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Islam The Islamic Veil Across Europe: Questions of Equality versus Equity

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by spnadmin, Jul 21, 2013.

  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    I posted this article because it is a compact overview of burka a niqab as matters of public policy in European countries. The topic is one we revisit frequently at SPN. After posting it I was thrown into a state of considerable wonder, because I don't know what the status of burka and niqab is in the United States. In truth I don't know if the veil has been a public policy topic at national, state or local levels. Assuredly it is discussed and there are a variety of opinions; but these are more individual opinions, and not something that has been a topic for legislation. Ironically wearing religious symbols (kirpan, crucifixes, the star of David) in the US has been controversial at the state level; but niqab to my knowledge has not been part of that debate.

    I want to look into this more as a research project now that I can see how Germany and UK view the veil very differently from other parts of Europe. In some nations religious expression in terms of dress has become part of a debate about equality; differences are expected to be assimilated so that all conform to the same cultural norms. In other nations equality is expressed more as "equity" in permitting all equal opportunity to chose their form of religious expression, including dress. Said another way: many-sided-ness of religious expression may or may not be allowed under the law. Does equality mean sameness, where one must dress the part? Or does equality mean equal opportunity to chose religious dress?




    The Islamic veil across Europe


    Countries across Europe have wrestled with the issue of the Muslim veil - in various forms such as the body-covering burka and the niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes.

    The debate takes in religious freedom, female equality, secular traditions and even fears of terrorism.

    The veil issue is part of a wider debate about multiculturalism in Europe, as many politicians argue that there needs to be a greater effort to assimilate ethnic and religious minorities.

    FRANCE

    France was the first European country to ban the full-face Islamic veil in public places.

    France has about five million Muslims - the largest Muslim minority in Western Europe - but it is thought only about 2,000 women wear full veils.

    President Nicolas Sarkozy has said veils oppress women and are "not welcome in France."

    Under the ban that took effect on 11 April 2011, no woman, French or foreign, will be able to leave their home in France with their face hidden behind a veil without running the risk of a fine.

    The penalty for doing so is a 150-euro (£133, $217) fine and instruction in citizenship. Anyone found forcing a woman to cover her face risks a 30,000-euro fine.

    Two French women who continued to wear the full veil in defiance of the new law have been prosecuted. Campaigners say they will appeal against any fine imposed.

    Most of the population - including most Muslims - agree with the government when it describes the face-covering veil as an affront to society's values. Critics - chiefly outside of France - say it is a violation of individual liberties.

    A ban on Muslim headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious symbols at state schools was introduced in 2004, and received overwhelming political and public support in a country where the separation of state and religion is enshrined in law.

    BELGIUM

    A law banning the full-face veil came into effect in Belgium in July 2011.

    The law bans any clothing that obscures the identity of the wearer in places like parks and on the street.

    Two women who wear full veils have launched a court challenge, saying the law is discriminatory.

    Before the law was passed, the burka was already banned in several districts under old local laws originally designed to stop people masking their faces completely at carnival time.

    SPAIN

    Though there are no plans for a national ban in Spain, the city of Barcelona has announced a ban on full Islamic face-veils in some public spaces such as municipal offices, public markets and libraries.

    At least two smaller towns in Catalonia, the north-eastern region that includes Barcelona, have also imposed bans.

    Barcelona's city council said the ban there targeted any head-wear that impeded identification, including motorbike helmets and balaclavas, rather than religious belief.

    It resisted calls from the conservative Popular Party (PP) to extend the ban to all public spaces, including the street. The PP also wants the ban to be adopted throughout Spain.

    BRITAIN

    There is no ban on Islamic dress in the UK, but schools are allowed to forge their own dress code after a 2007 directive which followed several high-profile court cases.

    Former Schools Secretary Ed ***** said in January 2010 it was "not British" to tell people what to wear in the street after the UK Independence Party called for all face-covering Muslim veils to be banned.

    In 2009 UKIP came second in the European elections in Britain, winning 13 seats in Brussels. Their leader Nigel Farage has said the full veils are a symbol of an "increasingly divided Britain", that they "oppress" women, and are a potential security threat.

    UKIP is the first British party to call for a total ban, after the anti-immigration British National Party had already called called for the veil to be banned in Britain's schools.

    THE NETHERLANDS

    The Netherlands has said it plans to ban face-covering Islamic veils or burqas in order to protect the country's way of life and culture.

    The proposed ban reflects the influence of the anti-Islamist Geert Wilders, whose Freedom party is the third largest in parliament and the minority coalition government's chief ally.

