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Challenging arguments over headscarf issue

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MANY OF us here have watched with disgust how the French government has said it wants to ban Muslim women from wearing the headscarf in schools. However, we should not be complacent about Britain.
Issue 1884

MANY OF us here have watched with disgust how the French government has said it wants to ban Muslim women from wearing the headscarf in schools. However, we should not be complacent about Britain.

In Luton a school headmaster has decided that he will continue to uphold his ban on headscarves. This month the school governors will be looking at this issue, as a local family have rightly questioned this rule.

The local papers have showcased letters which support the banning. The prevailing arguments seem to be similar to those given by people across the Channel.

They argue that “when in Britain dress as the British do” and that Muslim schoolchildren should “integrate”. They also argue that the banning of headscarves is somehow liberating young women and that the headscarf, and therefore Islam, is oppressive.

To these arguments I would ask, “What is British culture?” Culture is made up of the people in a given society and British Muslim women are part of this society. It is not an issue of integrating, but of sharing each other’s changing and fluid cultures.

On the issue of whether headscarves are oppressive, I would say clothes can be either oppressive or liberating or neither, depending on which context they are worn in.

For example the miniskirt has been a symbol of both sexual liberation and oppression. A similar contradiction can be seen in the headscarf. Whether they are oppressive or not depends on the actual experiences of women, and these are what we should look at improving.

In Britain many Muslim women are choosing to wear the headscarf both as part of their religious beliefs and of their identity. The idea that Islam is oppressive, backward or fundamentalist is supported by images in the media.

The banning of the headscarf and the justification that this will liberate Muslim women just reinforces these Islamophobic ideas. It fails to realise that Islam is a broad and diverse religion like any other.

Finally, some justify the banning of the headscarf because they want a “secular” society and see the headscarf as bringing religion from the private sphere into a public space.

The headscarf in my view is both a religious practice for some Muslims as well as being a symbol of your religious beliefs. For this reason the French government and the school in Luton are denying Muslim women the basic human right to practise their own religion.

Aysha Ali, Luton

Fear on threat to our liberty

I WAS reading about the latest government threat to our civil liberties. We first had their attempts to reduce trial by jury, and now we have the Civil Contingencies Bill.

This is supposedly necessary to be put in place in the event of a major threat to national security or anybody seen to be a terrorist threat. This was born from the events of 11 September and deemed necessary because of it.

Basically it gives the government absolute control to detain people, and to seize the property of whoever they perceive to be a threat.

The question is, how far will this go before it gets abused? More importantly, why do we need it? Did we not live with terrorist threats day in, day out during the 30-odd years we pondered over the situation in Ireland?

It is wholly unnecessary and alarming.

What is more alarming is the ease with which they sneak in such ideas. We need to bring these things to light. We need to take people’s attention away from the goings on of soap operas and Big Brother on TV, and be aware of what’s going on and the implications-but it seems a hard battle.

We also need an alternative to Labour, or major change in the Labour Party as it stands today.

  • S Prout, Bletchley

    Holiday fines are scandal

    TONY BLAIR’S initiative to impose £100 fines on parents to take their children out of school to go on holiday outside the peak period is outrageous.

    The high cost of going on holiday during school closures leaves many working class people little choice but to take their family holiday during term time.

    And who’s to blame for the massive hike in holiday prices during the summer vacation? Well, according to the travel industry it’s “market forces”-in other words they are.

    It is outrageous for a Blair spokesman to accuse those forced to go on holiday during term time of according the education of their children a lesser priority than the government.

    That’s from a government which underfunds schools, refuses to pay teachers and support staff decent wages, tests school students to distraction and is hell bent on bringing in top-up fees.

  • Keith Prince Chingford

    Our media mission

    MOST OF the media do not report on events in the Middle East with the political and historical context that Socialist Worker does. That is why we formed Arab Media Watch.

    We are a non-profit organisation of dedicated members from many different countries, religions and professions.

    Our mission is to make the media accountable when covering Arab issues. We owe it to all those facing occupation, oppression, poverty and injustice.

    You can find out more on or by e-mailing [email protected]

  • Benjamin Counsell, Arab Media Watch

    Ructions in the Welsh Valleys

    THE WELSH Labour Party is once again in turmoil. In the Blaneau Gwent constituency, Labour Party members have been opposing the imposition of a loyal New Labour candidate to take over from Llew Smith MP, who is firmly on the left of the party.

