Who names their kid Jihad?

It’s a fascinating story, in part because Europe looks at freedom of speech much differently than we do in the states.  Our laws here tend to protect political speech more than in some European countries at least.  In this case, a young French (presumably Muslim, based on the rest of the article) 3-year-old boy named “Jihad” goes to nursery school wearing a t-shirt with the phrase “I am a bomb” written on the front, and on the back it reads “Jihad Born Sept. 11.”

You can see a picture of the t-shirt on this page.

The thing is, the boy’s name is Jihad, and he was born on September 11.

Little Jihad’s teacher, thinking the shirt was praising the September 11 attacks, called the principal who called the mother.  The mom, who was born in Morocco, apologized and said had no intent to convey a political message.  Everyone thought the matter was over.

Well, the principal contacted his higher-ups, they contacted the city’s conservative mayor, who then contacted the local prosecutor.  So Jihad’s mom, and his uncle who bought the shirt (who also claims he never considered the shirt political, and didn’t even mean it as a joke), were called in by the police for questioning, which can be a particularly scary experience in France as compared to the US, where it’s still not fun.

Mom was asked all sorts of odd questions like whether she timed the birth for September 11, and uncle was questioned about terrorist links, of course.

Decoration in the Great Mosque of Paris, via Shutterstock.

Decoration in the Great Mosque of Paris, via Shutterstock.

Eventually, the prosecutor did find a law to go after the mom and her brother (the boy’s uncle) for a 1918 law called “apology for a crime.”  I did some research on “apologie de crime” and it exists in Argentina as well (I’m sure among other places).  It seems to be exactly what it sounds like – publicly defending a crime, in this case the prosecutor alleges that the uncle and mother are defending the September 11 attacks.

Initially they were going after the mom and uncle for a several thousand dollar fine, but now have reduced their request to a symbolic one euro fine.  But, as the Post notes, good luck getting on an airplane ever again after being convicted of having sympathies with the September 11 attacks.

I really do find this story fascinating, because it gets to the heart of what I used to love about 60 Minutes back when we were kids, and LA Law (of all things) did a good job of this as well – presenting both sides of a story in a way that you full appreciated each side, and even felt your loyalties shifting as you learned more facts.  This story felt that way to me.  At first, I was outraged that a mother would put that shirt on her kid (not that I’d prosecute).  Now I’m not sure what to think.

Is it really possible that the mom and the uncle had no idea that the t-shirt would be perceived as it was?  And then there’s the larger question of countries have laws against such things as, basically, hate speech.  We protect such speech here, generally. In Europe, less so.  Then again, Europe has had a different history than we’ve had, in terms of the impact of hate on the continent (though this particular law was passed way before Hitler). But you could argue that slavery was our unique history based on hate, so perhaps things aren’t that different there than here, in terms of each locale having a history of discrimination.

What do you think?  Is naming your kid Jihad akin to that story we ran years about the couple that named their Adolf Hitler Campbell (his siblings were named JoyceLynn Aryan Nation and Honszlynn Hinler Jeanne)?  And should the mom face any kind of official blowback for putting a t-shirt like this on her kid, even if she did in fact mean it to be a reference to September 11 (which she denies)?


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • Tatts

    Yeah. The police seem to think that they did. You’d know that if you read the original story (linked to in the above post). They asked them that, but the family denied it. Why would I say that they denied it, if I didn’t have a source?
    Of course, that’s the same family who named the kid Jihad

  • gecko46

    Much of this “dispute” lies in the misinterpretation of “jihad” by Westerners of whatever stripe. Although it can certainly be used as a term for the fight to protect Islam, it’s much more frequent usage is to describe the internal struggle which every human being has between himself and his god. And it IS often used as a first name. What I find interesting is that as a long-time resident of the Arabian Gulf, I have often run onto the word as a first name, but the Jihads I’ve known have always been women! I’ll have to ask an Omani friend what the scoop is here. It may be that in the Maghreb (Morroco, Algeria, and Tunisia) it is used as a male name; Maghrebi Arabic is very, very different from Gulf Arabic, so different, in fact, that they can scarcely understand one another. Culturally, they’re very different as well, so this may be an explanation for the usage difference. For my part, I do not believe these people meant any harm. And I certainly don’t think they had any idea at all just how sensitive some westerners can be about this sort of thing. I really feel terrible that they are going through this horrific misunderstanding, and I wish them all the best.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marcus-Taylor/100002228477265 Marcus Taylor

    Name your kid “Hitler” and see how fast he changes his name when he emancipates himself at the ripe old age of 6.

