Islam means sticking to the rules, Racist abuse of detained migrants and others

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Jilbab row girl forgot that Islam means sticking to the rules

Jilbab row girl forgot that Islam means sticking to the rules

Sir: Shabina Begum has done a great disservice to Muslim women. ("Schoolgirl banned from wearing Muslim dress wins appeal", 3 March). She has abandoned the principles of Islam (submission) for the Western principles of individualism and self-gratification. She has put her brash, even selfish Western idea of "rights", the fruit of the Enlightenment, above the good and the rights of her communities, both her educational and religious communities, even extending to a triumphant, far from modest, appearance before television cameras

To a Muslim, "human rights" means submitting oneself, ones desires, to the greatest benefit of a community, and she, finding herself in a school of mixed religious beliefs, should have adhered to the rules of the society in which she found herself. These rules had been debated with and agreed with the local leaders of her religion and she has set herself above them. She has caused financial loss to the school and snubbed her own community leaders.

If she found self-denying conformity in painful conflict with her personal wishes on dress, the responsibility was on her to submit by finding a school where she did not encounter this conflict, a self-centred conflict in which she appeared to find great satisfaction.


Sir: As an atheist, I was heartened by the success of the young Muslim girl, Shabina Begum, in her legal action against her former school for their refusal to allow her to wear the jilbab.

People of all faiths should be encouraged to wear such distinctive religious garb so that we can all easily recognise them and show them the respect they are due.


Racist abuse of detained migrants

Sir: The news that 15 staff at two asylum-seeker detention centres have been removed from frontline duties amid allegations of racism and violence ("Abuse of immigrants at detention centre exposed by TV film", 2 March) is further evidence of the need for proper vetting and monitoring of security companies working in conjunction with the Immigration Service.

Recently doctors from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture documented 14 cases in which immigration detainees suffered injuries as a result of force used during attempts to remove them. Its findings were published in the report "Harm on Removal: Excessive Force against Failed Asylum Seekers". The force described was often not consistent with approved control and restraint, including descriptions of blows to the head, face and genitals. The study also raised concern about misuse of handcuffs, with an unexpectedly high rate of resultant nerve injury.

Apart from physical abuse, disturbing verbal abuse including that of a racist nature was also alleged. The TV documentary confirmed deep-seated racism at the detention centres. It is striking that all 14 referrals to the Medical Foundation during the 15-week sampling period were black, coming from either Africa or Jamaica.

Children and their families in the detention centres investigated will almost certainly have been exposed to the culture of racist abuse revealed in the documentary. Children should not be detained in any event, but as a fundamental matter of child protection, all families should be immediately released to ensure that continuing exposure is prevented.

In light of the medical documentation and evidence of racist abuse, it is important that the Home Office introduce effective measures aimed at the eradication of abusive practice. One important step would be a medical examination of individuals prior to a forced removal and a further examination after a failed removal, in order that any injuries can be brought to the attention of the authorities. This would serve to protect detainees against abuse and staff against false accusations.

Director of Public Affairs
Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture
London N7

Sir: I read with dismay, almost disbelief, the heartbreaking story in your pages of Blerim Mlloja (23 February). That a young man can be detained in this way, without even so much as notification of his foster family, that he can be sent straight away to a deportation centre, where he is allowed no visitors, not even an extra blanket, the whole scenario beggars belief. Were such a report to emanate from Russia, it would serve as further convincing evidence of the way in which that country is backsliding from the normal standards of western democracy. I salute you for having made this story your front page headline - and also Clive Efford, Labour MP for Eltham, who is championing Blerim Mlloja's cause.

Kington, Herefordshire

Global warming

Sir: In his letter on global warming (2 March) Professor Yardley rightly implies that this is a matter for individuals, not only governments, when asking, "If you care about carbon dioxide levels, why are you planning to take a flight to go on holiday this year?"

As it is illusory to expect us to act individually off our own bats, and as we are told we have only ten years left before the downward trend becomes irreversible, is not carbon emission rationing for all the only effective measure to take? I shall not stop using my car or flying if I see everybody else continuing to do so, but I would accept having a limited number of coupons to spend on such uses.

This may be radical, but is something like this not needed? The system would of course have to be an initiative at least of the European Union, which would also need a policy towards countries outside the EU who did not join in. The only alternative, severe taxation, is surely a non-starter because it would hit the poor and not bother the rich.

Upper Beeding,

Sir: Colin Standfield (Letters, 1 March) is right to call for more wind farms at sea. Indeed our members are busily working on plans to deliver about half of the nation's renewables target of 10 per cent by 2010 from offshore wind farms to be developed in the Wash, the Thames Estuary and the North-west. The UK is set to be a world leader in this exciting new area.

However, readers shouldn't think that we can hit our 2010 renewable and climate targets without utilising our significant onshore wind resource too. It is not an "either, or" debate; we need both. We also need urgent action rapidly to commercialise other renewables such as wave and tidal, if we are to face down climate change.

British Wind Energy Association
London N1

Sir: There is a fundamental error in the argument that the placement of windfarms will be to the detriment of Britain's natural beauty ("The wind of change", 25 February). The appearance of most of Britain's landscape is not "natural" at all.

