Comments: opinion

In formulating policy re the niqaab (and burka), I think it's important NOT to think of it as a form of religious expression. Do that, and you're immediately confronted w/ whether one is FAVORING Islam *or* DISFAVORING Islam (i.e., the forms of Islam which emphasize the niqaab for women).

Rather, I believe one should treat it as a face covering. Do we have policies on face coverings? Think of all them: the bank robber mask, the Klansman's hood . . . but also the costume-party princess mask, or the Halloween costume (these are just some examples).

Put into this context, it can be made this is NOT an Islam-specific policy, but one that would apply to ANY face-covering.

I think Muslims just want to be treated equally.

Posted by JCF at Sunday, 22 September 2013 at 4:29am BST

I agree with JCF. The only reason for avoiding direct visual contact is to protect the victim, as with children in abuse cases. The defendant is an adult and stands accused. She is not a victim in need of protection.
if we are to engage with her Islamic faith as a justice system we allow her to swear an oath according to her faith practices. But she has to bear witness according to the rules of British Law.

Posted by commentator at Sunday, 22 September 2013 at 11:04am BST

"but also the costume-party princess mask, or the Halloween costume (these are just some examples)."

Both regularly worn by doctors and people transacting business in banks, I always find.

Posted by Interested Observer at Sunday, 22 September 2013 at 11:43am BST

Simply pretending that religious conviction has nothing to do with the niqab issue is both obfuscating the main issue at stake and trivialising the motives and the behaviour involved. Like it or not, the niqab is indeed a form of religious expression, and those of us who are jealous of the right to religious expression in any form should observe very carefully the debate that is going on at present. The question - for me, anyway - is not whether one is "for" or "against" Islam (a question that has no necessary bearing on one's attitude to Islamic face-covering), but rather whether one accepts the idea that the "secular" public space should be free of overt signs of religious expression.

Of course, in a very trivial sense what you say is true, JCF. In one way the niqab is a face covering like any other - inasmuch as there may be rare situations where pragmatism demands that no face covering can possibly be worn (passport control and so on - quite possibly in the courtroom). I doubt it lies beyond the ingenuity of the British people to devise ways of getting around those rare situations. But pretending that the religious significance of the niqab is of no significance at all and that it should be treated just like a Halloween mask (now banning Halloween - there's a political cause I could get behind) is willfully evading the point. The legitimacy of religious expression in public life is exactly the issue we are confronting.

Posted by rjb at Sunday, 22 September 2013 at 4:00pm BST

" but rather whether one accepts the idea that the "secular" public space should be free of overt signs of religious expression."

I would have thought that the recent court rulings on wearing crosses at work would cover this question too. Religious expression is fine as long as there are no overwhelming reasons against it. Walking through airport security in disguise would be one of those, as would be a teacher not being able to communicate effectively with pupils, a doctor with patients etc.

The only question can be what particular situations comes constitutes an exception, not whether there should be exceptions.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 22 September 2013 at 8:06pm BST

If face recognition is important in the public sphere; what could be said about facial hair? Is this not a disguise obscuring the identity of the person underneath? Or a wig? The examples are many.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 23 September 2013 at 12:48am BST

Fr Ron,
if someone had a beard that obscured his whole face bar his eyes I would recommend that to be trimmed back to normal levels.
Wigs don't obscure your facial reactions and they don't make it hard for pupils or patients to lip-read if necessary.
It's not actually all that difficult to come to sensible decisions, although I expect there will always be some borderline cases.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 23 September 2013 at 9:19am BST

Four things about the niqab:

1. It's nothing to do with Islam.

2. If I go to a foreign country, I respect their culture and traditions and will in all cases try and abide by them to the best of my ability. In our culture we do not require women to cover any part of their faces.

3. They demean women. A niqab is all about male domination, possession and persecution. (See Yasmin Alibhai-Brown!!)

4. For effective communication to take place between two people, you need to be able to see the other person's face.


Posted by Stephen Morgan at Monday, 23 September 2013 at 11:47am BST

"1. It's nothing to do with Islam."

that's a bit like saying that wearing crosses is not a core Christian requirement.
It is nevertheless something religious people do in the name of their religion.
I think we have to be very careful when we claim, on their behalf, that they are wrong - whether we're talking crosses or veils.

Our interpretation of the worn item cannot be what is decisive here. The only decisive consideration has to be that there is a balance to be struck between religious freedom and genuine employer requirements or security considerations, and that where that balance is upset, the genuine requirements of the employer and of security have to come first.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 23 September 2013 at 2:34pm BST
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