The Spectator

Letters | 1 June 2017

Also: dementia tax; education; grammar rules; greedy Victoria; woodpeckers; harpsichordists

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Ignoring the hadith

Sir: Douglas Murray and Jenny McCartney (‘The known wolf’ and ‘A war on joy’, 27 May) are correct to cite hatred of women and young girls and fear of their independence as a trigger for terrorist violence — witness Malala Yousafzai. But it is of course not the only trigger since, denial notwithstanding, it is against the generic and non-gender-specific ‘infidel’ that the Koran fulminates.

The prohibition said to exist against killing women and children in war is not found in the Koran (of divine infallibility) but in the hadith (of debatable provenance on a case-by-case basis). The alleged prohibition thus forms a secondary and ultimately dispensable source of authority for suicide bombers, who believe that those who die slaying and being slain fighting for Allah’s cause attain ‘the Gardens’ and the ‘supreme triumph’ (Sura 9 v111).

Many jihadist outrages, as with the London bombings, are expressly declared in advance by the perpetrators to be based on the injunction to ‘attack others as they attack you’ (Sura 2 v194). If serious attention is to be paid to that rationale, one does well to bear in mind that the ‘V’ in Hitler’s V-1 and V-2 rocket programme stood for Vergeltungswaffen — retaliation weapons.

Paul Simmons

East Twickenham, Middlesex

Don’t cast aside the elderly

Sir: Matthew Parris adds another injustice to that of the ‘dementia tax’ (27 May). I doubt Parris would argue for a person with cancer or heart disease to be cast aside by society as too costly and difficult to treat and care for. Developing a degenerative brain disease does not make someone’s life less valuable. It’s disgusting to suggest so. People with dementia are valued members of society and their lives are certainly neither ‘emptied’ nor ‘meaningless’ if they have the right access to appropriate and affordable care and support.

Jeremy Hughes

Chief executive, Alzheimer’s Society, London EC3

Quality of life

Sir: I suppose it is totally non-PC these days to bring up the subject of the ‘Survival of the Fittest’, but the troubles in the NHS have been brought on by extending the human lifespan irrespective of its worth — and the aid we pour into places such as Africa only serve to increase the population. In the past, drought, famine, diseases and natural disasters were nature’s way of controlling population growth. Unless aid can help to build up an economy, it will simply produce more problems. Being 87 myself, I feel we must think of the quality of life, not just life itself.

Nicholas Pamberton


Keeping pupils back

Sir: I’d like to hear James Tooley’s opinion on another facet of academic selection which is ignored by any media discussion of the 11-plus (‘First class’, 27 May). Many educational systems, particularly the high-performing ones such as Singapore, Germany and Finland, require that a certain level of attainment must be reached in order to progress to the class above. If a pupil doesn’t reach that standard, they repeat a year. It can be the exception to leave education without repeating a year at any stage; in Germany only 17 per cent of pupils sail through.

The current mantra of experts, however, is that staying with their peer group is essential to a child’s wellbeing — but there is almost no reliable research that this is true. I am astonished that pupils progress into secondary education with minimal literacy skills. The teachers in their Year 6 class breathe a sigh of relief, no doubt, to see them go, passing the problem to secondary schools.

The objection to the 11-plus is that it is a big hoop with no second chance. Perhaps what is needed is smaller hoops with multiple run-ups. More, not less.

Helen Moorhouse


Immortal lines

Sir: D.J. Taylor commends the Tory manifesto as ‘agreeably sonorous’ (‘Boats, goats and landslides’, 27 May). It must be the first to deserve such an accolade since Sir Robert Peel sent his well-turned phrases to the electors of Tamworth in 1834. A competition to establish the least sonorous would attract many entries. I would submit the rambling 30,000-word manifesto of 1997 which David Willetts recently admitted to drafting. It contains the following immortal passage: ‘We will continue to build on our record of improving safety on roll-on roll-off ferries and cargo ships through higher standards of survivability.’

Alistair Lexden

House of Lords, SW1

It is cowardice

Sir: Charles Moore’s assertion that suicide bombers require ‘immense, though repellent, courage’ is wrong (The Spectator’s Notes, 27 May). It is courageous to knowingly risk severe injury which may not result in death, or capture by an enemy which will result in torture, murder, or both. When a person explodes a bomb with the certainty of their own death in the first millisecond of the explosion, before any of the random innocents they’ve chosen to butcher, it is an act of despicable and inexcusable cowardice.

Jacques Francis

Westcott, Surrey

Full stops

Sir: The rules governing the placing of full stops in relation to inverted commas are simple (Notes, 27 May). If the sentence or word unit within inverted commas is separate and complete in itself, then the stop precedes the final inverted comma. But if the words within inverted commas are only the concluding part of a longer sentence, then the stop follows the final inverted comma. So: ‘The Spectator arrives on a Friday.’ But: ‘He said, “The Spectator arrives on a Friday”.’ This is both entirely logical and easy to remember.