    Having said that, suppose I named my child Malcolm X or Martin Luther, or Huey Newton …. how would my child be perceived in the world? Would harm come to him? Would he be a great man? Why would it even matter?

  • SkippyFlipjack

    do you have any evidence that they induced so that the kid would be born on 9/11? if not, it’s an absurd accusation to make.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    you can get nice one-off screened t-shirts from cafe press and a ton of other online stores

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.gropp Chris Gropp

    Yeah, here in the states, he’s about 25 I think. He’s from Columbus Ohio – home of Prescott Bush. (random factoid) Speaking of imagining, imagine a President named Obama – which confuses the hell outta many, but most hilariously the aged Republicans. :)

    This reminded me a bit of a story about Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi immigrant to the U.S., who was busted at JFK airport in 2006 for wearing a shirt that said “We will not be silent” both in Arabic and English. He was “asked” (ordered) to wear instead a shirt saying “I [heart] NY. the phrase is an echo of *Wir schweigen nicht* a phrase used by the White Rose, an anti-nazi group. Al Jazeera covers his story, among others, in this documentary entitled “Fear Anger Politics”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRt8WW_FKbU

  • egrass

    Ok, let’s clear a few things up here.

    Before starting, let me say that I know what I am talking about. I was a middle east specialist in poll sci in the 1985 to 1995 period. I studied under one of the great and perhaps the greatest US scholar on the Middle East, John Esposito. (See http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/jle2/) I am not a Muslim.

    The concept of jihad has for centuries meant holy struggle, typically an internal struggle to find grace or religious fulfillment and propriety.

    As a result, the name Jihad is incredibly common and has been for centuries just like calling a child in the US Grace or Christian.

    For example, I happen to know a Canadian in his 20s named Jihad who is a fencing coach and referee. And a really nice guy. I can assure you that he was named Jihad for the same reasons a kid you might know was named Grace.

    Bin Laden and his ilk before and after him expropriated the term Jihad to a violent assault on unbelievers and/or to restore the caliphate.

    So as a good liberal, John, you need to get over the fact that horrible people like bin Laden have corrupted the term Jihad. A good 99% of muslims understand the word properly as a religious struggle (typically internally) for betterment of self and society.

    You generally do a great job on this blog, but you need to reverse yourself on this fast or you are going to look foolish.

  • pb

    In 2011, 36 babies named Jihad were born in the US. Not sure about France, but it’s definitely not a completely unique name.

    I think it’s similar to naming your daughter Saoirse — to some people, it means “freedom,” while others hear implications of terrorism.

  • TheOriginalLiz

    I would say that if, like the mom and the uncle did, you go looking for a confrontation, there is always going to be someone willing to give it to you.

  • TheOriginalLiz

    Both the naming of the child and the wearing of the shirt, given the name of the child, can be
    a) incredibly bad judgement,

    b) obliviousness of the highest order, or

    c) a pretty clear “fu” statement.

    From what I have seen in the media, the mother and uncle both seem too intelligent and savvy for a) or b), so I’m going with c). I think mom and uncle were expecting that no one would dare interfere with their right to “free speech”, regardless of the intent or effect. They were trying to compound a statement that had already been made with the child’s name and it backfired on them. I would say that they both seem to be a$$holes and I feel sorry for the kid.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Exactly, that’s the other angle here. This wasn’t just about 911 and terrorism, this was about trying to curry favor with the right by going after Muslims.