    The selection by only 20 percent of the local party of Maggie Jones was met with protests by around 150 Labour Party members outside. Jones has been a loyal member of the Labour Party National Executive whilst a Unison official.

    New Labour has argued that the opposition to Jones is made up of people who are opposed to women-only shortlists. In reality the concern is that she will simply be a Blairite puppet in a constituency which had Michael Foot and Aneurin Bevan as their representatives.

    At the same time, in Caerphilly a small cabal of Blairites decided to deselect Ray Davies as a local councillor. Ray is known as a committed peace activist who also opposes privatisation.

    The fact that at the time of his deselection Ray was in Palestine having been shot in the leg by the Israeli army shows the depths to which some right wingers will go.

  • Huw Williams, South Wales

    Homes at risk

    I LIVE in Brighton and a new housing allowance scheme is being piloted here.

    Housing here is already difficult and this will make it worse, and personally will risk me and my kids being homeless. Housing benefit will no longer be paid direct to landlords but into tenants’ bank accounts. This will mean the few landlords who accept housing benefit may now refuse to.

    They also will only pay a flat rate for your area to encourage the tenant to look for cheaper places-like you don’t already! This will mean tenants won’t be able to afford their rent and kids will go without to avoid being homeless. Please campaign to stop this.

  • Kathleen Durnford, Brighton

    Your view…

    The lines of our tradition

    READING NUMBERS one and two of the excellent articles by Colin Barker on “What the SWP stands for” I noticed the SWP has always opposed “socialism from above”.

    Colin also argues that socialism is only possible when working people organise themselves democratically “from below”.

    I was struck by the thought that these principles were enunciated long ago in the socialist song The Internationale. The second verse goes, in part, “No saviours from on high deliver/No trust have we in prince or peer/Our own right hand the chains must sever/Chains of hatred, of greed and fear.”

  • Brian Fischer, Sheffield

    What about fat cats in sport?

    HAVING BEEN a regular reader of Socialist Worker for a number of years, I have failed to see any criticism of the fat cats (players, agents, managers, etc) who are involved in this so called sport of football.

    With such enormous amounts of money floating around in this over-commercialised business, this encourages greed and corruption of which your political agenda does not approve.

    So why no criticism of these overrated, overpaid and pampered individuals?

  • A reader, Bristol

    Relationship with the US

    WHEN WILL Britain learn that there is no “special relationship” with the US? It is a relationship of political expediency and all one-way, the American way.

    We are truly the junior partner in what was clearly a very erroneous war.

    The US is blatantly tendering out contracts to rebuild Iraq to their own corporations. The war was never about bringing democracy to the Middle East.

    It was all about business and profit in the interest of the dollar.

  • A reader, Milton Keynes

    I find I like your style

    LAST YEAR when I started reading Socialist Worker I liked its revolutionary stance, but not what I felt was its “gutter press” style. Is it me or the paper?

    These days I find it really interesting. After a quiet read of it I’m energised and inspired.

    Take the issue of 13 December. I especially enjoyed Colin Barker’s piece on “What the SWP stands for”, the article on uprisings in Bolivia, Argentina, etc, Callinicos on Mugabe and Goretti Horgan’s carefully argued and deeply sensitive “Abortion-why we defend women’s right to choose”.

    And on the back the rousing call of the electoral challenge. I’m now an addict.

  • Gay Bennett, Leeds

    Find WMD much closer to home

    TONY BLAIR has finally found weapons of mass destruction-only in the wrong country, Libya. He really ought to take early retirement to be spent in his increasingly Alice in Wonderland world, where he can dispense wisdom while sitting on a large mushroom smoking a hookah.

    Isn’t it time he got rid of the WMDs he is responsible for, the huge and expensive collection he has in Britain?

  • Jamie Rankin, Twickenham

    Pride and shame in Little Hulton

    THE PEOPLE of Little Hulton, Salford, are putting the government and New Prospect Housing to shame.

    Majed Saleh Ali, a young man from Kurdistan, had his application for asylum refused by the Home Office. He came to his flat in Salford to find that New Prospect Housing had changed the locks.

    When New Prospect Housing took him back to the flat to collect his things, Majed refused to leave. Within a short time a range of different local people began to show support, keeping him company on a rota and seeking out legal guidance and advice.

  • RAPAR Project, Salford
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