Letters: Perspectives on the burka

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The Independent Online

Foreign ideas of modesty

Writing about the French ban on the burka (letters, 12 April), Fiyaz Mughal and Omar Mesbahuddin are mistaken; the wearing of the burka, niqab or hijab is not a Muslim religious requirement. As I understand it, the Koran calls on women – and men – to dress modestly, without being any more specific.

What counts as "modestly" is a matter of local custom. In France, as in the UK, modesty is compatible with the face and hair of a woman showing. Just look at a banknote or a stamp, showing the Queen with her hair and face clearly visible, and nobody in his right mind would suggest that Her Majesty is immodest.

What these young French and British women are doing is to follow the local customs of distant, murderous theocracies that oppress women, rather than those of their native countries where they are free to practise their (minority) religion and, generally, to pursue their ambitions. Why they choose as they do is a question they should ask themselves very seriously.

Stephen Breuer, Lancaster

Sad embrace of an oppressive culture

I find it so sad when Muslim women defend the wearing of the Burka (letter, 13 April), as if they are standing up for some human right, rather than a visible sign of the degradation of women sponsored entirely by men.

This oppressive culture also allows forced marriages, denies rape and other abuse by men within a marriage and believes in the stoning of adulterers (though only female ones) and many other relics of the male domination that existed in our own medieval culture until women found the courage to resist them.

On a personal level I find the premise insulting that viewing a woman's face will immediately fire up lust.

Peter Parkins, Lancaster

This is not just a choice of dress

Theresa May's ruling out of the banning of the burka in Britain is typical of the British attitude of "not wanting to rock the boat".

If it was purely a question of people being allowed to wear what they want then the natural response is to support that. But the burka is not an alternative way of dressing, like being a mod or a goth, but a symbol of support for repression of women, who are of course forced to wear it in Saudi Arabia and some other countries.

Steve Lustig, London, NW2

We need banks that serve the people

The remit of the Independent Banking Commission was limited, as are its proposals. There are significant problems with our banking sector and the problem of banks that are too big to fail is only one of them.

In this country we rely too heavily on the finance sector for our wealth. We do not have adequate competition, partly because of the demutualisation of building societies and the resulting acquisitions and takeovers. Equally serious, large sectors of our population are excluded from banking. This results in a family on £10,000 per year paying £1,000 per year more on utilities and other essentials.

Compared with the rest of Europe our finance sector is not diverse and is thus less competitive. Having all our eggs in several large baskets makes us very vulnerable to shocks. The major banks are not only too big to fail but they are also too big to allow newcomers entry into the market.

The IMF, the Building Societies Association and the New Economics Foundation have all suggested we should be moving towards a broader-based banking sector with more mutuals, co-operatives and credit unions; more in line with France and Germany. A Post Office Bank or a mutualisation of our partially publicly owned banks are options which could move our finance sector in the right direction.

It seems that George Osborne is considering selling off the now partly publicly owned banks. Let us hope he is not tempted by a dash for cash. He could take the opportunity to make our financial services more responsive to the needs of citizens rather than large shareholders.

If Vince Cable wants to resurrect his political career, what better way to doit than to start to create a truly competitive and stable banking sector?

Sandra Walmsley, Weeting, Norfolk

Easier portability of personal bank accounts – as proposed by Sir John Vickers's commission and the Treasury Select Committee – is a vitally important ingredient in boosting competition in the banking sector.

It will also prove to be a useful weapon in assisting the public to close their accounts with those banks threatening to leave the UK in order to avoid paying their fair share in taxes.

Nigel Wilkins, London SW7

How AV gave us David Cameron

In 1995 there were four candidates for the Conservative leadership election. In the first ballot David Davis polled 62 votes and David Cameron 56, with Liam Fox and Kenneth Clarke trailing well behind. After the elimination of the bottom two candidates, Cameron won on a postal vote of members.

So to hear him speak in the No campaign broadcast about first-past-the-post being the only fair system (as in the Grand National) seems a bit rich.

From this you might guess that I'll be voting yes to AV, but you'd be wrong. AV also has serious flaws, largely because not everyone has the chance to switch their vote after the elimination of a candidate or candidates. For those looking for a fairer system (which probably means a measure of PR) AV is indeed a miserable compromise.

