Letters: the burka

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Backing for the burka

I have always supported the right of women to choose how they dress and any attempt to try to stifle the right of Muslim women as shown by Philip Hollobone MP will be strongly challenged (report and leading article, 17 July). That is why I welcome the commitment shown by the Immigration minister, Damian Green, and the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, that the UK Government will never ban the burka and veil.

The uniqueness of this great nation is its freedom, the right to dress, speak and live according to one's own choice. That is why the right of Muslim women to wear the veil should be protected by this government.

But I do believe that action should be taken by the Conservative Party and the House of Commons authorities when a public servant refuses to meet his constituents because they wear the veil. This is a breach of the role of an MP.

I am writing to the Speaker of the House of Commons asking for an investigation.

Mohammed Shafiq

Chief Executive, Ramadhan Foundation, Greater Manchester

Congratulations to our MP, Philip Hollobone. By using his bigoted views for his own political glory the rest of the country now believes that Kettering is populated by backward ingrates with no tolerance for other communities. He has done nothing to raise a positive profile of this town and its surrounding villages.

As someone who runs a business with a Kettering postal address, I am concerned by how my clients in places such as London or Manchester may relate our MP's views to my community. As my representative in Westminster, just what do his actions and comments say about me?

Mr Hollobone has a duty of care and responsibility to all of his constituents. He does not have the luxury to pick and choose whom he represents. What harm has a woman wearing the veil done to him that he should act in such an offensive manner to them? There is no doubt that the issue of the veil does cause concern for some people. There is also a growing trend to see the return of the death penalty. I don't agree with either of these but respect people's views in the same way they should respect that ladies should be allowed to wear a veil if they choose.

Religious and cultural tolerance is a cornerstone of our society. Yes, there are security issues but there are simple ways to deal with these.

The veil is in fact rarely seen in Kettering. But what really annoys me is that after winning a ballot for what is a rare chance to table a Private Member's Bill he wastes this opportunity on a non-issue.

He could have raised the problems of unadopted roads on our new housing estates or the degradation of our rail services to London.

Paul Lashmar

PR Photographer, Kettering, Northamptonshire

Before condemning arguments against burka-wearing on the grounds that it causes Vitamin D deficiency as "ludicrous", Ibrahim Khan (letters, 19 July) should ask his doctor mother for access to her clinical library. Here he could find that The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition for June 2007 reported that, out of 178 burka-wearing women studied by the United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain, only two were not vitamin D-deficient.

In 2008, Dr Miriam Casey, of the osteoporosis unit in St James' Hospital, Dublin, warned that "Muslim women who wear the burka are at increased risk of pelvic fractures during childbirth because of vitamin D-deficiency. Babies born to women with vitamin D-deficiency are also more prone to seizures in their first week of life".

David Crawford

Bromley, Kent

I cannot agree with your leading article. You rightly recognise that we are not obliged to tolerate everything, and you instance indecency as one of those things which we do not have to tolerate. But it is not as simple as that.

In many parts of the world, it is the cultural norm for women to have their breasts exposed in public. That is not indecent where they come from: it would be so regarded here. To many who live here, for a woman to wear the burka in public is as unacceptable as for her to expose her breasts.

I have no difficulty in accepting the covering of the head , with the face exposed, whether by a nun or a Muslim. But the burka is not an essential item of clothing to a Muslim either for cultural or religious reasons. If we, whose country this is, choose to ban it we are not interfering with their cultural or religious necessities; nor are we interfering with their human rights.

It is for us to decide what is acceptable in our country and we are not being intolerant by deciding that, if somebody wishes to act in a way which we find unacceptable, they should conform to our wishes or go elsewhere.

Stephen Gratwick QC

Sevenoaks, Kent

I deeply regretted the French Parliament's almost unanimous vote to ban the burka in public. I could fully understand that anyone attempting to force a woman to wear it should be punished. But if a woman chooses to wear the burka, it is not for the State to tell her whether she could or could not wear it.

Phillip Hollobone declared that he would not talk to a woman who was wearing the burka. Will Mr Hollobone refuse to talk to Christian citizens wearing a crucifix, Sikh citizens wearing a turban, Jewish citizens wearing a yarmulke or any other religious attire? I would prefer women not to wear the burka, but I would rigorously defend their right to choose to wear one if they wish. Can we please stop this unjustified Muslim-bashing.