  • Ninong

    If you call it Holy Jihad, it means “struggle” in the name of Allah to spread Islam.
    It’s clear that the boy’s uncle and mother intended to make a political statement with the T-shirt. And it’s just as clear that his parents (no mention of where his father is now) named him Jihad as a political statement.

  • Ninong

    It was clearly a deliberate political act on the part of the child’s 29-yr-old uncle, who bought the T-shirt, and his 35-yr-old mother who put it on him. Neither of them have expressed a single word of regret for what they claim was a totally innocent message that had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorist act that took place on September 11, 2001. Yeah, right.

    There are other pictures of the boy’s mother, Bagour Bouchra, dressed in black and smiling broadly for the cameras outside the courthouse. She says she didn’t choose her son’s name, his father did. And she no clue that anyone would associate the messages on the T-shirt with 9/11. Naming your child “Jihad” in France and dressing him in that T-shirt amounts to exploitation of a child for the parents’ political purposes. It has nothing to do with religious freedom, or freedom of speech, both of which are treated differently in France than they are in the US.

    I think it would have been more believable if the boy’s mother and uncle used the excuse that they thought the T-shirt was a cute play on words and the association with 9/11 instead of the excuse they actually used, which was that they had no clue whatsoever that anyone with associate the messages on the front and back of the T-shirt with any terrorist act. 9/11? What was that? Oh, really? Never heard of it. http://www.lepoint.fr/societe/tee-shirt-jihad-maladresse-ou-apologie-du-crime-07-03-2013-1637173_23.php

  • nicho

    No, not true. Jihad means struggle.

  • emjayay

    For some reason, Europeans and maybe a others are surprisingly interested in US politics. There was apparently huge interest in our last presidential election. How many Americans were fascinated by the race for prime minister the last time – or could name the current one? I guess it’s because of our movies and history of throwing our weight around and occupying Germany and saving everyone from Hitler and all that. All most Americans know about is Kate Middleton and all that hoopla.

    And it’s not every day that two 767’s get driven into office buildings killing around 3000 people who were just at work and collapsing two of the tallest office buildings in the world into piles of rubble and another one gets driven into the main national military office building and kills a bunch more . I’m thinking most of the world knows about that one.

    I’m still hoping someone familiar with current French language and culture will help out with my previous questions.

  • Ninong

    It might be closer to the Muslim equivalent of calling your child ‘Crusade.’

  • Kes

    Okay, so nobody else is bothered by the fact that the prosecutors went DIGGING for some law to prosecute them under, threatening them with criminal records, because (1) they’re Muslim, and (2) people didn’t like what they named their kid and had on his t-shirt?
    How is this not religious persecution?

  • Kes

    Sorry, John, but I don’t think people of minority cultures should have to ignore traditional naming conventions (or be told that it’s their job to anticipate a negative response) simply because our “typical” non-Muslim US or Europe resident is too ignorant to understand that there’s more than one meaning to the term “jihad” and that Osama is an incredibly common name. It’s only an “awful” name to have because too many people are hateful and bigoted. No excuses for the hateful and the bigoted.

  • Bill_Perdue

    There is a lot of totally justified anti-American sentiment among Arabs and muslims world wide.

    It was initially based on a couple of incursions against Lebanon and on the unfailing support of the US governments for the apartheid and ethic cleansing policies of zionist colonialists in Palestine.That was before 9-11 and the mindless terrorist barbarism demonstrated by murdering 3,000 innocent civilians. It was reminiscent, if on a far smaller scale, of the vastly more destructive barbarism of Nagasaki, Hiroshima Dresden and Hamburg and the ethnic cleansing of the zionists.

    And that was followed by huge and even less justified humanitarian crises of the US genocide in Iraq and US mass murders of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Now the chickens have come home to roost and Obama claims to have the right to murder, detain and torture (Brad Manning) American citizens and has done so.

