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  • Jack Straw's veil remarks - burqa-bashing

  • Jack Straw's remarks
  • Voices of sanity - 29th Jan 2010
  • Burqa-bashing - 27th Jan 2010
  • Shaping the public imagination
  • Yes, but; No, but
  • Outright critics of the veil
  • BBC Survey
  • Anti-Muslim hate crimes & Islamophobic incidents following the remarks
  • Responses from Blackburn's Muslim community

    On 5th October 2006, the Leader of the House and Cabinet member Jack Straw MP, a former Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary published an article in the Lancashire Telegraph which took the Muslim community by surprise. This was the spectacle of a leading Labour politician, with a track record of dialogue with the Muslims and with long-standing friendships in the community, declaring that he demanded Muslim women visiting his MP surgery to remove their niqab or face veil. The question asked was why Jack Straw felt it necessary to raise the issue at the present time - only a few days earlier Home Secretary John Reid had made a similar hectoring address to Muslim parents (foray into East London). The cumulative effect was to stigmatise Muslims.

    The following week, a support teacher in Dewsbury, Aisha Azmi (updated 24th November), was suspended for wearing the veil during lessons.

    Pushing aside criticisms, on 3rd November, Jack Straw defended his original remarks and stated that it was "absurd" and "ridiculous" to suggest that his comments on the veil made him directly responsible for a rise in Islamophobic attacks (The Guardian, 3rd November 2006)

    On 6th November, a legal advisor Shabnam Mughal twice refused to remove her 'niqab' during an immigration tribunal in Stoke-on-rent. The presiding judge, Judge George Glossop, said he could not hear Mughal properly and adjourned the hearing to seek guidance from the President of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal Judge Hodge (See 'Yes, buts..." below).

    On 5th December, Channel 4 announced that it had invited a niqabi lady to deliver its alternative Christmas speech. the 10-minute broadcast on Christmas Day will be delivered by Khadija, a lecturer in Islamic studies from the Midlands. The move has drawn the ire of outright critics of the viel like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Mrs Khadija Ravat subsequently changed her mind and has withdrawn from the broadcast. Another niqabi, also named Khadija, took her place.

    Department For Education and Skills(Updated 20th March 2007)
    New guidelines from the Minister for Schools have been issued, which include the following in the section "Advice on equality and discrimination issues related to uniform policy:

    o Schools must act reasonably in accommodating religious requirements, providing they do not pose a threat to security, safety and learning, or compromise the well-being of the whole school community.

    o Where individual requirements have an impact in any of these areas, schools are within their rights to take appropriate action, but they must make any decisions in consultation with parents and the local community

    DfES guidlines
    Response from Kevin Courtney of the National Union of Teachers

    (Updated 22nd February 2007)
    The Guardian reported on the caseof a 12-year old girl who lost her bid to be allowed to lost her bid to be allowed to wear the niqab in class when the high court supported her school's decision to ban the full-face Muslim veil. Lawyers for the girl, known in court as X, had argued the Buckinghamshire school's actions were irrational and infringed her human rights, because it had allowed her three elder sisters to wear the niqab for nine years. Mr Justice Silber found the veil ban was "proportionate" for identification reasons and because the niqab could jeopardise communication between teacher and pupil. He also accepted the importance of enforcing a school uniform under which girls of different faiths would have a sense of equality and identity within the school's "ethos", and the need to avoid peer pressure on other girls to take up the veil.

    The report also noted that the girl's older sisters had been allowed the veil at the same school but "that staff had not objected to their niqabs, and that they had achieved high A-level results, disproving the learning impairment argument".

    The Guardian report by Lee Glendining

    (Updated 22nd December 2006)
    On 20th December the media headlines were about the escape of Mustafa Jama, wanted for the murder of WPC Beshenivsky in Bradford in November 2005. For example the Sun’s front page carried the caption “Veil ... is this a Muslim woman or a ruthless gunman?” with a full page picture of a niqabi lady. The newspaper also added “A MEMBER of the gang that killed WPC Sharon Beshenivsky fled Britain disguised as a woman in a Muslim-style veil... His face was covered by a niqab, with only a slit for his eyes, and he is believed to have been clad in a jilbab that covers the entire body.”.

    According to the Times “Mustaf Jama, a prime suspect in the fatal shooting of PC Sharon Beshenivsky, assumed his sister’s identity — wearing the niqab and using her passport — to evade supposedly stringent checks at Heathrow, according to police sources.”

    This type of media reporting based on an unnamed police source further stigmatised Muslim women wearing niqab. Subsequent TV coverage which included interviews with airport security staff indicated that there were several possibilities for Jama’s escape route. It is understood West Yorkshire Police - who have not commented on reports about the veil theory - regard it only as one of a number of possibilities. However the islamophobic damage had been done.

    Officers can and do ask people to identify themselves and, where appropriate, lift their veils. If Jama has indeed escaped in this manner, then it is because airport security did not follow procedures: it is their responsibility to ensure that the passport presented by a passenger is bona fide - it seems in this case the veil is a convenient scapegoat for a failure of duty. There ought to be an investigation to identify the Police source that has leaked information on on-going lines of enquiry to the media

    The Sun
    Daily Express

    Jack Straw's original remarks

    She had come to my constituency advice bureau with a problem.

    I smiled back. ‘The chance would be a fine thing,’ I thought to myself but did not say out loud.

    The lady was wearing the full veil. Her eyes were uncovered but the rest of her face was in cloth.

    Her husband, a professional man whom I vaguely knew, was with her. She did most of the talking.

    I got down the detail of the problem, told the lady and her husband that I thought I could sort it out, and we parted amicably.

    All this was about a year ago. It was not the first time I had conducted an interview with someone in a full veil, but this particular encounter, though very polite and respectful on both sides, got me thinking.

    In part, this was because of the apparent incongruity between the signals which indicate common bonds – the entirely English accent, the couples’ education (wholly in the UK) – and the fact of the veil.

    Above all, it was because I felt uncomfortable about talking to someone “face-to-face” who I could not see.

    So I decided that I wouldn’t just sit there the next time a lady turned up to see me in a full veil, and I haven’t.

    Now, I always ensure that a female member of my staff is with me.

    I explain that this is a country built on freedoms. I defend absolutely the right of any woman to wear a headscarf.

    As for the full veil, wearing it breaks no laws.

    I go on to say that I think, however, that the conversation would be of greater value if the lady took the covering from her face.

    Indeed, the value of a meeting, as opposed to a letter or ‘phone call, is so that you can – almost literally – see what the other person means, and not just hear what they say.

    I thought it may be hard going when I made my request for face-to-face interviews in these circumstances.

    However, I can’t recall a single occasion when a lady has refused to lift her veil; most seem relieved I have asked.

    Last Friday was a case in point. The veil came off almost as soon as I opened my mouth.

    I dealt with the problems the lady had brought to me. We then had an interesting debate about veil wearing.

    This contained some surprises. It became absolutely clear to me that the husband had played no part in her decision.

    She had read books and thought about the issue. She felt more comfortable wearing the veil when out. People bothered her less.

    OK, I said, but did she think that veil wearing was required by the Koran?

    I was no expert, but many Muslim scholars said that the full veil was not obligatory at all.

    And women as well as men went head uncovered the whole time when in their Hajj – pilgrimage – in Mecca.

    The husband chipped in to say that this matter was ‘more cultural than religious’.

    I said I would reflect on what the lady had said to me.

    Would she, however, think hard about what I said – in particular about my concern that wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult.

    It was such a visible statement of separation and of difference.

    I thought a lot before raising this matter a year ago, and still more before writing this. But if not me, who?

    My concerns could be misplaced. But I think there is an issue here.

    Lancashire Telegraph, 5th October 2006

    Aisha Azmi case

    "A Muslim classroom assistant suspended by a school for wearing a veil in lessons has been sacked...." BBC, 24th November

    "The woman at the centre of the veil case...."BBC, 19th October

    Shaping the public imagination

    The January 2007 issue of the British Medical Journal (13th January) featured a niqabi lady on its front cover. This was to highlight an article by Professor Aziz Sheikh on the community's health needs. The article 'Should Muslims have faith-based services?' made no reference to the veil - yet the image is now in vogue to characterise the Muslim community.

    Previous stereotypes: angry demonstrators; book burning; grey bearded men in shalwar qameez

    Responses from Blackburn's Muslim community

    "Lancashire Council of Mosques is deeply concerned over MP Jack Straw’s comments with regards to Muslim women who choose to wear the veil. For such a seasoned and astute politician to make such a comment that has shocked his Muslim constituents seems ill-judged and misconceived. Lancashire Council of Mosques fully supports the right of Muslim women to choose to follow this precept of their faith in adopting the full veil, which causes no harm to anyone. It is there human right to do so. Many of these women find Mr Straw’s comments both offensive and disturbing. Lancashire Council of Mosques does not understand the position Mr Straw has taken in asking his constituents to unveil before him and thus denied other Muslim female constituents, who feel strongly about this issue, from their democratic right to speak to their MP. Lancashire Council of Mosques feel that to have raised the issue in the manner Mr Straw has, was very insensitive and unwise". Press release of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, 5th October

    " I don't agree with Jack that he should ask women to take off their veil." Lord Adam Patel, quoted in The Guardian, 6th October

    Voices of Sanity

    Ken Livingstone & others - letter to The Guardian
    Faïza Guène
    Editorial, Financial Times
    Raphaël Liogier
    Sumra Mursaleen
    Salma Yaqoob
    Dominic Lawson
    India Knight
    Kevin Courtney of NUT and others
    Guidelines from the Judicial Studies Board
    Imtiaz Ameen
    Madeleine Bunting
    Oliver Letwin, MP
    Simon Hughes, MP
    Timothy Garton Ash
    Sayeeda Warsi
    Rt Hon Peter Hain, MP
    Ken Livingstone
    Usama Hasan
    India Knight
    Martin Newland
    Yasmin Qureshi
    Nusrat Chagtai
    Maleiha Malik
    Peter Oborne
    Karen Armstrong
    John McDonnell MP
    The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams
    Sara Buys

    Ken Livingstone & others, 29th Jan 2010

    Raphaël Liogier is right to point out the problems with France's proposed ban on the veil (Comment, 27 January), which will pave the way for similar moves against other visible expressions of religion. Shutting down the right to choose to wear the veil will only further embolden Islamophobia, the far right and fascist parties. The debate has had the net effect of demonising a minority of Muslim women, who number less than 2,000 in France. It will mean the only option for many of these women will be to stay confined to their homes. All this, ironically, in the name of integration and the liberation of women. We are one society and many cultures; respecting and allowing all cultures freedom of expression, as long as this does not impinge on the rights of others, means all communities can fully contribute to society. The debate in France is already impacting here, with Ukip calling for a ban on the burka and niqab. These issues and many others will be discussed at the Progressive London conference this Saturday.

