The Spectator

Letters | 3 December 2015

Plus: Less forgiving parts of the Quran; and the riddle of anxiety

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Bombers without borders

Sir: To define this week’s debate as being about ‘bombing Syria’ (‘The great fake war’, 28 November) is ludicrous. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about fighting Isis. Whatever you call them, and wherever they are.

The current deal, under which we bomb Isis in Iraq but not in Syria, is as if we are content to fight them in Yorkshire but not in Lancashire. If people do not think we should be engaging Isis at all, that’s a different argument. But I would ask, ‘Where do they need to get to before you would engage them?’

Two years ago, we had a similar situation to today. The vote was similarly not about ‘bombing Syria’. It was about fighting and punishing Assad, which was a bad idea. What we should be discussing is whether or not we are going to fight Isis, and whether we have a decent, executable plan and sufficient resources that we are prepared to expend.

Stephen Barker

Grand Union Canal, London

Principles aren’t everything

Sir: The contrast Freddy Gray draws between Jeremy Corbyn’s principles and David Cameron’s pragmatism (‘Corbyn’s defence’, 28 November) — a comparison unfavourable to the Prime Minister — fails to recognise a marked change in circumstances. In 2013 the government proposed bombing Syria in pursuit of regime change, a questionable objective when national interest was not directly at stake (although this was before Europe’s immigration crisis). Today the aim is quite different, because the spread of terrorism threatens many countries, including Britain.

Rhetorical declarations of war, à la Hollande and formerly Bush, make for good soundbites, but not always for clear thinking. I take greater comfort from a pragmatic response to this threat than one based on a 20th-century concept of pacifism that is blind to current realities.

Clive Thursby

Hindhead, Surrey

Hitting back for Beefy

Sir: I fear that Mark Mason is hoist with his own petard in his denunciation of Sir Ian Botham (‘A beef with Beefy’, 28 November). His underlying criticism of the great man appears to be that because Botham sees most issues as binary, and refuses to argue in shades of grey, he has gone from being a hero to an ‘arse’. That seems quite a black-and-white view in itself. Isn’t the reality a little more nuanced? At the very least, it seems churlish to lose faith in a man who chooses to use his fame for the benefit of others less fortunate, rather than following the route of so many celebrities into narcissistic decline. Botham’s cricketing feats and charity work mean that he has a lot more in the plus column than most of us, even leaving aside his enviable ability to drink multiple bottles of wine without a hangover. He may be an arse — which of us isn’t at times? — but surely he is our arse and the world is a better place for his passing through. He will be remembered and celebrated long after most of us are dust.

And anyway, exactly how many Test wickets has Mark Mason taken?

John D.G. Smith

Amersham, Bucks

The unforgiving Quran

Sir: Mohamedali Gokal is being somewhat disingenuous in his letter (28 November) in respect of forgiveness in the Quran. Allah may indeed be forgiving, but those who follow the Quran are expected ‘to slay the unbeliever wherever you can’ (al-Fatahah), ‘not take the Jews nor the Christians for your friends’ for if you do, ‘you shall become one of their number. God does not guide the wrongdoers’ (Al-Ma’idah); to ‘let not the unbelievers think they will ever get away. Muster against them all the men and cavalry at your command, so that you may strike terror into the enemy of God and your enemy’ (Al-Anfal); to ‘make war on the unbelievers and hypocrites and deal rigorously with them’ (Al-Anfal). ‘When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads’ (Muhammad). ‘Those who follow him [Muhammad] are ruthless to unbelievers’ (Al-Hujurat). The prize for this aggression is ‘Bashful virgins whom neither man nor jinnee will have touched’ (Al-Rahman).

Martin Bloomfield

Kingston, Surrey

Patriotic pictures

Sir: I largely agree with Toby Young’s criticism of Steven Spielberg (Status anxiety, 28 November). But at least he makes patriotic films, unlike our producers and directors, who seem ashamed of Britain’s achievements. Take the Falklands war, which offered great storylines for an enthralling film: the political battles, the amassing of the Task Force, the self-sacrifice of Colonel H. Jones at Goose Green, the Argentinian strikes on our ships, the sinking of the Belgrano, the Paras’ heroic yomp to Port Stanley. An honest film would have reflected well on Margaret Thatcher, which is why our left-wing film-makers ignored the subject. If it had been an American operation, Spielberg would have seized the opportunity.

Andrew Hughes


Deeper feelings

Sir: I was very interested to read the article on anxiety and the difficulties there are in treating it or, indeed, deciding what it really is (‘The anxiety industry’, 21 November). I think the problem is clearly expressed in the concluding paragraph. A feeling is not the same as the biological expression of it. You can talk as much as you like about electrical impulses, chemical releases and muscle movements — but none of that explains to me why I am sad. Until we can investigate the feelings themselves, we will not find out how to treat them.

Robin Cook Kings Langley, Herts