Letters: No niqab in a truly tolerant society

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 17 September, 2013

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For the first time in my life I agree entirely with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (16 September). She is absolutely right to condemn fully veiled Muslim women who in a misguided attempt to assert their religious freedom are ensuring their permanent exclusion from British society. There can be no better argument against the veil than the courageous example of  Malala Yousafzai whose powerful message was massively enhanced by the sight of her smiling face.

I know from personal experience in education that the vast majority of young Muslims want to throw off the shackles of their fundamentalist co-religionists and play a full part in a pluralistic and extremely tolerant Britain.

Stan Labovitch, Windsor


In noting that no sacred text instructs women to cover their faces in public, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown misses the point  – for were a sacred text to instruct such covering, many of us would still be appalled.

The culprit is God or, more accurately, deeply held belief in an all-powerful being who demands obedience. Once people are imbued with that belief, be it from scripture, tradition, elders or revelation, what hope is there for reasoning with them over how best to pass unwounded between excess liberty and excess authority?

Peter Cave, London W1


I am a left-leaning atheist who is passionate about universal human rights and who wants disparate communities in these islands to integrate and live together in harmony. 

To this end I would like to ask those who defend the veil to answer some questions that are beyond me. How does a woman in a niqab repay, in kind, the warmth in a stranger’s smile? How does a woman in a niqab enter into a loving relationship with someone of her own choosing, perhaps from another community? And finally, how can you tell if a woman in a niqab is wearing it because she feels “empowered” by it, or because someone has told her to?

To me, a niqab is a two-fingered gesture aimed at my background and my culture. It tells me the woman wearing it, or the person who’s told her to wear it, sees members of my community as inferior and not worth getting to know. The implication that men in my community might rape women if it weren’t for niqabs concealing their beauty is also grossly insulting. Will anyone stand up for my human rights?

Phil Edwards, Godalming, Surrey


I am troubled by people objecting to an accused wearing a burka in court on the grounds that it prevents jurors from seeing their facial expressions (letters, 16 September). To G Barlow’s question, “should the smirking face of a remorseless accused be hidden from the jury”, I would answer “Yes, that sounds like a good idea.”

Facial expressions, I would suggest, can be one of the most important factors leading to miscarriages of justice. Indeed I did hear of one extreme case of a juror who refused to accept that the person in the dock could possibly be guilty “because he had such a nice face”.

Should a juror who is meant to be deciding a case on the basis of the evidence place any reliance whatever on facial expression? Would it not serve the interests of justice better if all accused in the dock were obliged to wear burkas?

Chris Sexton, Crowthorne, Berkshire


Professor Albert Mehrabian’s research has shown that, in human communication, 55 per cent of messages pertaining to feelings and attitudes lie in facial expression. No conscientious jury could be expected even to consider a case where its ability to assess the defendant’s truthfulness was reduced by more than half.

David Crawford, Bickley, Kent


When I see a woman in a niqab, I think either that she is bullied by her family or community, or that she feels no solidarity with women who are. Both thoughts depress me.

Daphne Tomlinson, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire


How boys and girls learn

Richard Garner wishes luck to the proposed Diaspora Diamond Free School with their “interesting proposal” to teach boys and girls separately (Chalk Talk, 12 September).

According to the school this arises from parental demand and its wish to address the different learning styles of boys and girls.

They’ll need more than luck, unfortunately, as there is no real evidence to suggest that this form of educational apartheid is any better, and, as many teachers recognise (and as is confirmed in research by Lise Eliot and others), there’s more variety in learning styles within a cohort of boys or girls than there are differences between the sexes.

Free schools remain an experiment of our age and the jury is still out on whether they will provide the cure or sound the death knell for our allegedly broken education system. Whichever way it turns out, parents will want to be sure that they are on the right side of the experiment in their choice of schools.

