Letters: An invisible group of Muslim women suffers under sharia law

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Sir: Muslim women are being referred to as being in need of liberation from Islam or "turned into battlegrounds" (Letters, 14 February) as if they are helpless bystanders in the debate. For a Muslim woman to believe in sharia law she must believe it is legitimate for women to be beaten or admonished "if they are disobedient", depending on their husband's and community's interpretation of the Koran.

Some of the most aggressive and misogynist views I have heard are from women wearing the headscarf. The first question likely to be asked of girls or women suffering domestic violence in the Muslim community, is what they did to cause their family/husband to beat them. Johann Hari (Comment, 11 February) rightly quotes the examples of Muslim women who do not speak English and become reliant on sharia. But there is an invisible group of Muslims, second or third generation British, and integrated into British life. It's as if we are invisible unless cited as examples of "honour killings" or forced marriages.

These Muslim women are failed by sharia and British institutions equally. They suffer gender discrimination from one, and institutionalised racism from the other. When in my teens, I reported violence I was experiencing to my schools. I can only suppose it wasn't stopped because it was perceived as a "cultural problem". Any feelings of being British or being connected to this country were eroded. I hope Archbishop Williams consulted women's groups dealing with domestic violence across communities before he spoke in favour of sharia.

Judging by what I have seen of interfaith interactions between the "great and the good", which are generally cosy and mutually congratulatory, I'm concerned that all religious communities are beginning to believe they can bypass laws and ethics (as the Church of England does some anti-discrimination legislation). This is dangerous and careless of us as a society, and it is the vulnerable who suffer the consequences of that carelessness.

Name and address supplied

Echoes of Munich hover over Kosovo

Sir: You say that many countries oppose independence for Kosovo (The Big Question, 19 February) because they have their own separatist problems, but that explanation is incomplete.

Some countries may remember the Munich diktat of 1938 when Britain and France caved in to Hitler's demand for the annexation of the German-speaking Sudetenland region from Czechoslovakia. Prime Minister Chamberlain and French Premier Daladier thought they could appease the German dictator at the expense of a small democratic country by forcing it to cede a sizable chunk of its territory.

Seventy years later, Washington and Brussels take similar action. They amputate l5 per cent of Serbia's territory against the will of her democratically elected government and create a new Albanian state in the Balkans in defiance of international law and UN Charter.

Like Czechoslovakia in 1938, Serbia is a small country unable to oppose effectively the big players on the international scene. The US and EU action should remind all small countries that might is still right.

George Novakovic, Hove, East Sussex

Sir: Taiwan was one of the first to congratulate Kosovo on its recent declaration of independence. For more than 50 years, Taiwan has been, in effect, an independent state, yet while Kosovo can now be expected to head to the top of the queue for membership of the UN and suchlike, Taiwan continues to be excluded from many world organisations.

If Kosovo can make a rightful claim to become a full and active member of the world community, Taiwan's legitimacy for the same is, surely, even stronger. Unlike Kosovo, which is just beginning in terms of building a democratic state, Taiwan is now a well-developed democracy.

The US and many EU member states have been quick to lend their support to Kosovo's independence, but they continue to oppose Taiwan's efforts to join the UN. Taiwan's application for membership of the WHO will again be blocked at the organisation's annual meeting in Geneva in May. What possible justification, other than fear of upsetting China, can there be for such double standards?

Martin Banks, Brussels

Sir: It has not been a good weekend for British foreign policy. First, we support the illegal declaration of Kosovan independence, largely due to American pressure and their desire to score points over Russia; then we suggest Fidel Castro's retirement should herald a period of democracy in Cuba, despite the most vindictive of economic embargos being imposed on that island, by America. Why are we incapable of pursuing an independent, or at least a logical, foreign policy?

The rush to recognise Kosovo is galling; would it not be better to guide Serbia into the democratic age, instead of making it more resentful and playing into the hands of Russia? By advocating change in Cuba, we are following self-defeating objectives. The Cubans resist what we call democracy because, for them, that equates to US domination.

Leighton McKibbin, Bebington, Wirral

Sir: As Liz Milanovich tells us (letters, 19 February), "The sizeable Albanian populations in south Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and even Greece will want to amalgamate with their brethren in Kosovo". And who knows, maybe also with the Republic of Albania.

That would more or less recreate the Albanian state that became independent from the Ottoman Empire before the First World War, and lasted for 18 months. Then Serbia invaded and stole half of its territory, including the area now known by the Serbo-Croat name of Kosovo.

Thomas Lines, Brighton

Sir: If the people of an area vote democratically to secede, they have every right to do so. This applies to Kosovars and to Turkish Cypriots, Biafrans, Katang-ese, and UC confederates, among others. But we should not send our troops into Kosovo because stopping unpleasant things happening there is not worth a single drop of British blood.

Mark Taha, London SE26

The EU takes handin Northern Rock

Sir: Alistair Darling has been pushed into nationalising Northern Rock because he must get "state aid" approval from the European Commission by the 17 March deadline. Northern Rock will not be exempt from the EU's "state aid" rules after it is in public ownership. We know this because similar rules apply to the Royal Mail. It is one of the reasons why the Government prefers to shut post offices, rather than subsidise them.

However closely Alistair Darling and his staff pore over the rules, it will still be up to the judges at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg whether any step he takes will be permitted. They can impose severe penalties if they decide "state aid" rules have been broken, and there is no appeal.

