10 August 2018

Burqas

Here in Great Britain there is a prominent right wing politician called Boris Johnson. Until very recently, his mop-haired buffoon was our foreign secretary - but he resigned - ostensibly in relation to the way our nation's "exit" from the European Union is going.

As a boy, Johnson went to exclusive Eton School - beloved of the wealthy and the noble - before proceeding to Oxford University. Johnson loves the sound of his own voice and seems to enjoy stirring up controversy. Many political commentators believe that all his bluster is merely a thin disguise for his burning ambition to become this country's prime minister.

Currently, he is in the middle of an on-going debate about the way in which a  small proportion of Muslim women dress. In a recent speech, he compared women who wear burqas and other forms of face-concealing headwear to letter boxes or bank robbers. He said such concealing garments are "ridiculous" and that he could find no scriptural justification for them in The Quran.
In several European countries - including Denmark, Belgium and France - the burqa is now banned and in bringing the topic up Johnson was tuning in to widespread public distaste about what many see as alien forms of dress that have no place in the free world.

I find myself quite conflicted about burqas, niqabs and even hajibs. As a lifelong atheist I am suspicious of all religious belief and the often medieval practices that may accompany such belief. I am also a proud feminist and hate to see any oppression of women. Women are men's equals and I feel that they should walk our streets as equals, proudly showing their faces, not veiled from public view.

Another thing I think about the burqa is this - are the women who choose to hide their faces able to explain this choice, living as they do within a liberal western democracy?  I suspect that the choice is often a self-indulgence, approved by menfolk and driven by social expectations rather than well-considered religious philosophy.

I am a pretty tolerant fellow but toleration must surely have some limits. Should we tolerate anything and everything? As I say, I feel quite conflicted about the burqa issue. What do you think?

58 comments:

  1. I will not state my opinion on the subject as Big Brother is always watching nowadays, or at least lurking in the shadows. I will say this: However well-intended you meant this post to be, it would be labeled as "hate speech" by the Democrat-Socialists in my country. You would be banned from Twitter and taken down from Facebook. Independent thought is not tolerated by those on the far left. They are the new fascists. We seem to be headed the way of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong (formerly Mao Tse-tung). I pray not (even though you are an atheist). You think I jest. I do not.

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    1. In the free world we should be able to debate everything without impunity - even the burqa but I do recognise the picture that you have painted here - even though I would humbly suggest that most devilment comes from the far right - not the left.

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    2. Oh dear. I think "Rhymes" needs to adjust his tin foil hat, so that he can better resist those mind-reading rays that the liberal left is beaming into his brain pan.

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    3. To whom it may concern: “Rhymes” (who rather resents the quotation marks placed around his name) does not own nor does he rent a tin foil hat. He challenges Vivian Swift (if that is really her name) to cite evidence proving him inaccurate regarding the U.S. political scene today. As Richard Nixon almost once said, “I am not a kook.”

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    4. Are tin foil hats issued freely by the American government or do you have to make your own? Mine would be like a Robin Hood hat with a pointed peak and a tin foil feather but as I am not an American I guess I shall just have to keep wearing my black and amber Hull City ski hat. Up The Tigers!

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    5. Hey "Rhymes", at least I have the balls to use a real name that anyone with half a brain can Google.

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    6. I don't use my real name because I do not want to be tracked down by a number of people I have known.

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  2. I think that as long as Catholic nuns are allowed to wear their headpieces of choice that we need to just let things ride. It's not my business what someone else chooses to wear on their heads or their bodies.

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    1. That is an interesting point Ms Moon but at least we can see nuns' faces.

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    2. Hardly any nuns wear the traditional habit any more. Why? Because modern social values have rendered it ridiculous and obsolete.

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    3. When our kids were little we were on a French beach on the island of Noirmoutier. There was big country house close by and from its gate emerged a dozen excited nuns - all in their wimples. They went down to the sea to paddle - their heads still covered in the traditional manner. Twenty years later the burqa was outlawed in France.

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    4. I'm not sure why everyone here seems to think that it is our right to see the facial expressions of others.