    Signed Ken Livingstone, Susan Kramer MP, Claude Moraes MEP, Jenny Jones Green party, Cllr Salma Yaqoob, Edie Friedman Jewish Council for Racial Equality, Anas Altikiriti British Muslim Initiative, Billy Hayes General secretary, Communication Workers, Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy NUS Black Students Officer, Weyman Bennett and Sabby Dhalu Joint national secretaries, Unite Against Fascism, Lindsey German National convener, Stop the War
    29th Jan, The Guardian


    Faïza Guène, 29th Jan 2010

    "But let me remind you of a speech given by our former president, Jacques Chirac, in the city of Orléans back in 1991, in which he alluded to the "noise" and "smell" caused by foreigners. Here's a short excerpt just to give you an idea:
    We don't have a problem with foreigners as such, but rather with the fact that there's an overdose of them. It might very well be true that there are no more foreigners in France today than there were before the second world war, but the ones that are here now are not the same and that makes a difference. And one can't dispute the fact that the Spaniards, Poles and Portuguese who come and work here are less trouble than Muslims and blacks.

    Almost 20 years have elapsed since that speech. We had been forewarned! But hidden behind this debate on national identity is the recognition that being French and a practicing Muslim are incompatible, and so if you have the misfortune to be black as well, you can only imagine. They "are not the same and that makes a difference". MPs in France have recommended partially outlawing the wearing of the burqa or niqab in public places. Only a few hundred Muslim women currently dress in that manner. Of course, these measures are justified in the name of liberty, one of the founding ideals of our beloved republic. I was obviously naive in believing that in 2010, by definition, liberty could not be imposed on people, and that the image of the sabre-wielding barbaric Muslim forcing his wife/daughter/sister to cover herself no longer existed in the collective imagination.

    But the real issue here is being Muslim and French. After the Swiss authorities approved a ban on minarets following a national referendum, the floodgates opened to all forms of intolerance allowing people to express themselves 'freely' while at the same time the perennial fear of the invader persists. Just recently, Nadine Morano, secretary of state for family, declared: 'I expect a young Muslim, when he's French, to love his country, find a job, refrain from speaking slang, and to not wear his cap back-to-front.' Yet another example that serves to remind us French Muslims that our national identity is not a given and that for those unable to ask us to 'go back to our own countries' (too bad, but that would be France!), the next best step is simply to erase little by little all that distances us from the true Frenchman, beginning with Islam and its distinctive features."
    29th Jan, The Guardian


    Editorial, Financial Times, 26th Jan 2010

    "By bluntly insisting that France’s republican values are under threat from a thousand or so women who wear full-face veils, a parliamentary commission that submitted a report opposing the practice yesterday merely succeeded in cheapening those values. Proclaiming that 'all of France says no to the full veil”, the report echoes President Nicolas Sarkozy’s statement that the veil “is not welcome in France'. In a curious procedural dance it proposes as a first step a non-binding parliamentary resolution condemning veil-wearing. Yet a legal ban is the ultimate goal, after “pedagogically” engaging with Muslim leaders and consulting on its constitutionality.

    Whether or not a law results, this assault on the liberties of veiled women is abominable. Steering just shy of banning full-face veils in all public spaces (in other words, the street), the committee wants veiled women to be denied access to public facilities such as hospitals and public transport. The contemplation of such measures follows the course set by the Swiss, who outlawed the construction of minarets in a referendum last year. But France’s crackdown on Muslim symbols is more disturbing: it is promoted by mainstream leaders, not rabble-rousers such as the Swiss People’s party.

    Whatever problem these leaders say they are solving, it is not the concerns of the women it will affect. Barred from seeing a doctor or taking the bus without shedding the veil, they will be further marginalised from mainstream society – the opposite of the assimilation that proponents of a ban demand. Some women cover their face out of religious conviction, which, given France’s secular tradition, is none of the state’s business. Legitimate exceptions include public officials’ use of religious symbols and making people show their faces to prove their identity or eligibility for services (which French Muslim leaders sensibly endorse)."
    Source: Financial Times, 26th January 2010


    Raphaël Liogier, 27th Jan 2010

    "It is no coincidence that the debate on French national identity is ­occurring simultaneously, for they are ­tactically complementary – picking on Muslim women, or Muslims in general, or all immigrants, as scapegoats, so we can avoid facing our current symbolic crisis. The French are confronted every day with the declining influence of their language, art and cinema – moreover the "grey panther" generation is realising that their own children could not care less, deeply enmeshed as they are in the globalisation of culture. To compensate for such losses, people over 40 are to be heard chanting mantras about the importance of French universal values and pointing fingers at those guilty of threatening them from inside France. In fact, they are thus digging into a deep narcissistic wound, their helplessness facing globalisation and the waning of the "French exception", driving them blindly to trash our most sacred fundamental values while pretending to defend them."
    27th Jan, The Guardian


    Samra Mursaleen, 26th Jan 2010

    As a young British Muslim who wears the head covering and who on occasions chooses to wear the face veil (niqab), I have watched with increasing concern as UKIP calls for a total ban in the UK and the French government proposes a ban on state premises and on public transport.

    My problem is not so much with the idea that the face veil is deemed impractical or threatens security in certain places, rather that, as argued by UKIP and President Sarkozy, it is an affront to women.

    Nigel Farage, UKIP's ex-leader, stated that the veil is 'something that is used to oppress women', while Sarkozy, whose committee on full veiling is due to report next week, has purported that this kind of covering by women breached the French Republic's fundamental principles of 'sexual equality and secularism.'

    To address the question of sexual equality: from my point of view as a Muslim woman, it is the veil which affords that equality. The head veil with or without the face veil (which incidentally is not a religious requirement) is in fact a liberating and an empowering force rather than an oppressive one. In my experience, Muslim women who decide to wear a veil feel that, when they have contact with men, they are in full command of their bodies....Perhaps the most interesting aspect to this is that many of the niqab-wearing women in France are converts to Islam. If Islam really was all about subjugating women, what would be the attraction for them in this religion at all?"
    26th Jan, The Guardian


    Salma Yaqoob, 18th Jan 2010

    Plans to ban Muslim women from covering their faces in public areas are oppressive, the leader of the Respect party said yesterday. Salma Yaqoob’s comments came as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) announced a formal policy that would make the wearing of garments such as the burka or the niqab — both of which conceal most of the face — to be illegal. Ms Yaqoob said: 'We do not need a man or a woman telling people what to wear.'
    18th Jan, The Times

    Dominic Lawson, 24th Jan 2010

    [Lord] Pearson [of UKIP] declared last week: 'We are not Muslim-bashing, but this [the wearing of the burqa] is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy.' First of all, he absolutely is 'Muslim-bashing' — it’s of a piece with his gratuitous remarks in his first interview as party leader that 'the Muslim population is rocketing; their birth rate is much higher than ours'. (In that Vienna passage from Mein Kampf, Hitler used the same old 'they’re outnumbering us' tactic: 'Especially the inner city and the areas north of the Danube canal swarmed with a people who even externally no longer bore a similarity to Germans.') Second, how is it compatible with 'Britain’s values of freedom and democracy' to use the force of the state to prevent a small number of law-abiding women from wearing an item of clothing they regard as part of their religious observance, and to arrest them on the streets if they persist in exercising their conscience in a way that harms nobody?

    On Thursday’s edition of Newsnight, confronted by a formidably articulate female Muslim student (who was not wearing a burqa), Pearson tried a different tack. The burqa, he claimed, was 'oppressive to women' and should be banned for that reason. His interlocutor was magnificent in her incredulity: 'So we should criminalise women in order to empower them? Send them to jail to free them?' She might also have noted that UKIP’s sudden embrace of feminism is desperately insincere: it seemed to have no problem with its MEP Godfrey Bloom when he declared that the problem with women in this country was that they didn’t clean behind the fridge properly.

    24th Jan, The Times

    India Knight, 10th Jan 2010

    I find this whole subject uncomfortable because I don’t really know what I think; I change my mind constantly. I start off, as most people would, from the point of view that everyone should be allowed to wear what they like, regardless of how peculiar it might strike others as being, without being dictated to.

    The fact that I dislike being unable to see someone’s face is neither here nor there, really: it’s their face, to expose or conceal (or pierce, or tattoo, or smear in chocolate) as they wish. But the 'without being dictated to' part cuts both ways: there is always the suspicion that women in burqas or niqabs may not be wearing them out of personal choice. And how do you tell? It’s hardly as if their appearance invites you to saunter up and say, 'Excuse me, did you put that on of your own free will?'

    Then I am made uncomfortable by the incredibly patronising assumptions that white western women make about brown women who are fully veiled, which is basically that they are all tragically mute victims of an especially monstrous patriarchy and are probably beaten or set fire to if they don’t cook supper nicely.

    That may be true, and it may be true for vast numbers of women, but it simply isn’t true of every single one; besides, as we know, vast numbers of women are brutalised and abused by people known to them in all cultures and regardless of their clothing. So that whole 'we must rescue the veiled women; they must be more like us; they must be free to weigh 20 stone and wear a miniskirt and get smashed on Alcopops and then post about it on Facebook' thing makes me uneasy. Spin 'they must be more like us' round by only a few degrees and you have totalitarian regimes founded on intolerance.

