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Letters: Stop dithering and ban the burka

These letters were published in the 6th November edition of The Independent
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When will the British establishment bite the bullet and ban the burka? The distressing report that a terror suspect has escaped surveillance by changing into a burka (5 November) comes hard on the heels of Ken Clarke’s non-PC remarks that women covered in “a kind of bag” should not be permitted to give evidence in court. This and other recent incidents should convince pusillanimous politicians to follow the lead of France and Belgium and proscribe this preposterous costume that has nothing to do with Islam.

For too long a misinformed British public has been swayed by moderate as well as militant Muslim apologists – including Baroness Warsi – that female face-masking is a religious requirement, a free personal choice, or a woman’s prerogative to maintain public anonymity. None of these spurious assertions pass critical scrutiny.

Face-masking is a patriarchal invention that originated in ancient Persia over a thousand years before Islam. Now it is championed by backward Wahhabi, Deobandi, Salafi, Tablighi and other puritan clerics, and exported worldwide under the pretext of Islamic religion and culture. But British Muslims must reject this archaic tribal garb as empty emblems and superficial symbols of their faith. Nowhere in the Qur’an is there any obligation for Muslim women to conceal  their hair, let alone their faces. Since there is no compelling theological basis for this obsolete dress, and as face-masking poses grave security, legal, health and social implications for society, the time has come to outlaw this odious outfit that only serves to deform and defame Islam.

Parliament, do what is right: ban the burka and free women from male chauvinism.

Dr T Hargey, Director, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford


Child protection measure  could backfire

Kier Starmer is calling for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. We are writing to challenge this proposal, as a team who have undertaken child protection research in many countries including the UK and Australia.

We are driven by the same concerns to protect children as Kier Starmer. We therefore want to send a vital cautionary note. There is no evidence that mandatory reporting is the best way to protect children. In fact there is strong international evidence that mandatory reporting at best fails to improve the safety and well-being of children in those countries that have introduced it. At worst it has contributed to deterioration in the child protection system through overload and “loss of faith” both in child protection and the wider child welfare system. The result of mandatory reporting is to increase the number of children reported, without any increase in the number of children found to be maltreated.

Our research, published in the British Journal of Social Work last week, shows that in Australia, where all states have systems of mandatory reporting, between one in four and one in eight of all children are reported to child protection services during their lifetime. The vast majority of these reports find nothing, but their effect on children and families is often devastating. The impact of mandatory reporting is to increase the levels of surveillance and suspicion of poor and excluded families, without effectively doing anything to protect or improve the lives of those reported or at risk.

The Government is resisting pressures to introduce mandatory reporting. We support them in this because we fear that public pressures to do something that sounds to be a solution may have the reverse effect.

Andy Bilson, Professor of Social Work, University of Central Lancashire

Rosemary Cant, Research Fellow, Centre for Vulnerable Children, University of Western Australia

Maria Harries, Adjunct Professor, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia

David H Thorpe, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of Lancaster


Even without mandatory reporting there is over-referral of child abuse. Department for Education statistics show that for 2011-12 there were 42,900 children subject to a child protection plan in England – but that 166,900 children and families were falsely referred to children’s social care services.

It’s not just that actual child abuse cases become harder to diagnose and treat with excessive reporting. A referral of just one child also embroils parents, siblings and the extended family. That is a public health issue because the fear of false reporting spreads via community grapevines, and that  may lead to some families  avoiding initial contact with public authorities except out of sheer necessity.

England has a culture of policing, not helping, families. The unintended consequence of “mandatory reporting” could well be that many child abuse cases never even get near the net in the first place – never mind slip through it.

Tristram C Llewellyn Jones, Ramsey, Isle of Man


Jeering at ‘paedos’

One evening last summer, my husband and I came across a group of lads, 12 or 13 years old, heaving a supermarket trolley into our pretty canal. I remonstrated with them, saying I would report them.

“Go on then – nothing will happen,” the ringleader jeered, accompanied by some obscenities. As my husband took a photo on his mobile, there were cries of “Paedos!”

