| ||The papers are awash with the UK Independence Party’s announcement at the weekend that it will ban the burqa and niqab in the UK: Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Star, The Times and the BBC). |
Nigel Farage (pictured), former UKIP leader and current MEP Leader in the European parliament, told the BBC Politics programme:
"If I wanted to go into a bank wearing a motorcycle helmet, I couldn't. And it's not acceptable to wear a balaclava on the Tube or bus systems. Most large shopping centres even forbid hoodies because these tops disguise the wearer. The muslim veils are no different in having that effect but UKIP believes that security issues aside, they are also a symbol of a divided Britain.
"They are part of a cultural, not religious, garment. There is no requirement in the Koran to wear a veil, only to dress modestly. UKIP believes that the wearers are prevented from full assimilation into our way of life because of the feelings of unease they give rise to in the rest of the population.'
"UKIP doesn't believe in the multicultural separation that Islamic extremists wish to pursue through the gradual imposition of Sharia law. We believe in single British culture and values shared by all British people.
"After all, this is Britain and our way of life is to get along with each other. In a liberal democracy, it is not for a small minority to impose their way of life on a majority.”
And Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the new leader of UKIP, said yesterday: “We are taking expert advice on how we could do it. It makes sense to ban the burka — or anything which conceals a woman’s face — in public buildings. But we want to make it possible to ban them in private buildings. It isn’t right that you can’t see someone’s face in an airport.”
“We are not Muslim bashing, but this is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy.”
The announcement is outrageous in its presumptions and shocking in its consequences.
The argument that the practice is ‘cultural’ and not ‘religious’ is a common ploy used to undermine the grounds on which Muslim women defend their right to adopt the niqab and burqa. By deeming it cultural, not religious, the inference is that British culture trumps native cultures and so Muslim women should discard this particular ‘cultural’ practice.
The claim is entirely specious given that the niqab and burqa are worn by women whose reading of Qur’anic text on ‘modest dress’ and understanding of following the examples set by the wives of the Prophet (saw) leads them to adopt this attire. It is totally a religious issue and a matter of defending a Muslim woman’s right to freedom of religion and dress.
In stating that ‘There is no requirement in the Koran to wear a veil, only to dress modestly,’ are Farage and Lord Pearson advancing the right to interpret the Qur’an for Muslims and determine how ‘modest dress’ is to be defined? Are they experts in Islamic exegesis and law to be in a position to define the edicts of Islam?
As The Times editorial on Saturday observes:
‘The Times had not hitherto realised that Nigel Farage was an authority on such matters, or that the party leader Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who was visited by God when on the operating table in 1977, thereby gained not only his Christian faith but also a mastery of the Koran. This newly acquired scholarship notwithstanding, the religious insights of politicians are entirely irrelevant when judging the right of British citizens to dress as they wish.’
UKIP’s xenophobia is masked with its apparent concern for equality of opportunity. Farage said that:
‘…wearers are prevented from full assimilation into our way of life because of the feelings of unease they give rise to in the rest of the population’.
Which is a strange statement to say the least. It would suggest Muslim women are not held back from being full members of society of their own accord but because others hold them at a distance for ‘feelings of unease’.
Is it UKIP’s contention then to introduce legislation banning other forms of attire because they too generate ‘feelings of unease’ in sections of the population?
A less xenophobic party and politician would tackle the sentiments that cause feelings of unease than try and crack a nut with a sledgehammer and blanketly ban pieces of clothing, thus pandering to prejudice.
Farage’s remark that “UKIP doesn't believe in the multicultural separation that Islamic extremists wish to pursue through the gradual imposition of Sharia law,” and confusing this with the choice Muslim women make in adopting the burqa or niqab is typical of the sort of alarmism we’ve come to expect from those disposed to playing out the ‘Eurabia’ thesis, viewing a Muslim woman’s freedom of religion and dress as tantamount to a Muslim takeover of native cultures.
Both Farage and Lord Pearson expound the fundamental qualities of our culture that, in their view, ought to preclude the right of Muslim women to dress as they choose. Farage said, “In a liberal democracy, it is not for a small minority to impose their way of life on a majority,” and Lord Pearson adds, “this [niqab/burqa] is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy.”
Leaving aside the fact that Muslim women are not ‘imposing’ anything on anyone, Farage and Lord Pearson’s crafting of a democratic defence is disingenuous in the extreme. Liberal democracies are defined, among other things, by the protections accorded in their constitutions to minority groups protecting them against the ‘tyranny of the majority’. And contrary to what Lord Pearson claims, the niqab and burqa are precisely compatible with ‘values of freedom and democracy’, including the right to freedom of religion, and all that it entails in terms of religious dress.
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