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  3. I spoke about something like this post on another blog by Linda at Local Alien. A lot of it is cultural and not actually the religion, having known a Turkish Scholar who was very fluent in English break it down, a lot of it stems from the sultans wanting to show off how wealthy they were and they shut their women away in harems. the sultans not wanting any other man to see his 'women' he wanted to drap his wives and concubines in as much silk as possible. But you also have to think that when these books were written for Christianity and Islam, they are based on the Hebrew bible (Tanakh). Modesty is referred to in all of these texts being that your body belongs to god as it contains the holy spirit therefore being a temple. Then there is also the hair part of it. Your hair being your crowning glory the words are something like "and it has been given to her as a covering". I think this is 1 Corinthians 11 where in the Christian bible it states that a man should not cover his head in church but a woman must. It is all a case of how much you read into it or interpret the words. As long as the women are not being forced to wear it and know they dont have to, I see no problem with it as long as it is safe. Maybe not the face veil whilst in a science class where a bunsen burner is involved that type of thing. if that is a class that is complusary then if they veil they should be offered to take it in an all girl setting something like that. Sorry for the long comment but it is something I am interested in and how it is interpreted. On the other hand in the countries and place this was based in, it was dry and dusty. It could have also stemmed from not wanting to get dirty and keeping the sun off of your head...

    Just because I dont do it, doesnt mean that others shouldnt have the choice.

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    1. Thank you for this well-considered response Sol. Plenty of food for thought here.

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  4. I'm torn about this. On the one hand, I really believe in respecting other cultures and religious beliefs as long as they're not harmful...but therein lies the rub. Even if a female chooses to wear a covering, I can't help but believe that such ingrained misogyny is harmful to them on many levels. I also don't think it's unreasonable to expect people from those cultures to conform to new social norms when they move to a new place. I also don't think it's reasonable to expect a woman or girl to be able to get a passport or an ID with her face covered. And I worry that girls who grow up in those cultures don't truly feel that they have a choice later on.

    Even as a liberal, I can't help but lean towards saying that if you come from a Muslim culture and choose to live in the US or Britain or any other Western democracy you should make an effort to assimilate...otherwise, what's the point of leaving? If I went to live in Saudi Arabia, for instance, I wouldn't expect to be accommodated in expressing MY cultural beliefs in public.

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    1. Thank you Jennifer. I think your reference to assimilation touches upon a vital issue - to do with identity and belonging. There are plenty of Muslims who have happily sought to get closer to their host countries' cultures instead of appearing to move in the opposite direction.

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  5. I remember reading a quote from Tom Conti the actor that said 'I loathe religion, its one of the greatest enemies of humanity the world has ever known'. I must say that I agree with him.
    The worst thing is that children are bought up being taught a certain religion and once its taught to a young child its very difficult to break free from the guilt etc that goes with it.
    I know this. I was religious until my Father suffered the most awful death. This bought me to my senses and broke me free.
    I see the Burqa as a religious garb and it makes me uneasy seeing it on the streets of my country.
    Briony
    x

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    1. "... on the streets of my country". YOUR country?

      Can't wait to move to Hawaii. Give me the hula.

      U

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    2. It is Briony's country. She was born and raised here like her family before her. What Briony has to say about religion and the discomfort she feels about the burqa reflects majority attitudes. English people are instinctively fair-minded and tolerant in my experience so it is interesting that the burqa has raised so many hackles.

