The Spectator

Feedback | 15 May 2004

Readers respond to articles recently published in <i>The Spectator</i>

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Does Nanny know best?

Of course Toby Church is right (‘More nanny, less tax’, 8 May). How did we ever come to swallow the notion that the NHS consumer has an inalienable right to receive costly treatment for continued self- inflicted poor health? Banning anything merely diverts it to an area behind the garden shed and is highly undemocratic to boot, and would clearly indicate that our politicians trust us even less than we trust them.

One answer surely lies in encouragement; the tax rebate we used to get for health insurance subscriptions, plus rebates on subscriptions for regular gym attendance, etc., should be given in the next Budget, even though they would stick in our socialist Chancellor’s craw.

Perhaps healthcare should be charged for at the point of service, and our insurance companies shaken up to provide everyone with health cover at acceptable cost as in Switzerland — one of the very few democratic countries left in Europe, with the highest living standard of any. Our daughter, a professional musician in Zurich with the required expensive but excellent insurance cover, is rebated for excess on the value of claims, attending health/gym sessions regularly and further subsidised by her employer. Thus the annual premium of Sfr2000 (£800) per year is very considerably reduced because she is serious in trying to maintain good health, as all in Switzerland are encouraged to do.

They do almost everything far better than we Brits, in spite of the howls of protest from the Brussels commissioner Pascal Lamy and other vociferous Brussels sprouts. Maybe we could with advantage take a long hard look at Switzerland’s national health service.

Bruce Shaxson
Grayshott, Surrey

Toby Church’s analysis of the cost of the burger classes is faulty. He has left a first-order term out of the economic equation. The burger classes may be costing us a fortune in health charges, but they are saving us a fortune in pension and nursing-home costs. They are also helping the nation by paying enormous sums of tobacco and alcohol duty. A proper cost-benefit analysis might show that the burger classes are actually subsidising the health fanatics.

You’ve got to die of something. The burger classes get it over and done with fairly quickly. The health freaks linger on and on, causing bed-blocking and intractable problems for pension-fund managers.

There is also another cost to consider. This is the demoralisation and infantilisation caused by the nanny state subverting one’s personal responsibility for one’s own life. The nanny state creates a two-class society: the ‘guardians’, who are (in their own estimation) wise and responsible, and the ‘proles’, who are treated like cattle. This may appeal to Plato, but I suspect it will lead to the (further) moral and cultural degeneration of society.

Michael Lawden,
Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxon

Toby Church’s article was disgusting. What next for the poor? Compulsory physical jerks to be performed every morning in front of CCTV cameras?

Incidentally, the poor pay taxes too, punitively high on the cigarettes they smoke.

Allan Massie

When torture is taught

Why do American soldiers and ‘contractors’, and perhaps British troops as well, torture prisoners, especially in the ways shown in the notorious photographs (‘Female soldier is an oxymoron’, 8 May)? One reason, it is now reported, is that such techniques — including stacking up naked bodies and leading naked prisoners about on leads — are taught at the joint services interrogation centre at Ashford, Kent, and similar centres in the US. Victors in just wars tend not to torture. Losers and the illegitimate employ torture, and they do so ‘systematically’, as charged in the recent US army report on the Abu Ghraib jail, in other facilities, and in Afghanistan as well.

But there are other reasons. Iraq is not Vietnam. But the Americans are fighting the Iraq war in the same way, based on false assumptions, not to say lies; supported by tame officials, some long absent from Iraq, and despised by most Iraqis; and employing senior officers from the previous regime. American and British soldiers, ignorant of the history, language, and culture surrounding the battlefield, are furious that the Iraqis seem ungrateful and murderous. As in Saigon, the high command shelters in isolation, afraid, rightly, of leaving its compound because it is too dangerous — at any moment an innocent-looking person can kill you.

These are the deadly parallels with Vietnam. Many Vietnamese feared the Vietcong, indeed had feared their communist predecessors since the 1930s. But they feared and hated the French and later the Americans more.

One does not wish Saddam were still in charge, although since his capture the situation has deteriorated. How to change things is hard to say, but once again the Americans are relying on violence. The chances of this situation becoming even worse when bogus sovereignty is handed over to an as yet unknown government propped up by American and British forces are, I guess, 100 per cent.

Jonathan Mirsky
London W11

Subsidising the Blacks

In last week’s Diary, Stuart Reid became the latest of several Spectator journalists to write, as yet unchallenged, in support of Lord Black. ‘Black may have pulled a fast one, but he has not corrupted anyone,’ claimed Mr Reid. ‘He is a civil and civilised man. He has put his financial and intellectual muscle behind ...the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator.’

