Letters: The Muslim community

No point in trying to appease Muslim puritans
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The Independent Online

In Britain today, our secular lifestyles exhibit "the collapse of all restraint". Our defining national trait is now "dissipation and debauchery", and we live in a "state of perpetual abandon". Yasmin Alibhai Brown (11 January) offers these ludicrous exaggerations not as examples of middle-class, puritanical paranoia but as an explanation for the growth of violent extremism within the Muslim community.

This kind of fanaticism, she suggests, is inflamed by the intolerable tension between traditional values and the lurid temptations of modern life. Yet she fails to account for the relative rarity of such violent tendencies among members of other conservative faiths, who doubtless experience similar discomfort when confronted by the shocking spectacle of a teenager in a short skirt.

Just suppose that, with respect to the terrorists, permissiveness really is a kind of contributory negligence. How far must we go, to avoid their wrath? Clearly, going back to "Fifties uprightness" will not be nearly enough.

In 1951 Sayyid Qutb, one of the founding fathers of modern Islamist thought, attended a dance at a church hall in Greeley, Colorado. He was horrified to report how, "The dance hall . . . was full of bounding feet and seductive legs . . . Arms circled waists, lips met lips, chests met chests." This and similar experiences contributed greatly to his lifelong hatred of all things Western and liberal.

Nowadays, many of his followers consider it their mission to impose their rigidly repressive way of life upon the world. Should we seek to appease them by prohibiting partner-dancing and segregating the sexes? Or would such an abject surrender merely strengthen their hand?

Andrew Clifton

Edgware, Middlesex

Throughout her article, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown refers only to the "licentiousness" of young women, whether it be in behaviour or dress. Nowhere does she refer to any of the young men who must be the other side of the equation.

I think Ms Alibhai-Brown falls into the age-old trap of believing that women are the moral guardians of society, and that if bad behaviour occurs, it is the woman's fault for permitting it. In this way, she is equally the product of social conditioning as the abandoned western girl or the burqa-clad Muslim woman, both of which she claims to abhor.

I dislike displays of sexuality and out-of-control drunkenness in whomsoever they occur, preferring us as a species to be dignified, but to cite these prescriptions for only one half of the human race is both unrealistic and unjust.

Susan I Harr


Get on and clear up that snow

The urban myth that one could be sued for clearing the pavement in front of one's house (letters, 12 January) is used widely by the timid, the weak, the idle and those with an underdeveloped community spirit, usually accompanied by a diatribe against the local council for concentrating its efforts on the main roads and not sending gritting lorries down the side streets.

However, the able-bodied, possessed of a social conscience and a spade (or even a lightweight snow shovel) might like to note that on 7 January the BBC published an article in its online Magazine section entitled "Is it your civic duty to clear snow?", which, although it notes that "you are taking a theoretical legal risk if you clear the pavement in front of your home" and that it is indeed "the local authority's responsibility to clear snow and ice from the public highway", also points out, quoting a leading personal injury solicitor, that "a claimant would have to show you had acted either maliciously or carelessly in clearing your snow, and that such a case would often be tricky in practice".

Those of us who are neither malicious nor careless, and who have done a decent job on our frontages and paths, can only wish that more people would reject absurd and cowardly excuses for inaction, so that we could walk as safely along joined-up cleared patches of pavement outside other people's houses as we can outside our own.

Cynthia Hall


Amid all the fuss about the lack of salt and grit available to keep our roads open, isn't it about time the British motorist took some responsibility for his own actions? So many of our roads have been blocked by vehicles getting stuck.

In other countries in Europe people are fined if they venture out in the snow without snow chains or winter tyres. Traffic can get through without salt and grit, depending only on snow ploughs. We should make sure people here also have to carry suitable winter equipment.

Stop blaming the Government for the weather. We have to learn to help ourselves.

Derek Allum

Wigginton Bottom, Hertfordshire

Rock salt is also in high demand just now in Australia. We use it to chlorinate our backyard swimming pools. I just thought you might like to know that.

J Prior

East Perth, Western Australia

A whole continent dismissed again

Sadly the attack on the Togolese football team as they prepared to take part in the African Nations Cup has produced another round of Africa-bashing in the press. Suggestions that the attack threatens the security of the World Cup in South Africa are a predictable example of our continuing colonial attitudes to that continent.

I have just returned from three weeks in Zambia, Botswana and South Africa. In all three countries the transport ran on time, there was electricity, comprehensive mobile phone coverage and taxi drivers and guides who talked (mainly in their second language) about books they had read and the importance of education and universal political engagement. In rural South Africa we slept with doors unlocked and walked unhindered in rugged landscapes.

I am not sure they have much to learn from us cynical Europeans, and to suggest that events in Angola should have any bearing on the World Cup is like suggesting that Wimbledon should be cancelled because of riots in Paris.