    The zionist colony in Palestine is a critical military base of last resort for the US and that’s why the US supplies them with the weapons they use to murder Palestinians and steal their land. That problem will be solved by the Palestinians themselves and the growth and militancy of the massive working class movement initially known as the Arab Spring which extends from Morocco to Indonesia and the muslim regions of Mindanao.

  • Jimmy

    Here’s the thing: is the overblown in the extreme, yes, but how could any person not understand how this would look? If nothing else, it is in poor taste: and no, the fact that the child’s name is really Jihad doesn’t mitigate that.

  • Naja pallida

    That only works if images are released under certain licenses. I’ve never been real fond of Shutterstock’s selection myself. They need to mix it up with some Creative Commons ShareAlike stuff from Wikipedia or solicit some stock photography from the several photographers who frequent the blog or something. :)

  • AdrianLesher

    There are two questions here, one being whether the name “Jihad” is ok, and whether putting a baby named Jihad in the t-shirt in question is an offensive provocation.

    As to the first, Jihad has alternate meanings to the violent, terrorist one, and those alternate meanings include the struggle within ones’ self to be a good person and/or to follow the tenets of islam, the fight to have a good society, and the non-violent struggle to spread the tenets of Islam. Jihad of course could also mean a just war. The struggle within oneself, according to Wikipedia, is known as “greater jihad.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jihad, which points out that “In Modern Standard Arabic, jihad is one of the correct terms for a struggle for any cause, violent or not, religious or secular [though كفاح kifāḥ is also used].[citation needed] For instance, Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha struggle for Indian independence is called a “jihad” in Modern Standard Arabic [as well as many other dialects of Arabic]; the terminology is also applied to the fight for women’s liberation.[16]”

    I would think that any moderate Muslim would object to having ancient concepts removed from the lexicon simply by the terroristic and propagandistic acts of violent extremists. It would be akin to making certain Christian terms (or names) off-limits due to the abuse of those terms by the KKK, “Christianist” fascists, or the Spanish Inquisition.

    The t-shirt, however, seems unlikely to be a mistake or misunderstanding, and is pretty obnoxious and offensive On the other hand, we live in a culture where “irish car bomb” is an acceptable name for a beverage, so perhaps a reformative rather than punitive measure is appropriate for such an offense even in those countries that don’t have a First Amendment equivalent.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I have to fall on the side of “intentional political statement expressed as a really bad joke.”

    Terrorism? Twaddle. I mean, c’mon — have we dumbed down the definition of terrorism such that it now includes speech and expression? Is this, whether intentional or unintentional, in appalling bad taste? Undoubtedly.

    To begin with, I do find it difficult to believe the parents didn’t know what they were doing when they chose that particular name.

    As for the t-shirt? I’m a little bit torn. First of all, it’s an entirely American reaction to believe the whole rest of the world remembers 9/11/01 as if it was the worst thing ever to happen. True, many other countries’ education systems are way better than ours, but ask an average British or French student, “What happened at Pearl Harbor?” and I’d imagine we’re as likely to get a correct answer as if we asked an average American student “What happened at Dunkirk?” or “What was the Maginot Line?” Or more accurately, how many Americans know what happened on 7/7/2005? Or even with the gimme, “What happened in London on that date?” — you’re probably more likely than not to be met with a blank stare.

    On the other hand, there’s appears to be an additive effect going on here. “Child’s name having unavoidable religious/political overtones in the west” + “Calling specific attention to his birth-date AND name” + “Je suis une bombe”? At this point, it feels like ‘piling on’ and I think we’re beyond cute and into the realm of making a tasteless statement at a child’s expense. Or a tasteless joke, take your pick.

    John, you speak fluent French, yes? Is there any idiom in French that would account for the phrase, Je suis une bombe? I’m guessing not.

    Anyway, my reaction? The name gets a pass because there really are quite a few people in the world with that name. The birth-date…well, the accusations of intentional induced labor are tinfoil hat ludicrous and stupid. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of children with that birthday in the world. As for the t-shirt — I’d say that’s worthy of a scolding and a strong admonition to the parents or guardians never to send their child to school wearing it again on account of it being disruptive and upsetting. Anything more is knee-jerk pants-wetting overreaction.