    ...The Muslim world was inventing mathematics and architecture when the French were practically still trolls, grunting away in the mire and not looking forward to the annual rinse of the armpits. There are many things wrong with the Muslim world but the idea that its ordinary, non-bonkers, non-extremist millions need to be 'civilised' into knowing what’s what sticks in the craw.

    10th Jan, The Times

    Kevin Courtney & others, 22nd March 2007

    "You reported that following new guidance from the education secretary, Alan Johnson, headteachers are to be given the right to ban Muslim girls from wearing the niqab or veil in schools (Report, March 20). Various reasons are put forward as a justification for this, including security. The claim that the tiny number of girls who wear the niqab are a security risk would be laughable if it did not demonise a vulnerable group of students. It should be remembered that similar claims from Jack Straw last year led to physical attacks on women wearing the veil.

    In France where the hijab or headscarf has been banned in some schools, the result has been division and conflict. As teachers we are committed to building inclusive, multicultural and tolerant school communities. At a time of increased Islamophobia, talking about bans on the very few young women who wear the veil can only help to sow discord in our schools.

    Kevin Courtney, Executive member, National Union of Teachers; Alex Kenny, Ray Sirotkin, Sara Tomlinson, Gordon White, Sally Kincaid, Nick Grant, Barry Conway, Ken Muller

    Guidelines from the Judicial Studies Board, April 2007

    "A person's religion or belief can influence the way they dress and present themselves in public. In most instances, such clothing will present few, if any issues for judges. In practice, there are very few real clashes between the court process and different cultural practices in the UK. There is room for diversity, and there should be willingness to accomodate differnt practices and approaches to religion and cultural observance....In essence, it is for the judge, in any set of circumstances, to consider what differences, if any, would be made to those interests by the niqab being worn. It may well be, that after consideration, there is no necessity to take any steps at all....It is important to acknowledge from the outset that for Muslim women who do choose to wear the niqab, it is an important element of their religion and cultural identity. To force a choice between identity (or cultural acceptability) and the woman's involvmement in the criminal justice system (as a witness, party, member of court staff or legal office holder) may well have a significant impact on that women's sense of dignity and would likely serve to exclude and marginalise further women with limited visibility in courts and tribunals.....

    Imtiaz Ameen, 6th October 2006

    The Councillor for Dewsbury South & Conservative PPC noted in his blog: "It’s just as well Condoleeza Rice didn’t wear a veil otherwise Jack Straw would have had a serious problem discussing important international affairs with her.

    A silly and absurd statement? Absolutely, and that’s what I thought when I read Jack Straw’s extraordinary comments regarding the Muslim veil.

    In Blackburn at the last general election, most of the Muslim vote was conjoined at the ballot box with Jack Straw who was seen as the friend of Muslims, and as someone who understood their religious sensitivities. For this reason alone when I read Straw’s comments I was perplexed to say the least.

    Straw believes that wearing the full veil is bound to make better, positive relations between communities more difficult, because he sees the veil as a symbol of segregation. Not only is this a dangerous assertion especially in the current climate but is also inconsistent with the liberty and freedom Jack Straw sought to impose on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan as Foreign Secretary.

    In a free society we cannot dictate what people choose to wear except in selective and controlled environments such as schools, hospitals and the workplace. Outside of the controlled environment, everyone is free to dress as they please. There is no universal dress code for being British; equally there is no dress code which symbolises anti-Britishness – yet that is what Jack Straw seems to suggest. He feels that if a Muslim woman chooses to wear a veil which also covers her face, she is choosing not to integrate into society. He completely misses the point. What Straw fails to understand is that a Muslim woman covering her face will do so in front of all men except her immediate family, regardless of whether they are Muslims, not as a sign of segregation but out of modesty – that is her prerogative and something she chooses to do.

    Secondly, no matter how detrimental it maybe, in a free society we cannot force anyone to ‘integrate’ if they refuse to do so. This is a problem which is vexing all political parties who are desperately seeking satisfactory solutions but for which there is no quick fix.

    There are as many non-Muslims who refuse to integrate with Muslims as there are Muslims who refuse to integrate with non-Muslims. I see this on a daily basis in my ward. The challenge in a free society is to build better relations between different groups to ensure future generations as well as existing ones are more accepting of each other and are prepared to live in a friendly and cordial environment – it is not to dictate dress codes or allow pre-existing prejudices to be casually aired especially by those who hold power.

    What is most disturbing is Straw’s intransigence in that he asks for a Muslim woman to show her face if she is going to meet him, and if he is to do his duties as her MP. If as an elected councillor I refused to deal with a person who wore a cross, or a skull cap, was wearing a turban or had a Rastafarian hairstyle would I be encouraging debate on integration or displaying my irrational prejudices and abusing the power granted by the electorate?"


    Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian, 9th October 2006

    It's been quite extraordinary: one man's emotional response to the niqab - the Muslim veil that covers all but the eyes - has snowballed into a perceived titanic clash of cultures in which commentators pompously pronounce on how Muslims are "rejecting the values of liberal democracy". Jack Straw feels uncomfortable and within a matter of hours, his discomfort is calibrated on news bulletins and websites in terms of an inquisitorial demand: do Muslims in this country want to integrate? How does Straw's "I feel ..." spin so rapidly into such grandstanding?

    The confusions and sleights of hand are legion, and it's hard to know where to start to unpick this holy mess. Let's begin with its holiness, because this is an element which has been absent from the furore. There are two distinct patterns of niqab-wearing in this country. One group wears the niqab by cultural tradition. Often they are relatively recent migrants, from Somalia or Yemen for example, and for the record it is not a "symbol of oppression" but a symbol of status.

    The second group comprises the small but slightly increasing number of younger women who wear it as a sign of their intense piety. This latter prompted the memory of being taken as a child by my mother to visit the Poor Clares' convent in York. We gave alms to these impoverished women who had chosen complete segregation from the world as part of their strict spiritual discipline; we talked to the gentle, warm mother superior through the bars of a grille that symbolised their retreat from the world. No one accused these nuns of "rejecting the values of liberal democracy" - yet they were co-religionists of the IRA terrorists of their time.

    The point is that within all religious traditions there are trends emphasising the corrupting influences of the world and how one must keep them at a distance. Catholicism and the celibate monastic tradition of Buddhism interpret this in one way. Salafi Islam interprets it in modes of dress and behaviour in public places. Since when has secular Britain become so intolerant that it can't accommodate (no one is asking them to like) these small minorities of puritanical piety? [extract],,1890820,00.html


    Oliver Letwin, 7th October 2006

    The Director of Policy at the Conservative Party is reported to have described Jack Straw's comments as a "dangerous doctrine"


    Simon Hughes, MP

    The President of the Liberal Democrats stated that the remarks were "insensitive and surprising."


    Timoth Garton Ash, 12th October 2006

    have been meaning for some time to write a column in defence of the hijab, on the same grounds on which I defended free speech last week. In a free country people should be able to wear what they like, just as they should be able to say what they like, so long as it does not imperil the life or liberty of others. My only reason for hesitating was the thought that I, as a non-Muslim man, am not self-evidently well qualified to judge what the hijab means to Muslim women.....

    In any case, I don't think Straw was right to suggest to niqab-wearing women at his MP's constituency surgery that they might like to remove the face-covering, however courteously it was done. After all, he was in a position of power in relation to them. Presumably they had come to him with a problem they hoped he could solve. In that context, the distinction between a request and a command is somewhat blurred. Indeed "you might like to do X" is a familiar English syntax of polite command. Given that these women were availing themselves of a classic democratic channel of redress - and thereby demonstrating, in a far more important way than what they wore, a degree of integration into British society - I think he might just have worked a little harder to get their meaning.

    And just how difficult is that anyway? I recently took part in a degree ceremony at Sheffield Hallam University. It was a heart-warming event. Many of the graduands were Asian British women - often, I was told, the first in the history of their family to go to university - and some of them came on stage to collect their degrees wearing a hijab. There was polite applause for each student and louder cheering for a few who were especially popular. One of the loudest cheers went up for a female student in a full niqab. Clearly her fellow students knew the woman behind the veil.

    Suppose I had done the kind of research I would like to have done for this column. I could have talked to niqab-wearing women by email, on the telephone and in person, in English or through an interpreter. Yes, that 10 or 20% of extra, non-verbal communication would have been lost. Tough. After all, we're not talking romance or a life-long relationship here. We're talking getting things done and getting by in an increasingly diverse society.

    The most tiresome argument in this whole debate is that the niqab makes white, middle-class English people feel "uncomfortable" or "threatened". Well, I want to say, what a load of whingeing wusses. Threatened by drunken football hooligans or muggers - that I can understand. But threatened by a woman quietly going about her business in a veil? As for uncomfortable: myself, I feel uncomfortable with a certain kind of pink-faced Englishman wearing crimson braces, a white-cuffed pinstriped shirt and a bow tie. Their clothing is a fair predictor of the views that will come out of their mouths. But I don't ask them to take off their braces.

    As the the communities minister, Ruth Kelly, rightly said in a speech yesterday, "This is ultimately an issue of informed personal choice." Fareena Alam, who has talked to a great many of her fellow Muslim women, says most of the British niqab wearers she has met do so from a free personal choice. Those who are simply continuing the tradition of their lands of origin are a minority within what is anyway a tiny minority of British Muslim women; and those who are pressured or compelled to do so by husbands or fathers are a minority within that minority of a minority. I have not been able to verify this myself, so to speak statistically - and every single case of coercion, let alone of using the niqab to cover up evidence of physical abuse, is a case too many. But even a quick web search reveals some fascinating stories of educated young women freely choosing to put on the veil.

    Why shouldn't they? What skin is it off your nose? As our society becomes more diverse, we will have to become more tolerant of diversity. We need to make a triage between the fundamentals of a free society on which we cannot compromise, matters that are properly the subject of intercommunal negotiation, and third-order issues best left to time and the quiet tides of social adaptation. Free speech belongs in the first category; the veil in the last.,,1920075,00.html


    Sayeeda Warsi

    The vice chair of the Conservative Party stated that "It's not long ago in this country that white middle aged men were telling us how long our skirts should be, now they are telling us how long our veils should be. It's wrong for us to go down the route of telling you what people should wear and when they should wear it.'"