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  6. Years back, beyond my clear memory, I had the opportunity to watch an interview of a woman who was clothed very much like the image you have posted on this post. She said, without hesitation, that she felt, “safe,” when she wore that kind of garment. I hesitate to use the word, “burqa,” because I'm not sure exactly what that word means. Does it include the veil that covers the face or just the head scarf? When I was growing up, all Catholic women wore head scarfs or a hat of some kind. My mom told me that the hat option had come only later because in years past it was always a head scarf. She had no information about the history of the tradition but compared it to the typical renditions of what, “the Virgin Mary,” looks like, always in a head scarf. So there must be some old, cross culture, perhaps religious tradition behind all of this.
    I recall that later in that same program I was watching, the women involved allowed the photographer some limited access to their private space. There were three women, none of whom had head scarfs or face coverings. They were talking rapidly about make up and jewelry. The photographer could not show their faces. I'm pretty sure this was in Iran, after the Shaw, but my memory fails me and I may be incorrect about that.
    I also must comment about another person I knew whom I'm sure has passed away by now, at least I have no more contact with him. About 20 years ago on a quiet occasion he told me, “Today will mark 5 years since I have not dressed in woman's clothing.” That old gay man went on to tell me that for many years he had no man's clothing to wear until he decided that he should get some. He had dressed as a women since he was a teenager and had voluntarily done so even at the cost of having been physical accosted on numerous occasions.
    The key word here for me is voluntary. If those Iranian women feel safe all wrapped up like that in black in very hot weather, then they should be allowed to do so. If a certain 84 year old, very catholic, woman I know feels reverent in wearing a scarf, then I'll buy one and send it to her. She doesn't know where any of that tradition originated and doesn't want to and probably would not believe me if I looked it up and sent it to her. It's her choice to do that and to belong to that group who does that. I support her choice. And if that old gay contact I once knew is still alive and wants to dress as a woman again, I'll buy him a pair of nice shoes or whatever else he desires.
    The security issue is a different page to this discussion altogether, but I believe it too can somehow be addressed without stripping anyone of their right to choose. It certainly isn't up to me to judge their appearance or compare them to bank robbers.

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    1. Hey TJ, in my comment you can see where the thought of covering the hair comes from, this is the KJV bible version I am referring to. its in 1 Corinthians 11, where women are instructed to cover their head in church. Where as a man is told not to. the scarf I think you are referring to in a Catholic church would be something like the mantilla worn in spain. This is to cover the hair. It is also why when you see pictures of Spanish and Portuguese ladies in the olden days they have a shawl wrapped around their shoulders, thicker in winter lace in the summer, this was because many attended mass each day, the lady of the house representing the family in most cases.

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    2. To TJ Davis and Sol. Thank you for these interesting contributions.

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  7. I am unequivocal about this. The burka should be banished. It has no place in western society, for reasons that are really almost too obvious to list but here's a few:

    It is oppressive; it is a symbol of control over females.
    It perpetuates an "otherness" that is destructive to social harmony.
    It is an implicit rejection of the democratic values of western society.
    It gives credence to a sickening morality that holds women ethically and legally responsible for men's behavior, and by "behavior" I mean their lust.

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    1. You are making a lot of assumptions, Vivian. What of those women (and I most certainly can imagine being one of them, at least on occasion) who WANT to cover their faces to varying degrees?

      U

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    2. Our faces are the outward facades of who we are. Why should any woman or man wish to disguise themselves in a free society where just about everybody else walks around showing their faces to the world - as if to say - "This is me. Like me or loathe me. This is me."?

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    3. I agree that our faces are the great communicator. Never more so than mine. I AM my face, my eyes, my smile. No bull.

      However, to turn your question around, "why should any woman (or man) not be free to disguise themselves" if they so wish? As you say "free society". How free? So free that rules can still be imposed if others set foot on your turf?

      To turn it round, and one of your commentators hinted at something along the lines of "when in Rome do as the Romans do". Let's say I went to, I don't know, where all nationals wear burkas, would I? No. I wouldn't. And, dare I say it, it probably be respected as I'd be acknowledged as a specimen from another culture. So, why should those who have come from countries with customs adapt to our Western, OH SO "free", be forced to change their habits(!)?

      U

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    4. The wearing of the veil is a fairly recent phenomenon in Muslim Britain. In Bradford in the sixties, seventies and eighties you never saw ANY burqas.

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    5. I understood that if a woman goes to a country where "all nationals wear burqas" she is expected to do the same, NOT given a free pass.

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  8. Let's leave aside what Boris's fine figure of a man resembles. I love all that head gear. It adds a mystique. A mystique which is largely lost to Western WHITE women who, to my mind, go to the other extreme, wearing little. Why is it "liberating" to let it all hang out?