Dr Faysal Mikdadi

Dorchester, Dorset

As a student observing a GP consultation with a Muslim woman in a niqab, I was surprised at how little it affected her ability to communicate. The veil was made of very light material and her voice was perfectly clear. Her eyes conveyed her feelings adequately and I had the impression of a confident, articulate wife and mother.

I am proud that Britain isn't going to do anything as ridiculous as banning the burka.

Daniel Emlyn-Jones


No prisons for asylum-seekers

We strongly concur with comments by Dame Anne Owers that people should not be held in prison-like detention centres for immigration purposes ("Immigrants should not be in jail, says prisons watchdog", 14 July).

As the leading charity working with asylum-seekers and refugees in the UK, we know that detention is overused and unnecessary. Many are detained for long periods, often without formally knowing the reason for their detention, and with no prospect of removal. Surely it is inhumane to detain people who are fleeing persecution and arbitrary imprisonment in their own country, against their will, while seeking safety in the UK?

We are hugely encouraged that the government is reviewing the detention of children, and urge them to ensure that this is done in a way that puts the needs of children first. Now it is time for them to reconsider the practice of detention on the whole, and further develop alternatives to detention, while ensuring that the protection and welfare of asylum-seekers and refugees is at the heart of the policy.

Jonathan Ellis

Director of Policy and Development, Refugee Council, London SW9

Shipowners are scaremongering

The alarmist comments from various shipowners (report, 15 July) regarding the proposed ending of discrimination and poverty-pay on UK-flagged vessels echoes the usual scaremongering from the Chamber of Shipping.

It is unscrupulous shipowners who have taken advantage of the lack of regulation and forced a "race to the bottom" on pay and conditions who have already destroyed thousands of UK ratings' jobs, so much so that there are fewer than 9,000 UK seafaring ratings left in the industry.

The industry has not been offering training opportunities for youngsters in Britain because it has been able to use its exemption in law to exploit overseas crews on lower rates. Having already exiled UK ratings from the deep-sea sector, shipowners are now trying to do the same to the ferry industry, effectively trying to turn the Red Ensign into an unregulated flag of convenience.

Most of the vessels that would be affected by the change in legislation we are seeking – and which the independent Carter Review supports – are trading on and around the UK coast and between UK and EU ports, with seafarers often employed on less than the UK minimum wage. This is because UK shipowners are not only free to ignore the Race Relations Act but are also exempted from the minimum wage outside internal UK waters, which means that even a ferry going to the Shetlands is not covered.

The shipowners deploy the same arguments that were used against the Race Relations Act and minimum wage in the first place, and the sky didn't fall in when the rest of the UK economy had to observe their modest demands.

Bob Crow

General Secretary, RMT, London, NW1

Fair play for a fair comment

The chairman of the Optimum Population Trust, Roger Martin, says my criticism of his organisation ("Affluence, not control, is the answer") was "uncontaminated by any reference to what we and our patrons actually say" (letters, 19 July).

Mr Martin appears neither to have noticed that I quoted the remark of his most notable patron, Sir David Attenborough, that there "is no problem that would not be easier to solve with fewer people", nor that I devoted three paragraphs to an examination of the OPT's proposal to "offset" our own carbon emissions by funding family-planning programmes in Africa.

Or perhaps he was unwilling to contaminate himself by referring to what I was actually saying.

Dominic Lawson

London SW1

Slow progress for Haiti

As a Haitian and an aid worker, I read with interest your coverage of Haiti six months on ("Haitians wait in tents for a recovery that has barely yet begun", 10 July).

I have just returned from Haiti for the second time since the January earthquake, and it is shocking to see so many Haitians living in makeshift tent cities. This earthquake has set us back more years than I have left to me.

But we must not forget where the world had left Haiti before this catastrophe, a country largely ignored by the international community and allowed to slip down the UN Human Development Index to end up with the title of "the poorest country in the western hemisphere".

The article reports that, "... their city and way of life looks depressingly unchanged from six months ago". In the work we are doing every day, we are aware that people are still struggling to feed their families and receive basic services, but Cafod's long history of working in Haiti shows us that there are no quick fixes; progress is slow and painstaking, but it is happening.

