January 2020: Letters to the Editor


No Muhammad cartoons

Giles Udy’s review of my book Godless Utopia; Soviet Anti-Religious Propaganda (Books, December) says that it contains cartoons of Muhammad, along with its Soviet-era caricatures of other religious figures. In fact, there aren’t any Muhammad cartoons in the book.

All of the images pertaining to Islam are either of mullahs, foolish believers, or, in some early instances, of a figure wearing a halo labelled “Allah”, who is depicted along with others wearing halos labelled “Jehovah” or “God the Father”. In one 1922 advertisement for the magazine Godless, similar halos are shown hanging on a wall, suggesting that they are really components of the holy disguises worn by the agents of capital.

While I can’t say categorically that there is no such thing as a Soviet Muhammad cartoon, I never encountered any in my many weeks scouring decades’ worth of anti-religious magazines in Russian libraries. It seems to me that not depicting Muhammad could well have been a Soviet policy.

If I had found any cartoons of Muhammad, I’d have had to have a heavy discussion with my collaborators at FUEL Publishing as to the pros and potentially-terrifying cons of including them.

Roland Elliott Brown
London, N8

I’m sorry that, in his review of Roland Elliott Brown’s Godless Utopia, Giles Udy is so dismayed by the publishers’ decision to invite me to write the foreword. A lot of this seems to arise from the fact that I’m a cartoonist for the Guardian and a fairly public atheist. In 2018 I also produced a comic book adaptation of The Communist Manifesto which features a visual appendix clearly denouncing Leninist Sovietism (though maybe Udy has only read the article I wrote about it in — forgive me — the Guardian rather than the book itself).

He can, however, claw back some comfort if he reflects that I wrote the foreword not as a Guardian cartoonist but as a cartoonist on The Critic. Likewise, I learned most of my atheism (and was proposed as an honorary associate of the National Secular Society) by The Critic’s star atheist columnist Jonathan Meades.

Martin Rowson
London SE13

Fault Lines

There are significant omissions from Matt Ridley’s article (“The Plot Against Fracking”, December) that would have balanced his over-positive portrayal of the fracking industry and criticism of objectors, such as renewable energy promoters, as having vested interests.

In 2016, the UK government’s committee on climate change reported:
“The implications for greenhouse gas emissions of shale gas exploitation are subject to considerable uncertainties . . . The UK regulatory regime has the potential to be world-leading but this is not yet assured . . . Our assessment is that exploiting shale gas by fracking on a significant scale is not compatible with UK climate targets unless three tests are met . . . Well development, production and decommissioning emissions must be strictly limited.” Such caution is justified. Despite improvements since fracking’s early days, the following chemicals are still required: scale inhibitor, acid, biocide to kill bacteria, friction reducer, and surfactant. Some chemicals will return to the surface and must be made safe. Some will remain underground, but to where will they seep? What is their long-term impact?

Mr Ridley claims that the water that comes out of the well isn’t radioactive. But many of the rocks involved are naturally radioactive and, given the nature of radioactivity, something somewhere is going to be contaminated because of fracking.

Rachael Webb
Dunton, Bucks

Those Letwins

Oliver Letwin (“The intellectual who underrated the voters”, December) was not the first of his tribe to upset the political applecart — it runs in the family.
When Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher set up the Centre for Policy Studies the letterhead read: “To advance social market policies”, and its first publication was Why Britain Needs a Social Market Economy. The wisecrack then was, “We need more Erhards and less fainthearts,” as the German experience was much admired.

This was too much for Shirley Letwin — Oliver’s mother — who persuaded Keith Joseph to drop the word “social” and go for “red-blooded capitalism”. Today, the harm done by this advice can be seen all too clearly. Under-regulated markets in the form of runaway executive salaries and exploitive denationalisation of our utilities have given the cause of capitalism a bad name which it would not have deserved had social responsibility been encouraged simultaneously.

Lord Vinson
London SW1


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