beep’ could run a small stable of publications from tabloids to broadsheets (and even perhaps weeklies too).

It could be part-subsidised out of general taxation, and would therefore be more independent of the business interests whose ownership deforms the content of so much of our press. Drawing as it would on the existing structure of news-gathering available to the BBC, the BPC would be cost-effective as well as provide an intelligent and informative source of news. Its competition would surely have the effect of undercutting the worst at least of the present tabloid excesses and the dominance of a handful of private individuals over the British polity.

Stephanie Lawson and Rupert Read
University of East Anglia, Norwich

Parris: right and wrong

Matthew Parris in his otherwise excellent article on the hypocrisy of the so-called alternative medicine industry (Another voice, 24 April) claims that the Sunday Telegraph has been making its ‘usual song and dance about the threat posed to Britain’s health food and alternative medicine industry by the European Union’.

Far from that, in our editorials we have consistently taken the approach which Matthew Parris has now adopted, most recently on 24 April — ‘The medical risks of alternative remedies have received scandalously little coverage.’

It is true that in his column Christopher Booker has taken the line that Mr Parris attacks, but as a columnist of great independence Mr Parris surely understands that Mr Booker has licence to express his own views in our pages, even if they are diametrically opposed to the editorial line of the paper.

Dominic Lawson
Editor, Sunday Telegraph, London E14

Torture warrants

Paul Robinson’s purported description of my views on torture are a complete fabrication, as anyone actually reading my extensive body of writing on this subject can attest (‘Extremism in the defence of liberty’, 24 April). I am against torture as a normative matter. As an empirical matter, however, I recognise that it is going on beneath the surface and under the radar screen. In order to bring this problem to the surface, so as to make those employing torture accountable, I have proposed that under no circumstances should torture ever be permitted without a judicial warrant. I do not ‘recommend’ the insertion of sterilised needles under the fingernails. I simply used that as an illustration of the kind of non-lethal torture that might be considered under a torture warrant proposal. Mr Robinson understands that this is my view. Any intelligent person reading my writings would. Why then does he insist on distorting my efforts to begin a debate about accountability into a straw man that I do not advocate? I think I know the answer. He has a thesis, and his distortion of my views better fits his thesis than my actual views do. Shame on him.

Alan Dershowitz
Cambridge, Massachusetts

The dying West

Mark Steyn is right to point out that ‘the West, as a ... demographic fact, is dying’, but it will not be George Bush who proves its saviour (‘Only Bush can save Europe’, 24 April). The West needs saving from itself.

Since the middle of the last century, throughout the West, the spread of liberal democracy and the pursuit of individual freedom at almost any cost have brought about an evolutionary catastrophe. In this country, since the introduction of the Abortion Law Reform Act of 1967, the state has conspired in the destruction of some 6–10 million of its future citizens. Any animal husbandman who treated his flock with such Caligulan disregard would soon find himself in Queer Street; and this is where the largely white and liberal West now finds itself heading at great speed.

No doubt this vacuum will be filled, one way or another, by immigrants from Third-World countries whose cultures or religions do not countenance such airheaded disregard for humanity. We should contemplate with anguish the fate of the remnants of our tribe, who may then be made to pay, by their new masters, for the real or imagined transgressions of their ancestors.

Phil Wyness
Esher, Surrey

Every issue of your publication provides the best analysis of the various wars and/or legal actions against terrorism and/or its sympathisers and/or sponsors (mercy, it almost never ends, does it?) to be found on any news-stand or in the vast digital wasteland that is the Internet. Nowhere else can one find such cogently argued and exceedingly well-written pieces from such a wide spectrum of perspectives. It makes for an informative, entertaining, challenging and hugely refreshing read.

Mark Steyn is winning the debate, by the way. May the remnants of al-Qa’eda perish on the battlefields of New Hampshire.

Robert Fike
Alexandria, Virginia

I must say I am rather perturbed by Mark Steyn’s fawning adoration of George Bush and the anti-Muslim/anti-Islamic vitriol which seems to be the main theme of all his articles. At best it’s just downright silly and at worst I find his efforts quite destructive of our cause.

David Stern
New York

Shawcross’s ‘satire’

A majority of readers, I suspect, will view the argument that Iraq is better off as a result of our invasion because fewer Iraqis are dying as a result of sanctions as the argument of a thug or an idiot. Even the British and US governments haven’t been so callous or hypocritical as to advance such a justification for the war. However, we should remember that the thesis was brewed in the mind of William Shawcross and is therefore most likely a form of satire.

It was William who, on the fall of Baghdad, heralded Iraq’s ‘eternal spring’ with these words: ‘April 9th — Liberation Day! What a wonderful, magnificent, emotional occasion — one that will live in legend like the fall of the Bastille, VE Day or the fall of the Berlin Wall.’ That, I guess, was satire too. However, on the off chance that he was serious, I ought to point out that the figures of Iraqi dead which I quoted and which he doubted came from that font of surrender-monkey appeasement, the Pentagon. Maybe William should heed the words that concluded a review of his most recent book: ‘If Shawcross’s argument was better supported with clear facts and reasoning, his case might be a bit more convincing.’

Rod Liddle
Heytsbury, Wiltshire

Death of a Fakir

In a recent article (And another thing, 17 April) I raised the question, ‘What happened to the notorious Fakir of Ipi?’ One of your readers, late of the South Warzistan Scouts, tells me that the Fakir, whose real name was Mirza Ali Khan Haji, spent his last years in a cave at Gorweckt, near the Durand Line, and died there in 1960. Another reader remembers that the Fakir constructed a small cannon ‘which he trundled around on camels, shooting up our encampments by night’. Plus