No middle way
Sir: Ask not whether Iran wants to negotiate with us; ask whether we want to negotiate with them (‘Diplomatic meltdown’, 16 November). Now that Syria has agreed to get rid of its chemical weapons, an opportunity has arisen to achieve a WMD-free Middle East. Iran would be the first to agree, given their bitter memories of having been at the receiving end of Saddam’s chemical weapons. Saudi Arabia should not be far behind, having consistently advocated a nuclear-free Middle East.
This will require the West, in particular America, to pressure Israel into ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention and giving up its nuclear weapons. It’s in our interest to do so.
It’s also in our interest to distance ourselves from Saudi Arabia’s playing of the destructive sectarian card against ‘apostate’ Shiites. What a spectacle — ‘secular’ France cosying up to the Saudis.
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset
Sir: James Forsyth (Politics, 16 November) quotes a senior parliamentarian as saying: ‘To bump off two Speakers in a row would set a dangerous precedent. It would begin the politicisation of the role.’ Too late! It has already been politicised.
Until a few years ago, the Speaker was effectively chosen by a small group of very senior members of each of the major political parties. They picked someone who was mutually acceptable to them all, and they invariably got the right person.
But now MPs vote from a list of would-be Speakers. It worked well the first time with Betty Boothroyd. But her successor, Michael Martin, was voted in on tribal lines. Even worse, John Bercow was voted in by Labour MPs not because they thought he would be a good Speaker, but to spite Bercow’s fellow Tories who hated the sight of him.
What a shocking, shameful and disreputable way to go about this matter. Those responsible should be hanging their heads.
Woodford Green, Essex
Sir: Following James Forsyth’s article about anti-Tory bias at the hands of the Speaker, it sounds as though persecuted male Tory MPs who want to ‘ban the Bercow’ should join forces with oppressed Islamic women.
The right to learn
Sir: James Tooley (‘Malala’s school wars’, 9 November) claims that Education International is using Malala’s story to push the case for government schools. Malala attended a private school in Pakistan and continues going to a private school in Birmingham. Therefore, according to Tooley’s logic, ‘she and her family stand for… the right to educational choice, to educational freedom; the right to a private education’.
What nonsense. Malala simply gives a voice to millions of young people who are denied the right to education. And her message is coming across. At the United Nations in New York she made a strong and passionate plea to prime minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan to boost public investment in education. Next year her country will sharply increase its education spending. Meanwhile, the All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association has banned Malala’s book from use in its 40,000 affiliated schools. Is that the kind of ‘educational choice’ James Tooley has in mind?
Tooley should know that the right to education, like all other human rights, can be achieved only when governments accept their responsibility. Where they have failed to do so, as in Pakistan, private schools emerge.
We are not against private schools. But we are deeply concerned about the millions of people who have little or no money to pay for school fees or learning materials. Does Tooley want these parents to choose between feeding their children or sending them to school?
Private schools, whether low-fee, charity-based or commercially driven, are not the answer to the challenge of achieving universal primary education for all. Education is a basic right and a public good; it must be free and should be publicly financed. No child should be priced out of quality schooling. It is as simple as that.
Fred van Leeuwen
General secretary, Education International Brussels
Egypt’s wretched animals
Sir: Aidan Hartley’s report on the situation in post-revolution Egypt (‘The new tomb raiders’, 9 November) made for depressing reading. The animals close to the Pyramids have never been well treated. In the best of times, they were a wretched collection of several thousand animals, carrying hordes of visitors ill-equipped to spot malnutrition and mistreatment.
After the 2011 revolution, things worsened. Emaciated, skeletal animals made a visit to the Giza Pyramids a horrific experience. But slowly things began to improve — until the unrest this summer sent us right back to the beginning.
For those working with animals in Cairo, it’s a disheartening situation. When the conflict eases, Egypt will still have the Pyramids and tourism will return. For now, we work to keep as many animals as we can alive to see that day.
Chief executive, Spana (Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad), London
Jeffrey Bernard was unwell
Sir: Taki ruminates that ‘the secret of death is not to choose the same day as famous people’ (High life, 9 November). It always tickled me that Taki’s former Low Life counterpart, the incorrigible Jeffrey Bernard, died the same weekend as the saintly figures of Mother Theresa and Princess Diana and had to vie with them for obituary space. I know which life story I’d rather read.
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