The debate over the veil has once again been raging today following Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter to inspectors instructing them to mark down schools if they think the veil ‘hinders learning’. Whether or not schools deserve a lower rating because of the presence of the veil and whether it is fair to single out such schools is beside the point, in my opinion, the full veil or niqab should be banned altogether.
I think we should follow in the footsteps of France where the full veil was banned in 2010 and upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014 when the law was challenged by a Muslim woman who argued the ruling infringed her personal freedom.
But let’s be clear, unlike France which also bans the headscarf, I am talking about the full veil. Whilst the headscarf has similar connotations of modesty, unlike the niqab does not suggest that women should be hidden away. In fact, I wore a scarf when in Jordan a few years ago simply to keep the blazing sun off my head and one of the Bedouin women at Petra, where we bought our scarves, very nicely wrapped them securely round our heads in the proper way.
Nor do I think the full veil has anything to do with religion, not that I’m in a position to comment extensively on matters of faith, suffice to say my view on all religion is that it is but the stuff of fairytales, something we humans fall back on in time of need or to help explain the apparently inexplicable. And if you’re one of those people who write those Facebook status updates asking what one thing you would rid from the world where you then attract the inevitable laudable comments of ‘poverty’ and ‘greed’, etc, I would say ‘religion’, the root of all evil and conflict. However, I never comment on such posts.
As far as I am concerned, the veil is nothing more than the subjugation of women. Something which also goes hand in hand with most religions. However, the veil acts as a barrier between the woman and the rest of society. We don’t tolerate segregation of any kind in the UK whether that’s based on gender, race or disability, we shouldn’t uphold something which effectively segregates members of our society from the rest of us.
Anyone who wants to scream the rights of religious freedom and the right to practice one’s belief, I would say that’s fine as long as it doesn’t impinge on our principles of freedom and equality. I would also point out there are various aspects of most religions that we no longer tolerate as right and just in a modern civilised society, for example, it is illegal to have more than one spouse, the stoning of adulterers is outlawed along with gays, I am sure someone with more religious knowledge than me can come up with a lengthy list which spans all religions and are now considered abhorrent. We have quite rightly confined them to the annals of history and the full veil should join them.
I would go much further in my assessment than Sir Michael who talked about the veil as a barrier to learning, it’s a barrier fullstop and should be removed. Meanwhile, David Cameron should have the courage to take his announcement the other week that Muslim women can be banned from wearing veils in schools to the next logical step and ban it completely.
Listening to some of the debate on LBC today, I heard one imam argue there was nothing wrong with the veil and women have the right to wear what they want. I would question whether women who wear the veil made that decision totally independently. Another imam said the veil had nothing to do with Islam and was simply a cultural appendage hailing from the Middle East and Africa. As I was reading up on the veil, it is apparent its consideration as part of the teachings of Islam has long been questioned by scholars. One blog I read talked about the veil first emerging in the Middle Ages, oh hello, about the time females were enduring a tough time under Catholicism and being burned at the stake as witches, being confined to the hearth and considered the property of the male members of her family. Yeah, we don’t do that shit anymore.
In the interests of balance, I also looked at an article in The Independent by Safah Ahmed, published last month, who says when she entered sixth form she wanted to wear an ankle rather than knee length skirt which led to her being asked to leave. She questions the view that Muslim women are forced to wear such clothes and argues Muslim women are making an informed and independent choice. But whilst she talks about wearing long clothes, I couldn’t find a reference to the veil. And for me, that’s precisely the problem; choosing to wear long garments irrespective of your religion or beliefs is entirely different to hiding your face away.
It’s not only France where a ban on the veil is in place, Belgium has a similar rule which came into force in 2011 and some towns in Spain and Italy including Barcelona have implemented bans. The European Court of Human Rights, though, also upheld France’s ban on headscarves and that’s where I differ, like the long garments, the headscarf doesn’t hide women away and that’s my problem with the veil.