    Mr Wilders backs the coalition in parliament in exchange for tougher policies on Islam and immigration from non-western countries.

    The proposal on banning face veils will be sent to the government's advisory body, the Council of State, before it reaches parliament.

    No legislation has yet been passed.

    Attempts to introduce similar legislation in 2006 failed. Lawyers said it would probably be unconstitutional and critics said it would violate civil rights.

    Around 5% of the Netherlands' 16 million residents are Muslims, but only around 300 are thought to wear the niqab, which leaves the eyes uncovered, or the burka, which covers them with a cloth grid. The wearing of headscarves is far more common, however.

    TURKEY

    For more than 85 years Turks have lived in a secular state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who rejected headscarves as backward-looking in his campaign to secularise Turkish society.

    Scarves are banned in civic spaces and official buildings, but the issue is deeply divisive for the country's predominantly Muslim population, as two-thirds of all Turkish women - including the wives and daughters of the prime minister and president - cover their heads.

    In 2008, Turkey's constitution was amended to ease a strict ban at universities, allowing headscarves that were tied loosely under the chin. Headscarves covering the neck and all-enveloping veils were still banned.

    The governing AK Party, with its roots in Islam, said the ban meant many girls were being denied an education. But the secular establishment said easing it would be a first step to allowing Islam into public life.

    ITALY

    In August 2011, an Italian parliamentary committee approved a draft law which would ban women from wearing veils which cover their faces in public. The bill is expected to go to the full house in September.

    The north-western town of Novara is one of several local authorities that have already brought in rules to deter public use of the Islamic veil, following the passing of a by-law in January 2010.

    In 2004 local politicians in northern Italy resurrected old public order laws against the wearing of masks, to stop women from wearing the burka.

    Some mayors from the anti-immigrant Northern League have also banned the use of Islamic swimsuits.

    DENMARK

    In 2008, the government announced it would bar judges from wearing headscarves and similar religious or political symbols - including crucifixes, Jewish skull caps and turbans - in courtrooms.

    That move came after pressure from the Danish People's Party (DPP), known for its anti-Muslim rhetoric, which has since called for the ban to be extended to include school teachers and medical personnel.

    After a Danish paper published a controversial cartoon in 2005 depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a bearded man with a bomb in his turban, there were a series of protests against Denmark across the Muslim world.

    GERMANY

    In September 2003 the federal Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a teacher who wanted to wear an Islamic scarf to school.

    However, it said states could change their laws locally if they wanted to.

    At least four German states have gone on to ban teachers from wearing headscarves and in the state of Hesse the ban applies to all civil servants.

    RUSSIA

    Russia's Supreme Court has overturned a 1997 interior ministry ruling which forbade women from wearing headscarves in passport photos.

    But in Chechnya the authorities have defied Russian policy on Islamic dress. In 2007 President Ramzan Kadyrov - the pro-Moscow leader - issued an edict ordering women to wear headscarves in state buildings. It is a direct violation of Russian law, but is strictly followed today.

    President Kadyrov even voiced support for men who fired paintballs at women deemed to be violating the strict dress code.

    AUSTRIA

    Austria's Women's Minister Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek has said a ban should be considered in public spaces if the number of women wearing the veil increases dramatically.

    SWITZERLAND

    In late 2009, Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said a face-veil ban should be considered if more Muslim women begin wearing them, adding that the veils made her feel "uncomfortable".

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13038095
     
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    #1 spnadmin, Jul 21, 2013
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  3. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    This video does not really relate to my questions. However, it does review reactions of Muslims in the US to the burqa and niqab bans in Europe. Most expressed dismay at what they perceive to be mounting discrimination in Europe. Muslims interviewed in the video, when asked about the possibility of a niqab ban in the US, do not seem to think that niqab will become a controversy for "policy pushers" in the US.

    Should the US ban niqabs? - YouTubey
     
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    #2 spnadmin, Jul 22, 2013
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  4. Luckysingh

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    Call me hardcore, but I think that covering the face and masking your identity in public should be banned. I go with France's decision on this issue !!
    If some one knocks on my door and through the peephole I notice that their face is hidden, then there is no chance of me opening the door and my kids have been taught the same !
     
  5. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Luckysingh ji

    Both at my place of work and in my immediate neighborhood many women, both African American muslims and residents from Saudi, wear full face veils. Some even the burqa. I never feel put-off or frightened by them. In fact, if it were not rude, I would go ahead and ask them about their personal choice to wear niqab and their experiences standing out for doing it. I am always very curious about the experiences of people from other cultures.

