Oct 2022

Women must choose whether to wear the hijab

The long-running issue of a woman’s right to choose whether or not to wear the hijab was highlighted in a recent piece about al-Qaeda in Asian Affairs magazine (‘After al-Zawahiri’ by Yvonne Gill, September 2022 issue). The writer pointed out that al-Qaeda praised a woman who took part in a pro-hijab protest in the Indian state of Karnataka, leading to clashes with Hindus. This event was turned into a piece of propaganda by al-Qaeda, promoting Islamic morality.

In many parts of Asia, including the Islamic world, women believe we should not be compelled to wear the hijab and we demand freedom of choice. This view is widely held among our sisters in the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, we have repeatedly seen heavy-handed treatment of women who try to assert their fundamental freedoms.

Adherence to a religion is a spiritual experience that should absolutely not be associated or equated with adherence to a narrow dress code imposed by clerics, which represents oppression against women.

Name and address supplied

Commonwealth affection for the Queen

It is with huge regret that we learned of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen’s extraordinary life of service throughout her long reign was an inspiration and she provided a pillar of stability through some of the darkest of times. Her loss will be felt across the world: in the United Kingdom, in those countries for which she was head of state, and in the Commonwealth, for which she was a tireless champion. We particularly recall the immense joy she brought to the people of the Commonwealth by her many visits, and the great affection and enormous respect in which she was held. Far from being an aloof monarch, she created personal links with people that she met. For the people of Britain and for all of the nations for which she was Queen, this time has real constitutional significance.

We would like to extend our wholehearted condolences to her family and King Charles III in particular, upon whom the burden of leadership now falls, and to Anne, the Princess Royal, the Chancellor of the University of London.

Dr Sue Onslow

Director, Institute of Commonwealth Studies

School of Advanced Study

University of London


China’s officials baffled by US thinking on Taiwan

To supplement author Duncan Bartlett’s revelations in his article ‘Boastful China Reveals its Secrets’ (Asian Affairs, September 2022), I would like to mention a conversation I had recently with a very senior Chinese former government official, who now consults for Chinese companies whose top geopolitical risk is Taiwan.

He was sceptical that America would really defend Taiwan. However, my view is that China is seriously underestimating the normative forces that would compel the Americans to act, especially in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

China sees all talk of democratic values as a mere smokescreen for realpolitik. It seemed to regard Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as part of a devious and methodical America plot.

But this shows a poor understanding of the pointedly pro-democratic message Ms Pelosi conveyed by travelling there in her role as Speaker of the world’s most important legislature.

I told my Chinese friend that, although America is likely to react, we can’t really predict beforehand how strongly it will do so. This is because democracies cannot engage in the same kind of long-term strategic planning that China can. He said that this ‘democratic uncertainty’ was a new insight to him, one that neither the Chinese government nor his Chinese clients appreciate at all.

Such is the sorry state of China’s understanding of its democratic adversaries, making the risk of miscalculation and war even more perilous.

Frank Tsai,

Shanghai, China