Letters: Niqab cuts women off from equality

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 21st September, 2013

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The discussion over the niqab is becoming heated – and I think justifiably so. In Western culture masking the face has, for centuries, implied menace. How, as a society with equal participation of all individuals – male or female – we could operate with some choosing to cover their faces I do not understand.

Going completely clad in black may avoid the sexual objectification that our society imposes on women, but covering one’s face is quite another step. I cannot imagine a situation where a doctor, nurse, lawyer, teacher, prison officer, social worker or any other professional dealing with the general public could possibly operate effectively with their faces covered. It is a preposterous way to behave and carries an implication that demeans women and imputes attitudes to men which are deeply insulting.

Angela Peyton, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

 

I wonder whether all the correspondents who feel grossly affronted by the niqab ever bothered to invest as much time in feminist issues that affect their own western communities.

It seems many conservatives and liberals who brush off feminist critique as “politically correct nonsense” are suddenly jumping to the defence of Muslims wearing the niqab, claiming they are being “suppressed” and that they need to be “liberated”.

The whole debate smacks of western imperialism. We paint the brown man as a barbaric, uncontrollable rapist, and brown woman as a voiceless object who requires an enlightened (male) western crusader to save her.

Have you ever considered that a woman may choose to wear the niqab, and that she is not being manipulated, coerced, or “hidden” from society? Have you ever considered that a society in which women are plastered on billboards, newspapers, magazines, small screens, big screens, and even in fiction as decorative objects, as little more than things to be consumed (i e raped), with no will or volition of their own, is deeply misogynistic?

It should not take the words of a white girl such as myself, who is only repeating the words her Muslim sisters have told her, to realise how loaded this debate is.

Charlotte Mowbray, Cheltenham

 

I am puzzled when powerful and influential people are threatened and upset by women’s clothing.  Jack Straw had a tantrum over someone appearing in a niqab in his office and there is now another outcry against the niqab.

If the niqab is seen as dangerous, then that is a perception of our own making and we must bear the consequences. When I come across a person in a niqab, I generally acknowledge her and I am politely acknowledged in return, along, quite frequently, with a twinkly eye. 

Isobel Carter, Glynneath, Neath Port Talbot

 

The essential question for those who advocate the veiling of women is: “Why don’t men wear burkas?”

Daphne Tomlinson, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire

 

City overrun with bicycles

In responding to the opposition to cycling events by some Surrey residents, Simon O’Hagan should note that objections are not merely car drivers’ nimbyism. (“Surrey turns against cycling revolution”, 18 September).

For me as a London taxi driver, weekends form part of my working week, as they do for many Londoners. Now, for two consecutive Sundays the capital grinds to a halt because of widespread road closures: first the triathalon championship and then the culmination of the tour of Britain.

So I am faced with the frustration of telling passengers why I cannot get them to their destination, or if I can, why it will costs an arm and a leg. Alternatively, I can stay at home and lose a day’s wages.

I’m not against these events per se, but this situation is beginning to border on restriction of trade. Why do these events have to be held in the most densely populated part of the country? Surrey is not uniquely attractive, so could I suggest to organisers the next cycling shindig heads for some sleepy Cotswold villages, with the finishing line in Chipping Norton High Street?

Anthony Nash, Carshalton, Surrey

 

I know nothing of the behaviour of those riding bicycles in the Box Hill area of Surrey, but was interested by David Preedy’s observation (letter, 20 October) that he sees “the pressure caused by the number of cyclists using the single minor road through the village”, and that “most of the mainly retired residents feel intimidated when they have to drive among large groups of cyclists”.

It strikes me that if “cylists” is replaced by ‘“cars”, and “drive” by “cycle” or “walk”, this is an apt description of the situation all over the country much of the time, arising from the over-dominance of cars, and the over-dependence of our social structure upon them.

Neil Jones, Ely, Cambridgeshire

 

Pompous failure of the Lib Dems

Nick Clegg becomes simultaneously more ingenuous and more pompous by the day.

The Lib Dems would have had real power if they had not gone into coalition and had made a minority Tory government seek their support on an issue-by-issue basis.