    Sometimes when you meet those more or less totally covered up women and all you see are little of their face, sometimes only their eyes ... gosh, if I were a man, yes... those eyes. You can lose yourself in them. And, even when wearing a burqa you can still see the woman's smiling at you - because that's what people do [smile with their eyes].

    Of course, no woman should be made to wear what she doesn't wish to. So if some burqa wearers are forced against their wishes to do so, by either their family's tradition or an overbearing father, then that's not acceptable. But then for Boris the Johnson to come along and prescribe his code of clothing is doing just the same.

    As an aside: You know what I'd like to do at times? Without eyebrows raised or being assumed I am on my way to a funeral? Wear a veil - from the lacy to the more opaque; depending on circumstance, and as once was the custom. But, I suppose, I wouldn't be able to attend Boris's "surgery", would I.

    U

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    1. I didn't know Johnson was a doctor! Mind you I wouldn't wish to be treated by such a scruffy doctor - with his shirt hanging out and his uncombed hair. Perhaps he should wear a burqa to protect the public from having to look at him.

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    3. You don't have to be a quack to be a "doctor". Being an MP holding "surgeries" in their constituency will suffice. It's when they see their constituents, one on one, addressing any concern of the latter.

      Come to think of it, I'd rather go to the dentist.

      U

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    4. I wonder what Johnson's surgeries were like whenhe was both The Mayor of London AND the MP for Uxbridge? Ridiculous!

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  9. Burqas. The holy book of the Muslim faith says that a woman must be modest at all times in her behavior and dress. The leaders of that faith have made many and varied interpretations of that edict over the generations and all over the world. Some women must wear blue (Afghanistan), some women must wear black (Saudi Arabia and Iran), some women must wear white (African countries) and some women in the Muslim part of Indonesia wear colorful long dresses and headwear.

    I do believe that most women who wear the hijab choose to wear it. It is why they are told to wear it and by whom that bothers me so much. So that men will not see them except for male relatives. Because, as you know, men can't keep their pants zipped or their thawb (the long white gown that some Muslim men wear) down where it belongs. This is the part that bugs the hell out of me. Why are women who show their hair responsible for the sexual thoughts that a man who sees them might have? Muslim mothers should teach their sons better than that. But in some countries, Muslim mothers don't have much say at all in the raising up of their children.

    But.....and this is a big one. I do believe that the religious teachings and the cultural trappings that one espouses should be respected by everyone else as long as it does no harm to any other person. I also think that if you do not want such people to visit your home, so to speak, again, that is for you to decide. But if you do welcome them into your home, then you have no right to impose your rules on them if their cultural preferences are doing you no harm.

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    1. p.s. Who in their right mind would think of having Clown Boris as PM?

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    2. Thank you for these reflections Sis. "Harm" is a funny word. It can happen vividly and immediately or it can happen slowly - almost unseen. Several commentators see the burqa as a symbol of refusal - refusal to fully assimilate - turning one's back upon the host society so that over a period of time the fabric of society suffers. This is one of the factors that drove France, Belgium and Denmark to ban the burkqa.

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    3. I don't know about your culture, but in many ne, it is always the second generation of immigrants that assimilates, not the first.

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    4. Many of our burqa wearers are second or third generation immigrants. The "rule" that you cite is being trampled upon by SOME followers of Islam.

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  10. As I understand it - the Koran says that both men and women should dress modestly and that is all. The burqa is imposed by men and is cultural rather than religious and that is why a prominent Iman is supporting Boris Johnson.
    Personally I don't have any issue with a Hijab if it is the woman's choice and not her father's or husband's idea of how she should dress. A burqa imposes a barrier between people - we "read" each other's faces all the time and without that ability a lot is lost. It has no place in western society.

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    1. We need to know who people are. In the modern world that knowledge is important. The burqa makes so many women appear like faceless shadows.

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    2. Hi Margie, I agree with you. What people cant seem to separate is the difference between Hijab Where it is only to cover the hair, you may even see the neck. The same as a tichel, a scarf tied in a knot at the back. No one comments on that. They also dont comment on the Plymouth Brethren head scarves that they wear, Amish or Mennonites.

      My own mother will not enter a church without a covering for her head even if she had to wrap a woolen scarf around it.

