Tehmina Kazi: Inconsistency in enforcing laws just breeds resentment


Sunday 23 October 2011 06:44

I would be completely against a total ban of the face veil because it would be huge infringement of civil liberties.

If a woman makes an independent decision based on the religious texts, then who are we to question that? When women make an independent choice to wear these garments we have to support their human right to make that choice.

But my colleagues and I at British Muslims for Secular Democracy do support the Council of Europe's recent resolution which said that if a woman was coerced into wearing full-face veils by a family or community member, then the perpetrators should be punished. I would also support the restriction of face veils in certain key public spaces such as banks, nurseries and airports.

I think what annoys many people is not that women are going round with their faces veiled, it's the inconsistency with which laws over what people can or can't wear are applied. For example, you can't go into a bank with a motorbike helmet. But I've heard of many examples where people have been forced to take off their helmet and join a queue behind a woman in a niqab who is not asked to remove her veil. That kind of inconsistency breeds resentment and plays right into the hands of far-right groups.

It is certainly true that we do need to challenge assumptions within the Muslim community that it is acceptable to force a woman to wear certain items of clothing. But you don't do that by enforcing a ban on all women wearing the niqab.

What France has done will simply segregate these women. If the only way they can go out into the public space and engage in civic life is by wearing a face veil and you then take that veil away from them, you will simply marginalise them. Surely that is not what France's lawmakers had intended?

When Philip Hollobone says he won't see anyone who comes to his constituency office wearing a full-face veil, he is disempowering these women. If they had a genuine concern that they wanted to put across to their MP how on earth are they going to do that now?

Fortunately, I don't think you would ever see such moves for a ban in Britain – there would be an uproar and quite rightly.

It's a slippery slope when you have legislation which decides what people can or can't wear. Ultimately, if we banned every single item of clothing that some people didn't like, there would not be much clothing left to chose from.

Tehmina Kazi is director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy

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