    A masked bandit would be a different story.

    No one so far has come to my door; perhaps because they are people who pretty much stay within their own. As members of a minority religion who wear symbols of their own religious identity, could they be reticent, wary of me?

    What could possibly happen? Why do you feel as you do? Thanks
     
  6. Harkiran Kaur

    Harkiran Kaur Canada
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    The niqab and burka are not requirements of Islam. Even the Hijab is debatable... as the passages that talk about it are vague at best. It says in the Quron to cover your bossom with your veil, assuming that at the time, women were wearing a veil (as in the Hijab) already. As for the niqab, it was only the prophet Muhammad's wives that wore a veil on their faces and it was specifically stated that they were 'different'. They also were never permitted to remarry after the death of Muhammad. So does that mean ALL Muslim women are not allowed to remarry after the death of their husband? Nope... forcing niqab and burka were born out of opression and are cultural not religion!
     
  7. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Interesting comment Akashi ji

    At this site the veil's origins are not accounted as born from oppression but rather as a status symbol. http://civicdilemmas.facinghistory.org/content/brief-history-veil-islam
    Wealthier women could afford to be fully veiled whereas the poor could not.

    Beyond France an Britain, during the colonial period,

    So, the The veil also become a symbol for political struggle, be it also a cultural symbol or a religious symbol.

    Either way, cultural or religious, the veil symbolizes something of importance that the dominant group in a nation is banning and the immigrant/minority group is fined into giving up. If the veil were not important to the dominant group the veil would not be a matter of public policy. If it were not important to the immigrant/minority group the policy would not be resisted. If it were not important there would not be a debate.
     
    #6 spnadmin, Jul 22, 2013
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  8. Harkiran Kaur

    Harkiran Kaur Canada
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    Spnadmin Ji,

    It's the fact that it is forced that is cultural. If it were totally the choice of the woman then fine... As a status symbol it may have denoted those who were better of etc. But in current times, not all Muslim women who wear the niqab chose to do so. In SA, Mutoween religious police actually beat women who are caught without it on. That's purely cultural and it's opression. It's not a requirement in Islam.


     
  9. spnadmin

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    Akasha ji

    That might be true in some cases. I don't doubt it. However, there is a lot of news coverage on this subject suggesting that for many muslim women it is their choice.

    The policy question, in the context of your comment, really expands then to a situation where either a majority group makes a choice for muslim women versus "oppressors" within their own culture making the choice for muslim women. In neither scenario are the women pictured as making their own choice. Oppression is on both sides of this equation.

    The sticking point cannot be whether the veil began as a form of oppression if it has evolved into something very different for the women who choose it. Otherwise we are imposing not only our values but also our sense of the choices that others should make because our values dominate.

    Two ways to go with that argument. 1) Majority values should dominate the choices that are available to the minority - the range of options they are permitted to have. 2) Majority values should govern how individuals express their religion (as opposed to choices) because the majority is the dominant group. Under number 1, a choice is not a choice if someone else is making it for you. Under number 2 individuals not of your faith decide how you may express your faith.


    Then why is it so important to ban the niqab in some countries and not others?
     
  10. spnadmin

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    Just realized this moment that I wouldn't want to be in that mix of being damned if I do and damned if I don't. One where I am being forced to take my niqab off; or someone is forcing me to put it on.
     
  11. Harkiran Kaur

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    I think the main issue is, in today's society where crime is unfortunately happeneing everywhere. To basically have all identifying features of someone hidden to the public is not possible. If it came down to the need for a witness to describe a suspect for example, and they were covered head to toe in black... how would you identify that person? Even getting away from the possible crime issue, there is the issue of photo ID and needing to verify someone's identity. How can you verify someone's identity in that case? Would they need to remove the veil for the photo? Would they need to remove the veil to the person needing to verify identity againsttheir ID card? We have numerous places where photo ID is requried and if everyone looked exactly the same it would be very difficult to do.

    (even India VISA requirememnts do not allow Muslim niqab in the photo - I only know that since I recently applied for Indian VISA)
     
  12. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Akasha ji

    I hit Quick Reply and this is for now a "quick reply." The subject holds endless interest for me for many reasons.

    The safety issue is brought up often in publication of the policy debates throughout Europe. The brief outline of that is in the starter article. Usually safety is related to the burqa: a man could be hiding behind it, and weapons could be concealed under it.

