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Originally published at the Huffington Post in September

The Sun newspaper, that bastion of tolerance and intellectual thinking, has advocated a ban on the veil (the full length face covering some Muslim women wear). I’d prefer to follow the Students’ Union at the London School of Economics and ban The SUN, but of course that would be seen as an attack on freedom. Why is the veil and the rights of women to choose what they wear so different?

Whether forcing readers to view half naked women on Page 3 or advocating banning women’s ability to cover up, The Sun is leading the battle to control women’s bodies in twenty first century Britain.

Some MPs have said there should ‘be a debate about it’. Maybe parliament can then debate what underwear men wear. So lads, is it boxers or briefs? Ah yes, it’s nothing to do with anyone but the wearer. So why can’t that standard of autonomy and respect be applied to Muslim women? Why only their subjectivity and dress choices to be pathologised, fetishised and legislated over.

This ‘debate’ we busybody, non-veil wearing people are concerning ourselves with was kick started last week when Birmingham Met College issued a statement that it would be banning veils because of ‘security reasons’. The veil covers the faces apart from their eyes. So, why hasn’t the college also issued a statement banning over-sized ski goggles?

Imagine the scenario: term starts, Autumn weather sets in and students receive notification scarves must stay clearly below on the chin. A sea of blue-noses soon to appear at Birmingham Met, as security guards begin shouting at the college entrance, “we must be able to see your faces! It is for your own security! Hipsters, keep your snoods under control!”. The annual Halloween disco cancelled due to fear of fancy-dress masks threatening the ‘security’ of the college and baseball caps confiscated if they creep too below the brow.

The idea people can decide for Muslim women what to wear is rooted in racism. There’s been a long history of typicall white Christian people thinking they can tell brown non-Christians how to make better decisions and live better – it’s called colonialism or more specifically to us, the British Empire. Racism doesn’t exist in a vacuum or arrive out of nowhere. As it happens, Birmingham Met College itself has a long history of islamophobia. In 2005 the same Principle who advocated banning the veil, Christine Braddock, suspended two Muslim students for the horrifying crime of writing a letter requesting an Islamic Society (a type of Club most Universities have).

Christine Braddock, Jeremy Browne MP and the Sun newspaper are not just attacking Muslims when they attempt to control what women wear; it’s an attack on the rest of us. Women, of all religions and none, should not be told what they can and can’t do. If airports allow the wearing of the veil why did Birmingham Met College leap ahead in the mass-security stakes? Strangely, I’m more concerned about security at Heathrow than a Sociology A Level class. Thankfully due to a nation-wide backlash and mass-demonstration backed by the NUS, the college backed down.

After the veil was banned in France during 2011 what did this lead to? Far-right and fascist groups such as the Front National (National Front) then called for yarmulkes (Jewish head covering) to also be outlawed in public places.

“but, Islam is a religion, not race”, a thousand confused souls cry. Only in European Christian conception of religion can culture and faith be separated. How many races are there? 5? 7? 31? Race doesn’t exist in of itself, it’s a social construct. But then we still have the problem of racism and distinct ethnicities certain exists. The point is race is constructed through such things as ethnicity, culture and religious practices. If the veil was mainly worn by white people outlawing it wouldn’t be being discussed because it’s white people who control the social power system. The attack on the veil is just another way for the establishment to take a swipe at Muslims.

Another claim of the open-mouth-breathing brigade is, “but, I can’t wear a balaclava in a bank!”, actually you can legally wear a balaclava in a bank, they’ll just think you’re about to rob the place because everyone has seen Hollywood heist movies. Not all clothing items are the same. A balaclava is not part of anyone’s religious practice, the veil is. Let’s not pretend all clothing is of the same meaning and worth or shoulder-pads could return.

The proposed veil ban goes to the heart of our democratic secular society. Religious freedoms are enshrined in our society, that’s actually what secularism was originally conceived as. Secularism is not simply about separation between church and state, but ensuring equal freedom for religious expression, protecting members of minority religions, whilst also ensuring the rights of people to not practice religion.

Let’s defend a woman’s right to choose. Women should not be told what to do with their bodies, whether that’s regarding abortion or what they want to wear, regardless of whether we agree with why they want to wear it.

Originally published in the Huffington Post in September

Footage has emerged on YouTube of a non-white staff member at Selfridges refusing to serve English Defence League leader (EDL), Tommy Robinson, and an associate. The EDL is a fascist street-movement in the UK, diminishing greatly in the last twelve months, with dwindling demonstration numbers and public relations mishaps.

Just last week the EDL ensured a Love Music Hate Racism gig in Ipswich, organised by a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl, had to be cancelled after threats of violence. When they’re not buying trousers from Selfridges they’re opposing music nights celebrating multi-culturalism. Life for the average EDL member is clearly fantastic. Or if you’re Tommy Robinson, glorious incidents occur such as attempting to enter North America illegally and getting ironically deported as a fledgling illegal immigrant.

The staff member at Selfridges should be commended for his actions. There needs to be maximum opposition to fascism. Whether that’s turning up for a protest, denouncing the EDL online as the Nazi scum they are or refusing to sell them designer underwear, to take a phrase from a far more down-market store than where Tommy Robinson shops, ‘every little helps’.

Twitter has been awash with confused comments in support of Robinson’s efforts to get the Selfridges staff member sacked. Some choice gems are a paraphrasing of, “but isn’t it fascist, what the staff member did, refusing to serve Tommy because of his beliefs?” These people seem to equate not bagging someone’s items because they’re a racist with a system of oppression based on racism. Anti-racism and racism – they’re actually opposites (the clue is in the word ‘anti’). Anyone would think that six millions Jews weren’t murdered under fascism and were actually only banned from upmarket clothing stores. There is a fairly large distinction.

Others rely on cries of, “but it’s company policy to serve everyone!” Ah, terms of employment, the new “I was only doing my job”, said by every extermination camp guard, Gestapo member, or typist of the Auschwitz departure timetable. Actually there is no obligation to serve someone as a staff member. You simply cannot be refused service on the basis of gender, sexuality, race, disability or religion. You can be refused service for being rude. Or if you’re Tommy Robinson, an individual that wants the staff member at the till, his parents, siblings and children, to be discriminated against. That’s quite rude.

Workplaces are inherently political. This goes beyond customer service, to the very heart of what it means to live in society. Workplaces are not outside society. So, when we say racism and fascism should be challenged throughout society, we mean at work.

If you agree that the staff member should be supported, please email customerservices@selfridges.com telling them you now think more of their store values and commend the young man caught on video, showing Tommy Robinson that he won’t be treated like everyone else because he isn’t like everyone else. Robinson is a fascist and I hope all Nazis get refused service everywhere they go, even in clothes shops, in order to highlight intolerance based on race/sexuality/religion won’t be tolerated. Though, the entire EDL in dressing gowns at their next demonstration might make me regret such a scenario.