    Peter Hain MP

    The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on a BBC programme, noted, "Jack was quite entitled to say this, he has a proud and large Muslim community in his constituency of Blackburn and unlike me, when I don't in my South Wales constituency meet, he regularly has women seeking his help wearing a veil and he's taken that view, he's said he finds it uncomfortable. So I think he's absolutely entitled to do it and I do think he's raised an important issue. Shahid Malik in the news, you heard my Muslim colleague, the backbench colleague, saying that he supported Jack Straw's right to do that. I think we've got to be very careful about this whole issue and I agree with what both Julia and David said, though they made different points, this is an incredibly complex issue. I, for example, if a woman with a veil came into to see me I would not ask her to remove her veil because I believe that women, like everybody else, are entitled to dress as they choose to dress".


    Ken Livingstone

    The Mayor of London issued a press statement on 14th October, noting "Britain today faces a concerted campaign by sections of the media and some politicians, fanned by fascist grouplets, aimed at sowing hatred against Muslims. This has now culminated in physical attacks, firebombings, and assaults on women. This constitutes an attack on civil and religious liberties including an attempt to suppress the right of persons of all faiths to dress in accordance with their religious convictions.

    "Whatever a person's view on the most suitable forms of dress they have no right to impose this on others - it is a fundamental human right that every person should be allowed to dress in accordance with their religious views, as dictated only by their individual conscience. This right had to be defended in the past for Sikhs and other communities and it must be today for Muslims or indeed any other community that faces such a challenge. It applies equally therefore to those who wish to wear crucifixes.

    'The prosperity and cohesion of London as one of the most diverse city's in the world is inextricably linked to respect for these basic principles of freedom of individual choice'.


    Usama Hasan, 11th October 2006

    I say to the minister with a brain of straw,

    Responsible for Iraq's bloodbath:

    Already devoid of any moral law,

    Now you stray even more from the Path.

    So you wish to attack Muslim women too?

    By God, this is really rather dim!

    For the problem is not that they're veiled from you:

    The problem is that we're all veiled from Him.


    India Knight, 15th October 2006

    ....The white, male former foreign secretary said the veil was a “visible statement of separation and of difference”, and that he asks women who visit his surgery to remove it. And nuns? Does he demand to see their hair, too? It’s open season on Islam — Muslims are the new Jews. And the idea that Straw’s divisive statement should not only be tolerated but adopted on all sides, as it has been with a kind of bullying relish, troubles me.

    Especially since July 7, it has become acceptable to say the most ignorant, degrading things about Islam. And then we all sit around wondering why young Muslim men appear to be getting angrier and more politicised, or why “westernised” young Muslim women whose mothers go bare-headed are suddenly, defiantly, opting for the full-on niqab-style veil that leaves only a slit for the eyes.

    I am particularly irked by ancient old “feminists” wheeling out themselves and their 30-years-out-of-date opinions to reiterate the old chestnut that Islam, by its nature, oppresses women (unlike the Bible, eh,?) and that the veil compounds the blanket oppression.

    In their view all Muslim women are crushed because they can’t wear visible lipstick or flash their thongs. Does it occur to these idiots that not necessarily everyone swoons with admiration at the fact that they have won the freedom to dress like 55-year-old slappers?

    That perhaps there exist large sections of our democratic society, veiled or otherwise, who have every right to their modesty, just as their detractors have every right to wear push-up bras?

    ....My former husband and I once went to look at a house we were thinking of buying in a Jewish Orthodox bit of London. As it happened we were the only non-Orthodox people on that bit of pavement that morning. I noticed a group of Hassidim were walking around us in a peculiar way. “They’re avoiding our shadows,” the estate agent said, “because we’re unclean.” I didn’t think much of that, either.

    But we all need to coexist peaceably. The fact that I find the man in Camden market with bolts through his face, or the Orthodox woman dressed in a drab sack and wearing a bad wig, as “weird” — weirder, actually — than a woman dressed in black with only her eyes showing is neither here nor there.

    I don’t expect they think much of me, either. But I would have to be deranged, or consumed with hatred, to attribute random demerits to them on the basis of their physical appearance. A lot of people are made uncomfortable by disability, for instance — but because they live in a civilised society they don’t say it.

    Imagine if Straw had said, “There are an awful lot of autistic people in my constituency. I tell them to look me right in the eye, otherwise I can’t help them.” Would there not be an outcry? I’m sorry to equate Islam with disability, but I am doing so because an observant person’s religion is as integral a part of them as their genetic make-up.

    Oppressed women are everywhere: there’s probably one living in your street. She may be a Muslim wearing a veil, or a white woman whose husband beats her. She may be covered from head to toe, dressed like a librarian, or fond of micro-skirts. She may be your mother or your sister. She may be you — regardless of how you dress, what you believe or where you come from. And that is the point. Unhappy, abused people come in all colours, shapes and sizes. It is absurd to suddenly, appoint ourselves moral arbiters, and decree, very loudly, that a piece of fabric is an indicator of an unhappy, down-trodden life.

    Happy people come in all formats too. The concept of the men hanging out together while the women “work” in the kitchen may seem peculiar to a non-Muslim — though not that peculiar, given that a less formalised version of the same thing happens whenever you have friends round — but I’ve been to many memorable, jolly parties where gangs of Muslim women ate, gossiped and laughed together without seeming overwhelmingly oppressed, or indeed, oppressed at all.

    My experience of Muslim life is not that it is the patriarchal nightmare of legend, but that women are powerful, vocal and iron-fisted beneath their velvet gloves. This is a subjective viewpoint: I am not claiming that every Muslim woman in the world is gloriously carefree. They aren’t (who is?), and I am particularly offended by Straw’s comments because the women Straw described are by and large first-generation immigrants — ie, poor working-class women trying to get on with their lives.

    I wonder why none of the army of instant experts has pointed out that, by and large, middle and upper middle-class Muslim women do not veil themselves unless they have the misfortune to live in a country that insists on it.

    So Straw and his acolytes — the self-appointed sisterhood among them — are picking on the women who are most voiceless and least able to defend themselves. They should be ashamed.[Extract],,24390-2404281.html


    Martin Newland, 16th October 2006

    I doubt very much that when those niqab-clad women set off for Jack Straw's constituency surgery, probably intending to talk about local bin collection or crime, they knew they were going to touch off a nationwide debate about Muslim integration, female emancipation and terrorism. Straw's decision to write about the issue might, as he himself and many commentators thereafter suggested, have led to a much-needed debate about Muslim "separateness" from mainstream society, but I feel these women have been gravely insulted. The whole episode has been filtered through every political and sociological argument by columnists and politicians from the left and right without anybody alighting on the real motivation for those women wearing the veil - simple religiosity.

    I do not therefore see Straw's comments as an attack on Muslims, but rather an attack on religious observance in general. Secular society does not allow for openly religious people to be seen also as normal and well-adjusted. There always seems to be a desire to pigeon-hole them as semi-rational, spiritual fifth columnists.

    Reactions in everyday secular society to manifestations of religiosity, such as the veil, range from a patronising accept-ance to the downright insulting. We are told, by the diligent self-publicist Salman Rushdie, that the veil "sucks". Columnist Allison Pearson says the veil is a "nosebag" and a "female-inhibiting shroud from the House of Taliban". Yasmin Alibhai-Brown claims that the veil is not mandated by the Qur'an. But what is mandated is that women cover themselves. What is also mandated is that men dress plainly. And the original texts have been followed, as in all the mainstream faiths, by teachings and interpretation which are also considered by the faithful to be linked to the will of God.

    It is possible to be religious and rational. To believe in the transcendent but to savour every challenge and joy thrust up by life. If God became human, it is easy to understand how the total human condition, from cleaning your teeth, to driving to work, to going to parties, is graced. But I feel a kinship with those Muslim women because the world is full of Jack Straws, who imply by their actions that religiosity entails something vaguely misguided or sinister, something that is ill at ease with public life.

    By involving the nation in an intensely critical, secularised debate on their personal religious observances, Straw has insulted these women in the same way that I feel insulted and hurt by Madonna aping Christ crucified, by part of the Act of Settlement, by the burning of papal effigies in southern England and by the use of a compulsory BBC licence fee to broadcast the offensive Jerry Springer: The Opera.

    I also believe in freedom of speech and "turning the other cheek", but those in this country who think Muslims are the only ones who take offence should think again. When I was appointed editor of the Daily Telegraph, there appeared to be an inexplicable fascination with the fact that I was a Catholic. After I resigned, Private Eye carried a cartoon of me, with wings on my back, pushing at a door marked exit. Newspaper diaries followed my treatment of the story of the death of Pope John Paul II, suggesting that I was being overly unctuous in my editorial decisions.



    Yasmin Qureshi, 19th October 2006

    It was refreshing to read the article by Martin Newland (G2, October 16). He is the only commentator who seems to understand that women choose to wear the Niqab as an expression of their faith and that you can still be a "regular person", albeit religious. I am a Muslim woman, as well as a practising barrister, past Labour parliamentary candidate, human-rights adviser to the mayor of London and past worker for the UN mission in Kosovo. But I fast, give zakat (alms), have performed Haj, say the salaat (prayers), do not drink, and am proud to call myself Muslim, will never wear a short dress or a bikini etc.

