Readers’ letters

Readers air their views on Obama and the Arabs, the fishy controversy surrounding Hitler's favourite dish, ‘Eve teasing' in Bangladesh, ‘virtual water', the literally mammoth task of building the pyramids, and more. 

November 2008

 Hitler's trout

I wrote recently to Brian Whitaker pointing him to a blog post I wrote about the cookery programme controversy with Hitler's trout.

Brian then replied with a link to your piece. We make almost exactly the same points – when I was writing it, I was even thinking about mentioning Der Untergang, which you do.

So, nice one! Great minds think alike, evidently 🙂 

J Mostafa


November 2008


Keeping up Arab appearances

I recently read your article What's the difference between Obama and an Arab? –  I thought it was very well-written, informative, and amusing.  Your blend of humor and insight is wonderful.

 However, there was one part that I am wondering about.  Since there are many things in the article that have been written sarcastically in order to point out the absurdity of the situation, I'm not sure if one of the things you said was sarcastic or genuine. In paragraph 10 you say, “Self-deception and keeping up false appearances are universal Arab traits.” 

I live in the Middle East, and would say in all seriousness that self-deception and keeping up false appearances do seem to be present here in abundance.  Maybe not “universal”, but certainly there seems to be much, much more of this going on among people and within society here than what I noticed in the western countries I have lived in.

Do you have any comment about that?  Were you being sarcastic or sincere?  Do you think that Arabs are somewhat more prone to self-deception and trying to make things appear differently than they actually are?

 Thanks for your interesting writing, it is always enjoyed.

G Bluth

November 2008


The article on McCain saying that Obama is “a decent family man”, as opposed to an Arab is delicious. It reminded me of Colin Powell, in the interview in which he endorsed Obama, distinguishing between the “correct” and the “really right” answer to the question “Is he a Muslim?” (“No, he's not” v “And what if he is?”): high time someone publicly made that point.

 S Craps

Gent, Belgium

October 2008


Obama and the Arabs

I'm one of many anxious Americans ticking off the days until our election and praying, very hard, that we elect a more thoughtful and less loose cannon president. Browsing the Guardian, I came across your column about McCain's comment about Obama that “No, he's not an Arab, he's a decent family man.” 

Please believe me when I say that many Americans – the people McCain would dismiss as ‘liberal elite' – noticed the insidious implication of those words. It's statements like that which give the world ample reason to hate and mistrust us. McCain probably didn't consciously mean to imply that Arabs aren't family-oriented, but it was a gargantuan Freudian slip. A lot of us were appalled. 

Thank goodness someone of Colin Powell's stature finally called McCain on the carpet for these words, even if McCain “laughed” him off. Obama couldn't speak out about the slip, because Muslim hysteria in this country right now is so severe that he'd lose the election if he tried to point out the unfairness of this. I was recently dismissed as “Muslim” in an online discussion, where the implication was clearly that I was the sort of person who'd lie to try to convince people I was harmless and peace-loving when I was really a… what? A bloodthirsty maniac? 

Scary. Many of us are appalled by this kind of name-calling and stereotyping, but there's also a large chunk of the American population, encouraged by Bush and now McCain, who divide the world into “good guys” and “bad guys” and make that synonymous with “us” v “them”. 

The only good that's coming out of this is that McCain's been so blatant in his dividing the world into “us” versus “them”, going so far as to single out many Americans as “unpatriotic” or “not real Americans”, that some people are catching onto his fallacies. They didn't see the problem when he was making non-Americans out to be the “bad guys”, but now that he's doing the same thing to Americans, they notice.

 Obama won't do that, at least.

 If elected, Obama will not make all the right moves in the Middle East. He can't without losing clout at home. He's got to show he's ‘tough' to the American people, and one way to do that is to hunt down Bin Ladin and use him as a trophy to prove his manhood.  I also expect him to make mistakes borne of his inexperience.

 But I do think Obama will try to approach Middle East issues with more care, thought, and consideration for the people in whose countries we have been trespassing. At the very least, he knows that Islam is not monolithic, that there are differences between Sunni and Shi'a, that there are as many kinds of Muslims as there are Christians, and that by and large they are simply… people. Like us. With families, jobs, kids and homes. Yes, he wants to get the job done in Afghanistan, but he's also taken flak from Americans for saying that our troops are murdering civilians through air raids. He knows and decries the fact that innocents are getting hurt.

 Also, Obama has stated that an important way to prevent terrorism is to address the needs of people in desperate circumstances – poverty, famine, high crime areas, AIDS. Not that any of these factors are necessarily common in the Middle East, but it speaks to a perspective on Obama's part which I think Bush and McCain lack: Obama sees that terrorism doesn't necessarily arise from evil people, but from people who feel oppressed. He understand that even terrorists are human.

 Most of all, Obama knows that being an Arab most likely means you are a “decent family man”. He's aware of what ‘real' Muslims are like. He's grown up with some of them.

 I'm not sure if what I've said makes total sense here – I'm writing while very tired! – and I'm sure I've made some arrogant, ignorant American assumptions.

 But the bottom line is:

 1. I'm sorry. What McCain said was insulting and wrong.

2. I believe that despite his flaws, Obama will treat Muslims at home and abroad with more respect and understanding.

3. I hope and pray we will show you a better side of America soon, and that we will stop blundering around in the Middle East by the end of the next presidency.

