Letters: Perspectives on banning the burka

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The Independent Online

Let French make own decisions

Contrary to Adrian Hamilton's assertion in "Banning the burka is a lot of hot air" (15 July), there is no current "impassioned debate" in France about the proposed burka ban. All the passion is coming from hectoring British liberals falling over themselves to scold and sneer at the French. The latter have moved on to the 14 July celebrations, the traffic jams and the beaches, with the Bettencourt saga providing "Sarkozy's summer of scandal", as your own John Lichfield pointed out earlier this week; coverage of the lower-house burka vote was sparse.

Hamilton's scorn leads him to miss a number of points key to the wearing of the burka in France. First, the secularism he mentions elsewhere is a pillar of the post-Revolution French Republic, whether we like it or not. Second, the vast majority of French Muslim women come from the former colony Algeria, where social and religious interpretations are different from those in the Gulf, Pakistan or Afghanistan. Moderate French Muslim groups are against the wearing of the burka.

The question ignored by many British liberals is whether French women actually wish to wear the burka; making the latter a symbol of women's rights seems more than a little contradictory. More interviews with French burka-wearers might be helpful, together with the acknowledgement that what the French do in France – where recent opinion polls show 80 per cent public support for a burka ban – is up to them.

Rod Chapman, Sarlat, France

Health dangers of burka-wearing

Adrian Hamilton is wrong to say that "there is nothing much that women insisting on wearing the burka can do to society at large except irritate it". They can imperil their own and others' lives by restricting their vision when driving or simply crossing a road, and imperil their long-term health (with all the associated social costs) by depriving their bodies of vitamin D.

They ignore the crucial role of facial expression in civilised communication and social interaction. They reinforce the Koranic teaching that women are inferiors deserving discriminatory treatment.

As for a ban being "unenforceable in practice", burka-wearing would be one of the easiest of offences to enforce.

David Crawford, Bromley, Kent

It's a matter of law, not religion

Having read Adrian Hamilton's observations on the burka, I take issue with his assertion that "the question of the full coverage of the face is a serious one but it is one for the Muslim communities themselves to argue out, not a bunch of overexcited Christian and secular legislators".

I am sorry, but it is precisely these elected legislators who must determine this garment's place in society, not unelected religious leaders. This is how western democracies work.

Phil Edwards, Godalming, Surrey

GPs aren't up to this job

The notion that the changes proposed in the White Paper will reduce bureaucracy in the NHS is wrong unless the constant deluge of government initiatives – the Modernisation Agenda, Standards for Better Health, Skills for Health, Vital Signs, Knowledge and Skills Framework, to name a few – are stemmed. And the government starts to trust clinicians to get on with the job, with a sensible minimum of standard-setting.

The NHS is so much more diverse than years ago that it is impossible for GPs to keep abreast of developments in all areas. The notion that the GP knows what the patient needs is not necessarily true; GPs know what outcomes they want, but need "care pathways" (previously driven by PCTs) to ensure that the patients get the treatment they need in the most efficient way.

If all the power is invested in GPs rather than across the range of clinicians, many an old problem, not least unnecessary surgery, could re-emerge.

R Vidal, Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Andreas Whittam Smith highlights the fallacy at the centre of the Government's White Paper: it is impossible to have both GP-contracted services and patient choice (15 July). The former prevents a patient from choosing the type or place of secondary and tertiary care, as this is predetermined by the GPs' contract. The White Paper's statement that "money will follow the patient" is obviously wrong, because the contracts will have been fixed before the patient wishes to make his choice.

There is only one way of giving a patient free choice: a fee-for-service system. This is being successfully used by many hospitals on the Continent and elsewhere. Payments made according to set payment-scales, similar to what is now used by private insurance companies, provide the income.

The overall funding would be controlled by a regional organisation, similar to a primary care trust.

This form of payment could be slowly phased in, hospitals etc determining (as they already have much of this information) whether set charges require adjustments. These would then be negotiated with the regional budget-holder of the funds provided by the NHS (taking into account, for example, training and research duties or special local circumstances).