Neil Roskilly, Chief Executive Officer, The Independent Schools Association, Saffron Walden, Essex


Selling Royal Mail to foreigners

So the Government is to sell off the Royal Mail, a profit-making national service, to attract inward investment. What guarantee do we have that the newly established postal service won’t cut jobs, close even more post offices and reduce collections and deliveries in order to increase profits and dividends to shareholders?

And in a few years time when it is bid for by a French, American or Chinese company we will be powerless to stop it.

Mrs Thatcher was right!

Andrew Johnson, Banbury, Oxfordshire


I don’t much care who owns the Royal Mail, or whether the sorting offices and deliveries are handled by one entity or many. I very much care however about our historic post boxes.

As I wander around the towns and villages of the UK, I note VR, GR and ER boxes as part of a wider appreciation of the heritage of our urban landscapes. Even more so than red phone boxes, red post boxes with their royal cyphers are a living tapestry of our history and I really don’t want to be part of the generation that ends that.

So, whatever we do with the company, would the Government please ensure that the post boxes survive? And that the tradition continues so that in 100 years people will be walking past CR and WR boxes as well?

Luke Magee, Ashford, Kent


David Ridge (letter, 14 September) wonders what Her Majesty thinks of the Royal Mail privatisation. Well, as our government is so keen to sell off all the country’s assets, why don’t they go the whole hog and privatise the Royal Family too?

They make significant demands on the public purse for little visible return, and have a unique position in the marketplace for a lucrative sell-off. We could all look forward to the Queen’s Christmas message with an attractive multinational logo emblazoned on her chest.

Arnie Donoff, London N11


The answer to Tony Chabot’s letter (14 September) is that page 28 of the Liberal Democrat 2010 manifesto proposed the separation and part-sale of Royal Mail.

Frank Little, Neath


Good and bad weapons

So the US Secretary of State John Kerry applauds the deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons and talks loftily of the “high principles” behind the agreement. The deal ought to be applauded. It has prevented a war and the world will certainly be a better place without Syria’s chemical weapons, but really isn’t it a bit rich for America to be acting so righteously?

Mr Kerry made no mention of the other rogue nation in the Middle East, Israel with its hundreds of nuclear bombs. No mention either of America’s prolific use of depleted uranium and phosphorous bombs against the people of Falluja in Iraq.

So what we have here is that America is good and Arabs are bad. Cowboys good: Indians bad.

Mark Holt, Waterloo, Merseyside


Lib Dems were right

Leslie Rowe accuses the Lib Dems of having “sold their souls” for power (letter, 16 September).

A party can have the most idealistic and ambitious set of policies imaginable while safely in opposition.

As a current member of the Liberal Democrats I would rather the party was arguing from within government where at least some Lib Dem policies can be made real than having the finest set of policies in opposition which will never be applied or tested.

Bob Morgan , Thatcham, West Berkshire


How to swat a confused fly

I was interested in the piece about various creatures’ perception of time (16 September). The limited processing power of a fly’s brain is no good at multi-tasking and can be defeated despite being “6.8 times faster” than our brains. Wiggle both hands either side of the fly’s present perch so it sees them, then whop both hands simultaneously at the fly, making sure the hand with a tissue gets there first.

The fly can’t decide fast enough which way to jump and you’ve won  – works every time!

Tony Wood, Farnborough, Hampshire


British answer to Merkel

Katherine Butler (“Competent and charisma-free. Are these now the politicians we want?”, 13 September) could have tried comparing Angela Merkel with the least charismatic prime minister of the last century, a man so modest that his wife drove him around on his election campaigns in an Austin, and who read the papers only for the cricket scores.

Attlee was a man of far greater worth than any of the flash political Woosters who dominate modern politics.

Trevor Walshaw, Meltham, West Yorkshire


Pay scale

I was very interested to read on 16 September of Richard Rogers’ socially responsible practice, where “the highest paid architect . . . could only have eight or nine times the lowest-paid architect’s salary.” But please tell us about the salaries of other workers supporting the practice: how many times would the salary of the receptionist or the cleaner fit into the salary of the highest and lowest paid architect?

Henrietta Cubitt, Cambridge