    At the same time, I love, like many of my Muslim friends and family, watching Carry On films, Benny Hill, Rory Bremner, Have I Got News for You, love fish and chips, and have friends from all religions, cultures and backgrounds. Go and talk to and get to know a Muslim. Then you will know they are no different to anyone else. I always thought the best thing about being British was that as long as you obeyed the laws, you could lead your life as you wanted. And yet we are all being pushed into one straightjacket. Just as people who want to "take their kit off" have the right to do so, so should people who want to "keep their kit on". This debate has already got some nasty undertones to it - and a lot of underlying ignorance.,,1923272,00.html


    Nusrat Chagtai, 19th October 2006

    Zaiba Malik writes about the discomfort of wearing the veil (G2, October 17). Do not assume that Muslim women who freely choose the veil feel the same way. Aside from whether it is mandatory in Islam, many women who choose to wear the veil explain that God makes it easy for them because they sincerely believe in it and the desire to wear it comes from their hearts. We should not underestimate the strength and resilience that individuals can obtain through their faith.,,1924583,00.html


    Maleiha Malik, 19th October 2006

    Muslim women welcome a debate about the status of women in Islam. Intelligent, honest critique is an invaluable source of ideas for Muslims as we begin the process of reclaiming our religious and intellectual tradition. Muslim women also welcome feminist alliances with other women in the task of challenging the misuse of power by Muslim men - just as we can offer our own perspective on both women's advances and setbacks in the west.

    .... But such public debate and alliances obviously don't take place in a vacuum, but in a social, racial and political context. It would be naive to imagine that the domestic debate about Islam - and Muslim women in particular - can be hermetically sealed off from the politics of the "war on terror", as the last couple of weeks have demonstrated. Polly Toynbee was right to say on these pages that "women's bodies have been the battle flag of religions". But the significance of religious and cultural symbols such as the veil is not immutable and static - they have a mixed and changing social meaning. Muslim women who adopt the veil in Europe may simultaneously be seeking to affirm their religious identity while being determined to enter the public sphere as full and equal citizens. They are often also trying to change the cultural and political meaning of the veil in a contemporary context. For some it may be linked to patriarchal pressure, for others a symbol of identity and emancipation in a commodified and patriarchal society - and for many a response to a religious vocation. Feminist politics needs to be flexible and respond to these complexities. And for Muslim women their religion and even their gender are not the only, or the most grievous, focus of their oppression - their bodies have also been, and continue to be, a battleground for European and US imperialism.

    Lord Cromer, British consul general in Egypt in the late 19th century, famously justified British colonial rule by arguing that it could liberate Egyptian women from their oppressive veils. Commenting on French colonialism in Algeria in the 50s the writer Frantz Fanon noted: "There is also in the European the crystallisation of an aggressiveness, the strain of a kind of violence before the Algerian woman. Unveiling this woman is revealing her beauty; it is baring her secret, breaking her resistance [to colonial rule]. There is in it the will to bring this woman within his reach, to make her a possible object of possession."

    ....The "war on terror" moved to Iraq in 2003. Once again Bush included concern for the rights of women as one of his war aims: "Respect for women ... can triumph in the Middle East and beyond," he told the UN in 2002. Four years later, as Iraq spirals into a violent abyss, women are paying the highest human costs for foreign invasion - an ever increasing number of victims of murder, rape and abduction. Female politicians in Blair's cabinet are falling over each other in their enthusiasm to protect the rights of vulnerable Muslim women. Yet these same politicians voted to launch aggressive war against Iraq. Muslim women listen in amazement when these women, their "feminist sisters", are praised for their "bravery" in speaking out so freely about protecting them from the veil when none of them felt it necessary to resign their political office when it became clear that illegal war had unleashed a tide of violence, killing vast numbers of Iraqi women and children.

    In offering support to Muslim women, all feminists need to be strategic and prioritise the harm those women actually suffer. [Extract],,1925517,00.html


    Peter Oborne, 21st October 2006

    Great sea changes of thought or opinion are rare in British public life, taking place perhaps only once or twice in a generation.

    But there is abundant evidence that we are undergoing one now.

    Until only a few months ago, mainstream British politicians were extremely cautious about articulating the fears and resentments felt by many ordinary people on the subject of mass immigration.

    Those who spoke out publicly (Enoch Powell's 'rivers of blood' speech is the notorious example) were ostracised. Political parties which raised the issue were thrust beyond the outer margins of debate - the fate of the National Front and the BNP.

    This self-restraint has now vanished. Practically every day for the past two weeks, another minister has insulted the customs, habits or religious beliefs of Britain's Muslim minority.

    The most recent assault, which came just hours after the subject was discussed at a Cabinet meeting in Downing Street, was launched by Hilary Armstrong on Question Time and came with the full authority of the Prime Minister.

    Harriet Harman, Tessa Jowell, Peter Hain, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Ruth Kelly and a number of other frontline Labour politicians have also entered the fray.

    It is now clear that Jack Straw's comments on women who wear the veil were not, as seemed likely at the time, the result of some random rumination. He surely set out with the intention of putting in motion a national campaign.

    In other words, Labour has made the extraordinary decision to place the politics of religious identity at the centre of public discourse, in the same sort of way that Jorg Haider's Freedom Party does in Austria and Pim Fortuyn's List Party did in the Netherlands

    Criticisms of this tactic in the Press - which was so derogatory about Michael Howard's timid excursion into similar terrain 18 months ago - have been few and far between.

    On the contrary, Jack Straw's comments have liberated the media to follow suit. It seems every day now brings forth news of an outrage allegedly perpetrated somewhere by a Muslim.

    Many of the stories - such as the front page claims two weeks ago that a Muslim man had shouted abuse in a hospital at a British soldier wounded in Iraq, or the allegation that a terrorist suspect used the veil to evade detection - are impossible to substantiate and may well turn out to be fabrications.

    Some people will feel glad that the subject of Islam is being widely aired at last. And it is perfectly true that many of the comments made by ministers, whether Jack Straw on the veil or Ruth Kelly on the need to keep an eye on 'extremism', contain grains of good sense.

    But cumulatively this litany of condemnation has turned into an anti-Islamic crusade. I am a practising member of the Church of England and if we had come under the same wave of condemnation for our practices and traditions I would by now be affronted beyond belief.

    If I were Jewish, with the experience of the 20th century to look back on, and came under the same weight of hostility I would be terrified.

    There is a whiff of the lynch mob about the wave of attacks over the past fortnight, and it is no surprise to learn that the new national mood sparked by Jack Straw and sanctioned by Tony Blair has indeed led to a number of assaults on British mosques, including one firebombing.

    There have also been reports of a sharp rise of physical assaults on Muslims.

    It is nothing short of appalling that the Blair government has been ready to countenance this change in public culture, but I think three main factors lie behind Labour's campaign against Islam.

    The first is a genuine belief that it is extremely difficult to reconcile Muslim fundamentalism with full membership of British society. I know from many personal conversations -that Phil Woolas, the minister for race relations - who last week intervened in the row over the classroom assistant Aisha Azmi by calling for her to be sacked - has long held this view.

    At last year's General Election Woolas - who unlike his colleagues has the merit of being consistent - put the Union Flag on his campaign literature and highlighted 'anti-white racism' as a vital issue in his Oldham constituency.

    Many experts expected that Woolas would lose this marginal seat, but his tactics ensured that his vote surged, an outcome that was carefully noted by the Millbank electoral machine.

    My guess is that Labour strategists have now calculated that the Muslim coalition of voters, which was so stalwartly behind the party in 1997 and 2001, is now lost for ever as a result of the Iraq War.

    Rather than try to win them back, Labour has cut its losses, and decided instead to stir up racial tension as a means of appealing directly to the white working-class vote. Labour activists tell me Jack Straw's remarks have proved 'incredibly resonant' on the doorstep.

    This callous strategy has one extra attraction: it confuses the Tories. In the 1997 and 2001 elections, William Hague and Michael Howard rather hesitantly raised the abuse of the asylum system only to be denounced by Labour for running 'racist' campaigns.

    As a consequence of this experience, the Conservatives plumped for David Cameron and swore a self-denying ordinance on the subject of immigration.

    With awesome cynicism, Labour has now moved directly into the ground vacated by the Conservatives, only with far greater assurance. It is now engaging with issues that Michael Howard would never have dared even to mention.

    So far the Conservative response has been impressive. To his credit, David Cameron has braved internal criticism by refusing to join in some kind of bidding war with Labour.

    Instead, the Tory leader has gently rebuked Labour for victimising Muslims. I hope he will speak out much more strongly on the subject in due course.

    That said, it must be admitted that this is very clever stuff from Tony Blair. There is every sign the strategy is working and I am sure that Labour will continue to deploy what used to be called the race card right up to next year's May elections and beyond. But playing politics with Islam is reckless beyond belief.

    In the wake of last year's London atrocity, the Prime Minister promised to engage with the mainstream Muslim community. He never really tried to do so - the 'working parties' set up in the wake of the July bombings met just two or three times, they were not listened to, and their recommendations were ignored.

    Now Tony Blair has allowed a campaign that is bound to undermine moderate Muslims and encourage extremism, whether from white supremacist parties like the BNP or within Islam itself.

    It is quite the nastiest and most irresponsible politics I have seen from a mainstream political party in my life, and we will all pay a horrible price for such cynical opportunism.


    Sarah Buys, 29th October 2006

    "... "What you need to understand about the hijab," she [Dina Juffali, a 25-year-old Fashion Investment Analyst] continues, "is that it's a personal thing between you and God - it's about modesty of the soul and discretion and hiding your form so as not to tempt men but that doesn't mean the symbols of those meanings can't be interpreted in a personal way. My friend wears a full hijab and she is the most stylish person I know. When she comes to London, she'll wear some Victoria Beckham VB jeans; a long-sleeved Dolce and Gabbana shirt that she'll often buy two sizes too big so its not tight-fitting; and then she'll tie a funky headscarf over her head. That's hijab to her. Why does it have to be black and boring? As long as it does the job it's meant to do, who cares what colour it is?" [Extract]


    Karen Armstrong, 26th October 2006

    "I spent seven years of my girlhood heavily veiled - not in a Muslim niqab but in a nun's habit. We wore voluminous black robes, large rosaries and crucifixes, and an elaborate headdress: you could see a small slice of my face from the front, but from the side I was entirely shielded from view. We must have looked very odd indeed, walking dourly through the colourful carnival of London during the swinging 60s, but nobody ever asked us to exchange our habits for more conventional attire.

