Letters: Sexual paranoia of the niqab

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 19 September, 2013

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The wearing of the niqab assumes that women are one-dimensional beings, that their only purpose is sex. Men, under this assumption, cannot be friends, colleagues or even benign strangers to women. 

The men I encounter every day are 99 per cent completely benign and treat me the same as any other human being. They may offer to help carry something heavy or hold a door open. They may give directions if I’m lost. This is all part and parcel of what makes society work; there is no need for an exaggerated sense of paranoia about what men feel towards women.

The slutty dress of girls like Miley Cyrus is the opposite side of the same coin. They also assume that men only relate to women sexually, and rather than cover it up they rock the look and go with the power buzz that comes from doing that. 

Both extremes of this one-dimensional thinking are offensive both to men and to women. That is why I find the choice to wear the niqab an incredibly sad one for society.

Frances Lothian, Ludlow,  Shropshire


When I see a woman in a niqab, I simply assume her to be hostile to my cultural beliefs and determined to shun contact with me personally – I am happy to oblige by ignoring her, but certainly do not feel threatened.

However as a student (graduate, post-graduate and professional) I would have been very perturbed about her clear determination to opt out of formal and informal discussions and collective working – and bitterly  resented her turning  up in disguise at competitive public examinations.

How on earth are either examining bodies or fellow students to know that the person who apparently studied the course actually sat the exams – or even that the same person appeared from week to week?

R S Foster, Sheffield


The topic of the niqab attracts bad arguments as jam-making attracts wasps. Roy Spilsbury (letter, 18 September) argues that the niqab will harm Islam on the basis of an encounter which he witnessed between a child and a veiled woman on a bus journey; does everyone respond to children on buses who want to play peek-a-boo?

Penny Reid, meanwhile, finds “the sight of black-enveloped women both scary and morally offensive”; and to Phil Edwards, (letter, 17 September) it is “a two-fingered gesture aimed at my background and my culture”. 

What happened to the British principle of “live and let live”? Is their sense of Britishness so fragile that it is threatened by a small number of women wearing the niqab?  British people pride themselves on their tolerance, and support the tolerant, moderate attitude of David Cameron and Theresa May.

John Dakin, Toddington, Bedfordshire


Who knew that the value of not attaching shame to women’s faces was the preserve of “our elites” (Letter, 18 September)? To hold the rights of women “of other ethnicities and societies” hostage until all the wrongs done to British women are resolved is little-Englandism and whataboutery.

Perhaps Gavin Lewis would, in the best of British colonial tradition, like to remind some of those uppity bare-faced women in campaigning groups like the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan that these are “our” values, and they should keep to “theirs” . 

Peter McKenna, Liverpool


If the Ku Klux Klan resumed their original name as the “Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” and declared themselves a religion, I doubt if the liberal left would support their right routinely to conceal their facial identity in public.

Facial recognition is an essential component of  open societies like ours. Female mask-wearing can only be regarded as a matter of personal choice in societies based on gender separation, where women have no public role. It is incompatible with one where gender equality is a central value.

Roger Martin, Wells, Somerset


Disruption along nuclear waste routes

Your environment editor rightly highlighted the fact ministers have chosen to remove the troublesome layer of democracy that thwarted plans to secure a site in West Cumbria for the nation’s nuclear waste, by excluding the County Council (“Lake District threatened by nuclear waste again,” 14 September)

I was invited two years ago to sit on the Government’s Geological Disposal Implementation Board (GDIB).  As the programme was moving ahead, we met about every six months to review progress. Since the programme was halted at the end of January this year, the GDIB has not been convened, nor has the board been consulted on its views on what should happen next, a situation I have found puzzling.

Had I been asked, I would have suggested far from reducing the key decision-making  bodies to district councils, those covering the specific land footprint that would host the above-ground servicing facilities for any deep repository for emplacing the  waste, the scope of key interested bodies should include the local authorities through which the radioactive waste would have to  be transported by rail or road the repository site.

Communities along the route could face significant community disruption for many years as the national nuclear waste stockpile is transported across the country to the repository.

In my view, these communities will face an impact, especially those living close road or rail line along which the waste is shipped, and geographical equity requires these stakeholders have access to the same level of community compensation as any host community for the repository.

When the GDIB is next reconvened, I hope to be able to discuss this and other relevant matters with the energy minister who chairs the meeting.

Dr David Lowry, Environmental policy and research consultant, Stoneleigh,  Surrey


Neglected masterpiece

I find it sad that Professor A J Pointon appears to have such a reductive attitude towards some of our finest dramatic creations (letter, 16 September).

Vittoria in John Webster’s The White Devil may only have “304 lines, many of them monosyllabic” compared with (as the professor tells us) Shakespeare’s Rosalind (736), Cleopatra (591) or Portia (571), but Vittoria is certainly more than a match for these female characters in terms of her stage presence.

She steals the scene of her arraignment, one of the best court scenes in all English theatre, and is formidable in her death scene. Some of our finest actresses (Geraldine McEwan and Glenda Jackson to name but two) have valued the role highly enough to commit to it.

Three cheers to the Royal Shakespeare Company for a timely revival of this under-performed masterpiece.

Dr John Buckingham, Hounslow,  Middlesex


Cat-owners’ responsibility

Our children’s pet rabbit was killed yesterday by a neighbour’s cat. It wasn’t pretty. Why do people who don’t own cats have to go to so much effort and expense to protect the wild and domestic animals in their gardens from other people’s pets?

If it was a dog that had jumped in and killed our rabbit, by law it would be deemed dangerous and be put down. Licensing cats would bring responsibility and accountability to those cat owners who for far too long have excused the behaviour of their lovely pets by the phrase “It’s just in their nature. They need the freedom to roam.”

If spending time on everyone else’s property eating and viciously attacking whatever they feel like is how they are, then they must be owned responsibly.

Jonathan Allen, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire


NHS money thrown away

I am glad you published Terry Duncan’s letter (14 September) drawing attention to the way perfectly good medicines and equipment prescribed on the NHS are jettisoned.

Recently my husband died of cancer. With excellent help from the NHS he was nursed to the end at home. I offered unopened medicines, emollient creams, food supplements and catheter tubes to our local hospice. They told me they were sorry but they were not able to accept the items. 

“Health and Safety” gone mad?

Shirley Leuw, Stanmore, Middlesex


Long lend

I had a similar experience to Professor Foster (16 September). I was saved from having to pay £976.40 when returning the book Memories of Perth In Verse and Prose to my local library in Scone in 2001. It had been borrowed 27 years earlier in 1974, although I had no recollection of borrowing it or how it came into my possession. The kind librarian said: “It would have been draconian to demand the money. We’re just delighted to see the book back after all this time.”

Donald P McDonald, Scone, Perth


Swatting idea

A further improvement on John Naylor’s method using a flexible ruler to swat a fly (letter, 17 September) is to use a similar device but broader and with holes in it. A solid object can create air movement blowing the fly out to the side, whereas a permeable device splats the fly more reliably. Obviously, the holes should be smaller than the fly.

Richard Bell, Cadeleigh, Devon


Phantom station

In your story about Brompton tube station and London Underground history (17 September), you stated that Aldwych station was only open for eight years from 1907 onwards. The millions of people who travelled through the station until its closure in 1994 will have wondered whether they imagined the experience.

Nigel Scott, London N22


Vote for Clarkson?

I would love Jeremy Clarkson to stand as a parliamentary candidate in Doncaster. It would be wonderful for tens of thousands of people to give the arrogant ass the message that he is less popular than Ed Miliband!

Phil Wood, Westhoughton, Greater Manchester