Last week, Birmingham Metropolitan College reversed its decision to ban the face veil following student protests led by one Sabiha Mahmood, 27. That same day, Judge Peter Murphy at Blackfriars Crown Court compromised with a 22-year-old woman accused of witness intimidation by allowing to keep her face covering except when giving evidence. This unwelcome news demonstrates how my country is being held to ransom by a clique of extremists.
The veil to which I am referring is known either as a niqab (which covers only the face) or the burqa (which covers the whole body), garments sported by some Muslim women. They are commonly worn in the Middle East, but prior to the 21st century were never seen in Britain. Though the number of women dressed in this ridiculous manner is small, the outlandishness of their attire makes them stand out like a sore thumb. I am convinced that that is exactly what they desire: a sense of separateness, aloofness, elevation above the kuffar around them.
I believe the veil has no place in Britain or, indeed, Europe. Many of those who share my belief maintain that the niqab and burqa are symbols of oppression, but I do not agree. The women who wear them do so of their own free will; indeed, I suspect they rather enjoy the controversy they have courted, for this is a contentious issue that has wider implications than simply a question of adherance to a dress code. These are the most common arguments I hear from the niqabis:
“It’s an expression of our religion”
BZZZZT! Wrong! The Qur’an instructs women to dress modestly, to “cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad)” (33:59). This does not mean they must completely cover the face. If it did, what implications would that have for those Muslim women who prefer not to conceal themselves? Are they unfaithful, impious, heretical, even? In Turkey, Tunisia and Azerbaijan, where the majority of the population is Muslim, face veils are outlawed.
“We should be free to wear what we want”
We are free to wear what we want here in Britain, but we draw the line at face coverings. Motorcyclists wear crash helmets for protection but they must remove them when entering a public building or a bank, for obvious security reasons. Why should a niqab be any different? If I am forbidden from wearing a hood in a shopping centre so that I may be identified on CCTV, why should a niqabi be given preferential treatment? It is not just an issue of security, however. There is a reason why human beings have so many facial muscles: we read the face in our communication with each other. When you remove 55% of your means of communication, you are in effect creating a psychological barrier, an impediment to social interaction. I will not even attempt to befriend a woman who wears a face veil, because tacitly she is saying that she does not want my friendship. So what if I can read laughter in the eyes? I cannot see the smile, can I? When it comes to dress codes, we enjoy many freedoms, but a face covering is a step too far. The high street is not a fancy-dress party.
“A ban would be a slippery slope”
Outlawing the veil would, according to the Muslim Council’s Talat Ahmed, “involve embarking on a slippery slope where the freedom to wear religious attire of all faiths would be at risk.” This is absolute nonsense. Very few Britons complain about the yarmulke, Buddhist robes, nun’s habits or turbans. This is a tolerant and pluralistic society where a variety of clothing is accepted, but there are limits – very reasonable limits at that. The face veil is a security risk and an impediment to social cohesion; how are we to understand and accept other faiths when we cannot even recognise those who practise them?
I note with interest that it is mostly women in their teens and twenties who are adopting the niqab. What do young women love doing more than anything else these days? That’s right: they love to show the world how strong and independent they are (personally, I blame the Spice Girls). For these young Muslim women, there is no better way to push the boundaries than by wearing clothing that offends many people. They maintain that they are ’empowered’ by the veil. Well, of course they are! With this visual assertion of their difference, they are attempting to elevate themselves above others, especially non-Muslims, and demonstrate their superiority. This is not about freedom of worship, at all. Judge Murphy, when he compromised with that obstreperous young woman, let down his country and made a mockery of the legal system. There must be no compromise when it comes to the law, otherwise we in effect create a privileged élite who are subject to different rules. Is that what we want in a democratic Western society?
I am prepared to befriend a man or woman whether they be a vision of beauty or ugly as sin. What is important is that I can see their faces and recognise them so that I may greet them. The niqab is a two-fingered gesture aimed at at the West, at liberalism and at the very concept of social inclusion. The authorities must not let these insolent madams win. I sincerely hope that the United Kingdom one day follows the example of her European neighbours and bans the veil from public places.