If the world truly believes in Haiti being "built back better" then engage with our civil society, listen to our views and include us in the decisions that are going to shape our future. The road to recovery and development is rarely smooth, but with the people behind a functional and sustainable recovery process, we can re-imagine Haiti. We are a resilient people, as we say in Creole, toutan gen lavi genyen lespawa, as long as we are alive, we have hope.

Marie Josette Delorme-Pierre

Haiti Humanitarian Officer, CAFOD, London SE1

Truth of public sector pensions

Your article "Britain's debt: the untold story" (14 July) continues the misrepresentation of public sector pensions costs. Figures such as the £770bn cited ignore current and past contributions – these schemes are not "unfunded" – and pretend that the costs must all be paid now.

Rising costs in the next few years are unavoidable as an ageing workforce retires. But changes already made (including higher retirement ages, higher contributions from employees and cost capping for employers) will cut these costs to ensure long-term sustainability.

National Audit Office projections confirm that costs will fall back over time below their current level. In earlier years, when contributions exceeded pensions in payment, the government simply kept that money. The government has had a cheap loan from teachers' pension contributions but now it baulks at paying the pensions that are due.

The real pension problem is in the private sector where pensioners face poverty in retirement, putting higher welfare costs on the taxpayer. Extending this to public sector pensioners is no solution. We need decent pensions for all.

Christine Blower

General Secretary, National Union of Teachers, London WC1

Fiddling lists

I hear that the hospital waiting lists (two-week guarantee) is about to be axed. About time too, for the guarantee was simply a fiddle. When I went to Runcorn Infirmary, they said I could not book because the two-week limit was full. So I had to wait two weeks, before being put on the two-week waiting list. Like all things under Labour, it was all smoke, mirrors and lies.

Roger Ellis

Northwich, Cheshire

Short and sweet

Talking of short stories, I'm surprised that Philip Hensher ("How short can a short story be", Notebook, 19 July) hasn't heard of the young student who, on being told by his English teacher that the secret of Somerset Maugham's novels was that they all contained the following ingredients: religion, the aristocracy, sex and a bit of mystery, wrote, "My God! said the Duchess, I'm pregnant, who done it?"

Ken Scutt

Bognor Regis, West Sussex

Perspectives on theMiddleEast

Israel plans legal property grab

In 1948, my Palestinian-Australian friends fled their Jerusalem homes, fearing for their lives. Initially, they found safe haven in Syria.

Sons and daughters studied internationally, earned advanced degrees, settled in Jordan, Kuwait (from which they were expelled in 1991), Egypt, and Australia, where all work professionally and contribute much to their communities. Their children, in turn, study and work in Australia and abroad, becoming highly respected professionals in their own rights.

Not being allowed to return to their property post-War of Independence is truly a catastrophe for them, their Nakba. Now Israel plans to assume control of my friends' property, and the property of Palestinians who fled the war, many of whom escaped under artillery barrages, with no time to collect their belongings or put their affairs in order.

Like the Jews of the Exodus, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled with only the shirts on their backs. Instead of entering a Promised Land, a pending Israeli court decision will strip these Palestinians of their property because they fled to an "enemy state during the war" and they "abandoned" their property, thousands of acres and buildings now worth billions of dollars.

They were all enemy states in 1948-49; where else could Palestinians flee on foot?

How dare the Israeli government implement such an immoral, unjust, un-Jewish policy? How can we – Jews of the world, personally knowing persecution, theft of property and war – how can we remain silent while such a crime is committed in our name?

Judy Bamberger

Canberra, Australia

Palestinians need outside help

It may well be more difficult for Israelis to comprehend the idea of Palestinian non-violence than for Palestinians to do so. For many Israelis, the very thought of non-violent Palestinian protest goes so far against the grain as to be incomprehensible, lethally suspicious, a violation of a bedrock narrative.

In many cases, Israeli media have actively ignored or obscured non-violent Palestinian protest. Last month, hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians marched together through the streets of Silwan, East Jerusalem, protesting over a plan by the Jerusalem Mayor, Nir Barkat, to evict Arab residents and raze 22 houses for a settler-oriented tourism project.

At a time when use of overwhelming force has cost Israel dearly in its world standing, what will it take for Israelis to re-think the idea that what they have can be maintained only by force, a new kind of leader, a Gandhi, a Dr King?

The only way the Palestinians will ever get their independence is with the help of outsiders. The US never could have won its independence if it hadn't had the help of several European nations, particularly France.

Ted Rudow

Menlo Park, California, USA