Maajid Nawaz gives his views on the social and security issues surrounding face-veiling in the Mail Online.
In July 2007, the leader of the Red Mosque siege in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, Abdul Aziz Ghazi, attempted to escape dressed in a burka. Luckily, Pakistan’s security forces – who are overwhelmingly Muslim – displayed no ‘cultural sensitivity’ when demanding he remove his face veil for identification purposes, and Ghazi was arrested.
During that same year Yassin Omar, a member of the 21/7 terrorist cell that attempted to bomb London’s transport system, fled our capital dressed in a burka before being arrested in Birmingham a few days later. In 2006, murder suspect Mustaf Jama slipped out of the UK via Heathrow . . . dressed in a burka. So was it really any surprise that last month, terror suspect Mohammed Ahmed
Mohammed absconded after emerging from a mosque in West London disguised in a burka?
Any item of clothing that covers the face and makes it impossible to identify individuals is open to abuse. Like many, I look with increasing exasperation on the niqab – which covers the face – and the burka – the garment that covers the entire body. That said, I do not believe in a blanket ban on the niqab. But the quid pro quo is that when everyone else in society is expected to identify themselves, a Muslim woman wearing a niqab should not be exempted.
It’s time we tackled head on the genuine security concerns and social consequences of face-veiling in modern Britain. It is not only reasonable, but our duty to insist individuals remove the veil when they enter identity-sensitive environments such as banks, airports, courts and schools. Legally speaking, there is no basis for any exception to be made, but the sad fact is exceptions are being made because we have become too spineless to do anything about it.
Let me make this clear: it is our duty to adopt a policy barring the wearing of niqabs in these public buildings. Here’s my test: where a balaclava, motorcycle helmet or face mask would be deemed inappropriate, so should a niqab. It’s simple really.
Teachers are already not allowed to hand children over to unidentified adults at the school gates. Students are already expected to show ID cards before entering colleges and universities. In fact, while sitting for exams, students are expected to keep their photo ID visible on their desks at all times.
It is already customary that evidence in court be given while the identity and expression on a person’s face are scrutinised by the judge and jury for signs of duplicity. Motorcyclists are already expected to remove their helmets when entering a bank.
In light of recent death threats I received from the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab for the counter-extremism work of my organisation Quilliam, these concerns are all the more relevant to me personally. I recall that Stephen Timms MP was stabbed in his surgery by an extremist Muslim woman and, as a prospective MP, I know that I too need to be careful. It is therefore natural for me to insist, if I am elected, that all people visiting my surgery or office verify their identity, which means revealing one’s face.
Being a non-devout Muslim who is relatively conversant with Islamic theology, I am also aware that the ultra-conservative view stating Muslim women must cover their faces applies – even within their own medieval framework of reasoning – only when they are outdoors. It is therefore inconsistent to claim that the niqab applies indoors, such as in a school or office environment. Also, Islam universally allows women to show their faces for the purpose of identification, regardless of sect.
Finally, the medieval Muslim rules on religious attire do not apply to children, in any circumstance. So, schools that enforce the headscarf, face veil and burka on children as a dress code are guilty of encouraging a downward spiral that will only end in fundamentalists being the victors.
But common sense and religious consensus seem to have been thrown out of the window in recent years as many young Muslim women – and their far-Left allies – appear to be defending the niqab as a form of ‘rage against the machine’. The niqab, for some, has become an anti-Establishment symbol around which one can rally and relish in the opportunities for confrontation that it provides.
Trumped-up accusations of Islamophobia that normally follow any attempt to instigate sensible measures to curb the potential risks associated with face-veiling are often enough to stifle debate.
The decision by Birmingham Metropolitan College to drop their plans to ban students from covering their faces on campus is a case in point. The campaign to challenge the college’s plan to ban the face veil galvanised not only Muslims but many far-Left student activists.
There will be many who believe that as a man – even a Muslim man – I have no right to comment on the religious dress of women. But I will take no lectures from anyone presuming a certain level of ‘piety’ who would judge my mother, my sister, and my female friends by how ‘irreligiously’ dressed they are, while telling me to step out of the debate. Instead, I choose to exercise my right to air this debate in public and point out that it is men – very dangerous men, in fact – who are evading our security services disguised as women in burkas.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we have allowed a form of discrimination to creep in against everyone but those who wear the veil. Yes, women should be free to cover their faces when walking down the street. But in our schools, hospitals, airports, banks and civil institutions, it is not unreasonable – nor contrary to the teachings of Islam – to expect women to show the one thing that allows the rest of us to identify them . . . namely their face.
Maajid Nawaz is Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, where Labour’s Glenda Jackson is standing down at the General Election.
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