A system of this kind would free GPs of managerial burdens, and could use existing services within the NHS. It would also be flexible enough to allow for quick changes in demand and provision. The best will quickly prosper, forcing others to work hard to catch up – or fold up.

G R Graham, Well End, Hertfordshire

So our local doctors are to pick and choose how to run services and who shall benefit? Are these the same doctors who are roundly criticised for swelling the benefits claimants list because when a patient says "I have a bad back and can't work" they sign the certificate because they cannot say no? In the future will they say yes to the complaining patient first, just to get an easy life?

There must always be central management over a national institution. By all means improve that management if necessary, but to devolve it – well, we await the first scandal of poor service, incompetent doctors who did not want to be more than a GP and have this thrust upon them.

Adrian Richardson, Bedford

Embrace the real Anglican values

Rowan Williams has made two fundamental errors in attempting to manage the problems of the Anglican Church. First, he seems to have judged that preserving the unity of the Anglican Communion was a higher priority than following the best interests of the Church of England itself. So we have, absurdly, rejected the liberal North American Episcopalians and sided with much more conservative Third World Anglicans.

Second, within the Church of England, he has allowed a curious alliance of powerful conservative minorities to set the agenda, against the feelings and interests of ordinary middle-of-the-road Anglicans, most of whom have come to appreciate female clergy, and are not particularly exercised about gay clergy. The synodical arithmetic may be tricky, but a much stronger liberal lead from the Archbishops could have sorted this out a long time ago. As it is, these squabbles and the views of dissenting minorities have given the press and the public a completely distorted view of the mainstream Church of England of today.

Christianity is inherently fissiparous, and the Anglican Communion in its present form was always going to fracture in an age so different from the paternalistic world of the Victorian missionaries.

The genius of English Anglicanism in modern times has been its lack of dogma, its liberalism and its tolerance. This ethos is much closer to the social values of modern English secular society than what is on offer from many other churches and religions.

We should be capitalising on these traditional Anglican values (a unique selling point), and we should let the dissenters find homes with more conservative denominations which better represent their views.

Gavin Turner, Gunton, Norfolk

In view of the Church of England's position and influence as the established Church and of its control of a third of our state schools, its own internal policies are significant to the rest of society. We should be concerned therefore by the misogynistic amendment proposed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York which would have afforded second-class status to women bishops. That the amendment was defeated shows the Church leadership to be out of touch with its own flock as well as with the majority population. But the anti-progressive tendencies of those at the top of the Church hierarchy highlights why we should seek actively to abolish the remaining and significant ties between Church and state.

Naomi Phillips, Head of Public Affairs, British Humanist Association (BHA), London WC1

Archbishops Williams and Sentamu appear to have missed a trick in their proposal to allow an "opt out" for those opposed to women bishops.

As well as allowing those parishes which object to women bishops to opt for supervision by a male bishop they should also allow those parishes which object to a male bishop to opt for a female bishop as an alternative. In that way the authority of all bishops, male or female, will be equal.

Martin Ross, London EC2

Energy: we need concerted action

Jan Lundberg's dismissive approach to the role of renewables in the future smacks of scientific naivety (Letters, 6 July). Every living creature on this planet exists by consuming energy, with the human race being the biggest and most profligate group. The food we eat, water we drink, transportation, heating, means of material production, etc, are all different manifestations of energy.

The fossil fuels which have supported our population growth and current lifestyles, are running out and, unless we take urgent steps to establish adequate energy supplies which are not dependent upon them, then life on this planet, as we presently know it, will cease to exist.

This development will not be precipitate but will involve escalating energy prices, food shortages, and civil unrest. The situation where place A has some oil, and militarily powerful place B does not, is a scenario with which we are becoming increasingly familiar.

To say that solar, or any other renewable energies, will not feed people is facile nonsense. The electricity they generate can make fertilisers, purify and pump water, and transport crops.

The problem is the failure to invest in renewable-energy on a large enough scale. This is the result of short-term politico-economic policies of governments that are reluctant to acknowledge the severity of the looming energy crisis.

