Defective survey?

ImageThank you for the measured and logical article, ‘Campaigners allege Iraqi birth defects survey has been manipulated - but fail to back up claims’ (PN 2563). We at the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium agree that rejecting the results of the IMoH study and claiming manipulation with no evidence is erroneous.

However, it could equally be argued that the way the IMoH study dismisses previous published research which contradicts its findings without a rigorous discussion is not scientifically objective. These contradictory previous studies are dismissed for ‘not meet[ing] the norms of an objective study of birth defects’ even though some of them derive from hospital-based registration which is arguably a more accurate method than door-to-door recall-based surveys.

Concerns were raised from multiple quarters about the utility of the recall-based methodology, and even from the reviewers themselves regarding the geographical extent of the study and how representative the study districts are.

Another issue that warrants serious scrutiny is the source of the statements in the BBC documentary, ‘Born under a bad sign’, asserting that the initial results of the study show higher rates of birth defects in areas that were subject to intense military activity. The stark difference between this initial information and the report summary requires explanation.

Past experience from the US (for example, the US agency for toxic substances and disease registry)shows that failings in public health protection are common in relation to corporate or political interests. Former world health organisation officials in Iraq have stated that political conflicts of interest similarly thwarted previous studies into birth defects in Iraq.

Conclusively rejecting the IMoH study on the basis of current evidence is not possible. Nonetheless, the concerns highlighted by health professionals and campaigners should not be taken lightly either. Conducting an open and transparent review of the IMoH study in a peer-reviewed journal and a rigorous comparison with previous conflicting studies would be an excellent step in the right direction.

I therefore urge readers to join us in supporting Iraqi paediatrician Dr Samira Alaani’s petition calling for the full release of the data:

More on race

ImageI look forward to receiving and reading my copy of Peace News. It is always interesting, often challenging and non-parochial, so you do indeed produce something well worth having.

However, the last few copies had me really puzzled with the phrase ‘people of colour’. What do you mean? The peace camp report makes this somewhat clearer as do the letters and your replies. While understanding where you are coming from with this, I find it clumsy, precious and offensive.

All humans have a coloured skin ranging from black to white; most humans have a full complement of limbs, eyes, noses, mouths; we all have similar internal organs and systems. So why is it necessary to distinguish on physical appearance?

Actually, I don’t think you really have. How many of your organising group, your speakers and co-ordinators would describe themselves as earning their living in industrial/agricultural or marine jobs? My guess is that they were mostly middle-class academics (not an insult) whatever the colour of their skin or cultural background.

I think what you were really trying to do was broaden the historical and cultural base away from western industrialised communities, so maybe non-European might serve? But any form of constructing a group based on anything at all – say, geographical, occupation, religion, gender, as well as being inclusive is then exclusive.

I think humans are much too complex to attempt any form of shared characteristics. A male bricklayer with a Caribbean ancestry living in Wolverhampton will have much more in common with his state school peers whose great grandmothers made nails in Lower Gornal than with an Eton-educated son of a Nigerian entrepreneur, and again will have little connection to a house mother at an SOS village in Zambia. The Wolverhampton bricklayer, the Eton-educated Nigerian and the Zambian house mother may all have black skins, but the only thing that really unites them is that they are human beings.

You may feel that you want to include more diverse people so could decide to practice positive discrimination, but that system also has its difficulties. It only works if there is goodwill all round and if you were to decide to appoint a Christian woman rather than a Muslim male because her qualifications are at least equal to, or better than, his, then that decision would be willingly accepted.

Whatever discrimination you choose to employ, there would be pitfalls. Better perhaps not to discriminate and to accept that British alternative movements tend to be middle-class, white and agnostic. Then possibly what we should do is to concentrate on the task instead of the guilt. As my grandson would say: ‘Live with it’!


ImageI see from your masthead that PN has adopted the glib slogan that the Stop the War Coalition popped up with this summer.

‘Hands off Syria’ was all very well in the face of US air-strikes. But where has the coalition been for the past two-and-a-half years?

Instead of tacitly siding with Assad as his repression of a once peaceful uprising grew increasingly bloody, why have they never directed their slogan at this murderous butcher of his own population? I call it double standards.

Objecting to war

ImageFollowing your short piece entitled ‘dosh’, I hope you will allow me to correct a few facts.

The project implicitly referred to, and the object of the heritage lottery fund grant mentioned, is actually called ‘Objecting to War’, for which a sum of £95,800 was granted. The project is to engage with communities and schools in the London area.

Separately, however, the Peace Pledge Union will be carrying out similar work around the country and would very much welcome any support for this – financial and physical.

Most importantly, while we welcome information about conscientious objectors (COs) in general, we are particularly keen to find people who are willing to help with research about the First World War COs, as well as people interested in participating in the project to produce and promote resultant material.

Our aim is to give a voice to the anti-war protesters at the start of the bloodiest century, in the hope that the 21st will be better.

For London area activities, contact Ben at: coproject [at] ppu.org.uk
For the rest of UK, contact:  jan [at] ppu.org.uk
To keep up to date go to:  www.nomorewar.org.uk