I cannot speak for The Spectator, but as a section editor at the Telegraph and the father of the Telegraph Group NUJ chapel until recently, I do know a little about how Lord Black’s proprietorship affected the Daily Telegraph and its journalists.

During Lord Black’s tenure, circulation fell by about 300,000 (our main competitors, the Times and the Daily Mail, increased circulation substantially during the same period). Journalists’ salaries fell, in real terms, by about 30 per cent; the cover-price rose by 100 per cent.

Meanwhile, profits increased by an average of about £50 million; executive pay (now under investigation in the US) went through the roof; the company acquired two private jets; the chairman acquired a peerage.

Given these uncomfortable facts, would it not be more accurate to say that the Daily Telegraph (and its redoubtable readership) put its financial muscle behind Lord Black, rather than the other way round? As Mr Reid himself might say, ‘Go figure.’

Charlie Methven
London SW3

Proper Muslims

Rod Liddle, in his dismissal of the serious concerns shared by many Muslims, as well as by Christians and Jews, about extreme Islamist advocacy in Britain (‘How Islam has killed multiculturalism,’ 1 May), tossed off three grievously erroneous comments.

First, he identified Louis Farrakhan, the American race- and Jew-baiter, as ‘a radical Muslim’. No serious Muslim considers Mr Farrakhan or any of his associates in the so-called Nation of Islam a co-religionist, radical or otherwise. Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed was the last prophet sent to humanity, and the Koran the last scripture so delivered. Mr Farrakhan believes and preaches that the scribblings of a certain Elijah Poole, who renamed himself Elijah Mohammed, represent a new, divine message delivered some 1,350 years later. To any real Muslim, this is a deeply offensive as well as heretical view.

The so-called Nation of Islam has more in common with freemasonry than with the faith of Mohammed, by way of a style of Masonic activity pursued in the United States by a group who call themselves Shriners and who wear red fezzes as their headgear. They are no more Muslims than he is. In addition, the doctrine of African racial supremacy advocated by Mr Farrakhan is deeply abhorrent to real Muslims, as is the bar on entrance into his so-called ‘mosques’ to anybody but blacks.

Second, Mr Liddle asks ‘What actually constitutes a “proper” Muslim?’ The question is actually quite easily answered. A ‘proper’ Muslim is one who, following the religious and legal traditions of the vast majority of Muslims in the world, obeys the laws of any government that ‘does not interfere with the call to prayer’; i.e., does not prevent Muslims from reading the Koran, praying, or teaching their religion. For this reason, ‘proper’ Muslims owe allegiance to the governments of Britain and the U.S., neither of which has prevented them from observing their faith.

The only Muslims who believe otherwise are extremists like Abu Hamza al-Masri, who in teaching sedition against British authority not only violates the above-mentioned principle of Islamic jurisprudence, but also violates the supreme principle of all Islamic law, which is to safeguard the security of the community. By preaching his radical doctrines, which are derived from the deviant views of the Wahabi sect and its imitators, he endangers the situation of every loyal, law-abiding Muslim in Britain. Deporting him would be a service to ‘proper’ Muslims as well as to the whole British population.

Thirdly, Mr Liddle states that ‘even “proper” Islam demands a distinctly illiberal social regimen’, citing as his example the uproar when Mr Ray Honeyford ‘insisted that Muslim girls learn to swim’. Balkan, Turkish, Central Asian, Indian, and Malayo-Indonesian Islam is no less ‘proper’ than Wahabism, and in fact is much more so from the perspective of traditional Muslims. It would come as a great surprise — and give great offence — to many women living in those societies to be told that because they do not cover their heads, or refrain from learning to swim, or deny themselves the right to wear whatever clothing they choose, they are not Muslims.

No normal society guarantees a right of sedition. Western democracies may indeed be compelled to end their long summertime of legal self-indulgence in the face of Islamist terror. The fault is that of the terrorists and those who support them, like the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, not of the Western democracies, which for half a century have far outshone their Christian predecessors in tolerance and acceptance of Muslims.

Stephen Schwartz
Washington, D.C.

Anyone for nepotism?

Peter Oborne nods (Politics, 8 May). The late Duke of Devonshire was Lady Dorothy Macmillan’s nephew, so the prime minister was his uncle, not his brother-in-law.

The Duke’s appointment to the Colonial Office led to charges of ‘nepotism’ but enabled the prime minister’s son, Maurice, to begin his next speech in the House of Commons, ‘As the only back-bench member of my family....’

J.P.G. Weston