Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Banning the veil

Amnesty International has condemned the detention of several people, including two women wearing the full-face veil, who were protesting against the new law banning the burka being worn in public in France. Police said the people were detained for joining an unauthorised protest in central Paris.

John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International said of the ban:

“Women in France have the right to freedom of religion and expression. They must also be free to protest when this right is violated. This law puts France to shame – a country that prides itself on the human rights it claims to promote and protect, freedom of expression included.”

I would support heavy penalties for anyone who coerces a woman to wear the veil, and I think there are certain jobs for which it cannot be worn and situations where it is necesssary to show the face (especially in the interests of security.)  I personally object to the concept that a woman must cover her whole body and face in the interests of modesty, I have never heard anything which suggests to me it is a necessary part of Islam, but at the same time I cannot see how an individual's choice to wear the veil in public poses any threat to human rights or civil liberties.  It disturbs me to hear of people being detained for what seemed to be peaceful protest. What do people think?


  1. I think what we have is a very unpopular president (according to friends who live in France) seeking popularity by pandering to prejudice on the part of some of his people. OK, that's a sweeping statement, but since very few of France's 6m Muslims were the veil, it does seem like a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

  2. I think that the law is fair as long as it applies to all face coverings. It should be illegal for a motorcyclist, for example, to wear his or helmet when not riding his bike along the road and balaclavas should also be banned unless they are being worn in connection with activities such as skiing.

    I have worked in shops and find it very scary when somebody comes in with their face covered. But then, I live in a country that lived in fear of IRA bombs and gun attacks for many years and that sort of experience can make you very sensitive about such things.

    If being able to see faces is part of the culture of a country and/or necessary for the safety of the public then we should be allowed to insist on it. But it must, as I said to begin with, apply to absolutely everybody.

    The law against forcing women to cover themselves will work as well as laws banning forced marriages. In other words, not at all, as it is virtually impossible to prove such coercion done in private and the women who the law is their to protect are the least likely to come forward and report any abuse.

  3. I find full-veiled faces frightening, whether female or male, but have no objection to a headscarf. I once stood next to a burkha-clad figure at a road crossing and felt terribly uncomfortable, and I had no idea whether the person was male or female. It's all very well to talk about and work for freedom, but not when it causes harm to others.

  4. I am OK if I can see people's eyes. Otherwise I must say it makes me uncomfortable.

  5. Personally I find the whole issue of the hijab and the niqab deeply annoying. At present I spend at least a few days a week in Whitechapel and this means coming out of Whitechapel tube station to a sight that can be like the revenge of the ninjas! Sometimes as many as one in five women that pass me will be wearing niqabs – just eyes peering from a black sheet. A friend is conducting her PhD research among Salafi women – and many of these wear a full body and face covering. The reason they give is modesty – and not wanting to draw attention to themselves. Well, if ever there was a reason to draw attention to yourself, dress in a bedsheet! (It is interesting to note the picture above is of a woman wearing lashings of eye make-up!)

    There is a whole lot of inverted pride when it comes to ‘the veil’ – as with much that passes for formalised religious modesty (monks’ & nuns’ habits and dog collars fulfil a similar function Christianity). Today I marked an undergrad essay on the subject of wearing religious symbols and the student kept referring to them as ‘innocuous’ throughout the essay. Something I criticised the student for, because many religious symbols are not innocuous. The veil is a case in point. Walk down the streets of Cairo thirty years ago and the majority of women did not wear head coverings. Now it is hard to find a women not covering her head. This change of habit is political. As is, to my mind, much of the wearing of the veil in non-Islamic countries.

    Is France right to ban face coverings? No, of course not. It will just create martyrs. Would I like to see the veil removed from the streets of Britain. Yes, I would, as I would like to see mosques and temples have much less of a profile and I would like to feel less of a stranger walking down the streets of a town in my own country. I think the biggest mistake this country and the west in general has undertaken in the past three decades is ‘multiculturalism’ simply because it emphasises differences and feeds a hierarchy of oppression – Christians are the latest to jump on this ‘victim-hood’ band wagon. It is time to say enough is enough. If you want to run around in a sheet, fine – do it, but don’t expect special treatment. I make a point if ever I am talking to a woman wearing a hijab to not look her in the eye. This is the supposed Islamic way for men. My reasoning is ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it’ – if you want to live by the purpose of the veil – then do so; to my mind that should mean trying, as far as possible to exclude, yourself from non-consanguine male company.

    Just to note how silly this is getting. Last year my left knee joint became unstable (or more unstable than usual) - an ongoing problem stemming from hyper-mobility and has resulted in large bleeds into the joint in the past. Hence when it happens I usually go and have it checked out by my GP. Got to my GP to find a woman doctor in a hibjab. I explained my condition and then she said she couldn’t examine me on her own, because I was a man and I would have to take my trousers off to be examined! So another, male, doctor had to come and he examined me. A busy surgery, two doctors to look at one knee! What a waste of everyone’s time! A few weeks later I was visiting friends of mine in Scotland – husband surgeon, wife a GP – and they couldn’t believe this was allowed to happen.

    Keep religion where it belongs – in the private sphere!