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Over the past week, British newspapers have been filled with discussion of the Islamic ‘Burka’, and its place (or lack thereof) in modern British society. Right-leaning papers like the Telegraph have called the garment retrograde and restrictive, while those on the Left have accused such critics of racism and religious ignorance.

The original catalyst for this controversy was a legal debate on the right to wear a ‘Burka’ in English courtrooms. In limited regard to this specific question, a debate hardly seems necessary. Of course you shouldn’t be allowed to wear a Burka in court. The idea is ridiculous. How are the Judge and Jury to assess your credibility when they can’t note your facial expressions, or indeed in some cases, properly hear you?

But that’s neither here nor there, as these things tend to, the debate has broadened quickly out into talk of a general ban on the veil in any context. To quote Allison Pearson in the Telegraph:

“(It is) un-British is to stand by and do nothing while girls born in this country are subject to misogynistic and discriminatory treatment. Instead of standing up for British values, there is only capitulation….. The bigotry charge is the cudgel used to beat those of us who insist that cultural values that oppress and diminish women have no place in our society. Let all girls and women be seen as well as heard. Ban the burka!”

Personally I find myself torn on subjects like this. It’s true that the Burka (actually called a ‘Niqab’) has no place on English streets, and it’s also true that the veil is impractical and hazardous in many social contexts.

But that said, I don’t want to live in a country where the government can decide what people may wear.

Should we concede to government the power to choose how we dress, there would be no turning back. The outlawing of the veil could soon become the outlawing of hoodies, baseball caps and any other item of clothing which obscures identity.

In France, where a ban on the Niqab has been operational for over a year, police officers have had to deal with riots in Islamic areas of Paris and Marseille directly because of their attempts to enforce it. This hardly seems worth it.

Furthermore, it is rightly said by anti-Burka campaigners that the veil oppresses women – but given that many are forced to wear it, would we not – by outlawing it – be condemning thousands of women to house arrest?

I do have great sympathy with anti-Burka campaigners and approve of much of their reasoning. But we must tackle Islamisation in its Gestalt form, not nitpick here and there and make vulnerable our own liberties. 

D, LDN.

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