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Sunday 10 April 2011

Veil has no place in any dealings with the public

There is no religious requirement for the covering of a Muslim woman's face, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

I LOATHE burkas, which cover a woman's entire face and body, leaving her a mesh screen to peer through. I hate niqabs, face veils that leave just the area around the eyes clear. I really dislike grim, shapeless full-body cloaks such as abayas and chadors, and I'm not a great fan of the hijab, the enveloping headscarf, though at least that leaves the face clear.

In short, I'm repelled by the various uniforms donned by an increasing number of Muslim women and outraged when I see children being stuffed into coverings that deny them sunlight. Face coverings aggressively put two fingers up to the Christian or secular cultures of Europe where millions of Muslims have settled; they signal that integration is being actively resisted. To cover your face is to say: "I rejoice in being different from you and I don't want to know you." (Shades of Ian Paisley before he became cuddly shouting at his faithful: "Come ye out from among them; be ye separate.")

To those of us who know something of Islam, it is even more offensive that there is no religious requirement for such dress; it's just a depressing Arab cultural practice taken to extremes. The Koran simply enjoins modesty for men and women alike: Muhammad wouldn't make a fuss about my wardrobe.

To most Europeans, these horrible black garments are a visible and offensive sign of oppression of women, and indeed it is true that over the centuries and still today, many Islamic clerics have been chauvinist bullies determined to control women rigidly. In the name of sexual purity, they have kept men and women apart and women hidden from public view. One result in communities where that is common practice is that men have never learned self-control and believe that any woman showing any flesh whatsoever is a whore who deserves what is coming to her. In Britain, we are seeing gruesome consequences in cities where Muslim mosque-going men groom for promiscuous sex vulnerable, non-Muslim teenagers whom they despise.

With the rise of Islamism, murder in the name of Allah and venomous West-hating, anti-semitic preachers radicalising the vulnerable, European countries with large Muslim populations are becoming frightened that there is an enemy in their midst intent on imposing an alien culture. Politicians who did nothing to control immigration or demand of newcomers that they toe the cultural line are wringing their hands as voters threaten revolt. In the UK, coming up to the local elections, David Cameron has made tough speeches about the failure of multiculturalism and the downside of mass immigration. Ireland may think it hasn't a problem, but it's only a matter of time.

The sober Dutch in last year's general election voted into third place in parliament the anti-immigration, pro-assimilation Party for Freedom headed by Geert Wilders -- for long reviled by liberals as an Islamophobe for such statements as: "Very many Dutch citizens . . . have had enough of burkas, headscarves, the ritual slaughter of animals, so called honour revenge, blaring minarets, female circumcision, hymen restoration operations, abuse of homosexuals, Turkish and Arabic on the buses and trains as well as on town hall leaflets, halal meat at grocery shops and department stores, Sharia exams, the Finance Minister's Sharia mortgages, and the enormous over-representation of Muslims in the area of crime." A burka ban was one concession Wilders gained for supporting the new government.

France has now banned anyone from covering their face in public: because of the country's secular ethos, they may get away with it without too much violence. The British, who genuinely care about freedom of expression, but who are absolutely fed up with creeping Islamification of many parts of their towns and cities, are debating if they should follow suit. I've agonised over this, but have concluded that the UK shouldn't sacrifice its magnificent tradition of tolerance. I don't think it will.

What European governments should do, however, is refuse to allow anyone in the public service to cover their faces to the detriment of those they serve. Doctors, nurses, receptionists, teachers, lawyers, judges, housing officers, benefit clerks -- anyone who has to see the public face-to-face -- cannot do the job properly if covered: nor can pupils or students. Similarly, no one who refuses to show their face should be let through security, and private firms should be free to decline to hire veiled women if they think they would be bad for business. And while I accept that many women voluntarily wear the veil -- indeed, in the case of the young, it's often a sign of rebellion -- I'm all for emulating the French in imposing huge fines on anyone found guilty of forcing women or girls to cover against their will.

The trick is to hold on to our values but hang tough.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards