John Bew’s cover story (“The tragic cycle”, 15 August), for me, ironically contained its own tragic repetition of a popular view of the west’s role in the Middle East as essentially benign and well intentioned. Almost nothing was said of the true drivers of policy, namely oil and Israel.
If the west were really playing the part of “world policeman” that Bew seems to imply, and which underpins almost all media analysis in the west, things might be different. The Saudi regime would have been called to account for financing extremist teachers and terrorists; Israel would be identified as an undemocratic state and brought to a point where, like South Africa, it had to decolonise; real pressure would have been exerted to democratise the Gulf states; no prisoners would have been rendered for torture; and so on.
We loudly trumpet our humanitarian credentials and send emergency aid, then revert to arms sales and backing for those who do our bidding. I fear Bew mistakes rhetoric for policy: the policy has been quite other.
Arabists and peace
Jon Bew discusses the possible advantages and disadvantages of the Sykes-Picot Agreement versus the Arabist notion of an Arab empire. Might the answer have been for all western powers to have resisted the urge to make money out of arms deals with this most unstable area – and, instead, to have sold items of peace and cohesion such as developed transport systems and educational tools?
This is something we could have done again over the past ten years, rather than picking out extremist elements to obliterate.
In his Letter of the Week (15 August), John Gillingham writes about the Egyptian and Israeli landward and seaward blockades of Gaza. It would be interesting to know how the importation of Iranian missiles is managing to avoid these blockades. If the rockets can get in so, too, can the essential supplies “necessary to maintain life and rebuild shattered infrastructure”.
Warnings of war
Thank you, Laurie Penny, for writing about the First World War (In the Red, 8 August) and the journalists threatened with the firing squad if they told the truth in their despatches. It was evident to me, an unqualified working-class young man conscripted at 18, that after 12 months’ training I would end up in the trenches of the Korean war. I had a year to imagine what that might be like, based on what I had read and my father’s comments about the Great War (he was gassed at Ypres but survived). The brass plaques in the regimental church stimulated my imagination further.
We need such journalists to explain the crass manner in which the elite represent the war and, by extension, will try to do so again. That includes my beloved BBC!
Dan Hancox is correct (Observations, 15 August) in saying that George Galloway “seemed to go far beyond . . . the policies of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel”. Hancox writes that Galloway’s rhetoric “sounded sinisterly close to an attempt to establish Bradford as Judenrein – literally, ‘clean of Jews’ ”.
As a Jew, I am concerned about anti-Semitism. But I and many other Jews, including some Holocaust survivors, oppose Israel’s actions and support BDS. Apologists for Israel are desperate to find traces of anti-Semitism in the boycott campaign. But it is they, not supporters of BDS, who conflate Israel with Jews worldwide. The boycott is against the Israeli state and economy, not against Israeli citizens and not against Jews.
I have no intention of being an apologist for George Galloway but I think he was misrepresented by Dan Hancox. Galloway’s diatribe was surely aimed at the present state of Israel, not at Jews. His appeal for a boycott of “Israeli” goods is on a par with that on South Africa under apartheid. Or am I being naive?
Writing the Self
I remember the tale about Graham Greene coming second in a New Statesman competition to write a piece “in the style of Graham Greene”. So, on seeing “Will Self’s” irritating and bizarrely opaque astrology column on 8 August, I thought: “Hello, here we go again!” Until I came to the non-word “statis” under “Virgo”. If this wasn’t a simple subbing error, subsequent exchanges between the comp setter (J Seery), the winner (Michael McManus) and the maltreated Will might make a good subject for a new competition.
Wasn’t Miriam O’Reilly sacked from Countryfile for not being young enough (The Critics, 25 July)? Also Michaela Strachan, Juliet Morris, Charlotte Smith? Should not this candy-sweetened confection of what the BBC thinks happens in the countryside finally be consigned to the grave?
C H Johnson
Fields of fortune
I was late reading Ed Smith’s support for Alastair Cook’s captaincy skills (Left Field, 8 August). Never has the juxtaposition of Smith’s column and the title of his own book, Luck, been more appropriate.
Cook no doubt deserves praise but fortune plays an important part in sport. What might have been the outcome if a straightforward catch early in his innings had been secured and not dropped by Ravindra Jadeja?