Religion and censorship
To suggest that those who oppose the religious hatred bill “line up with those who hate Muslims” (Religious hatred bill, 26 November) is insulting. In fact, the reasons to argue against the bill are considerable.
It will be used by a variety of obscurantists in order to attack each other — and anyone else who wants to put an objection to religion.
Because religions have a variety of interpretations, it will be easy for some to claim “hatred” even when the original criticism might have been about some irrational and possibly destructive practice.
It will also allow some religions an unjustifiable defence against views aimed at pointing out the mental or physical harm caused to some of those religions’ adherents.
No view — and that is all religion is — should be placed on a legal pedestal as being above criticism. We should remember that restrictive laws passed by the state are invariably used against the rest of us for entirely bogus reasons.
This bill has been brought forward by Tony Blair, not because he gives a damn about religions other than his own, but to try to regain support from a community which has been systematically attacked and abused by his government.
I have no problem with people who want to be religious, or express their religion in their own way. Indeed, I support their right to do so.
But to imply that socialists who have spent decades fighting fascism are unwittingly on the same side as a bunch of Nazi scum is an outrageous slur.
The British National Party opposes the European Union (EU). Are the thousands of socialists (including Socialist Worker) who consider the EU a bosses’ club similarly tainted?
Ged Peck, Luton
We need to be very careful about this kind of legislation. Of course racists will often use religion as a code for race. But there is also a long tradition of progressive criticism of religion and religious authority.
It is clear that many see this bill as a way of preventing ANY such critique from taking place. In the wake of Satanic Verses, the campaign around Jerry Springer the Opera and the closure of the play Bezhti, we should be concerned about this.
The implications for hard won freedom of expression are potentially serious. All ideas, especially those holding as powerful an influence over people’s lives as religion, should be open to criticism and indeed ridicule if need be.
Keith Copley, East London
New Labour is attacking our civil rights on all fronts. But that makes it all the more important to distinguish between genuine repressive measures, such as ID cards, and spurious complaints about “political correctness”.
Every time governments are forced into taking action over racism, we are treated to a chorus of middle class people insisting that their “rights to free expression” are being violated by the actions of a “nanny state”.
On balance I am not convinced that those opposing the religious hatred bill have made their case convincingly. The risks to free expression they cite are largely hypothetical. But abuse against Muslims is very real — and frequently masquerades as “critique of religion”. While we should be wary of exclusively legislative approaches to these issues, Respect made the right decision in backing more protection for Muslims.
Jiben Kumar, East London
Hain’s cuts programme
Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain has just announced a major attack on Northern Ireland public services.
On the surface Hain has promised funding for pre?school and after-school care for children, and additional spending to tackle youth unemployment. But he is using this as a cover to restructure the Northern Irish economy.
New Labour is cutting more than £200 million a year from public services. The government wants to cut £80 million from education, £53 million from health and up to £75 million from local government. This will mean hundreds of job losses.
People in Northern Ireland already pay approximately a third more for fuel, gas, electricity, groceries and clothing.
We’ve seen a 19 percent increase in rates, the selling off of public sector buildings, cutbacks and privatisation of welfare, education and health, and the introduction of water charges.
Working class people in Northern Ireland are being attacked to make us “battle ready” for the new European and world economy. This is what Labour means — putting profits before public services.
Naomi Maguire, Belfast
Scottish Service Tax is a popular proposal
Mark Donaldson criticises the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) for putting forward a bill to abolish council tax and replace it with a Scottish Service Tax (Letters, 26 November).
But the Scottish Service Tax is a very socialist tax — it exempts pensioners and anyone earning less than £10,000 a year, and it taxes the rich heavily. Some 77 percent of Scots would be better off and 13 percent worse off.
Mark should also try campaigning with the SSP on this proposal. I had people lining up ten deep in Kilmarnock recently to sign our petition. In a recent opinion poll 75 percent of Scots supported it.
Hugh Kerr, Kilmarnock
Double standards over police murder case
I’m a driver on London Underground. In my depot, people have been appalled at the way the police reacted to the murder of WPC Sharon Beshenivsky.
There was near universal cynicism about the way the police were able to arrest so many people within two days of the shooting.
People were also cynical about the way the police so publicly drove the suspects up to Leeds, closing roads, using helicopters.
Everyone agreed that had the murder victim been a normal member of the public, the police wouldn’t have moved anywhere near as fast.
