Islamic dress in Europe
Islamic dress in Europe, especially the variety of headdresses worn by Muslim women, has become a prominent symbol of the presence of Islam in western Europe. In several countries the adherence to hijab (an Arabic noun meaning "to cover") has led to political controversies and proposals for a legal ban. Some countries already have laws banning the wearing of masks in public, which can be applied to veils that conceal the face. Other countries are debating similar legislation, or have more limited prohibitions. Some of them apply only to face-covering clothing such as the burqa, boushiya, or niqab; some apply to any clothing with an Islamic religious symbolism such as the khimar, a type of headscarf. The issue has different names in different countries, and "the veil" or "hijab" may be used as general terms for the debate, representing more than just the veil itself, or the concept of modesty embodied in hijab.
Although the Balkans and Eastern Europe have indigenous Muslim populations, most Muslims in western Europe are members of immigrant communities. The issue of Islamic dress is linked with issues of immigration and the position of Islam in western society. In November 2006, European Commissioner Franco Frattini said that he did not favour a ban on the burqa. This is apparently the first official statement on the issue of prohibition of Islamic dress from the European Commission, the executive of the European Union. The reasons given for prohibition vary. Legal bans on face-covering clothing are often justified on security grounds, as an anti-terrorism measure.
in 2006 British Prime Minister Tony Blair described it as a "mark of separation". Visible symbols of a non-Christian culture conflict with the national identity in European states, which assumes a shared culture. Proposals for a ban may be linked to other related cultural prohibitions: the Dutch politician Geert Wilders proposed a ban on hijabs, in Islamic schools, in new mosques, and in non-western immigration.
In France and Turkey, the emphasis is on the secular nature of the state, and the symbolic nature of the Islamic dress, and bans apply at state institutions (courts, civil service) and in state-funded education. These bans also cover Islamic headscarves, which in some other countries are seen as less controversial, although law court staff in the Netherlands are also forbidden to wear Islamic headscarves on grounds of 'state neutrality'. An apparently less politicised argument is that in specific professions (teaching), a ban on "veils" (niqab) is justified, since face-to-face communication and eye contact is required. This argument has featured prominently in judgements in Britain and the Netherlands, after students or teachers were banned from wearing face-covering clothing. Public and political response to such prohibition proposals is complex, since by definition they mean that the government decides on individual clothing. Some non-Muslims, who would not be affected by a ban, see it as an issue of civil liberties, as a slippery slope leading to further restrictions on private life. A public opinion poll in London showed that 75 percent of Londoners support "the right of all persons to dress in accordance with their religious beliefs". In another poll in the United Kingdom by Ipsos MORI, 61 percent agreed that "Muslim women are segregating themselves" by wearing a veil, yet 77 percent thought they should have the right to wear it.
The 2010 French law against covering the face in public, known as the "Burqa ban", was challenged and taken to the European Court of Human Rights which upheld the law on 1 July 2014, accepting the argument of the French government that the law was based on "a certain idea of living together".
The reasons given for prohibition vary. Legal bans on face-covering clothing are often justified on security grounds, as an anti-terrorism measure. However, the public controversy is wider, and may be indicative of polarisation between Muslims and western European societies.
For some critics, Islamic dress is an issue of value conflicts and the Clash of Civilizations. These critics - prominent among them is Ayaan Hirsi Ali - see Islam as incompatible with Western values, at least in its present form. They advocate the values of 'Enlightenment liberalism', including secularism and equality of women. For them, the burqa or chador are both a symbol of religious obscurantism and the oppression of women. Western Enlightenment values, in their view, require prohibition, regardless of whether a woman has freely chosen Islamic dress. A more extreme, related view is that freely chosen Islamic dress is a declaration of allegiance to radical Islamism, and the wearers are enemies of western society, if not terrorists.
Albania has introduced draft legislation to ban the hijab in public schools. Use of the hijab is also rare and very uncommon in Albania.
