After France votes decisively against the permissibility of face veils, Britain’s new immigration minister responds by ruling out a similar move here.
Damian Green said such a move would be “rather un-British” and run contrary to the conventions of a “tolerant and mutually respectful society”.
He said it would be “undesirable” for Parliament to vote on a burka ban in Britain and that there was no prospect of the Coalition proposing it.
His firm decision to rule out a burka ban will disappoint some Right-of-centre Tory MPs, including Philip Hollobone, who has tabled a private member’s bill that would make it illegal for anyone to cover their face in public.
Mr Hollobone, the MP for Kettering, said this weekend that he would refuse to hold any constituency meetings with women wearing burkas.
Nesrine Malik, initially appalled at being forced to wear a full veil in Saudia Arabia, grew to find it comfortable and freeing. Women’s clothes, either way, should not be so symbolic of national feelings.
On landing in Saudi Arabia, women – all of whom were wearing the veil – were channelled into a separate line for processing. My eyes stung with tears of rage and shame. Most of all, I felt infantilised, stripped of the right to dress how I pleased due simply to the fact that I was a woman, and hence, purely a sexual object to be concealed lest it should inflame desire. For the first few days, it felt almost comical, like some absurd game of macabre fancy dress.
On a practical level, it was cumbersome, hot and uncomfortable. Eating or drinking in public became a chore, as food has to be manoeuvred gingerly under the veil or taken abruptly in small bites. In Saudi’s overwhelming heat, temperatures regularly reach 45C and any physical outdoor activity, even walking, is out of the question. I became anti-social, hardly able to wait until I got home before tearing off the ghastly garb.
The niqab and the burka are a particularly extreme interpretation of the Islamic requirement for modest dress, and were never part of my Muslim upbringing in London. Because of this, I did not feel particularly pious wearing them in Saudi. If anything, it seemed like a throwback to tribal, pre-Islamic times.
Over the next three years, however, my opposition gradually eroded. Initially an ugly burden, the abaya and niqab became a comfort and, eventually, a delight. It was a relief not to have to think about what to wear.
The burka can be the most versatile of capsule wardrobes. The uniform black costume has a charming egalitarianism about it, and is both a social and physical leveller. Once social status or physical beauty cannot be established, all sorts of hierarchies are flattened.
The Guardian asks “Should Britain ban the burka?” Anastasia de Waal for Civitas says ‘Yes’ in the public sphere, “burqas impede the necessary interaction for learning and working”. However…
where public and private collide, say walking down the street, a ban would be wrong. France is indeed an open society but with that openness comes the thorn of unwanted “freedoms”.
Mary Warnock says she doesn’t love the burqa and that it reflects badly “on both men and women”, but…
I wouldn’t for that reason criminalise its use, any more than I would criminalise beachwear on the streets of London, much as I deplore it when I see it.
Donald Macleod of Free Church college, Edinburgh, is similarly reluctant to “ban”.
Let’s distinguish between what we deplore and what we criminalise. So that while we may deplore the refusal of some Muslims to integrate, the only alternative to multiculturalism is mono-culturalism, where only English may be spoken and only the state may be worshipped. As for banning the burqa from private space, let’s remember that every British family’s home is its castle, and it should say to the state what the African-American said to the Mississippi, “River, stay ‘way from my door!” We will best serve Muslim women by ensuring that their matrimonial rights as British citizens are never undermined by judicial recognition of sharia law.
Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan argues that banning the burqa because it is political or “undermines” Western values would be hypocritical unless we also want to ban Che Guevara t-shirts.
Doesn’t wearing the image of that squalid murderer glorify his violent and anti-democratic creed? Isn’t it an even more aggressive rejection of Western values?
Wearing a Che Guevara tee-shirt is in the same moral category as wearing an Adolf Hitler or Raoul Moat or Osama bin Laden tee-shirt. When we see someone see some oaf doing it, we should feel free to bollock him. But it is not a matter for the law.
Nor is wearing the burqa.
Another Conservative, Philip Hollobone MP, takes a rather different approach.
A Conservative MP says he will refuse to hold meetings with Muslim women wearing full Islamic dress at his constituency surgery unless they lift their face veil.
Last night Muslim groups condemned Philip Hollobone and accused him of failing in his duty as an MP.
In an interview with The Independent, the Kettering MP said: “I would ask her to remove her veil. If she said: ‘No’, I would take the view that she could see my face, I could not see hers, I am not able to satisfy myself she is who she says she is. I would invite her to communicate with me in a different way, probably in the form of a letter.”
The Daily Mail emphasises public support in Britain for a ban.
Mr Green said a ban would be ‘rather un-British’ and run contrary to the conventions of a ‘tolerant and mutually respectful society’.
This is despite a YouGov survey which found that 67 per cent of voters wanted the wearing of full-face veils to be outlawed. France’s lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly approved a ban on wearing burka-style Islamic veils, and Spain and Belgium have similar votes in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, in Tehran…
Iran’s prosecutor called on Sunday for tighter checks on women who fail to observe Islamic dress code in public, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.
Under Iran’s Sharia law, imposed after the 1979 Islamic revolution, women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes. Violators can receive lashes, fines or imprisonment.
“Unfortunately the law … which considers violation of the Islamic dress code as a punishable crime, has not been implemented in the country in the past 15 years,” said general prosecutor Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei.
“Under the law, violators of public chastity should be punished by being sentenced to up to two months in jail or 74 lashes.”
Strict dress codes were enforced in the years after the revolution but in recent years clamp downs have tended to last just weeks or months in summer, when women wear lighter clothing such as calf-length trousers and colored scarves.
Young women in urban areas often defy the limitations by wearing tight clothing and colorful headscarves that barely cover their hair. The codes are less commonly flouted in rural regions.
Enforcement of codes governing women’s dress have become stricter since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, promising a return to the values of the revolution.
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