I was impressed by the instinctive mistrust. My workplace is really mixed — lots of colours, religions, ages and viewpoints. Plenty of them have had the sort of dealings with the police that the police prefer not to publicise.
People understand that when the police kill someone, such as Jean Charles de Menezes, they do their best to hamper investigations, but that if a police officer is killed it somehow becomes the most important thing in the world.
After Jean Charles de Menezes, after Harry Stanley, after Christopher Alder, everyone understands that the police are not there to protect ordinary people, but will do their damndest to protect themselves.
Tony Collins, East London
Sefton council: a tenant speaks out
I have been a tenant of Sefton council on Merseyside for 12 years. In August I voted no to the council’s plans for stock transfer because I oppose the idea of council housing being transferred to a housing association.
Even though the tenancies for existing tenants remain largely intact, I worry about new tenants. Will they promise to house 18 to 25 year olds? I’m the mother of three daughters — will they have access to council properties without starting a family?
I am so angry that my vote has been dismissed and that the council is now going to rerun the ballot (Lost a vote? Hold it again, gag opposition, 19 November). I can’t help feeling the council will stop at nothing to push through this transfer.
I contacted its so called “independent tenants’ adviser” helpline to ask why we had to vote again. All they would tell me is that there were “improprieties with the first vote”.
I can tell you that I was in no way at all intimidated by anybody from the Unison union or Defend Council Housing. But I do feel as though I’m being emotionally blackmailed and bullied by Sefton council.
Caroline Ezekiel, Bootle, Merseyside
Courage needs our solidarity
The campaign to help Courage Idiagbonya in his fight to remain in Britain is reaching a critical juncture.
On 16 December Courage is fighting for his life at a judicial review in London. We will be demonstrating in solidarity outside from 10am onwards.
If he loses he faces deportation to Nigeria — a country he was forced to flee because of his struggle to give a “voice to the voiceless” while at university there.
Please contact me on the address below to get a copy of a model motion supporting Courage that you can pass through your union branch or student union.
Mark Drybrough, Newcastle upon Tyne
Incapacity and privatisation
A friend of mine last week told me her son’s incapacity benefit had been withdrawn and that she was helping him appeal against the decision.
His doctor had informed him that there were a lot of appeals going on at the moment due to the fact that the government had outsourced medical testing for incapacity and disability benefit to Sema Group, a French-owned IT company.
According to the doctor, the government wasn’t paying Sema enough money to do a thorough and fair job.
So instead Sema is making sweeping cuts and failing to provide the care and attention needed to decide the health needs of individuals.
Do any other readers have similar experiences or advice for those undergoing incapacity benefit appeals?
Julia Darwood, Leeds
Jonathan Tipton defends evolutionary psychology as an objective scientific discipline whose findings can aid the left (Letters, 26 November).
The truth is quite different. Evolutionary psychology emerged in the late 1980s as a more sophisticated attempt to repackage sociobiology.
But the flaws in both projects were the same. First it was assumed that some behaviour has an adaptive origin, then a more or less fanciful story was told about the evolutionary benefits such behaviour may have conferred on our distant ancestors.
A genuine science of the mind that offers plausible evolutionary accounts of certain aspects of human thought and behaviour may indeed be possible.
But it must first dispense with the narrow adaptationist assumptions and “just so” storytelling of evolutionary psychology.
Sandy Boucher, Victoria, Australia
The context is all important
Contrary to what Graeme Kemp says (Letters, 26 November), in no way can we regard the images of Ku Klux Klan (KKK) on show in Glasgow as “static”.
The context of these images is crucially important — if they are shown on their own, without explanatory material, the anti-racist purpose of the exhibition could well be lost.
Four years ago there was an exhibition in Paisley “celebrating” the gollywog and presenting it as a “harmless bit of fun”, without reference to its racist history.
And we should not forget that the KKK are a part of Scotland’s past. Many of the organisation’s early founders were Scottish settlers and this link is still celebrated inside the KKK today.
Mark Porciani, Dumbarton
The article in on the anti-APEC protests in South Korea in last week’s Socialist Worker had its figures out by a factor of ten.
Rather than 300,000 protesters, the highest estimates for the 18 November demo put the participants at 30,000.
The mistake crept in because the Korean numbering system is different to the European one, using units of 10,000. Thanks to Owen Miller for pointing this out.