Several Belgian municipalities have used municipal by-laws on face-covering clothing to ban public wearing of the niqab and burqa. The town of Maaseik was the first to implement a ban in October 2004. Khadija El Ouazzani, spouse of Belgian-born Khalid Bouloudo, considered by the Belgian authorities as the Belgian coordinator of the terrorist Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, was fined €75 in April 2005 under the by-law for wearing a burqa. In 2006, a local police court upheld the ban and the fine. According to mayor Jan Creemers (Flemish Christian Democrats), 5 or 6 women in Maaseik had "caused feelings of insecurity" by wearing a burqa, and he had received complaints about them. He personally warned the women to stop. After that, only El Ouazzani continued to wear the burqa, and the by-law was activated.
In late 2004, at Creemers request, Marino Keulen, Flemish-Liberal interior minister in the Flemish government, created a standard prohibition for burqas, and sent it to all 308 municipalities in Flanders. The regulation states that persons on the public street and in public buildings must be identifiable at all times, "to protect the social order, which allows a harmonious process of human activities". It prohibits covering the forehead, the cheeks, the eyes, the ears, the nose and the chin. Carnival, Sinterklaas, and Father Christmas are exempt. According to Keulen:
- As Minister for Integration I respect culture tradition and belief, but wearing a burqa has nothing to do with religious belief, but with traditional dress in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Besides, wearing a burqa has an intimidating effect, and it can not be tolerated that Muslim women are excluded from society because they are isolated behind their burqa, and can't communicate with the world around them.
All municipalities can choose if they want to adopt the regulation: six have done so. In August 2006, mayor Creemers called for a national ban. The anti-immigrant and separatist party Vlaams Belang, formerly Vlaams Blok, had earlier advocated a ban at Flemish level, and locally in Antwerp. Although Vlaams Belang is excluded from power in Antwerp, by a coalition of all other parties, the ban was adopted. It was first applied in 2005, when a woman was fined because only her eyes were visible.
On 31 March 2010 the Belgian Chamber Committee on the Interior unanimously approved legislation instating a nation-wide ban on wearing the burqa in public. The proposal was accepted by the Chamber of Representatives on 27 April 2010 with only two abstentions from Flemish Socialist MPs. A law was finally voted by both federal parliamentary chambers on 28 April 2011, as the parliamentary process had been interrupted by elections in June 2010. One Flemish Green MP voted against, two French-speaking Green MPs abstained.
Amnesty International Brussels has criticized the proposed legislation, stating that it is "being presented as an act to combat discrimination against women, whereas it is an act of discrimination in itself". Also, the BBC estimate that "Only around 30 women wear this kind of veil in Belgium, out of a Muslim population of around half a million." 
Bosnia and Herzegovina
There are no bans on religious Islamic dress in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
There is currently no ban on religious Islamic dress in Denmark. However, following an incident in which a burqa-clad journalist was able to pass unchecked through security at Copenhagen airport, the government stressed to the airports the need for passengers to show their faces.
In 2006 Asmaa Abdol-Hamid caused much debate when she hosted a TV show on DR2 wearing a hijab. The controversy continued the following year when she announced she would be running for parliament. Member of Parliament Søren Krarup, of the Danish People's Party, questioned whether wearing a hijab in parliament was constitutional and said the headscarf is a totalitarian symbol, comparable to the Nazi swastika or the communist hammer and sickle.
In April 2007 the Odense city council asked the Minister for Family and Consumer Affairs of Denmark to rule on a case in which a Muslim woman refused to remove her veil for her job as a family care worker. A majority in parliament was ready to give employers the right to ban Muslim niqab and burka veils for employees.
In May 2008, the Danish government decided that judges in courts should strive for religious and political neutrality, and that consequently they would no longer be allowed to wear visible religious symbols, including crucifixes, kippas and head scarves.
|Wikinews has related news: Sarkozy states burqa to be "not welcome" in France|
The 2004 French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools bans all clothing which constitutes an ostensible religious symbol from government-operated schools. It is typically justified as a measure to ensure the secularism and religious neutrality of the state – the principle of Laïcité. In December 2003, President Jacques Chirac supported a new law to explicitly forbid any "visible sign of religious affiliation", in the spirit of laïcité. The law was passed by the French parliament in March 2004.