 E Brundige


October 2008

I prefer my family man when he's indecent.

D Adler

Washington, DC, USA

October 2008


Your columns seem to have become quite cynical recently.

T Steiert

Kabul, Afghanistan

October 2008

 I thought Obama was a “that one”?

W Thierens

Sint Niklaas, Belgium

October 2008

I am following some of your articles, Khaled, you are always a talented writer.

G el-Morshidy

Cairo, Egypt

October 2008


In hot water

It is good that you looked at water resources in your piece on 9 September. However, I judge that you did not think deeply enough about the issues. Jon Chenoweth's arguments are useful and deserve a different interpretation.

If the topic interests you please get back. We would like your influence to be based on deeper understanding.

As I have found it difficult to reach you. You do not google easily. I have become frustrated. As a consequence, when filling in a Guardian reader survey this afternoon, I commented that they should NOT publish your material on water.

J Allan

London, UK

September 2008


Eve teasing in Bangladesh

I came upon your article too late to make my own little contribution. It made me cry. Cry with grief, fear, frustration and sheer hopelessness…lets not forget Anger!

 I'd like to draw your attention to the following link, which might make it clear why I had tears rolling down my face (as I sit here reading the Guardian online & listening to Alphabeat).

I am from Bangladesh and, as you can see from the link above, its not very different here. It's next to impossible to explain how a woman feels when she is subjected to the kind of “teasing” (in Bangladesh, they call it “Eve teasing”, I kid you not!) unless one is female and has lived in a society like ours.

I had the brief pleasure of living and working in London for five years and what goes on our streets does not compare to the cat calls and whistles on the streets of a European country.

It doesn't matter what I wear, how I dress, being female and daring to step outside is enough provocation and justification. I once took on a dare, wore a burkha (hijab) to prove a point to some male friends that just being female and on the street is asking for trouble, as far as people are concerned. While they waited in a car on the other side of the road, I stepped out and stood on a corner of a residential road, next to a school gate, and what do you know? I was subjected to the same taunts, stares (what could they possibly see through the opaque polyester black tent I had covered myself with?) that I would get if I was dressed otherwise.

Needless to say, my mates were not convinced.

My brief and happy sojourn in London was most pleasurable for the simple joy of being able to walk down a road, wear what I want, sit in a park, just be free. That's over now, unfortunately, the UK Home Office didn't consider my well-paid job, testimonials, etc., as good enough reason to give me a work permit and, though I know that to the lady who refused me the permit, I was just a number, a statistic, I wonder if she knows how she destroyed my only chance of living a free and fulfilling life.

I am certain she doesn't. Yet, not a day goes by when I don't wake up and wonder if it is a bad dream and I will wake up to find myself in my bed in London.

I just wanted to share my thoughts and thank you for your article. Excuse my e-mail, I am afraid that I am way too emotional when it comes to a woman's lot, the lack of choice…it's all so personal.

N Kamal


September 2008


Optimistic about Obama

I do expect policy shifts from an Obama presidency – assuming he is allowed to live.  But I am also old enough to know that change is difficult for people.  All people.  It is a good part of why we keep many of our more impractical traditions – many rules of Kosher cuisine come to mind.  It is hard-wired into us and if nothing else, serves to minimise the number of Hitlers and Stalins that arise. Doesn't stop them all, apparently.

So I guess I have higher long-term hopes than Mr Diab.

His article does imply some things, though, that are, as Mr Spock would say, “Fascinating”.   From my personal perspective, as a Canadian, I have always resented the US implying they elect ‘the leader of the free world', and all the arrogance that goes with it.  Even the Barack Obama I strongly support annoys me when he says success stories like his and Biden's could only occur in America. I have to remind myself he is pandering to an American public that really doesn't know there is anywhere else. A public that must like him to elect him. 

So I find it fascinating that Mr Diab seems so willing to accept that US policy is world policy.  Yes, I recognise the strong influence and the potential for forceful implementation, but I do not accept that US policy must be world policy.

I think he also misses the major point of Senator Biden's presence on the ticket. It has been very difficult for Obama's people to put aside the ‘elitist' adjective that Hillary stuck on him. How the hell can one describe the child of a broken home – single mother, raised primarily by his grandparents in close-to-poverty conditions – as elitist? Logically, you can't. But the term stuck and THAT says more about the American media and the American voter than it does about Obama. Biden was necessary to counter the elitist classification and to appease those who want white hair in the administration.

And while it is true Senator Obama wants to become President Obama, I still believe it is for the right reasons.  And I am willing to accept that any major change takes time – even change that seems imminently logical.

D Thompson


September 2008

I do not agree with you about Biden and think he is awesome.


D Adler

Washington, DC, USA

September 2008


The mammoth task of building the pyramids

Really interesting stuff. Don't know if you saw the egregious movie 10,000 BC, but it was another great entry into the canon: alien-ruled proto-Egyptians enslaving mammoths to build the pyramids. Brilliant.

P Schemm

Cairo, Egypt

August 2008



Good article, Khaled!! I'm really pleased that it appeared in a paper like The Guardian. So, I see you're deepening your knowledge of the eco-crisis.


D Thienpont

Gent, Belgium

July 2008


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