    When my order was founded in the 1840s, not long after Catholic emancipation, people were so enraged to see nuns brazenly wearing their habits in the streets that they pelted them with rotten fruit and horse dung. Nuns had been banned from Britain since the Reformation; their return seemed to herald the resurgence of barbarism. Two hundred and fifty years after the gunpowder plot, Catholicism was still feared as unassimilable, irredeemably alien to the British ethos, fanatically opposed to democracy and freedom, and a fifth column allied to dangerous enemies abroad.

    Today the veiled Muslim woman appears to symbolise the perceived Islamic threat, as nuns once epitomised the evils of popery. She seems a barbaric affront to hard-won values that are essential to our cultural identity: gender equality, freedom, transparency and openness. But in the Muslim world the veil has also acquired a new symbolism. If government ministers really want to debate the issue fruitfully, they must become familiar with the bitterly ironic history of veiling during the last hundred years.....

    Muslims feel embattled at present, and at such times the bodies of women often symbolise the beleaguered community. Because of its complex history, Jack Straw and his supporters must realise that many Muslims now suspect such western interventions about the veil as having a hidden agenda. Instead of improving relations, they usually make matters worse. Lord Cromer made the originally marginal practice of veiling problematic in the first place. When women are forbidden to wear the veil, they hasten in ever greater numbers to put it on.

    In Victorian Britain, nuns believed that until they could appear in public fully veiled, Catholics would never be accepted in this country. But Britain got over its visceral dread of popery. In the late 1960s, shortly before I left my order, we decided to give up the full habit. This decision expressed, among other things, our new confidence, but had it been forced upon us, our deeply ingrained fears of persecution would have revived.

    But Muslims today do not feel similarly empowered. The unfolding tragedy of the Middle East has convinced some that the west is bent on the destruction of Islam. The demand that they abandon the veil will exacerbate these fears, and make some women cling more fiercely to the garment that now symbolises their resistance to oppression".



    John McDonnell MP, 27th October 2006

    "Peter Lewis Jones expresses his disappointment that I supported "knee-jerk" calls for Jack Straw's resignation over his statements on the veil (Letters, October 26). To put the record straight, the letter I, Tony Benn and others signed deplored the way in which the statements made by Jack, other ministers and parts of the media have isolated the Muslim community and increased its vulnerability to attack. Jack has assured me that his remarks on the veil were as a result of his concerns about separation between communities. I accept that, but fear that the intentions of others are not as honourable. Day after day for a period last month, members of the Muslim community were waking up to yet another media attack and felt a mixture of understandable bewilderment, anxiety and vulnerability. As a self-criticism, let me say that I have learnt from my own experience over contentious issues such as Ireland just how critically important it is how one raises an issue and how one judges the effects of one's words." [Extract],,1932553,00.html

    Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 27th October 2006

    "...Up to now, we have in practice taken for granted that the State is not the source of morality and legitimacy but a system that brokers, mediates and attempts to co-ordinate the moral resources of those specific communities, the merely local and the credal or issue-focused, which actually make up the national unit. This is a “secular” system in the sense that it does not impose legal and civil disabilities on any one religious body; but it is not secular in the sense of giving some kind of privilege to a non-religious or anti-religious set of commitments or policies. Moving towards the latter would change our political culture more radically than we imagine

    So the ideal of a society where no visible public signs of religion would be seen — no crosses around necks, no sidelocks, turbans or veils — is a politically dangerous one. It assumes that what comes first in society is the central political “licensing authority”, which has all the resource it needs to create a workable public morality....[Extract]

    Sarah Buys, 29th October 2006

    "... "What you need to understand about the hijab," she [Dina Juffali, a 25-year-old Fashion Investment Analyst] continues, "is that it's a personal thing between you and God - it's about modesty of the soul and discretion and hiding your form so as not to tempt men but that doesn't mean the symbols of those meanings can't be interpreted in a personal way. My friend wears a full hijab and she is the most stylish person I know. When she comes to London, she'll wear some Victoria Beckham VB jeans; a long-sleeved Dolce and Gabbana shirt that she'll often buy two sizes too big so its not tight-fitting; and then she'll tie a funky headscarf over her head. That's hijab to her. Why does it have to be black and boring? As long as it does the job it's meant to do, who cares what colour it is?" [Extract]

    Yes, but; No, but

    Fawcett Report
    Farzana Hakim
    David Willets MP
    Shelina Zahra Janmohamed
    Judge Hodge
    Tony Blair
    Joan Smith
    Lord Nazir Ahmed (updated 21st Feb 2007)

    Fawcett roundtable debate: feminism and Muslim women in Britain.

    In December 2006 Fawcett hosted a roundtable debate on the veil and women's rights. The aim was to provide a forum for a critical and honest engagement with the tensions between ‘feminism’ and ‘Muslim women’ in Britain.

    Key themes of the debate included:

    • Power and discourses
    • Choice
    • Secularism
    • The veil as a sign or symbol
    • Feminism
    • Policy recommendations
    Arguments for and against the veil where put forward, with one particular discussion focusing on the issue of choice, which argued the veil as a Sign of oppression - that symbolises male dominance, as a “recent phenomena in Britain that has emerged over the last 3 or 4 years”, and that it “creates hierarchies between women, separating the pious from the immodest”.

    Opposing views argued “freedom of choice to control it are two of the most important ideas within feminism”. Hence there is no real motive for offence to be taken. Furthermore “women have been wearing the niqab in Britain since the 1980’s” – so it can not be classified as a new phenomenon. Finally “women wearing the veil did not attempt to enter education or workplace as they equated niqab with segregation. Today women are attempting to reconcile the niqab with social interaction in the public space.”

    For full debate refer to the links below:

    A report on Fawcett's roundtable on the veil, feminism and Muslim women.

    How the veil signifies inequality and challenges British secularism
    (Joan Smith's presentation)

    Choice is essential to feminism, but choices are exercised within contexts.
    (Maleiha Malik's presentation)


    Farzana Hakim, 10th October

    "I think that whether you agree with Jack or not, it is perfectly reasonable for him to make these points in public. The discomfort he feels is his problem, yes; but if it interferes with his capacity to do his job as an MP, he is within his rights to say so to his constituents. He has been quite clear that it's not a requirement but a request. It is also right for him, as an MP one in four of whose constituents is a Muslim, to point out what he thinks is an obstacle to integration. And he should know. Blackburn was recently identified by a recent report published by the Ruth Kelly's Communities Department as the most segregated local authority in England and Wales.

    But was he right? On the first point, since it concerns his own feelings and his ability to do his job, it seems reasonable that he should at least be able to make the request as long as he doesn't make it a requirement for his constituents. After all, most of us think about the way we dress when we go to work, or when we go to visit an elderly relative, or see the bank manger. We make modest compromises in order to get along with others. The hard question is how we decide on what is a reasonable compromise and when do we have to make that adjustment?

    There is however one danger in such a national debate. It is that we confuse what we require people to do with what we'd like them to do. For example police officers and firefighters need to wear uniforms so that they can be identified by the rest of us. But it cannot be right that we ask women to dress in a certain way just because some of us feel uncomfortable. Those who are discomfited can always explain their feelings to the women concerned - and believe me, discomfort with the niqab is not limited to non-Muslims - but surely, when women make this decision for themselves it should be treated with respect.

    In fact it may be that the very process of talking about these issues will help us to reach a new understanding. As Jack Straw himself reports most women feel no anxiety about raising the veil in private. It may be that with time he himself can learn to feel less anxious about it. After all, if Jack's worry is that the niqab limits communication, maybe he can learn to listen in new ways. As one Muslim woman pointed out, when he's on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, nobody can see Jack Straw's face. That's never stopped him getting his point over to the rest of us.



    David Willets, 6th October

    The MP for Havant and Shadow Education Secretary stated, "I think Jack Straw was right to raise the whole question and if he had reached a judgement in his own constituency surgery that he wished to invite a Muslim woman to remove her veil because he felt that it helped communication, he's entitled to ask. But of course she was entitled to refuse and we shouldn't be looking at any kind of regulations or requirements or legislation, this is not the kind of area for any government ruling, we're a free country. But I do think he's raised a very important question. And I have to say that it is very difficult if people don't feel that they can properly communicate....I think it is clearly important for some Muslim women as part of their identity that they consciously choose to wear the veil and I don't think it would be right to expect them to shed that part of their tradition. But I do think that - and I've never had this issue arise in my surgery, I have had the issue out canvassing - and I do think that it's such an important part of communication in Britain today and also building a sense of community, building a sense of neighbourhood, that you recognise people, you know who people are, that you gradually get to know the people in your neighbourhood because you see them in the street and you start to know who they are. That if it's very hard to recognise people it makes it very hard to create that sense of neighbourhood and community, that's why I think it's very good we've got this debate. And I have to say I was shocked to hear the news that there was - a poor Muslim woman had actually had her veil forcibly removed, that is absolutely shocking, it would be terrible if we went down that route". [Extract]


    Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, 27th October 2006

    The Muslim community split into two camps over the issue of the veil: those who cried “Discard the cloth and integrate!” and those who defended the veil as a matter of a woman’s choice. Alas, the way that the debate panned out, we didn’t hear the shades of grey between the two. More to the shame of the Muslim community was that we totally missed the fact that people said they felt ‘uncomfortable’ seeing or talking to women who wear veils. We got huffy. Why should people feel uncomfortable? If a woman wants to wear a veil, it’s her choice. And indeed it is. Muslims certainly had a right to insist they would wear the veil if they chose to.

    But we missed honouring a right which is as important as the right of women choosing to veil: the right of our neighbours to feel comfortable and at ease. Every right has an accompanying responsibility, and in this case the Muslim community did not step up to the mark.

    As a collective society, we could and should have found a way to honour both rights. Instead, we all chose to entrench our positions and only insist on what we wanted, not what others wanted. More generosity and less selfishness were called for all round.