The law forbids the wearing of any "ostensible" religious articles by students, but does not cite any item; yet, ministerial instructions appear to target the Islamic veil, the Jewish kippa, and large Christian crosses. Instructions permit discreet signs of faith, such as small crosses, Stars of David, and hands of Fatima. The law does not apply to parents or to students attending universities. However, teachers and other school personnel are also prohibited to display their religious affiliation on the basis of "public service neutrality". Similar policies are occasionally applied in other state organizations, such as personnel working in public hospitals.
The French controversy primarily relates to the Islamic veil as a symbol of religion that challenges Laïcité, or of female subservience, and only secondarily to practical factors such as face-to-face communication, or security risks. The 2004 law says nothing about the wearing of Islamic dress in public (on the street), nor about wearing religious signs in higher education or private education establishments.
In 2009, the issue has not receded with further calls by some government ministers for a more widespread enquiry on the implications of liberty, subservience and the veil with regards to public life.
On 22 June 2009, the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, said that burqas are "not welcome" in France, commenting that "In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity," The French National Assembly appointed 32 lawmakers from right and left-wing parties on a six-month fact-finding mission to look at ways of restricting its use. A imam Hassen Chalghoumi backed the ban and he was threatened. On 26 January 2010, the group delivered its report, which had been agreed by six votes to six (the chair's vote in favour being decisive) with twenty abstentions. The report says that women should not be allowed to wear the burqa when accessing public services.
In September 2010, it became illegal to wear face coverings unless specifically needed to perform a function. It is illegal to wear the burqa in public in France. Fines are 150 euro for women wearing it and 30,000 euro for men forcing their wives to wear it, with up to one year in prison. The law was passed in the Senate by 246 votes to 1. The first fine was issued on 22 September 2011.
The law was challenged and taken to the European Court of Human Rights which upheld the law on 1 July 2014, accepting the argument of the French government that the law was based on "a certain idea of living together".
Eight of Germany's 16 states contain restrictions on wearing the hijab by female teachers: first Baden-Württemberg, then Bavaria, Hesse, Lower Saxony, the Saarland, Bremen, North Rhine-Westphalia and Berlin. The city-state of Berlin banned all religious symbols in public institutions, including the Christian crucifix and the Jewish kippah.
Five of these states that ban religious clothing, contain an exception for Christian symbols and clothing: Baden-Württemberg, Saarland, Hesse, Bavaria, and North Rhine-Westphalia. In Baden-Württemberg, the state prohibits Muslim teachers from wearing the headscarf, but allows teachers to wear Christian clothing, such as the nun's habit. The state courts upheld an appeal against the ban by several Muslim teachers, on the grounds of religious discrimination, since Catholic nuns are allowed to teach in full religious habit. The state government has appealed the decision. The regulation in North Rhine-Westphalia is similar to that in Baden-Württemberg. Bavaria also allows the nun's habit, while banning the Muslim headscarf.
Education in Germany is the responsibility of the individual states, which each have their own education ministry. In September 2003, the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) ruled that the states could ban the wearing of Islamic headscarves by female teachers, and that this would not infringe the constitutional protection of freedom of religion. However, a ban could only be implemented by a state law, and not by administrative decisions.
In one incident involving Islamic dress in Germany, two 18-year old students, one Turkish and one Kurdish, appeared at a school in Bonn in a burqa; they were suspended for "disturbing the peace." The German Finance Minister cancelled a visit to the school, and the two were investigated by the intelligence service, who suspected them of contacts with the controversial King Fahd Academy in Bonn. The incident illustrates the sensitivity in Germany over Islamic dress, especially in schools. It led the Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries to call for nationwide standard school uniforms (itself a sensitive issue in Germany because of the association with the Nazi Hitler Youth and the East German Free German Youth).
- I fear that a headscarf ban will be the first step on the road to a laicistic state, which will prohibit religious signs and symbols in the public sphere. I don't want to see that happen. That is not my vision of our country, with its centuries of Christian influence.
In 2006 Ekin Deligöz, a Turkish-born woman parliamentarian, triggered an uproar by calling on fellow Turkish German women to take off their scarves as a way to show their willingness to integrate in German society.