      What people are missing and I am not saying it is right or not, it is that most of them see that covering their head makes them closer to god.

      They also miss that most of the 'rules' that people seem to think are imposed by the Koran are where this all comes from. It is actually the hadiths where the interpretation seems to be that most people would have a problem with it. The hadiths were in part written by the prophets wife. And therefore some scholars do not think that is the word of god. The burqa is a cultural interpretation of the hadith and the koran.

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  11. I do not like full face coverings because they prevent reciprocal "reading" of facial expressions and other nuances of communication. I don't like ski masks for the same reason. And I do not like burqas when they are essentially an excuse for men to fail to own and control their own reactions to the female form.

    But I also do not like the immodesty that so many women practice with skimpy or revealing clothing. Why do women feel the need to flaunt their bodies? Why can't there be a reasonable middle ground between hiding and flaunting?

    I do feel that people's religious beliefs should be respected just as I feel my right not to have religious beliefs should be respected. But I don't see how the burqa is a religious symbol like a head covering or a cross, or how it is anything but a subjective and quite likely fallible interpretation of the concept of modesty, with the above-noted effects on communication and a woman's freedom to be an individual and to be comfortably dressed.

    I await my tongue-lashing in the comments :)

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    1. No tongue lashing from me Jenny for you speak wisely and I must say I do think you make a good point about immodesty. Brief mini skirts and killer heels with low-plunging tops that scream out "sex object" should also be a matter for scrutiny.

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  12. Conflicted is a great way to describe the issue. Like many religions there are many widely varying denominations. Some of them are extreme in one direction and some in another direction. The issue gets complicated. I do not read anything sinister into the issue. I don't like the buffoons making ignorant statements about the issue

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    1. You are a very tolerant man Red. Your blogging history shows that.

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    1. I don't in any way feel conflicted. I agree with Boris Johnson....ban the burqas, niqabs and hajib. They are absolutely ridiculous and have no place in our Western democratic society.

      I have no time for them at all...and I care not who I offend with my thoughts on this matter!! I live in a democracy, and am allowed free thought and opinion.

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    2. You imply that there has been rather too much pussy-footing around the march of Islam within western societies and I agree with that.

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  14. You write you are conflicted about the subject of burqas. I can't see where the conflict arises in the post.
    Have I missed something somewhere?
    For an item which is basically a garment for wearing there is a lot of emotion attached to the comment response.
    Alphie

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    1. The conflict I feel is this... Instinctively, I usually respect the personal appearance choices that people make. However, the burqa may represent a string of values with which I fundamentally disagree and are probably at odds with what it means to be a free person living in the free world.

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    2. Alphie, I believe it is not the garment but the covering of the face that is the trigger for the comment response. I would feel the same if men covered their faces. It puts the uncovered person at a disadvantage as he or she is unable to read the other's facial cues. It is also a patriarchal requirement that women must wear it and men don't. It's not just a garment, it's the ideas it represents.

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    3. Ah, but without the garment, the topic of this post, there would be no faces covered by them and following on, no debate.

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  15. The queen wears a headscarf nobody objects , the full face mask is what the majority object to . I did however see a post yesterday from an english muslim who willingly chooses to wear the scarf and robe and she pointed out what about her mum and gran who have worn the full face veil all their adult lives ? Wouldnt it be disturbing to them to go bare faced ?

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    1. I have visited Bradford in Yorkshire since the sixties. Back then you never saw ANY Muslim women hiding their faces behind medieval head garb. The burqa has been resurrected but what about assimilation?

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  16. Like you, I am personally conflicted about the burqa. I see it as oppressive, but at the same time, women need to be able to choose what they want to wear. If they really want to cover up, who am I to say they can't? Many Arabic women say covering actually makes them feel safer and more secure.

    (And if women don't want to cover, but their men expect them to -- well, that's another issue and I have no idea how to solve it.)

    As for Boris -- UGH! He is simply positioning himself for higher office. Stir the pot, back Brexit, but then disassociate from Brexit so he can't be blamed for the mess it will create. He's a canny bastard.

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    1. He's maybe even a cunning bastard?

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