    If Muslim women want to wear a veil then Muslims must first acknowledge that veils can make people uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean what people are saying is necessarily right, and it doesn’t necessarily mean giving up the veil. But we have to at least recognise these feelings and assume that at least for some people this is a genuine concern. Once this is done, then we’re making progress. The next step is to find ways to alleviate this discomfort within the parameters of maintaining the dignity and principles of everyone involved.



    Judge Hodge, 10th November

    The President of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal has issued the following guidance: judges can request the removal of a veil if “the interests of justice are not served. If a judge or other party to the proceedings is unable to hear the representative clearly then the interests of justice are not served, and other arrangements will need to be made. Such arrangements will vary from case to case, subject to judicial discretion and the interests of all parties.” [Extract]


    Tony Blair, 8th December 2006

    The Prime Minister, in his speech 'The Duty to Integrate: Shared British Values' stated, "....But perhaps less well-known is the strength of the debate in Muslim countries. In Turkey, there has recently been a fierce controversy over the Muslim headdress of women. In Tunisia and Malaysia, the veil is barred in certain public places. I know it is not sensible to conduct this debate as if the only issue is the very hot and sensitive one of the veil. For one thing, the extremism we face is usually from men not women. But it is interesting to note that when Jack Straw made his comments, no less a person than the Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt made a strong approving statement; and it really is a matter of plain common sense that when it is an essential part of someone's work to communicate directly with people, being able to see their face is important. However, my point is this: we are not on our own in trying to find the right balance between integration and diversity. There is a global agonising on the subject." [Extract]


    Joan Smith, 27th December 2006

    Am I showing too much? Or not enough? Those of the Channel 4 persuasion, who watched approvingly as an anonymous veiled woman delivered the channel's Christmas message two days ago, may feel that the picture accompanying this column is a damned sight too revealing. I mean, you can see my nose, for God's sake! On the other hand, I am half expecting a visit from Dr John Reid, who has just revealed that even dead people will have to make sure he is kept fully informed of all their personal details when his exciting new identity card scheme becomes compulsory in 2010.

    Obviously, in the spirit of the new legislation, I should have a bar code tattooed on my forehead in my by-line photograph, enabling the Home Secretary to pass a scanner over this page and ascertain my date of birth, current address and favourite colour - blue, as it happens, and I'm certainly not going to change it and risk a fine of £1,000 in a couple of years' time for not keeping the government's database fully informed. Ministers have just admitted that grieving relatives will have to avoid falling foul of the government's 'guidance on death registration', which will require them to return ID cards of deceased people within a specified period or face fines; Tony Blair's government wants to know exactly where everyone is at all times, even if they're dead.

    Both of these positions - the demand from radical Muslims that they should be allowed and indeed encouraged to conceal their identity under opaque black cloth, and the Government's obsession with ID cards and registers - seem to me mad, bad and extreme. The great majority of us, I imagine, occupy the middle ground in the sense that we don't mind identifying ourselves to the police in an emergency or if we're suspected of committing a crime, but don't see why we should have to carry ID cards and feel uneasy with the idea of people who insist on going round with everything but their eyes concealed.

    That is how a Muslim convert identified only as Khadijah appeared on Channel 4 on Christmas day, condemning Jack Straw for making a polite request that women should lift their face-veils while talking to him in his constituency surgery. She is not to be confused, by the way, with another woman called Khadija (different spelling), who was originally scheduled to make the broadcast but pulled out, though I'm not sure how anyone would know the difference. I don't always agree with Mr Straw, but at least I know what he looks like....

    Adopting the veil may be a sign of resisting globalisation - the spread of "Western" values around the world - and the Iraq war, but it's undeniably linked with the most reactionary religious practices. In that sense, wearing the niqab in this country seems to me both attention-seeking and self-indulgent, a form of protest that's relatively cost-free while failing to acknowledge the courageous struggle of women in Baghdad or Helmand province who daily risk death for the right not to wear it.

    It's the worst sort of identity politics, importing ghastly patriarchal values into a country where we already have enough problems with a male political class which believes it knows what's best for us, including ID cards. If there's one thing I long for in the new year, it's seeing both a masked and a surveillance society consigned to the dustbin of history. [Extract]


    Lord Nazir Ahmed, 21st Feb 2007

    A Qatari newspaper reports on a debate held in Doha on the motion “this House believes that Niqab (face veil) is a barrier to integration in the West” that was carried by a small majority. Speaking for the motion were Lord Ahmed of Rotherham (and Reem Maghribi, founder of Al Sharq).

    The Peninsula reported: Lord Ahmed, who was the first speaker, argued that Niqab has become a barrier to integrating Muslims into the western societies as it has been viewed as a religious symbol of separation and isolation. I don’t want it (Niqab) to be banned by law but I am calling for a sensible debate on the issue,” Ahmed said, referring to the ban imposed by France and some other European countries on wearing face veil in offices, schools etc.

    He noted that 57 per cent of the British public feel that Muslims are not integrated to the British society and 67 per cent of them supported Jack Straw who triggered a debate on the issue by calling Muslim women to keep away from wearing the face veil.



    Outright critics

    Anila Baig
    Shahid Malik MP
    Harriet Harman MP
    Tony Blair MP
    Polly Toynbee
    Bernard-Henri Levy
    Bishop Nazir Ali
    Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
    Bishop Nazir Ali, again
    Barbara Hewson

    Anila Baig, 9th October 2006

    "I BREEZED through airport security in a veil that left just my eyes on view.

    It beggars belief no one checked my face.

    No one tried to properly identify me at Leeds-Bradford airport.

    It was only in France that I was asked to lift the veil and have my face checked against my passport photo.

    What if I wasn’t who I said I was?

    Home Office rules say the eyes, nose and mouth must be clearly visible in passports and that ALL travellers will be asked to lift their veils — if they wish in a private room in front of a female official.

    But that wasn’t the case on my trip.

    I wore a niqab — with just a slit for my eyes — to test security when I flew from Britain to Paris.

    ....At the next set of security checks another policewoman asked me to again quickly lift my veil. I did not feel threatened — only vastly reassured.

    I had no objections to being checked in Paris and I would feel much happier if Bradford did the same.



    Shahid Malik, MP

    "'As a good constituiency MP it is important that he is honest. The problem for Jack is not what he has said but the climate in which he said it. The veil is a symptom, the problem is much deeper. There is a need for greater integration".

    "There is no religious obligation whatsoever for Muslim women to cover themselves up in front of primary school children".


    Harriet Harman, MP - 13th October

    "How can you stand as an MP when men's faces are on posters, and voters can't see yours? If you want equality, you have to be in society, not hidden away from it. The veil is an obstacle to women's participation on equal terms."


    Tony Blair, MP - 17th October

    The Guardian "The prime minister today took sides in the debate over Muslim women's right to wear the veil, saying he backed the school which suspended a teacher for refusing to take off her niqab. Mr Blair also described the veil as "mark of separation" which made people from outside the Muslim community 'uncomfortable'.Speaking at his monthly press conference in Downing Street, the PM refused to be drawn on the detail of the row in Dewsbury, but said he backed the school and the local education authority's handling of the case - which saw them suspend Aishah Azmi....Perhaps most controversially, Mr Blair said there was also an issue, which was apparent across Europe, about how Islam 'comes to terms and is comfortable with' the modern world. When asked at the news conference if a Muslim woman wearing a veil could make a contribution to society, he replied: 'That's a very difficult question. It is a mark of separation and that is why it makes other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable....People want to know that the Muslim community in particular, but actually all minority communities, have got the balance right between integration and multiculturalism.",,1924473,00.html


    Polly Toynbee - 17th October

    ...No one need be a Muslim to understand the ideology of the veil, because covering and controlling women has been a near-universal practice in Christian societies and in most cultures and religions the world over. Western women have struggled hard to escape, but not long ago women here were treated as chattels and temptresses, to be owned by men and kept out of men's way, to be chaperoned, hidden, powerless under compulsory rules of "modesty". Women's bodies have been the battle flag of religions, whether it's churching their uncleanness, the Pope forcing them to have babies, the Qur'an allowing wife-beating, Hindu suttee, Chinese foot-binding and all the rest.

    Jack Straw questioned the veil when he found it was not fading out, but increasing in his constituency. No one would ban it in the street: where would fashion dictatorship end? But between teachers and pupils, or public officials and their clients, the state should not allow the hiding of women. No citizen's face can be indecent because of gender.

    Prescott, Hewitt, Kelly, Hain and others failed the test, saying it was women's "choice": can they really believe that's the whole story? Here is an uneasy blend of nervousness about racism and fear of already angry Muslims. It was left to Harriet Harman to make the unequivocal case for women's rights: "If you want equality, you have to be in society, not hidden away from it," she said. "The veil is an obstacle to women's participation on equal terms in society."

    ....Harman is astute about the way choice is culturally determined: do women really choose the female roles societies assign them? She is not alone in meeting Muslim woman who are appalled that their own daughters might adopt the veil as a political gesture. It's a danger to other women's "choice" if all "good" Muslims are forced to prove their faith by submission. Linda Riordan, the Halifax MP, says she talks to many veiled Muslim constituents who feel oppressed by it; it's not their choice at all. "And when I see women driving in veils, I am horrified at the danger."

    There is only one answer: a completely secular state. It is astonishing that a Labour government has led the country into such a morass. Things are far worse than they were 10 years ago. Labour stood by as Blair gave religion more political influence, leaving one-third of all state schools under religious control.[Extract],,1924022,00.html


    Bernard-Henri Levy - 20th October

    Jack Straw made a great point. He did not say that he was against the veil. He said it is much easier, much more comfortable, respectful, to speak with a woman with a naked face. And without knowing, he quoted Levinas, who is the philosopher of the face. Levinas says that having seen the naked face of our interlocutor, you cannot kill him or her, you cannot rape him, you cannot violate him. So when Muslims say the veil is to protect women, it is the contrary. The veil is an invitation to rape".