  • emjayay

    “Is it really possible that the mom and the uncle had no idea that the t-shirt would be perceived as it was?”

    No. Of course not. What’s interesting is that the t-shirt isn’t made with iron on letters or anything like that. It looks like it was silkscreened and the graphics are definitely professional. Maybe someone makes one-off t-shirts these days using laser printers and computer technology.

    Is it a commercially produced shirt about 9/ll for sophisticated radical Muslim terrorist parents to buy, made even more clever by the kid having the name chosen at random of Jihad and being born for no reason except it happened on September 11? Besides induced labor there’s C-sections available, by the way.

    Also – someone being “the bomb” is, or was anyway, commonly used in reference to hot guys as well as women. It seemed to me to be a very American usage. Anyone up on modern French usage who could enlighten us on the usage in French?

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Actually, it’s depicted both ways in the many, many cultures that have used the swatika shape over the millennia. About the only signature variant associated with the Nazis is they exclusively used the right-facing version and usually rotated it 45-degrees.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika

  • Drew2u

    Thanks for the education! :) I was wondering why shutterstock images suddenly became the rage on the site. Here I thought that as long as you gave credit and linked to the origin of the picture, that was enough. Funny, that.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I could steal the picture of the t-shirt from that news site and risk being sued for $20,000, sure :) Otherwise, unless I subscribe to AP images, we’re not going to get actual photos for a story like this, and we can’t afford to subscribe to wire services. It was all I could do to keep the blog open last year – the redesign saved us, for now, with increased traffic and page views. Had we kept the old design, as I’d mentioned before, I’d have probably shut the blog down by now. So, it’s simple economics. Unless you’re a major money-maker, or have big investors, you can’t afford to subscribe to AP and things like that. Having said that, I can look into it again, but generally speaking even stock image services cost several thousand dollars a year – imagine what AP would cost for the actual image :)

  • emjayay

    There’s a link to the kid in the T-shirt, front and back.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That’s a good point – similar reaction the issue of young girls wear scarves to school.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    He’s here in the states? Granted he was named that before SEptember 11, but still, yeah that’s an awful name to have now in this consider. That reminds me, one of my French friends used to date a guy named Osama, AFTER september 11. Imagine.

  • Drew2u

    I’m gonna be a bitch for a moment, if you indulge me, and register my disapproval of using stock images. I haven’t been a fan of it for the past couple of months since the blog got the new look. And if this article was about something written on a t-shirt, wouldn’t it be appropriate to show a picture of the t-shirt instead of a generic mosque image?

  • Drew2u

    Funny note: Back in the ’90s a pokemon card depicted a swastika in the japanese artwork but was changed in international releases.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.gropp Chris Gropp

    Isn’t it usually flipped around by the Nazis? Or that is, in Asia now, it would look flipped around?

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.gropp Chris Gropp

    I know a guy named Jihad. Seriously. He’s black. He’s a community organizer for labor unions. Absolutely serious. Despite the violent history of Islam, which Christianity and pretty much all religions share, Jihad is interpreted by mainstream Muslims as meaning “struggle.”

    And frankly, I think the joke is pretty funny, albeit dangerous for that family, they’re just playing on what people know about. After all, it would hardly mean much to make jokes about French colonialism in Morocco or something. The secret to humor is surprise. BOOM!

  • jasper

    France has a policy of secularism in the public sphere. There is, at least in principle, a complete separation of church and state. Schools are supposed to be religion-free zones.
    This policy might, in fact, explain the rather extreme reaction by the school and the municipal government.

  • Mike_H

    Actually, the swastika is still evident in many places in Asia, in its original religious intent, even on new products. There’s really no consciousness there of its relation to Naziism. Although as a “visitor from the West” it was a bit jarring to me the first few times I noticed it.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Oh yeah definitely tell her to go for tea with friends. It’s bustling and busy as hell, that cafe, but it’s VERY typical, at least from what I experienced in Morocco.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I just remembered I did a short post on it – just a few photos, but gives you a flavor: http://americablog.com/2009/09/la-grande-mosquee-de-paris.html

  • OtterQueen

    Thanks, I missed it on my first trip, I’ll add it to the list for next time! My daughter is there now, I’ll suggest it to her. It’s astounding!