Kathy Moyse

Cobham, Surrey

Bribed by the state to get married

Iain Duncan Smith (Opinion, 7 January) states that "family law has been shown directly to affect people's decisions about marriage". Yet research done by me and others suggested that very few affianced are influenced – or, admittedly, are prepared to say that they are influenced – by the legal significance of their decision to wed. Perhaps this is fortunate given that by no means all of them had an accurate perception of what the law actually is.

He claims that marriage is the most stable form of family life. When this is so, it is probably because of the attitude of those who choose it for its own sake, and not because they have been bribed into it by the state. He also fails to understand that although the "unreasonable behaviour" and "adultery" "grounds" make up by far the largest number of divorces, these are simply embarrassing and outmoded means of obtaining what he disapproves of – a quick divorce.

Finally, he makes the mistake of assuming that rendering divorce difficult will persuade the parties to stick together. In fact, it makes it more likely that they will shortly be entering necessarily extra-marital partnerships with other people.

Professor Chris Barton

Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

Campbell on Blair's sofa

Alastair Campbell's impressive performance at the Chilcot inquiry provides a strong condemnation of Blair's sofa government.

Campbell reveals that Clare Short was left out of the informational loop as she was "difficult to handle". She was an elected MP, a member of the Government; when all is said and done Campbell was a glorified public relations man and party apparatchik.

Ian Partridge


You report that Alastair Campbell blames the media for contributing to the lack of a strategy for the aftermath of the invasion in Iraq, through its failure to pick up on the lack of construction planning soon enough. I am still trying to digest this, despite having read the paragraph half a dozen times. Words fail me. What planet is this man on?

Derren Berresford


Child abuse by Border Agency

I am profoundly disturbed by your account of the Mansour family and the activities of the United Kingdom Border Agency (12 January), coming as it did the day after the fascinating obituary of Inga Haag, decorated by the Germans for her wartime efforts in helping the Jews.

How brave she was and how this compares with efforts of the UK Border Agency in detaining innocent children. Far too much of your account read like the Gestapo, with dawn raids, barbed wire, ID cards – what next? Perhaps a badge of some sort for easy recognition. It's all a horribly uncomfortable indictment of our supposedly civilised and tolerant society.

Just how have members of the UKBA escaped prosecution for such actions, and just who oversees them? Your article describes actions by them which amount to abuse – has there been any investigation, and if not why not? It is to the credit of the various Royal Colleges and the 105 MPs that they have spoken out to try and stop this barbaric treatment of innocent children, and how nice it would be if Gordon Brown added his voice.

I'm a taxpayer and I don't want my taxes spent on institutionally sanctioned child abuse.

Dr Kevan tucker

Barrowford, Lancashire

While the detention of children is finally condemned, the detention of mothers and its impact on children and families is ignored. A meeting in Parliament this Thursday will hear from women, including rape survivors, who were detained in brutal conditions. Some were detained with their children, others had their children taken from them and now face deportation and permanent separation.

One woman, persecuted in Gambia for refusing to inflict genital mutilation on her daughters, then sentenced to death by stoning for a lesbian relationship, was detained on arrival in the UK. Her claim was "fast-tracked" leaving her no time to gather corroborating evidence, and was refused. Our intervention helped get her released. Others treated similarly are sent back to possible death.

As the election approaches, will any political party earn the votes of those who support asylum seekers? Will women MPs finally speak up for mothers and rape victims?

Maria Kasaga

All African Women's Group

Cristel Amiss

Black Women's Rape Action Project

Niki Adams

Legal Action for Women

London, NW5


Cheese test

The best defence that Cadbury could make against a Kraft takeover would be to send samples of two of Kraft's bestsellers, Velveeta and Macaroni and Cheese, to each shareholder. Once they had sampled these dishes, the Kraft threat would be soon over.

George D Lewis

Brackley, Northamptonshire

Brown's guilt

Diane Abbott, commenting on the failed coup against Gordon Brown, seemed to criticise Geoff Hoon for his involvement in the attempt at regime change in Baghdad (Opinion, 8 January). But she failed to point out that Gordon Brown, whom she supports, was equally involved in that illegal invasion, as Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time.

Cormac Loane

Stourbridge, West Midlands

Lost lullabies

Your article discussing the Gina Ford approach to baby care (12 January) did not mention singing as a way to soothe your baby. Throughout history and all across the world mothers have sung and are singing lullabies. Where are they in our Western culture? Singing benefits both baby and parents and nurtures the bond between them.

Susan Monson

Mildenhall, Wiltshire


How exactly was Iris Robinson expected to declare an interest when helping her teenage lover secure a contract from her local council? It was hardly plausible to come up in committee with "I think I should declare an interest here, Mr Chairman, as I'm having an affair with the applicant." What would have been the appropriate procedure?

John McInerney

Templeton, Devon

Massive fences

You report (12 January) that the Israeli prime minister has ordered the construction of "two massive fences" on the Israel-Egypt border. At an expected cost of $270m, the size of this project will presumably fall somewhere between the Berlin Fence and the Great Fence of China.

Gyles Cooper

London N10