Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: They are right to ban the burka, even if it is for the wrong reasons

Friday 08 January 2010 01:00 GMT

France has never delivered égalité or fraternité to its immigrants. And it often uses liberté to in fact deny those other pillars of its society. There is also a lingering imperial arrogance in that nation that refuses to accept diversity. However it is also true that Muslims in France, in Britain and in other parts of Europe use the argument of equality and liberty to subvert those very qualities and deny them to their own.

We have a debate in the UK on faith schools based entirely on the equal rights of Muslims. Jews and Christians have their schools, so Muslims should too. That argument is indisputable. But for a society in which we can all live with the rights we are entitled to, equality can not be the only factor to consider.

I think the same holds for the burka debate in France. Muslims have the right to be free and equal but what they do not have the right to do is promote practices that violate the fundamentals of good societies anywhere, not just in the West.

The use of the burka has grown like a virus across the continent. Children as young as four are now dressed in hijab. It is time for us as a continent to rethink a garment which is more a statement about the position of women and the threat of men who apparently cannot control themselves if they see a woman's face, hair, hand or ankles, than an item of clothing. It also physically cuts women off from other citizens. Last autumn I was in Canada, a very free and equal society, and saw not a single burka.

It is heartening that Fadela Amara, a Muslim female politician in France, has come out in favour of a ban. We need more such voices. All the Muslim women I know detest this garment but are afraid to say so because it is a mark of disloyalty. I don't like the way the French state or its right wing parties operate but sometimes there are some good unintended consequences.

Most Muslim girls in French state schools are now perfectly content not covering their heads and they have not turned into slags. In Paris recently, Fatima, 15, told me something we in Britain should remember: "We needed protection. Sometimes we needed protection from the people who love us. And France protected us."

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