When, as a Lib Dem, I attended a post-election meeting in Oxford about the Coalition, the party seemed much more interested in electoral reform than in working out how best to protect the vulnerable when the cuts inevitably came. Last year the Conservatives offered a referendum on another bad voting system to the Lib Dems rather than get to grips with proper electoral reform, as suggested by Roy Jenkins years ago. It was a rotten deal.

Well, sorry, I am not buying into the compromise. I am interested in devising a fairer electoral system, but I am not convinced that AV is a stepping stone towards it. If AV goes ahead, we'll be stuck with it for many a year, with little prospect of further change. First-past-the-post has its flaws but they are flaws we understand, and it works after a fashion. I'm only going to vote for change when I really am persuaded that it must be for the better.

Don Manley, Oxford

Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East, clearly thinks that the benefits of a fairer voting system are outweighed by the likelihood of electing coalition governments (letter, 12 April). In fact this is related to the growth of multi-party politics; AV is as likely to reinforce a landslide majority when sentiment swings strongly as it is to increase the number of seats won by a third party when there is an even balance.

Dr Lewis bases his disapproval of coalition government on the inability of the larger party to get all of its manifesto commitments through the Commons without negotiation. Many would regard this as a democratic strength and applaud the restraint exercised on the dominant party, particularly if many of their MPs had been elected by only a minority of those voting in their constituencies.

Peter Burrows, Lyndhurst, Hampshire

Dr Julian Lewis doesn't get it, does he? Whatever kind of government is formed when all the votes have been counted (majority, minority or coalition), its acceptability depends on people believing the result is fair and legitimate.

In the mid-1950s when there were just two candidates in most constituencies, winners were usually accepted, because they had secured 50 per cent or more of the vote.

The first-past-the-post system is no longer fit for purpose, simply because there are so many more candidates standing and winners' share of the vote is often well below 50 per cent.

Ideally we need a PR system, because there is little relationship between percentages of the national vote won and percentages of Commons seats, but a helpful first step will be to have credible results in individual constituencies, thanks to the preferential voting the AV system offers.

Anthony Batchelor, Bromyard, Herefordshire

Joan Freeland says that under AV, "People who have only one vote taken into account are the fortunate ones – they have an MP who was their first choice" (letter, 11 April). But this isn't necessarily true.

The worst example is where the leading candidate in the first round is beaten in the final round. His supporters will have had only their first votes counted. This large proportion of the local electorate is indeed likely to feel that others have had more bites at the cherry.

This really matters where there are multiple candidates with what AV deems a majority. It is simply ridiculous to allow one "majority" to bubble up (and be first past the post) without counting a large set of second preferences that would possibly favour another.

David Woods, Hull, East Yorkshire

Woman at the lathe

I was delighted to see the picture used on the front of your Arts and Books supplement of 8 April on "Women at War". It is a very fine and accurate picture and will resonate with anyone who has spent time standing in front of a lathe.

With all due respect to Kathleen Palmer, the curator of the exhibition that this picture is to be displayed in, I do not regard this picture as glamorised in any way. I have no doubt that Ruby Loftus is shown as she appeared that day. Of course she was wearing lipstick; she had to keep her end up in a crowd of young women (see background) who were probably earning more money than they had ever done before.

The lathe was probably new, (Lend-Lease?) but gleamed because it was wet from the coolant being sprayed onto the cutting tool and thrown about by the irregular shape rotating on the faceplate, on to Ruby as well as the machine – note the pools on the lathe bed (foreground).

Ruby is concentrating, as well she may, for when she gets to the end of the cut she will have to perform two operations simultaneously at exactly the right moment, stopping the saddle moving into the bore (the lever by Ruby's left arm?) and turning the handwheel near her right hand to move the cutting tool clear. If she gets any of this wrong disaster will ensue, followed by recrimination and loss of bonus!

All in all, this is a wonderful and, above all, accurate picture by a very fine artist, freezing a moment in time. Thank you for reminding us of this picture.

B A Fewtrell, Bury, Lancashire

Royal wedding silence broken

Newspapers don't want to print it. The TV doesn't want to air it. But someone has to be the party pooper, so it may as well be me. On behalf of millions of people in this country, the suffering silent minority, let it be said: we're sick to death of the royal wedding.