But no, the lure of the ministerial cars and red boxes proved too great. The failure to get electoral reform through, the one issue that really mattered for them, proved what a busted flush they were once they entered coalition.

The one good thing about a clear majority for either Labour or the Tories is that we would not have to put up with any more of the sanctimonious claptrap  we have had to endure for the past three years.

Tom Simpson, Bristol

 

Pressures at the checkout

Children are not the only ones who pester about sweets at the checkout (September 16). At any branch of W H Smith throughout the country you will be asked, as you pay, if you want sweets which are on the counter in front of you.

If you complain that you are a victim of pressurised selling you will be told that every assistant is obliged to ask this question or face losing their job.

It’s not right for the assistant and it’s not right for the customer, but other than boycotting the shop what can the public do?

Brenda Beamond, Lymington,  Hampshire

 

Climate chaos looms closer

Warnings by scientists that we will use up our atmospheric carbon emissions’ allowance of 1trn tonnes of CO2 within 30 years, and thereby breach the 2C limit “beyond which the consequences of climate change are expected to become increasingly devastating”, substantially understate our predicament (“Halfway to catastrophe, say climate scientists”, 20 September).

First, the notion that climate policy should be predicated on odds barely better than evens is, to say the least, cavalier. Adopting similar standards in airline safety would evaporate the air travel market overnight, so why is the world apparently so willing to accept 50:50 risk levels with planetary habitability?

Secondly, although the 2C level has been widely adopted in climate policy globally and nationally, it does not reflect the science. For at least a decade, it has been generally accepted among leading climate scientists that the threshold between acceptable and dangerous climate change is 1C, not 2C, the latter more accurately representing the boundary between dangerous and extremely dangerous climate change.

Finally, recent peer-reviewed work on climate tipping points, in which positive feedback effects accelerate the transition to dangerous climate change, indicates that (a) the first of these – Arctic ice melt – has already passed in 2007, with as yet unknown consequences, and (b) warming of just 1.5C is sufficient to trigger another major tipping point: large-scale methane release from permafrost and clathrate melt, a threshold also now confirmed in the paleoclimate record and, more worryingly, apparently already approaching with the recent discovery of methane emissions in the Arctic larger than those from all of the world’s other oceans combined.

These issues are less the elephant in the room than an entire herd. The scientific community is well aware of their implications, but these have yet to impact on policy. Until they do, it will continue to target failure.

Nigel Tuersley, Tisbury, Wiltshire

 

Get out of the arms trade

The latest revelation that arms export licences are being granted for the supply of dodgy equipment to even dodgier regimes comes as no surprise. This government – like its predecessors –is clearly in thrall to the arms industry. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a government committed to reducing and eliminating our country’s shameful involvement in this dreadful business?

A start would be to charge higher levels of corporation tax on profits made from arms sales and use the money to provide grants to companies seeking to re-tool and re-train to produce more peaceful goods.

Mark Walford, London N12

 

Free to smoke in prison

In 2007 the Governor of the prison in which I was teaching proposed a total smoking ban everywhere in the prison (no “smoking areas” anywhere).

What made her back off wasn’t fears of mass prisoner riots. It was the flat refusal to co-operate by the prison officers. Perhaps they should be consulted in the latest hoo-ha over banning smoking in prisons; should be interesting.

Richard Humble, Exeter

 

No blame

The author of the serious case review report into the death of Daniel Pelka said: “If professionals had used more inquiring minds and been more focused in their intentions to address concerns, it’s likely that Daniel would have been better protected from the people who killed him.” Yet the report did not blame or identify any individual agency. How can this be?

Robert Edwards, Hornchurch,  Essex

 

Be kind to flies

Enough already with the fly-swatting tips! Here’s a novel idea – just leave them be! It’s easy enough to shoo an insect back out the same way it came in; they have short enough life-cycles as it is. If you don’t like them, buy some fly screens.

Sharon Bignell, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex

 

United in prayer

The Pope says that he “prays even while in the dentist’s chair”. Don’t we all?

Peter Forster, London N4

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