    Jewish Chronicle, 13th October 2006


    Bishop Nazir Ali, 5th November

    A report in the Sunday Times notes the Bishop stating,"...Characteristic British values have developed from the Christian faith and its vision of personal and common good. After they were clarified by the enlightenment they became the bedrock of our modern political life. These values need to be recovered to help us to inculcate the virtues of generosity, loyalty, moderation and love....The two main causes of the present situation [rising extremism] are fundamentalist imams and material on the internet. They must be vetted for appropriate qualifications, they must have a reasonable knowledge of the English language and they must take part in a recognised process of learning about British life and culture...

    I can see nothing in Islam that prescribes the wearing of a full-face veil. In the supermarket those at the cash tills need to be recognised. Teaching is another context in which society requires recognition and identification.” [Extract],,2087-2438570,00.html


    Yasmin Alibhai-Brown - 7th December

    ...So now those Armani suits have picked a fully veiled Muslim woman to deliver their alternative Christmas message. Delight will ripple through the corridors of the trendy [Channel 4] HQ as a storm of outrage follows this mad, bad and dangerous decision. But why stop there? i know at least two Somali mothers who support their own genital mutilation and will subject their daughters to the 'purification'. Perhaps next year. Meanwhile some liberals, the Mayor [of London, Ken Livingstone] and retrograde muslim organisations will rejoice that the niqab has thus been honoured, as will those white female commentators who have come out for the full veil. I wonder if any of these niqab groupies would be as sanguine if their own daughters decided to disappear into black shrouds....[Extract]

    Evening Standard, 7th December 2006


    Bishop Nazir Ali again, 26th December

    A report on the BBC site notes the Bishop pre-Christmas call, "Legislation should be introduced giving some officials the power to remove the veil worn by Muslim women", the Bishop of Rochester has said. The Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali told the Sunday Telegraph that "an unprecedented security situation" called for such legislation. He also said people were "too worried about offending Muslims". Mr Nazir-Ali has previously said jobs like teaching could require Muslim women not to wear full-face veils. His comments come after it was claimed that a murder suspect may have fled the UK in a Muslim veil. [Extract]


    Barbara Hewson, writing in 'Counsel', the Bar Council's Magazine, June 2007

    Writing with reference to the guidelines from the Judicial Studies Board: "It was worrying that the board's advice contemplated the possibility of veiled judges....[the guidance is] astonishing and subversive...the United Kingdom is not a sharia state."

    Responding in the magazine, Fatim Kurji wrote: "As for veiled judges and the suggestion that the 'United Kingdom is not a sharia state', this is what I call 'the BNP argument'. It implies a woman who wears a niqab comes at the erosion of British values. Such an astonishingly offensive remark undermines the long-enduring libertarian values."


    BBC Veil survey

    Findings of a BBC survey commissioned with ICM Omnibus, 29th November 200

    The ICM survey polled around 1000 people across the UK - 473 men and 531 women. The greatest support for a ban on the niqab was in airports and passport control- most markedly amongst people in the 45-54 age range. Of four types of locations - airports and passport control, court rooms, public transport and the workplace - the poll found that the least hostility to the niqab was at the workplace: 47% disapproved of any law to ban veils, while 41% approved. Interestingly, 57% of those in the 35-44 age range disapproved of any law in this area.

    56% disapproved of a law banning veils on public transport. BBC, 29th November 2006

    Burqa-bashing incidents

    'Ban the Burka here in Britain'

    " Britain should stop women wearing the body-concealing burkha, both Muslims and non-Muslims said yesterday. They were backing French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s call for Muslim women to be freed from being 'prisoners behind a screen'....

    In a poll for the Daily Express yesterday, 98 per cent of people said they agreed that Britain should ban the garment. There are about 2.4 million Muslims in the UK, although it is not known how many women here wear the burkha."
    Daily Express, 27th Jan 2010

    'UKIP woos white working class with call for total ban on burkas'

    "The UK Independence Party is to call for a ban on the burka and the niqab — the Islamic cloak that covers women from head to toe and the mask that conceals most of the face — claiming they affront British values. The policy, which a number of European countries are also debating, is an attempt by UKIP to broaden its appeal and address the concerns of disaffected white working-class voters. UKIP would be the first national party to call for a total ban on burkas, though the far-Right BNP believes they should be banned from schools.

    Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the leader of UKIP, said yesterday: 'We are taking expert advice on how we could do it. It makes sense to ban the burka — or anything which conceals a woman’s face — in public buildings. But we want to make it possible to ban them in private buildings. It isn’t right that you can’t see someone’s face in an airport'. He explained that UKIP wanted to bring to the fore the issue of the increasing influence of Sharia in Britain: 'We are not Muslim bashing, but this is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy'.

    Nigel Farage, the former UKIP party leader, will announce tomorrow that the party believes the fabric of the country is under threat from Sharia and that forcing women to conceal their identity in public is not consistent with traditional Britishness. UKIP believes that the burka and the niqab have no basis in Islam, are a threat to gender equality, marginalise women and endanger the public safety because terrorists could use them to hide their identity."
    The Times, 16th Jan 2010

    Burnley College, October - November 2009

    "A college has banned a Muslim woman from becoming a student - because she will not take off a veil hiding her face. Shawana Bilqes, 18, was turned away after trying to enrol on a course. Staff asked her to remove her burka - which covers everything but her eyes - for identity fraud purposes. But she told them she could not because of her religious beliefs, and was forced to abandon plans to sign up for the Access course to Higher Education Diploma..."
    The Sun, 24th Oct 2009

    FOSIS Press Release [10th November 2009]: "The decision by Burnley College to deny admission to Shawana Bilqes for wearing a veil is of great concern to us and to many Muslims who consider the veil to be a part of their faith. Such a decision will set a dangerous precedent for not only Muslims, but for members of other faith communities who wear symbols and clothing as an expression of their faith. However we are also extremely concerned at the manner in which the situation has been handled, it has come to our attention that Ms. Bilqes was publicly confronted in the presence of other students and staff in a manner unbefitting of an educational establishment and was repeatedly told that she was not allowed to wear the veil on or near the premises. It was also the case that Ms. Bilqes attended the college a number of times prior to enrolment and at no point was she informed of the College's policy on the veil. We believe that the decision not to inform her until enrolment day has caused undue stress and inconvenience towards Ms. Bilqes who could have applied elsewhere, but instead remains stranded and unable to complete her studies."

    Anti-Muslim hate crimes & Islamophobic incidents following the remarks

    Canning Town, London
    London Underground
    Glasgow Mosque Imam attack
    Leicester attack
    Uxbridge drive-by shooting
    Manchester mosque attack
    Manchester bus incident

    Canning Town, 6th October

    "In one incident a Muslim woman aged in her 20s had her hijab or headscarf pulled off her head and thrown to the ground by a young white man while she was at Canning Town Tube station in east London". (The Independent, report by Jason Bennetto, 14th October 2006)


    Liverpool, 6th October

    "A Muslim woman had the veil torn from her face by a white man who uttered racial abuse as she waited at a bus- stop in Liverpool's Toxteth district".


    Canterbury, 9th October

    "A 21-year-old Turkish student told Muslim News that she was standing outside a supermarket in Canterbury, Kent, wearing a hijab when she was verbally abused by a middle-aged white woman. The older woman told her she hated her being in Britain and wanted her to leave". (The Independent, report by Jason Bennetto, 14th October 2006)


    Hackney, 9th October

    "A black Muslim woman wearing a veil was getting off a bus when a passenger shouted out: "Why don't you show your, lovely hair?". (The Independent, report by Jason Benneto, 14th October 2006)


    London Underground incident

    "A Muslim woman wearing a hijab [, who] reported that when she got on to the London Underground two men standing next to her deliberately started discussing their support for a ban on veils. ". (The Independent, report by Jason Benneto, 14th October 2006)


    Glasgow mosque imam attack, 13th October

    The BBC reported that "A 53-year-old imam has been punched and kicked by a man who entered a mosque in the west end of Glasgow. Strathclyde Police confirmed that the incident, at the Dawat ul Islam centre, happened at about 1800 BST on Friday.

    Mohammed Shamsuddin was taken to the nearby Western Infirmary, but later discharged following treatment.

    The suspect is described as white, possibly 35-45 years, approximately 5ft 7 to 5ft 9 tall, of medium build with short greying hair and wearing jeans.

    Witnesses to the attack said the suspect verbally abused Imam Shamsuddin before punching and kicking him and then hitting him with a chair and other office equipment".


    Leicester attack, 14th October

    The Leicester Mercury reported that "Teenagers charged with causing grievous bodily harm to two Asian men at the weekend have been remanded in custody. The 17-year-olds, who cannot be identified, appeared in Leicester Youth Court on Wednesday. The offences are alleged to have been committed in Nether Hall Road, Leicester, on Saturday".

    Uxbridge drive-by shooting, 14th October

    The Muslim News reports that "A Muslim family of four were shot at when their car was hit by a bullet while out shopping in west London, The Muslim News reports exclusively in this week’s issue of the paper.

    The incident, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the latest wave of Islamophobia attacks in the UK, took place, when the family from Bosnia were loading items in their car at Denham Car Boot Sale, near Uxbridge.

    The local police described the shooting, which happened on October 14, as a racial and religious hate crime, but were unable to comment further".


    Manchester mosque attack, 23rd October

    The Guardian on 23rd October reported that a gang attacked a mosque in Greater Manchester and "beat up four men". Two men were arrested and are being questioned about racailly aggravated assault follwoing the incident in Eccles. The Asian News reported that "the thugs shouted racist abuse as they lashed out at the congregation - punching and kicking anyone they came across...."


    Manchester Bus incident, 2nd November

    The Manchester Evening News reports: "A Muslim woman was prevented from getting on a bus in Greater Manchester because she would not remove her veil.

    The 22-year-old Manchester University student from Oldham says other passengers laughed when the driver refused to let her on because he could not check her identity with her bus pass.

    Now the driver's bosses at First Manchester are to meet with their trade association, the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), to seek advice on how to deal with the problem if other passengers with photo passes refuse to lift their veils.

    ...The student, who didn't want to be named, tried to board the 59 bus to Oldham....She is now offering to help the company draw up guidance to drivers.



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