This dilatoriness is already leading us towards a chaotic rather than a structured response to the problem. Only by fully informing the public of the consequences of inaction, will governments be granted a mandate to address the problem in the manner, scale, and time-frame necessary.

If we do nothing, it will be a toss-up as to whether the last starving human being eats the last drowning polar bear, or the other way around.

Dr D A Hukin, Thame, Oxfordshire

A flexible school starting-age

As a parent and primary-school teacher in Australia, I was surprised to read the letter from Kate Johns (10 July) about her sons having to start school at four years of age, especially when one was not ready to do so.

In Victoria, where we live, children must be five years of age or older by 30 April of the year they start school (and our school year starts at the end of January). If they are not ready to start school, they can be deferred a year and start when they are five, rising six years of age. This gives them an extra year at home, developing and reinforcing the skills they need for when they start school. It is not considered "holding your child back"; rather it is giving them a better start to their early-years schooling.

Many parents choose to delay their return to work in order to achieve this. Flexibility in the school starting-age allows children to be educated when they are ready, not when the system requires them to be.

Alison Harvey, Ringwood North, Victoria, Australia

What exactly is a 'baby boomer'?

I note that the "baby boomers" are again mentioned as benefitting from such phenomena as "free university education" which are "unlikely to be enjoyed by future generations" (14 July).

We original baby boomers are now aged between 59 and 64. We were born into what is now often referred to as Austerity Britain. The majority of us were consigned by the 11-plus to the vagaries of secondary-modern education. From the minority attending grammar schools, an even smaller minority would stay on for A-levels, from which an even smaller minority would continue to a "free university education".

As for the majority of those who came before us, including our parents, the option of even staying on beyond the compulsory school leaving age could rarely be entertained.

I am inclined to conclude that a more sophisticated presentation of inter-generational life-chances and transfers is required than even that provided by The Independent.

Ian Kendall, Emsworth, Hampshire

Business biased against 'offliners'

As one of the 50 per cent of 65-74-year-olds who "cause Ms Lane Fox particular anxiety by stubbornly remaining offline", I read Tom Sutcliffe (13 July) with appreciation.

While, as he suggests, I can live perfectly happily without a computer, I take great offence at being deliberately disadvantaged and discriminated against.

I am denied favourable interest rates; better insurance rates; goods and services. For example, Waterstones, where I spend a lot money, denies me one of their cards because I have no email address. Ms Lane Fox, in pursuing her goal of a "networked nation", would do well to ensure there is no parallel discrimination.

Geoffrey Cadden, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire

Non-certified mortgages vital

The law of unintended consequences will apply to the possible ban by the FSA of non-certified mortgages. Over many years as a small-business finance adviser, I have found that a very important source of equity finance for start-up and early-stage businesses have been the funds that entrepreneurs can release from their own properties. It shows commitment and can facilitate other conventional bank funding. Those entrepreneurs usually have little financial record for a lender and have had to use non-certified sources. We need to find a way of allowing this lending to continue if we want entrepreneurship to flourish.

Paul Coleman, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Tax on graduates

Vince Cable's suggestion that graduates be taxed twice on their success (once because they have more money, and again because they have more money because of a degree) uses a definition of "fairness" that would not be out of place in Alice In Wonderland. A person who increases their income pays more tax already; if they are subject to a graduate tax they should be exempt from paying higher rates of income tax or vice versa.

Xavier Gallagher, Antwerp, Belgium

Good news for Dr Cable – we already have a graduate tax in the form of the progressive tax system. As everyone acknowledges, graduates are far more likely to be paying tax at the higher rates over the course of their careers.

Luke Evans, London SE5

Moat memorial

The support for Raoul Moat demonstrates that the atavistic primitivism which is manifested in other societies as "honour killing" is alive and well even in a country whose residents like to consider themselves socially and technologically in advance of the majority.

David Burton, Wellington, Shropshire

Girls today

Parents rushing around hiring pink stretch limos to drop off their 11-year-old daughters, dressed in pink boas and party dresses, at school proms (15 July). Have all the copies of The Female Eunuch been flushed down the loo?

Granville Stout, Leigh, Lancashire