Head scarves, Saddam and others

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Muslim head scarves: submission or freedom of expression?

Sir: It is perhaps inevitable that the controversy surrounding the wearing of the scarf by Muslim women in public life (leading article, 12 December) will cross the Channel. Somehow the bourka in Kabul is bad, but the scarf in Bradford is no problem. Yet both derive from the subordinate position of women in many Muslim societies, and for that reason alone should be unacceptable in public life in a democracy.

Instead of preoccupying oneself with the antics of young Muslims promoting the scarf, which have more to do with pubertal obstinacy than with strongly held religious feelings, it would be better to concentrate on the right for women in this country not to wear it.

Khalida Messaoudi, for instance, an Algerian feminist and woman's rights activist takes the position that Muslims campaigning for its acceptance are "performing a circus act choreographed by the most conservative elements in their community".

The French and Germans are right. The scarf is a cultural symbol of submission to men, not a religious symbol of submission to God (and therefore not on a par with, for example, the crucifix). In not discouraging its use in communities in Britain, the Government is doing Muslim women a disservice and is damaging their prospects for emancipation and integration.


Sir: Your leader regarding the French Government's decision to ban headscarves in schools on religious grounds does not mention the European Convention on Human Rights (1950), which incidentally was signed before the Treaty of Rome, and was partly drafted by the UK.

How can the provisions of Article 9, which protects rights in relation to freedom of belief, including the right to demonstrate those beliefs in public, and Article 10, which concerns freedom of expression, be reconciled with that? Wearing a hat or scarf as a symbol of faith is a right which must be upheld under the Convention.

Bridport, Dorset

Saddam should now stand trial

Sir: The arrest of the butcher of Baghdad is tremendous news, especially for Iraqis like myself. Not only is Saddam Hussein responsible for the murder and torture of millions of Iraqis, but he has also lavishly spent Iraq's wealth on his enjoyment whilst thousands of Iraqis died of malnutrition.

His fate is an example to all tyrants and dictators around the world. The Iraqi people, who have constantly been at the receiving end of Saddam's monstrous actions, should decide the dictator's fate. Most will want his execution and humiliation in public, after a trial that would reveal to the world the extent of his genocide against humanity.

Wembley, Middlesex

Sir: Whether one thought the war in Iraq should have been fought or not, I hope that everyone can now get together and celebrate the fall of the tyrannical Saddam Hussein. I look forward to him being tried by Iraqi tribunal established last week by the Provisional Government in Baghdad to ensure that the leaders of Saddam's criminal regime face justice.

It would be ironic if he were tried by some of the excellent and impartial judges he dismissed 20 years ago as he established his dictatorship. People like Judge Hakki, Iraq's first female judge, would be perfectly capable of overseeing a fair and just trial that would allow the people of Iraq to see that justice had been done.

European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee
House of Lords

Sir: Good news, Saddam Hussein has been captured and we can all sleep soundly in our beds again. And thankfully, unlike his sons Uday and Qusay, he was captured in a quick, bloodless operation. And just in case there were any doubts, pictures of the dishevelled individual were displayed on all the international news networks. As well as this, we now have, for the first time since talk of the invasion began, the majority of the world's leaders united in welcoming Saddam's capture. To end this happy story, US officials will now be able to "extract" intelligence on the location of the WMD programmes which the US and UK went to war to stop.

It seems as though the gamble has paid off, but once again we see a flagrant breach of the Geneva Convention on Human rights by the US administration. Who remembers back in March when the pictures of five captured US soldiers were broadcast across Iraq? US officials called the footage "disgusting" and a violation of the rules of Geneva convention concerning the treatment of PoWs. And they were correct, the broadcasting of pictures of PoWs is a direct violation of Articles 13 and 14 of the convention.

However, it seems that these upstanding citizens, of the most powerful democracy in the world, felt that Saddam Hussein deserved a similar treatment. What is the point of fighting for democracy whilst, at the same time we are undermining its core values and beliefs?

Salisbury, Wiltshire

Sir:Yet again the United States gratuitously abuses the human rights of its prisoners.The relationship between a doctor and a patient is special, and the filming and subsequent worldwide broadcast of the medical examination of the tyrant Saddam Hussein is a fundamental breach of the privacy code that should exist. I hope that the examining doctor is reported to the appropriate civilian professional body for allowing the filming to take place.