    The safety issue however confounds me for 2 reasons:

    1. In the current climate of terrorism - if all we do is go back and review recent terrorist events of this year in Europe and North America (the US) no women wearing a niqab was among the perpetrators. The burqa, if we wanted to include that, leads to another reality, that weapons can be hidden under raincoats and jackets, or in duffle bags and briefcases, which has been more typical.

    2. Safety is not mentioned in the policies by all European countries who ban niqab. The importance of the values of the dominant culture however are always mentioned. In a few cases where the niqab is not banned, countries are stating they want to wait to see how immigration levels change the dominant culture in the future before deciding. That tells me that neither the oppression of women nor safety are the main reason for a ban.

    Culture seems more the common denominator.

    The identification question is something that can be reached through logic not emotion. There is only one case I can recall in the US where a Muslim woman was required to remove her veil to get a driver's license; she refused and went to court; she lost in court. The reason should be obvious.

    But requiring a full face photo for identification purposes is not a "ban" on the niqab in public places. It is a restriction. Human Rights Watch has taken a position on the difference between "banning" and "restricting" niqab for purposes of identification. They see bans as violations of human rights; they see restrictions for photo id's reasonable.
     
  13. dalsingh1zero1

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    I don't know what the big deal is. I've lived around lots of burqa'd and hijab'd women and it doesn't bother me in the least. I've actually met a fair few women who didn't wear one and started wearing one later - both those born into Islam and those that converted. I've actually known a few very successful professional women (senior lecturers, lawyers etc.) who wore hijabs. More and more women are choosing this - of their own free will from what I see.

    As a Sikh I wonder why another Sikh would be overly concerned about hijab'd/burqa'd up women? Especially if they choose to do it - which, believe it or not many do.

    If people start bringing out the argument of women being coerced into it, than as Sikhs I've met plenty of youngsters who've felted compelled or forced by their parents to wear a pagh and resent it.
     
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  14. Joginder Singh Foley

    Joginder Singh Foley United Kingdom
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    WJKFWJKK


    Given the hassle that Non-muslims and their places of worhip are getting in muslim countries This Sikh for one is very tempted to go with "When in Rome Do as Rome says" in regards to this degrading islamic female dress code


    :winkingsingh:
     
  15. dalsingh1zero1

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    What people need to realise is that, believe it or not, there is actually a conscious movement by many intelligent women against the (rightly or wrongly) perceived sexual commodification of women in the west. I've meet a fair few women who've started wearing hijabs as an overt statement against this.

    If you'd met them you'd know that there was NO chance of such strong, confident women being coerced into it.

    Yes, it took me a while to get my head around why someone would choose to do it, but once I understood - it made sense.

    An aspect of it is also a visible statement of belonging and identification (just like for Sikhs actually), where they are marking themselves out as NOT belong to a certain group or values, which is fair enough.

    As much as we might condemn certain aspects of female treatment in the Islamic world, the western world isn't perfect either especially with the strong impulse to subtly place women in a hierarchy based on their sexual attractiveness and little else.

    Come to the UK and see the Jordans and umpteen scantily clad, overnight reality tv 'stars' to see what kind of objectification some women are reacting against.
     
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  16. Harkiran Kaur

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    Exactly why I choose to wear more modest clothing... not to the level of Muslims of course. I still wear short sleeved kameez and on special occassions maybe even a sleeveless anarkali. But I never wear shorts or short skirts. Usually jeans or khakis... and tunic tops. If salwar kameez was in fashion in North America and I could get away with wearing it all the time I would because of comfort, the fact that it's still feminine and pretty (embroidery and beadwork etc) and colourful and yet still modest. I plan on trying out my kameez from a few sets with jeans to do double duty too...

    I have nothing against the hijab IF and ONLY IF it was TOTALLY the choice of the woman. If it is at all compelled by male family members or others (in the name of family honour etc), then it's not choice, even if the girl says it was her choice. What kind of free choice is it if she chooces not to wear it and then she suffers the wrath of her male (and other female) family members? That's not choice...

    The niqab I do have an issue with... 1) It's not an Islamic requirement. 2) It effectively erases a person's identity all together so they become this black faceless ghost moving through society. Since the idea of Hijab is supposedly to lift women above sexual objectification, allowing men to see the actual woman for who she is... I think the niqab goes against this because now she won't even be seen for who she is by society, but merely a faceless black figure. 3) With the need in today's society for visual identification, concealing identity should not be possible. Yes it's bad that the few ruin it for everyone and I realize that most Muslim women would not commit crime, but the same as not all teenagers with hoodies commit crime either, but still many places ban hoodies for that reason.
     