It's not as if there aren't loads of other hopeless things this country can waste its money on, like wars or Trident nuclear submarines, but to spend a king's ransom on a phenomenally wealthy couple's wedding in these hard times is even worse than giving a trillion pounds to the bankers.

I want to see an end to this medieval, anti-democratic and overpaid institution.

Mark Holt, Liverpool

Christina Patterson describes Kate Middleton as "alarmingly thin" (Opinion, 13 April). This sounds, surprisingly for The Independent, like the sort of bullying Ms Middleton allegedly suffered at school for being "too perfect". Why "alarming", and why "thin"? She is slender and it's not alarming.

Some people are born that way. I was and it's great. Eat what you like and stay slim! Is that why others find it hard to stomach?

Jan Cook, South Nutfield, Surrey

Fear of anarchy in the classroom

Paul Dunwell's vision of an Orwellian future in which schools are under constant surveillance is among the most disturbing attitudes to education I have seen (Letters, 11 April). The notion of having headteachers and external authority figures monitor every move made by teachers and pupils betrays a deep-seated and unhealthy suspicion of children and young people.

This ludicrous concept appears to be the product of a belief that anarchy and chaos are rife in the majority of British schools. In reality, this is far from the truth, and it is entirely wrong to presume that the scenes witnessed at Darwen Vale High School are prevalent elsewhere. A Big Brother-style surveillance system could only result in a generation of children brought up to live in fear of authority, and the real causes of misconduct in schools would remain unaddressed.

Instead, there must be a focus on training teachers who are capable of dealing with any incidents as serious as those recently brought to light in Lancashire and, more importantly, who understand the importance of building a mutually trusting and respectful relationship with all students to ensure that such incidents never occur. Teacher walkouts are a desperate reaction to a desperate situation, but CCTV is not the way forward.

Richard Bracknall (Aged 15) Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire

Inflation targets have their place

Stephen King's critique of inflation targeting (11 April) accuses it of failure because it did not single-handedly deliver "the economic stability we all crave". Though he is certainly correct that it did not, he is wrong to imply that we should abandon inflation targeting.

As he rightly points out, inflation-targeting central bankers failed to spot the wider consequences of their monetary policy. Too determined a focus on inflation meant risks to output went unnoticed, and the conditions for crisis were unknowingly fostered.

This is not cause to abandon inflation targeting altogether. Inflation targeting's greatest flaw was pretending that it alone could secure a stable economy. It cannot. Inflation is only one part of a complex economic picture, in which healthy growth and a sustainable financial sector are both also key. More attention should explicitly be given to achieving these goals.

Yet inflation targeting should remain. As Mervyn King said, "When a policy is necessary but not sufficient, the answer is not to abandon, but to augment, it."

David Thomas, Exeter College, Oxford

No lack of empathy

Your article "Why a lack of empathy is the root of all evil (5 April) states: "At zero degrees of empathy are two distinct groups. [...] Zero-negatives are the pathological group. These are people with borderline personality disorder...".

I have borderline personality disorder, but I do not have zero empathy. If I had zero empathy, I would not be outraged by the rapes in South Sudan. I would not hug my sister and offer my sympathies when she split from her boyfriend. I wouldn't feel guilty about postponing a date with my boyfriend at short notice. I would not cry uncontrollably at the end of Wall-E or Romeo and Juliet.

I certainly couldn't work as an IT technician, where I meet people every day who are often panicked or stressed because their computer has malfunctioned and need sympathy from me while I put the machine right. If anything, I have too much empathy: when I upset others, I fret about it and feel guilty for a long time afterwards.

Having BPD described as "pathological" and likened to antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder in a national newspaper is likely to worsen the prejudice and discrimination that I and other BPD patients experience.

Name and address supplied

Generation gap

What Nick Andell (letter, 12 April) conveniently forgets to mention when describing the benefits enjoyed by Jackie Fee's generation is that we also paid income tax at a basic rate of 33.3 per cent.

R E Hooper, Stratford on Avon


Now that Francis Ford Coppola is in the fine wine business (report, 13 April) will he branch out and make a Rioja you couldn't refuse?

Keith Baker, Hillsborough, Co Down