Sir: The logic of the suggestion by Paul Bremer (the American proconsul in Iraq) that Saddam's capture offers Iraqis an "opportunity to end their bitter opposition" to the American occupation is difficult to follow. One must assume that he believes that those who have carried out acts of terrorism since the war ended have done so in the belief that this would aid Saddam's return to power.

This is a remote possibility. Surely, for most Iraqis Saddam's capture will only reinforce their desire to get rid of the Americans, now that their exodus could not lead to the status quo ante.

London EC1

Sir: There appears to be a belief that the capture of Saddam Hussein somehow vindicates the "pro-war" faction in this country, and likewise diminishes the force of those of us who were opposed to war. I opposed the war for four principal reasons: 1) we were lied to about the existence of WMDs - they remain undiscovered; 2) it was illegal - it remains so; 3) it would kill thousands of Iraqi civilians - it did; and 4) it would make the situation in the Middle East worse not better - it has.

In the light of these facts, (anyone care to question them?), the discovery of a moth-eaten old dictator hiding in a hole in Tikrit is of almost supreme irrelevance. Indeed, if its primary consequence will be the re-election of George Bush and his neo-conservative chums in 2004, all true democrats might rather wish Saddam had remained hidden for a few more months.


Sir: When Saddam became president of Iraq, the country's literacy rate was 30 per cent; he boosted it to 70 per cent. By the time he invaded Kuwait in 1990, Iraq had one of the highest standards of living in the Middle East, and a growing national problem for Iraqis was obesity.

These gains were reversed during Operation Desert Storm and the 12 years of sanctions that followed, and one could blame either Saddam or the US and Great Britain for them, depending on how one saw the situation.

Iraq still has extensive oil reserves. If they weren't extensive the US wouldn't have invaded. The oil was originally in the hands of foreigners when he took power, but Saddam proceeded to nationalise the country's oil industry. No doubt the British and Americans didn't like this, but as long as Saddam was battling against Communists and Islamic fundamentalists it was okay.

The US and Great Britain made a mistake, and now it looks like they'll get to erase it.

Kowloon, Hong Kong

Sir: Given that the capture of Saddam Hussein was dependent on someone "close to him" accepting a $25m reward, wouldn't it be a good idea to put a bounty on the WMDs?

Canvey Island,

Sir: After his capture I bet Saddam feels happy to be back amongst his former allies and friends (Rumsfeld and the like). Maybe they could discuss the effectiveness of the chemical strike against the Kurds and Iranians which seems so wrong now, but not then.


Leaving Amnesty  

Sir: Mark Thomas writes(letter, 13 December): "If Amnesty does not expel [David Blunkett] I will have to resign my membership." Since Amnesty will not be expelling Mr Blunkett, we now await the good news of Mr Thomas's departure. I resigned from Amnesty recently, after 25 years. I did so, without threats or bluster, because of the moral and intellectual slippage and slight intolerance I felt had crept into the organisation due to people such as Mr Thomas.

Sandwich, Kent

Arms cash

Sir: Johann Hari asks (10 December) "Why do we continue to arm oppressive regimes?" The answer is always the same; because there's money in it!


Healthy living

Sir: There is a hospital near me where, when you go into the foyer, there is a large poster saying "Food as You Like It" with a demonstration picture of three bags of chips and three cokes. Is this "health promotion"?

Salisbury, Wiltshire

Ken's compromise

Sir: Robert Evans and others argue that Labour would be much stronger in the mayoral election if it enjoyed the support of Ken Livingstone (letter,

12 December). I have recently had plenty of opportunities to listen to the views of the voters of Brent on Mr Livingstone and many other matters. Mr Livingstone is liked for his reputation for independence, but if he came back to Labour he would be coming without his dowry.

President of Brent Liberal Democrats
House of Lords

Fourth way

Sir: It was interesting to read your article about the Trafalgar Square plinth (12 December). Surely the fourth plinth should be left empty with space for imagination and reflection.

Wells, Somerset