Like Margaret Brown (letter, 5 November), we are not disabled foreigners and we do have contacts. We gave the photo to our local policeman, and he was able to identify the boy, and, to the boy’s surprise, action was indeed taken. Luckily we know the policeman and anyway he has common sense.

I wonder now, in the light of recent events, whether I would do this again. As a white, middle-class woman, secure in her home environment, I probably would. Away from home, I might think twice. And that’s what is so disturbing: people will be unwilling to report or photograph incidents, because an accusation like this can have such repercussions – from the confiscation of a camera, as in Margaret Brown’s case, to death, as in the tragedy of Bijan Ebrahimi.

Christina Jones, Retford, Nottinghamshire


Long wait at outpatients

Martin Richards’ letter (4 December) regarding his four-and-a-quarter hour wait to see the doctor in an outpatient clinic made me feel I was fortunate in only having to wait an hour and a half for a recent appointment. 

As I don’t drive, and my husband has recently given up driving, I was very grateful to friends who drove me to the hospital and waited with me all that time. When we left I discovered that the hospital, having kept us waiting, then added the time to the parking fee. I know our hospitals need money, but this, surely, is most unfair.

Jean Elliott, Upminster, Essex


Hospitals are not measured on their waiting times for out-patients. They are measured for waits in accident and emergency departments, but not out-patients.

Regrettably the story you reproduce is perpetuated by ignorance, not just of the public, but of many doctors, who are unaware of the real pressures in hospitals. Waiting for consultants is nothing to do with government targets, but simply poorly organised clinics.

Dr Tim Coker, South Warwickshire CCG board member, Napton, Warwickshire


Russell Brand’s tedious antics

The “disenfranchised generation” that Stefan Wickham refers to (Letters, 3 November) have already revolted, in August 2011. In Clapham Junction, where I live, they saw fit to burn and pillage local businesses and make off with a lot of goods, most memorably large quantities of electronic equipment and trainers – and, as Howard Jacobson noted at the time, left only the local bookshop (Waterstone’s) intact with its stock. 

Whatever the inequities in our democracy – and there are many, I don’t deny, though I do deny that all politicians are the same – it’s a shame that Mr Wickham is so blinded by his lust for revolution that he can’t appreciate the sublime brilliance of Howard Jacobson’s intelligence and imagination (2 November) in comparing Russell Brand’s tedious antics on Newsnight with those of Shakespeare’s clowns.

Carmen Rodriguez, London SW11


An illusion of recovery

Such economic recovery as we have is based on three key elements: first, currency devaluation; second persistent erosion of employment rights; and finally a measure of inflation, CPI, which is utterly corrupted. Every one of these is massively regressive and has a worrying air of accomplished dishonesty.

R Goodall, Bewdley, Worcestershire


Hamish McRae tells us (“Confidence is returning”, 31 October) that the Bank of England now holds one third of the National Debt. Surely if this is the case they should go ahead and cancel it. The UK’s credit rating would soar. George Osborne should rejoice!

Frank Donald, Edinburgh


Ethical poppies

In two recent letters readers have mentioned being telephoned by their banks when they make online purchases of white poppies from the Stop the War Coalition. I had no such difficulty, but then I bank with the Co-operative. Perhaps this shows that they do still understand the ethical point of view in spite of their current travails.

Gyles Cooper, London N10


Fashion for boys

I was disappointed to read your description of the “Seedling the Fashion Designer kit” in the Ten Best Eco Toys feature (5 November). Why is the toy only suitable for “girls aged eight and over”? Are boys not allowed to be creative in fashion too? The huge presence of men in the fashion world would suggest otherwise.

Marc Harbourne-Bessant, Birmingham


Train to nowhere

We are told that there will be a growth in economic prosperity in excess of the huge development cost of HS2. Doncaster currently has an excellent high-speed rail link. There are up to four trains per hour to London, taking as little as 1 hour 30 minutes. Where is the economic prosperity in the area?

Brian Day, Doncaster


Perilous calls

After receiving an average of four nuisance phone calls a day lately, I wonder if anyone has ever made a claim for injury compensation after breaking a limb in their haste to answer a phone call from one of these offending companies?

Judi Martin, Maryculter, Aberdeenshire