Saturday 13 March 2010

Tory MP call for ban on burqa and niqab

Philip Hollobone, the Tory MP who last month equated the wearing of niqab and burqa by Muslim women to ‘the religious equivalent of going around with a paper bag over your head’, took the opportunity during yesterday’s Commons’ debate on International Women’s Day to repeat his claims that a ban on the burqa and niqab should be considered.

According to Hansard, Hollobone interjected saying:

‘On this occasion of international women's day, I want to raise the difficult subject of Islamic full-face veils-specifically, the niqab and the burqa. I am sure we can all agree with the Leader of the House's remarks-we all want to empower women in being equal. In my view and that of my constituents, the niqab and the burqa are oppressive dress codes that are regressive as regards the advancement of women in our society. I want to make it clear that I am talking about the niqab and the burqa, not the hijab, the khimar or the chador.

‘I have been concerned for some time about the niqab and the burqa, but it was not until I took my children to the play area in my local park recently and saw a woman wearing a full burqa that it came home to me how inappropriate and, frankly, offensive it is for people to wear that apparel in the 21st century and especially in Britain. In my view and that of my constituents, the burqa is not an acceptable form of dress and banning it should be seriously considered.'

‘As I was sitting on the bench in the playground watching my children play on the slides, I thought to myself, "Here I am, in the middle of Kettering in the middle of England-a country that has been involved for centuries with spreading freedom and democracy throughout the world-and here's a woman who, through her dress, is effectively saying that she does not want to have any normal human dialogue or interaction with anyone else. By covering her entire face, she is effectively saying that our society is so objectionable, even in the friendly, happy environment of a children's playground, that we are not even allowed to cast a glance on her." I find that offensive and I think it is time that the country did something about it.

‘We will never have a country in which we can all rub along together and in which people of different backgrounds, different ethnicities and different religions all get along nicely if one section of our society refuses even to be looked on by anyone else. As I thought more about it, it struck me that the issue is not the clothes that someone wears but the fact that the face is covered. Lots of people wear what others might feel is inappropriate clothing. That is, of course, everyone's choice. The issue with the niqab and the burqa, however, is not that they are just another piece of clothing but that they involve covering the face either in its entirety or with just the eyes showing.

‘The simple truth is that when a woman wears the burqa, she is unable to engage in normal, everyday visual interaction with everyone else. That is indeed the point of it. It is deliberately designed to prevent others from gazing on that person's face. The problem with that is that it goes against the British way of life. Part of the joy of living in our country is that we pass people every day in the street, exchange a friendly greeting, wave, smile and say hello. Whether we recognise someone as a person we know or whether we are talking to someone for the first time, we can all see who the other person is and we interact both verbally and through those little visual facial signals that are all part of interacting with each other as human beings.

‘If we all went round wearing burqas, our country would be a sad place indeed. Indeed, if we were all to be wearing burqas in this Chamber, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how would you know who to call? I also feel very sorry for women who wear the burqa, as it cannot be very nice to go around all day with only a limited view of the outside world. Of course, many of these women are forced to wear the burqa by their husband or their family. The resulting lack of interaction with everyone else means that many are unable to speak or learn English and so will never have any chance of becoming integrated into the British way of life.

‘The other issue with the burqa is security. Of course, that problem arises with some other forms of face covering and I do not see why those wearing the burqa should be treated any differently. Bikers wear crash helmets for their own safety, but they are required to take them off in banks and shops. If one were to travel on the tube wearing a balaclava, a police officer would ask one to take it off.

‘Many of my constituents have contacted me to say that when they visit Muslim countries they respect the dress codes in those countries and wear appropriate headgear. The phrase that has been given to me time and again is, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." This is Britain; we are not a Muslim country. Covering one's face in public is strange, and to many people it is intimidating and offensive. I seriously think that a ban on wearing the niqab or the burka in public should be considered.’

And speaking to the Daily Express, what a surprise, Hollobone said:

“This is not an anti- Muslim or anti-religious thing, and it’s not about veils which cover only the head or neck.

“It’s about covering your face in public, which is something we normally associate with people attending controversial trials or motorcyclists or burglars.

“It is not a religious requirement and it is banned in some Muslim countries such as Turkey and Tunisia. Yet it is an increasingly common sight in Britain and it is making us feel like strangers in our own land."

Hollobone’s arrogance is to be marveled at. Does he presume to know what a Muslim woman who wears the niqab or burqa is thinking? Did he speak to the Muslim woman he encountered in the playground and did she tell him in no uncertain terms that she wore it to deter ‘any normal human dialogue or interaction with anyone else’?

The intimation that Muslim women who cover are somehow uniquely offensive, (he said, ‘Lots of people wear what others might feel is inappropriate clothing. That is, of course, everyone's choice. The issue with the niqab and the burqa, however, is not that they are just another piece of clothing but that they involve covering the face either in its entirety or with just the eyes showing’), is to denigrate the religious significance they attach to the act of covering. In overlooking this Hollobone widely detracts from his lofty ‘we all want to empower women in being equal’ ideal and betrays a deep rooted prejudice.

Hollobone might well be surprised to learn that ‘empowered’ Muslim women often choose of their own volition to adopt the niqab and burqa. And while they applaud the ideals of empowering women and gender equality, what they patently don’t need or want are middle aged, male politicians telling them how an empowered British Muslim woman should dress and what she should think.


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