There are very few areas of land that are not managed in some form, usually for agricultural reasons. Without sheep grazing, most hill and moorland areas would be forested. Without crop growing, the same would be true of much of the rest of Britain. In the 12th century, 90 per cent of this country was forested.

Windfarms may be unsightly but it is a mistake to refer to the "natural" beauty of our countryside when that has not been the case for the best part of a millennium.

Buxworth, Derbyshire

Secular funerals

Sir: As someone who has worked at an undertaker's, I would like to cast a sceptical light on the figure quoted by the Rev R C Parrish (letter, 26 February) whereby 80 to 85 per cent of people "want" clergy to conduct their funerals.

Families arranging a funeral are almost invariably presented with a choice of officiants, all of them religious. It takes a serious commitment to humanism, secularism, ecology or whatever to deviate from such a strong assumption at a time when decisions are often difficult to make. Most people shrug vaguely and ask for the rota minister at the crematorium to see them through the ceremony.

If the supply of available clergymen were to run dry, as the letter suggests, this would simply open the way for non-religious officiants, who would almost certainly provide a near-identical ceremony to the current one; after all, anybody can read from the Bible or secular works and say a few words about the deceased. There is some hope that funerals would in fact become more meaningful if the person conducting them were a family friend or at least somebody acquainted with the person who died.

Walterstone, Herefordshire

Snow in New York

Sir: As a former Londoner now living in New York, let me tell you a little story about snow. One Saturday in January it started snowing, about noon time. It did not stop until 10 am on Sunday morning, by which time fourteen inches of snow had fallen.

The roads were well gritted and the snow ploughs were out all night. All public transport continued to run as normal. While the snow fell, most people stayed at home. When it finally stopped we emerged to find most roads clear, pavements shovelled and everyone going about their business as usual. On Monday morning everyone went to work and school as normal. How was this achieved?

A little forward planning, combined with practicality. The roads are well gritted long in advance of any potential snowfall. Any able bodied person who wanted to earn a little extra cash was issued with a shovel and went out with the teams of city workers to help clear the streets. No formality, no bureaucracy, just a generous $9 an hour.

I hear that the roads in Kent were not gritted in time because the snow came a little earlier than expected. Fancy that: unpredictable winter weather.

New York

Officer class

Sir: Some, hopefully a few, Army lower ranks have behaved very badly in Iraq. No comments about the matchless quality of British soldiers on the battlefield can excuse this.

Richard Luker (Letters, 28 February) wonders where the captains, lieutenants and second lieutenants were at this time? The answer, which anybody who has served in the Army will know, is, of course, in the officers' mess, a combination of sixth-form public school common room and London club. The officer chaps, junior ranks of course, will on occasion emerge from the mess, nod vaguely to an NCO who will be told to "carry on", and then will disappear as quickly as possible, back to their very comfortable and sheltered world.

Yes, I was a National Service man but I enjoyed my two years and was proud to be a British soldier. The Army, however, preserves a social class system thankfully abandoned by the rest of society - and it is, I suggest, a very inefficient system.

Glossop, Derbyshire

Peru and Chile

Sir: Contrary to the assertion in the article "Teenagers' graffiti sparks spat between Chile and Peru" (19 February) Peru and Chile maintain full diplomatic relations.

The damage to the Inca wall, which has been declared a World Heritage site by Unesco, does not simply go against Peruvian national heritage.

Finally, on 21 February the tribunal concluded that the prosecuted Chilean citizen Mr Celima should be released without bail and subject to restricted appearance, while Mr Tambilledo should continue in jail pending further judgment.

Embassy of Peru , London SW1

Cut down food miles

Sir: Professors Jules Pretty and Tim Lang have done a valuable job in revealing the hidden costs of transporting food around the country, and in encouraging us to eat locally produced food ("Buy local produce and save the world", 3 March). Not so long ago, market gardens surrounded our towns and cities; perhaps we should advocate their return.

Shaftesbury, Dorset

Yoghurt in Esperanto

Sir: In her article on the joys of probiotics ("It's just a gut feeling", 1 March ), Clare Rudebeck in passing repeats the manufacturer's claim that "Yakult ... means yoghurt in Esperanto". I hate to throw cold water on a good story, but the Esperanto word for "yoghurt" is jogurto, though jahurto has been used in the past, and can still be found in the most complete dictionaries. So "Yakult" is not Esperanto for "yoghurt", though it might conceivably be a mispronunciation of jahurto (the Esperanto "j" sounds like an English "y").

Pinole, California, USA

Royal operetta

Sir: Further to the impending wedding, and your correspondent's dismay (1 March) that Gilbert and Sullivan are no longer with us: surely, music and songs from The Pirates of Penzance would be appropriate for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall?


Sleeping swifts

Sir: Terence Blacker (1 March) demonstrates the importance of his call for education about the natural world, for wise country folk as well as for "clueless city-dwellers". Far from being insomniac, the swift, after its delightful evening races around the urban skies, goes quietly to roost high on town buildings.


Off the road

Sir: During my walks round suburban Sheffield I have come to the conclusion that the "off-road" vehicle is so called quite simply because it is "on pavement".