Spectator Christmas letters: from Daesh to zakuski

Also featuring Mark Mason's Test record, and a heartfelt thank-you to Spectator Health

12 December 2015

9:00 AM

12 December 2015

9:00 AM

Just call them Daesh

Sir: I was interested to read Sam Leith’s article in which he appears to argue that the language we use to describe those engaged in terrorism or the conflict in Syria doesn’t matter (‘Daesh? Sheesh!’, 28 November).

I wholeheartedly believe that the words we use are important, and they are particularly vital in the current bid to combat terrorism. If we are to succeed in tackling the extremist threat, we must do all we can to cut it off at source. To do this, we must undermine the legitimacy Daesh needs to maintain a steady flow of recruits.
 Referring to this group as Islamic State, Isil or Isis gives a veneer of authority to a brutal terrorist cult.

This terminology also associates the group with Islamic society, when the vast majority of its victims are in fact Muslims. It’s no coincidence that the majority of Arabic speakers in the Middle East now use ‘Daesh’. We should join them.

Renaming Daesh will, of course, not work on its own, but it is an important thread in the blanket of measures needed to combat extremism across the world, and to bring peace to Syria. We need a plan for peace in the region and rebuilding this war-torn country. I’d welcome The Spectator, with its history of thoughtful journalism, to join our cause.
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP
London SW1

A better name

Sir: The so-called Islamic State, Isis, IS, Isil, Daesh, Isil-Daesh, medieval monsters… If it were to be re-named ‘Islamic Death Cult’ (IDC for short), wouldn’t that draw a clear distinction between those who preferred the secular version and the rest?
John Corbet-Milward

Role of Muslim charities

Sir: Amused as I was at being awarded by Charles Moore the new honorific of ‘Bubb Pasha’, I must take issue with his assertion that I am ‘marvellously consistent in … attacking any Charity Commission move to investigate any form of possible misbehaviour by any charity’ (Notes, 28 November). That’s ludicrous. Of course I support the need for effective regulation, and the Commission must investigate serious charity mismanagement. Indeed, one wonders what they were doing over the years in respect to the Kids Company debacle? My concern arises over the perception among Muslim charities that they are a particular target for investigation by the Commission. This was reinforced by the recent case involving the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Cage, in which even the Lord Chief Justice described the Commission as ‘high-handed’.

We all know that fighting extremism is about much more than counter-terrorism and legislation. It involves winning hearts and minds in our three-million-strong Muslim community. Muslim charities have a fundamental role to play in driving social cohesion and promoting integration, particularly among younger Muslims. We should support them better.
Sir Stephen Bubb
Chief Executive of charity leaders’ network ACEVO, London, N1

Palaeontological backing

Sir: In all the hoo-hah about ‘climate change’, no one seems to know any palaeontology. Professor Judith Curry (‘The heretic’, 28 November) might like to add that to her arguments against the climate change industry. About 10,000 bc, Mother Earth began to warm up. The ice cap receded and has been receding, off and on, ever since. Sea levels have risen by about 300 ft. There is proof of this, in painted caverns that are now beneath the waves, the best known being Cosquer, near Marseilles, discovered in 1985 by a French deep-sea diver, Henri Cosquer, and amply described by the palaeontologists Jean Clottes and Jean Courtin in The Cave Beneath the Sea.

All those wafflers in Paris ought to be issued with a copy. Chinese smoke stacks and Indian coal-burning can have added only a tittle to a natural phenomenon. To think otherwise is simply human hubris. The money spent on international eco-jamborees would be far better employed in reforestation in Africa or the Middle East. Now that might make a difference.
John Hart
London NW7

My England career

Sir: John Smith asks, in response to my piece about Ian Botham, how many Test wickets I have taken (Letters, 5 December). Having consulted Wisden I can confirm that the answer is ‘none’. I have, however, been dismissed by an England bowler. An England under-15 bowler, to be precise, during a village match in Suffolk. When I offered my congratulations on the delivery concerned, she was graciousness itself.
Mark Mason
Sudbury, Suffolk

Police and data

Sir: The police rely on communications data for the full range of their work. The majority of law enforcement requests for such data relate to the investigation of drug offences, sex crimes, murder, stalking and harassment — or locating missing people. Far from being able to acquire communications data ‘on a hunch’ (Leading article, 14 November) the requests must be necessary and proportionate.

For their part, local authorities use communications data to track down rogue traders and fraudsters, including those targeting the elderly and the vulnerable. This is subject to strict safeguards: local authorities can acquire communications data only in relation to criminal investigations; the requests must be routed through an independent body, and they must also have judicial authorisation.