John Maddicott

Kidlington, Oxford 

Greedy Victoria

Sir: Jane Ridley’s review (Books, 27 May) of The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria by Annie Gray details Queen Victoria’s fondness for food. When she stayed with us on Tuesday 4 September 1860, records state that she ate: Soup Hodge Podge, Mutton-Broth with vegetables (which she did not much relish), Fowl with white sauce, ‘good’ Roast Lamb, and ‘very good’ Potatoes. We did also offer her one or two other main dishes which she did not taste. She ended with a ‘good’ Tart of Cranberries.

John Woods

The Grant Arms Hotel, Grantown-on-Spey, Moray

Hep hep hooray

Sir: Dot Wordsworth finds the slang word ‘hep’ to have been used in 1809 and 1918 (Mind your language, 27 May). In Impressions of Theophrastus Such, George Eliot’s final essay is entitled ‘The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!’ (in which she argues strongly against what we now call anti-Semitism and movingly for a Jewish state). The book was published in 1879. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1952 edition) gives the date for ‘hep’ along with ‘hip’ as 1752. Dates aside, three cheers for George Eliot.

Alix Nathan


Bird in disguise

Sir: The cuckoo pictured sitting upon the shoulder of spymaster Maxwell Knight (Books, 27 May) was evidently highly trained in the arts of espionage. An unsuspecting bystander would take it to be a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Caroline Moore

Etchingham, East Sussex

Gulag survivors

Sir: James Bartholomew did not have to travel as far as Moscow to speak to a survivor of one of Stalin’s camps (‘Life in a gulag’, 20 May). Hundreds can still be found here in England. Following Poland’s partition between Germany and the USSR in 1939, some one million Poles were deported east by Stalin. Hitler turned on his erstwhile ally in June 1941 and on 30 July 1941 a Polish-Soviet agreement was signed in London. As a result, the Polish deportees were ‘amnestied’. Around 78,000 military prisoners and 36,000 civilians, survivors of gulags and labour camps, were allowed out of the USSR. The men would form the bulk of the Polish Second Corps which under overall British command fought the Germans with great distinction in the Italian campaign in 1944-1945.

As a result of treaties made at Tehran and Yalta, Poland fell to Soviet domination in 1945, and the vast majority of the Poles who had experienced Soviet rule chose a life of exile, mainly in Britain. While the few surviving soldiers are now in their nineties, many of the civilians were children when released from the USSR, and now are only in their eighties.

Michael Olizar

London SW15

Saint in the boot

Sir: Melissa Kite’s dilemma over the placement of her statue of the Madonna (Real Life, 27 May) prompts me to confess. My sister lives near Florence and being a devout Catholic, she kindly gave me a 3ft-high statue of the sacred Padre Pio on a recent visit. Sadly, the Ryanair hand-luggage restrictions mean that the good Padre was left stowed in the boot of a Fiat Punto rental car at Pisa airport — hopefully to the delight of a diligent Avis employee.

Maurice Breen


Weapons of misdirection

Sir: Some of your commentators seem bewildered by the peculiar priorities of the Conservative party in this election (fox-hunting, pressing the button and so on) and by the lack of any decent policies — but really, what choice do they have? It’s understandable that Theresa May wishes us to think about neither the constitutional crisis nor the socioeconomic crisis, since both are the result of Tory misrule. Bring on the weapons of misdirection.

Emma Jones

Abingdon, Oxfordshire 

The Solid South

Sir: Taki is mistaken in thinking that no Democrat was able to win the southern states since the war (High Life, 20 May). In fact, the Democrats did not lose the so-called Solid South to the Republicans until the 1970s, after President Lyndon Johnson had pushed the Civil Rights Act through Congress. Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia voted for Democratic presidents as late as 1976. It was racial intolerance that gave the Republicans the edge.

Norman S. Poser

New York 

Hiring Hitler

Sir: Hailz-Emily Osborne (Letters, 27 May) reminded me of how war reporting was integrated into the African colonial context. When I was growing up in Johannesburg in the 1950s, my parents employed a gardener. His name was British. Over the road, our friends the Morrisons also employed a gardener. His name was Hitler. They were of a similar age and must surely have been named after press headlines.

Simon Middleton

Cape Town

Fighting harpsichordists

Sir: Harpsichordists in mortal combat (Arts, 27 May) is just like old times. Gabrieli vs Merulo; Handel vs Scarlatti (match drawn); Bach vs Marchand (match abandoned); Mozart vs Clementi (Mozart by a whisker). All good fun, with or without the swearing.

Barry Ife

Woodbridge, Suffolk