This being our money, it may be supposed that the Government would be answerable only to us for how it is used. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

Muriel Parsons, Reading, Berkshire

Sir: While Ron Sandler may have no specific banking qualification ("New chief did not take any banking exams", 19 February), he did serve as deputy president of our organisation from 2003-04, and president, 2004-05, and was awarded an FCIB (Fellowship of the Chartered Institute of Bankers).

That was in recognition of his immense contribution to the financial services industry. Our board agrees with Northern Rock that he is eminently qualified to take this position.

Phil Hall, IFS School of Finance, London EC4

Problems face the minority businesses

Sir: The labour shortage crisis in the Bangladeshi catering trade (report, 14 February) is part of a much bigger problem facing minority communities here. The Chinese business community is just as exasperated and fearful. This crisis is wholly of the Government's own making.

Present immigration policies may help the Government to appease briefly the anti-immigration lobby, but they certainly will lead to serious and permanent damage to businesses in the Chinese and Bangladeshi communities, which generate millions in local and national taxes.

Business cannot thrive if government persists in having restrictive immigration polices and at the same time spread fear in our communities with "showy" immigration raids. A growing number of small catering businesses in the Chinese community are stopping trading. Where will those made unemployed now go?

Chi Chan, Chinese Immigration Concern Committee, London WC2

Equal rights make temps unattractive

Sir: I was disappointed to read Johann Hari's article, "Will Labour show it cares about workers?" (18 February). Unfortunately, it seems based on a popular myth about the UK's labour market. Mr Hari says, "More and more British workers are being shifted out on to agencies in a casualisation carousel touring the country". In actuality, the trend in the UK is towards greater formality in employment relations rather than casualisation.

According to the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the UK has the second-highest proportion of employees on permanent contracts in the EU, and the proportion of temporary workers has actually fallen from 8 per cent in 1997 to 6 per cent today.

But working on this false premise, unions are intent on trying to equalise the rights between permanent and temporary staff. If they are successful, the flexibility that makes a temporary employee attractive to an employer will be lost, and this will only hurt those people whose interests they claim to be protecting.

Kieran O'Keeffe, Policy Adviser, British Chambers of Commerce, London SW1

Sir: Many agency workers suffer for want of the rights extended to regular employees. It is to be hoped that Labour MPs stay in Westminster tomorrow for the hearing of Andrew Miller's Private Member's Bill, which seeks to extend those workers' rights.

It cannot be right that a worker with 18 months' service should be disqualified from protection against unfair dismissal simply because of the label attached to that worker. As a trade union lawyer at the sharp end of dealing with the abuse of agency workers, it seems employers' cries of "flexibility" are pleas for a flexibility to discriminate and to perpetuate inequalities. If the courts can't help, Parliament must.

Paul Scholey, Leeds

Why was suspect allowed to escape?

Sir: The suspected Israeli war criminal Major-General Doron Almog escaped arrest because he was tipped off and police were afraid of an armed confrontation with Israeli air marshals (report, 20 February). This raises questions about Britain's obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

If the general had been a suspected terrorist, would he have been allowed to escape so easily? Would police have declined to use their extensive powers to prevent his escape by force if necessary? Would the terrorist's companions have been allowed to carry weapons in the UK? And would the person who leaked the warning have avoided prosecution for aiding and abetting his escape?

Chris Webster, Abergavenny


Spread the word

Sir: While touring Spain in 1957 with my parents, in a Mark 1 Ford Consul that kept boiling over, my father asked at every hotel for mermelada at breakfast (letters, 17 February). Each time we got jam, some familiar, some more exotic. Only when he checked his phrase-book and asked for mermelada de naranja – orange jam – could we enjoy our toast to the full.

R Markland, Wickham Market, Suffolk

The smallest cinema

Sir: Your report (19 February) on the closure of La Charrette, near Swansea, is incorrect. The smallest cinema in Britain is The Screen Room, Nottingham, which even claims its 21-seat auditorium represents the smallest cinema in the world. I am sure it would be more than happy to welcome Messrs Branagh, Cox, Kermode and party any time (though if the ensemble wish to visit en masse they may wish to check if there is sufficient seating).

Tim White, Birmingham

Nutty rules on food

Sir: The Government's Food Standards Agency is implementing its new rules on children's TV advertising. Foods banned include: Marmite, peanuts, cashew nuts, pistachio nuts, peanut butter, raisins, sultanas, currants and olive oil. Allowed foods include chicken curry with rice ready meal, lasagne ready meals, sliced white bread, supermarket frozen chicken nuggets, canned strawberries in syrup, chocolate-flavoured milk and diet cola. Fruit and nuts out: saturated fats, refined flour, refined sugar OK.

Pat Rattigan, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Let's all be Scottish

Sir: Gordon Brown is in favour of the Scottish Parliament having the power to raise taxes, but with no plans to amend or abolish the Barnett formula. The residents of Berwick-upon-Tweed have voted two to one for Berwick to become part of Scotland. Most people interviewed said they wished to have all the benefits available to the people of Scotland not available in England. Might it not be time for all of England to be governed from Holyrood so we could all enjoy the advantages of living in Scotland denied the English?

Paul Heritage, Leeds

Conspiracy questions

Sir: If the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed were really the result of a conspiracy between the Royal family, MI6 and other members of the British elite ("They were all in on it", 19 February), how has Mohamed Al Fayed managed to survive to make the accusation?

Justin Brett, Clonakilty, Co Cork, Ireland

Sir: I was devastated to find that my planning role in the "Great Paris Car Crash Conspiracy" has again been overlooked. Despite arranging to stay with a relative in Yorkshire on the night, and feigning horror on hearing the news the next morning, I felt sure Mr Al Fayed would have rumbled me by now.

R P Wallen, Nottingham