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  17. findingmyway

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    Just to provide some background, this issue has resurfaced due to a female defendant in court challenging the requirement to remove her veil during the trial. In the UK, the debate is not about public places but about the need to observe facial expressions in certain situations, eg.as a defendant or key witness in court, as a teacher or student in school, as a doctor. There are no problems with a burka, or head covering, just the face veil. I can understand the logic behind this as in these situations, the face veil is no longer a personal choice only as it has a major impact on the interaction between the woman and other people-important interactions and the negative effect cannot be overcome in any other way so the choice is affecting other people (and possibly justice). However, part of me also wants to defend the right of freedom. I am torn!! :confusedkudi::seriousmunda:
     
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  18. AngloSikhPeace

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    For thousands of years women in advanced social positions around the world have worn the veil. Typically those in wealthy societies with social stability. It was a status symbol for a woman to cover their face, ride in a carriage hidden behind a screen, and to stay at home as much as possible. Indeed, even in Christian Europe until quite recently this was the norm, although the veil wasn't a solid black covering. This was considered better than living and working in the dirt like the peasant women, or having to ride around and even fight like the women of nomadic societies (eg pre-Islamic Arabia, Mongolia, Scythia).

    Here is a good example of what the veil has traditionally meant in most countries. In the early era of the Christian church, many men and women would leave their homes and adopt monastic life. Both men and women were required to shave their heads and dress in simple clothes, leaving their heads uncovered (a mark of humility in western society). However, as the church became more popular, more and more wealthy women wanted to join monasteries, or were sent there by their families if a suitable husband could not be found. These women did not want to display obstentatious religious symbols like a shaven head, they wanted a proper, comfortable life as someone of noble birth deserved. So monasteries would change their codes to require that women should wear a full wimple and keep their hair. The veil in this case began as a secular symbol of status, and then became seen as a religious one in the modern age.

    Within Islam, the situation is similar. Pre-Islamic Arab women were often treated as bargaining tools for political marriages between Arab tribes, even Muhammad himself was involved in this with Aisha. We don't have very good evidence for what happened before Islam in Arabia, but it seems to be that despite the mistreatment of women for dynastic and family reasons, even extending to female infanticide, the Arab ideal expressed in poetry was one in which women were respected and independent, objects of beauty and tribal pride. The Qur'an and hadith speak a lot about the respect that should be granted to wives, mothers and daughters, depicting women who are certainly not equal to men, but who are treated with honour.
    Normal women did not wear veils or face covers in Arabia. The Qur'anic injunction about 'drawing the veil over the bosom' refers to a Chunni-style garment worn over the head. The woman's cleavage would be exposed, and women would wear jewellery and patterns identifying tribal identity. The Qur'an, in this passage instead asks women to behave modestly and cover themselves, rather than flaunting tribal pride.

    Muhammad's wives themselves though wore veils in public, and generally did not appear outside their houses. This is because, as I talked about above, they were queens, high-status women who were cloistered away and protected in the Persian or East Roman fashion. This was not the fashion followed by ordinary Muslim women, at least in the first few decades of Islam. In these years after the death of Muhammad, Muslim arab women would actually join in with the battles against the Roman and Persian Arab client tribes.
    But as Islam began to codify itself, things changed. An idea came into Islam fairly early that since Muhammad was the perfect man and the carrier of God's message, all Muslims should strive to imitate him in every way. The Muslim scholars believed that God's message wasn't just contained in the Qur'an itself, but in the very actions and behaviour of the Prophet. And Muslim women therefore should try to behave just as Muhammad's wives did, since only the most perfect women in the world could marry the most perfect man. This meant that although women weren't actually required to cover their faces and stay indoors by law, the perfect pious Muslim woman should do so anyway.

    Eventually, since every man wanted to be married to a pious and well-behaved woman, these 'sunnat' practices eventually became cultural, the general custom of the land. It became scandalous for a high-born woman to be seen uncovered in public. Just as it was when the Christian and Zoroastrian empires ruled the middle east before. In fact, it is probably a safe bet that it was Persian and Roman converts to Islam from the upper classes who fostered and encouraged this sort of culture.


    What does this mean for the modern veil debate? Not much exactly. But it shows that the side-discussion of whether the veil is a religious or cultural symbol is a false dichotomy. The veil is in fact both. And it also shows that the oft-repeated argument that the veil began as and is exclusively an Islamic tool for subjugating women is also very incorrect.
     
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