Naime Çakir, a Muslim activist in Germany, raises other concerns related to headscarves in that banning them in fact increases discrimination of Muslim women and aggravates their integration into the modern society by making it harder for them to find a job and forcing them into an acute conflict between family and society, which places a much more disastrous burden on Muslim women than on Muslim men (see namus and "honor killing" articles). Naime states that for women, education and occupation are more important for emancipation than external attributes of clothing.
Immigration in the last two decades has introduced Islam as a second major religion in Italy, a country where the population is traditionally Catholic. The Islamic veil has become a national political issue, usually in combination with other Islam-related issues, such as new mosques, and the teaching of the Qur'an in schools. The anti-immigration and separatist Lega Nord has focused recent campaigns on prohibition of the burqa, although as with the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the wider issue is immigration. After local anti-burqa campaigns, several municipalities imposed a ban, but these have been suspended by Regional Administrative Tribunals. The Regional Administrative Tribunal of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, suppressed, for largely technical reasons, bans imposed by a municipal government. Use of the law 152/1975 – which prohibits the use of motorcycle helmets to evade identification – cannot be extended to cover the veil or burqa.
The government of Kosovo banned the headscarf in schools in late 2009 because Kosovo is proclaimed secular territory. This provoked protests by about 5,000 people in the capital Pristina in June 2010.
In the Netherlands a minority of Muslim women wear a headscarf. About 30% of Turks in the Netherlands, and around half of the Moroccan-Dutch women cover their hair. The percentage of woman wearing headscarves in the Netherlands has decreased sharply over the last decades and shows a clear secularisation process; first generation Turkish migrants wear headscarves twice as often (40%) as the second generation (20%). Immigration and Integration minister Rita Verdonk announced in November 2006 that the Netherlands will introduce legislation to ban face-covering clothing in public. Although a ban was publicly debated earlier, the legislation results directly from a motion tabled in the Dutch House of Representatives by the anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders, calling upon the cabinet to introduce it. The cabinet proposals was delayed because of concerns about conflict with freedom of religion. The Third Balkenende cabinet thought that these issues are no longer an obstacle to legislation. The proposal was condemned by Muslim organisations.
In the November 2006 general election, Wilders' Party for Freedom won 9 seats (out of 150): a complete ban on the burqa and a ban Islamic headscarves in the civil service and schools is part of its platform, but all other parties refuse to include it in a coalition. A group of Muslim women organised a pro-burqa demonstration at the newly elected parliament in The Hague, on 30 November 2006. The demonstration attracted national media attention, despite having only 20 participants.
Following the 2006 election, the new cabinet has not taken a final decision on whether to introduce a ban, and gave conflicting signals. A February 2007 opinion poll indicated that 66 percent support a ban and 32 percent oppose it.
Malaysia protested against the proposed ban soon after it was announced in 2006. Foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar called it a discriminatory treatment of Muslims, and said it infringed freedom of choice. The Islamic headscarf tudung is a political issue in Malaysia itself. According to the UNHCHR, female students in Malaysia itself are pressured to wear the tudung, and it is compulsory for female shop workers in Kelantan, while Malaysian politicians have protested against its prohibition in public schools in Singapore for prepuber (6 and 7 years old) pupils. According to memo leaked to the Algemeen Dagblad, the Netherlands foreign ministry has warned of a possible controversy, similar to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.
The proposed legislation in the Netherlands applies nationally. Earlier, schools and other institutions had enforced their own bans on Islamic dress, although usually not on the Islamic headscarf. Employers also have their own policies. Cases of dismissal or exclusion from school are sometimes handled by the Netherlands Equality Commission, creating de facto national guidelines on what constitutes discrimination. In Amsterdam, school policies attracted media attention after an incident in 2003. A higher vocational college, banned three students for wearing the niqab. One was removed by police when she tried to enter the school wearing the niqab: the school regulations are legally enforceable because unauthorised entry is trespass. The students appealed to the Equality Commission, which ruled (in March 2003) in favour of the school. The school justified the ban on the grounds that the niqab "hindered eye contact, which testifies to mutual respect". The Commission agreed with the school, indicating that the educational necessity of contact and communication within the school building overrode the religious-freedom aspects. The education minister, Maria van der Hoeven, of the Christian-Democratic party CDA, publicly approved the Commission decision. The Amsterdam CDA subsequently called for a national ban on chador, burqa and niqab in schools, partly on the grounds that they conflicted with common national values.
