A Ban on the Veil Is an Attack on Our Freedoms

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.

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