The draft Investigatory Powers Bill will introduce new safeguards, and councils will be prohibited from acquiring the most sensitive data. But it will also give the police the powers they need to go on solving crimes and locating missing persons. This is a proportionate response to the challenges faced by the agents of law enforcement in the digital age. I would, therefore, argue that any suspicions about the reasons for this much-needed legislation misjudge its purpose.
Rt Hon John Hayes MP, Security Minister, London SW1

Try zakuski

Sir: The Russian tradition of ‘zakuski’ solves Charles Moore’s problem of drinks before dinner beautifully (Notes, 14 November). It is assumed that people will arrive in dribs and drabs — and, in the case of Russia, in indeterminate numbers. Plates of smoked fish, meats, salads, bread and so on are set out and people start snacking on these with vodka or wine until everyone has arrived. Something to try this Christmas?
Elizabeth Roberts
Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway

Dram discussion

Sir: Reading Andrew Marr’s piece (‘A new star in the East’, 28 November), which mentioned Japan’s entry to the whisky market, my first thought was how imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Scotch whisky has been produced for more than 500 years and enjoyed across the globe for many decades. Japanese whisky has 6 per cent of the global market for quality whisky — Scotch has ten times as much. And Scotch, of course, has a huge range of styles and flavours to satisfy the most discerning consumer.

The Japanese acknowledge they learned to make excellent whisky from Scots. A Japanese soap opera recently celebrated the ‘Scottish mother’ of their whisky — Jessie Cowan from Kirkintilloch, who married Japanese scientist Masataka Taketsuru and set up the country’s first whisky distillery.

Whisky preference is, of course, subjective. I’d be happy to discuss it further with Andrew over a dram.
David Frost
Chief executive, Scotch Whisky Association

Back to Baathism?

Sir: My main quibble with the anonymous retired British commander (‘How the West can win’, 28 November) is his recommendation to divide Syria into two separate parts, an ‘Alawite rump’ and a ‘new Sunni polity’.

The problem is that adherents of the various religions — Sunni, 70 per cent, Shiite (Alawite and Druse) 16 per cent, Christian 14 per cent, and some others — all define themselves by their religion, and are spread out over various parts of Syria. It is difficult to reconcile this with the retired commander’s prescription without widespread population migration.

In the unlikely event of continuing genuine democratic elections, the Sunni majority would soon clamp down on political freedom, and bear down on religious minorities too, as is their way. Perhaps the only practical solution is a return to the secular Baath minority regime (minus the al-Assad family), which at least allowed religious freedom to all, and is the only grouping capable of forming a government.
Dr Christopher Maycock
Crediton, Devon

Ruinous to health

Sir: I am a doctor and had anyone asked me what I thought of my job six months ago, I would have eagerly replied ‘best job in the world’. I now feel so demoralised and worthless thanks to the way this government — particular our Secretary of State for Health — talks about doctors, that I would say quite the opposite.

Doctors train for a long time, incur massive debts and then work extremely long and hard hours, doing a very challenging, highly pressured job with a high level of responsibility. To be told that we are lazy and should be working even longer hours and that, for this, we should accept a pay cut is extremely demoralising. Some of my colleagues have had enough already and are preparing to leave the country — or even leave medicine entirely.

What is this government doing? Are they deliberately trying to sabotage the NHS, or do they just genuinely hate doctors?

We are not asking for much. Just a little respect, and a deal that doesn’t risk exposing patients to doctors who are working unsafe hours, while we have our pay slashed. Is that too much to hope for
Dr Jonathan Barnes
London N4

Thank you

Sir: Our family owes your recent Spectator Health supplement a cornucopia of gratitude. I recognised shortly after reading the article on strokes the symptoms my husband was manifesting, and so was able to ensure the swiftest possible commencement of treatment to save him. Thank you.
Jacynth Howard.
London W8

Preserving ‘high culture’

Sir: Roger Scruton (Spectator Life, 5 December) makes the case for the preservation and communication of ‘high culture’. But where are the personnel who ‘really know’ art and literature for this future purpose, even in our universities — which are progressively plagued by deconstructionism, neo-Marxism and ‘safe-space no-platformism’ — let alone in any new selective secondary schools?

My own state grammar, founded in 1527, reached its apogee with remarkable teachers just before it was forced, some 440 years later, into becoming a sixth-form comprehensive, whose latest news item concerned an armed street-fight between its girls and rivals from a similar institution, attended by scores of hapless police.

Coincidentally, Professor Scruton and I both discovered, during adolescence in our respective grammar schools, a brilliant work composed a century ago: Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West. Unfortunately its relevance today overshadows the ‘traditional education’ debate, such as it is.
David Ashton
Sheringham, Norfolk

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