The cities of Amsterdam and Utrecht have proposed cutting social security benefit to unemployed women wearing a burqa, on the grounds that it makes them unemployable in a predominantly non-Muslim country.
The Dutch government parliament in January 2012 enacted a ban on face-covering clothing, popularly described as the "burqa ban". Offenders can be fined up to 390 euro. The prohibition does not apply to face covering that is necessary for the health, safety or the exercise of a profession or practicing a sport. Excluded from the ban are also events such as Sinterklaas, Carnival, Halloween or when a mayor granted an exemption for a particular event. Also excluded from prohibition are places and buildings intended for religious purposes. The prohibition does not apply to passengers in airplanes and airports who are traveling through the Netherlands to their final destination.
While there is currently no ban on Islamic dress in Norway, the issue has in later years been widely discussed. In March 2010, a ban on the burqa and niqab in public places was eventually proposed in the Norwegian Parliament by the Progress Party. Before the formal proposal was made, a ban had been supported by figures such as the Labour Party Spokesperson on Immigration Issues, Lise Christoffersen, as well as several individual politicians from both opposition and government parties. When the proposal was up for consideration in May, it was however rejected by all parties in the Justice Committee except for the Progress Party. Minister of Justice Knut Storberget had earlier claimed there to be a "great danger" that a general ban on "wholly covering clothing" could conflict with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Per-Willy Amundsen of the Progress Party in response claimed that the government was increasingly "hiding themselves behind international conventions" in questions regarding immigration and integration, in order to avoid tougher political discussions that divided the government.
Spanish resort Sa Pobla on the island of Mallorca has banned women from wearing burqas or face-covering Islamic veils in public places, even though only two women living there are known to do so. Mayor Biel Serra of the town of Sa Pobla said the vote was not about cultural or religious discrimination but rather an issue of public safety and having people show their faces so they can be identified. Sa Pobla joins a handful of other Spanish towns who have enacted some form of ban on body-covering burqas or face-covering niqabs. Biel said the two women in Sa Pobla wore the latter.
In Sweden, the wearing of Islamic dress is permitted. Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt declared himself to be against a ban on veils in January 2010, saying "legislation shouldn't lead to certain women being isolated even more from Swedish society". Coalition partner Centre Party also declared being against a ban, describing the wearing of head-to-toe veils as "a rarely occurring problem" that is "not something that should be solved through legislation". Opposition leader Stefan Löfven rejected the idea of such a law as well.
In September 2013, by popular referendum supported by approximately two-thirds of the population, the Swiss canton of Ticino banned burqas and niqabs. The Swiss People's Party, the country's largest party, are attempting to collect enough signatures for a national referendum on its prohibition.
Turkey is a secular state founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923. Atatürk saw headscarves as backward-looking and an obstacle to his campaign to secularize and modernize the new Turkish Republic. (The fez, worn by men, was banned.) Kemalist ideology continues to emphasize secularism, despite the majority of Turks being Muslims.
Until the 1960s, female students or public servants wearing headscarves were not seen in Turkey. In 1968, a university student, Hatice Babacan, refused to remove her headscarf and from then onwards, although there was not a uniformly applied ban, some problems began to arise for students wearing headscarves at universities.
With the rise of the Islamic movement in Turkey in the 1970s and early 1980s, the number of university students wearing headscarves increased substantially and in 1984, the first widespread application of headscarf ban came into effect at the universities, but throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the ban was not uniformly enforced and many students were able to graduate, albeit with lots of difficulties, and begin their professional careers without compromising on their headscarves. After the so-called "28 February process" in 1997, the ban on headscarves and other Islamic coverings were taken to such extremes that even some hospitals refused to care for patients wearing headscarves. The headscarf ban in public spaces, including schools and universities (public and private), courts of law, government offices and other official institutions, is only for students, workers and public servants. Hence, mothers of pupils or visitors have no problems at all entering the primary schools, but they would not be able to work as teachers. Similarly, at the courts of law, the ban only involves judges, attorneys, lawyers and other workers. Wearing headscarves in photos on official documents like licenses, passports, and university enrollment documents is prohibited.
