In the meantime it is safe to say that Britain is not France. Ours is not a constitutionally secular country; nor one that in colonial times assigned itself a “mission civilatrice” and explicitly sought full assimilation as an alternative to grappling with the complexities of clashing cultures.
Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch | UK Desk
Source/Credit: The Times | UK
By Editorial | September 14 2013
The right response to the niqab is not to ban it, it is to allow liberal values to triumph
Dame Christine Ruddock has made a brave decision. Under pressure from students and Muslim groups, the principal of Birmingham Metropolitan College has reversed a ban on wearing the niqab, or full-face veil, on her campus. It is a brave decision not because Dame Christine may feel she has lost face. That is the risk run in a literal sense by women who choose to wear the veil. It is brave because it was the right thing to do and because she must have known it would be misunderstood.
Britain is a liberal country in which, as a general rule, people should be allowed to wear what they like and not have to give a reason. That goes for the niqab as for the kilt or the nun’s wimple. However, this does not mean Dame Christine’s ban was “a clear case of religious discrimination masquerading as a security measure”, as the Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood claimed. It was nothing of the sort. Wearing a full-face veil in a college for 16 to 19-year-olds is not obviously or easily within the limits of religious expression defended by Britain’s laws. It tests those limits severely.
What is clear from this episode is that Muslims enjoy the same religious freedoms as every other faith group in the country, as they should. But it is just as clear that those freedoms cannot extend to the blanket acceptance of the wearing of the niqab as a sacred right in all circumstances in a modern, diverse country.
When President Nicolas Sarkozy campaigned for a law to prohibit the niqab in French public spaces two years ago, he said it was “contrary to our values and contrary to the ideals we have of a woman’s dignity”. The law is now in force, with consequences that will not be clear for years. In the meantime it is safe to say that Britain is not France. Ours is not a constitutionally secular country; nor one that in colonial times assigned itself a “mission civilatrice” and explicitly sought full assimilation as an alternative to grappling with the complexities of clashing cultures.
The fact that banning it is wrong does not mean the niqab is right.There are many circumstances in which officials should be able to see past the veil for purely practical reasons — to identify passport-holders at airports, parents at school gates and students at public examinations, to name but three. But the niqab is more than a statement of modesty or piety (depending on the wearer’s interpretation of Koranic teaching on the subject, which remains a matter of lively debate). It is, as Tony Blair once said, a mark of separateness.
Mr Blair might never have taken a view had his hand not been forced by Jack Straw, MP, who took a stand in 2006 against the wearing of veils by women attending his constituency surgeries in Blackburn. He wondered what the point was of a face-to-face meeting in which only one face was visible. He worried that the veil was a statement of difference as well as separation and concluded cautiously: “I think there is an issue here.”
There is. The niqab is fundamentally different from the cross or the yarmulke. Whether it is worn voluntarily or under duress, it goes to extreme lengths to hide the individual in favour of the group, and in the process it tends to keep that group separate from others.
The solution is not to ban it but to encourage those who have retreated behind it to embrace the values of tolerance and common sense that Britain holds dear, and to trust that those values will in time prevail over the veil.
Courtesy: Munir Rafiq, Esq.: “…. Although the conclusion is one that most would agree with, some of the reasoning applied to arrive at that conclusion may not be to the taste of some. I personally approve…..”