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Same goes for a swastika. It was polluted by the Nazis too. No one is going to use that symbol now.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That’s an excellent point about “bomb.” Uncle claims he thought it meant “you’re the bomb” or something like that, “you’re the best.” But I agree, it was some sick f’d up joke, the more I think about it.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yep, it’s a photo from the Great Mosque of Paris. Worth a visit if you’re ever in Paris. We went a few years ago. They have a very nice cafe, it’s uber-traditional Arab, really nice, you can hot mint tea, Arab sweets etc. Busy, crowded, you might have to wait a bit, but it’s a neat experience.

  • OtterQueen

    I just can’t get over how beautiful that mosque mosaic (?) is.

    I’m lusting after it. That is otter-porn.

  • LoneTreeFox

    First, is ‘Jihad’ a name that at least a few other kids have or is this the only person in the world to have the name ‘Jihad’? Second, why does it have the words, ‘I am a bomb’ on the front? There is one quick conclusion that many of us will jump to and that is the parents are linking the whole thing together and not so subtly having their three year old kid essentially proclaim himself a terrorist. This is difficult because it doesn’t seem to be a very smart thing to do (to name your kid a name that a large percentage of people around the world connect to terrorism) as well as being stupid or naive that the kid wouldn’t take a lot of crap over this, which is not a nice thing to do to your child.

  • Baal

    OK. Let’s say analyze the argument that this is innocent religious symbol that has been sadly polluted when used in certain contexts. The fact is, once something is polluted, it’s not coming back again to a state of purity. In 1925 naming a child Adolph Hitler Smith would have not seemed all that far out of the ordinary, maybe it was a family name for people of German or Austrian decent. In 2013 it would be making a statement. How much has the incidence of the name Adolph worldwide dropped for people after 194o0 People given that name don’t like it, and almost always go by Dolph. At this time, naming a child who was born on September 11 “Jihad” is also making a statement, and claiming otherwise is not credible. Announcing it on a t-shirt? In France of all places? I’m not buying.

  • Tatts

    “Calling your kid ‘Jihad’ is the Muslim equivalent of calling your child ‘Faith’.”

    It certainly is NOT. Those two words have very different connotations and carry very different messages in the 21st century. To say that their use is equivalent only in the sense that they both co-opt the original word serves only to distract from the issue of this story.

    The kid was apparently actually born on Sept. 11 (possibly purposefully by induced labor, although they deny it), so naming him “Jihad” was no effing accident. That was a deliberate confrontational message being sent by some low-rent family (exactly like Adolph Hitler Campbell). And I don’t buy the uncle’s explanation of “I am a bomb” meaning “I am a looker”. If it’s true, then the shirt would clearly be sold for girls, not boys. So the family subverted that message with the addition of the kid’s name and birthday.

    These are just lying little weenies, dancing around the edge of legality and playing innocent and stupid when they get caught.

  • MyrddinWilt

    Calling your kid ‘Jihad’ is the Muslim equivalent of calling your child ‘Faith’.

    Just like Hitler did with the swastika, the Jihadis co-opted an existing religious symbol and polluted it. The interior of the Sheldonian at Oxford University is full of what looks like NAZI symbollism but it was built hundreds of years earlier and the designs are taken from the Roman symbols that Hitler appropriated.

    Regarding France’s history, it is quite understandable that they would have a law against neo-NAZIs. But that does not mean it is a good idea. Holocaust Denial exists as a result of not in spite of those laws. A couple of far right kooks originally ginned up the idea as a way of trying to skirt the laws under the pretense that they were holding a historical debate. David Irving originally claimed that Hitler was not aware of the Holocaust. He only became a denier after other people were getting the attention and being sent to jail for it.

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