In 1998, a Turkish student was banned for wearing a headscarf at Istanbul University. In 2000, Nuray Bezirgan, a Turkish student, wore a headscarf at her college final exams. A Turkish court sentenced her to six months jail for "obstructing the education of others". The European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban in 2004, saying the rules on dress were "necessary" and did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. In October 2006, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the university ban again, rejecting a complaint filed by another Turkish university student.
In October 2006, Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer refused to allow Justice and Development Party (AKP) politicians whose wives wear the headscarves, at a ball marking Turkish independence, saying it would "compromise" and undermine the secular state founded by Kemal Atatürk.
On 7 February 2008, the Turkish Parliament passed an amendment to the constitution, allowing women to wear the headscarf in Turkish universities, arguing that many women would not seek an education if they could not wear the hijab. The decision was met with powerful opposition and protests from secularists. On 5 June 2008, the Constitutional Court of Turkey reinstated the ban on constitutional grounds of the secularity of the state. Headscarves had become a focal point of the conflict between the ruling AKP party and the secularist establishment, which includes the courts, universities, and army. The ruling was widely seen as a victory for Turks who claim this maintains Turkey's separation of state and religion. After winning a referendum in September 2010, the ruling AK Party vowed to support any student who was disciplined for wearing the headscarf on a university campus. Following this, the head of the Turkish Higher Educational council(YÖK), Yusuf Ziya Özcan, announced that instructors in universities may no longer take action against students wearing the headscarf. While this goes against the Constitutional Court ruling of 2008, most universities have started permitting students to wear the headscarf on campus.
Former Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor Jack Straw initiated a nation-wide controversy on "the veil" by criticising its use in 2006. Straw said he would prefer to see no veils: "Yes. It needs to be made clear I am not talking about being proscriptive but with all the caveats, yes, I would rather."
In 2010, Jack Straw publicly apologised over his 2006 comments, stating "If I had realised the scale of publicity that they [his comments] received in October 2006, I wouldn't have made them and I am sorry that it has caused problems and I offer that apology."
The legal status of Islamic dress in schools was clarified by the Shabina Begum case, where the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords ruled that freedom to manifest religious beliefs was not absolute, and could be restricted. Conservative columnist Theodore Dalrymple, noting that Shabina Begum was represented by the Prime Minister's wife Cherie Blair, claims that the judgement was a political one, a concession to Muslim opinion offended by the campaign against Islamist terrorism.
In the Aishah Azmi case, an employment tribunal held that a school could refuse to employ a veiled teacher (wearing the niqab). Government ministers intervened in the employment tribunal case, supporting the school. This case provoked Prime Minister Tony Blair to comment that the veil was a "mark of separation", and minister Phil Woolas demanded that Azmi be sacked, accusing her of "denying the right of children to a full education". The school subsequently sacked her.
In another case, a lawyer dressed in a niqab was told by an immigration judge that she could not represent a client because, he said, he could not hear her.
Veils have also been accused of causing problems in the fight against crime:
- Mustaf Jama, wanted for the murder of British policewoman Sharon Beshenivsky, is reported by some newspaper accounts to have dressed in a Muslim veil in order to flee the country, though the Home Office said "the claim was unlikely to be true as women can be asked to lift veils in identity checks."
- A man wanted on terrorism charges is also believed to have dressed up in a Burqa, a garment which completely covers the body and face, in order to escape the police.
- A number of high profile robberies have been perpetrated by criminals using Burqas to disguise themselves including a £1 million pound robbery of Selfridges on Oxford street, London and Choice Jewellers in Manchester.
- Hijab controversy in Quebec
- Islam and clothing
- Muslims in Western Europe
- Women in Muslim societies
Notes and references
|a.||^ Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Kosovo. The latter declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. Kosovo's independence has been recognised by 108 out of 193 United Nations member states.|
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