Reading the opinions of Nigel Farage MEP and Gaffur Hussain in this edition of the Journal, it would appear that the dominant reasoning behind proposals to ban the veil worn by Muslim women—either the niqab in its purely facial manifestation, or the burqa when it covers the entire body—from some elements of public life would be the facial character of human interaction.
Those making that point must face up to this reality. Not only is their argument nonsensical—their lack of regard for the true motivations which underpin such moves across Europe is a dangerous self-delusion, concealing the degree to which western society has, over the past decade, whipped itself into an irrational fear of all overt displays of Islamic faith and culture.
The claim that such policies are to do with guaranteeing security at airports and the like is ludicrous. “What happens next?” asks Nigel Farage, imagining a veiled woman approaching airport passport control. What has always happened, of course: security procedures are carried out with a modicum of sensitivity; in most cases, veiled women are led to a private room and identified or searched by another woman. There have been numerous terror plots attempted and carried out by Muslims in the past decade; none of these were carried out using a burqa to conceal weapons, explosives or someone’s identity. It would less ridiculous a leap of logic for authorities to have banned shoes after Richard Reid’s attempt to blow up an airliner, or underwear following Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab’s Boxing Day misadventure.
Security is far from absent in countries where use of the veil is more common than in the UK—places such as Egypt, where the Grand Mufti of Cairo is right to identify it as a habit outside of Islamic scripture. But it would be a dark irony indeed if his judgement, made in a country known for its wilful disregard of civil liberties, were used out of context to deny the rights of British residents, all in the name of ‘equality’.
The entire veil debate itself out of context in the UK, where roughly 2.6 percent of the population consider themselves to be Muslim. The scale of the ‘problem’ and the disproportionate response is illustrated in France, where despite finding that just 1900 women wear full veils, MPs nonetheless recommended a ban should be imposed in hospitals, schools, government offices and public transport. "The wearing of the full veil is a challenge to our republic. This is unacceptable. We must condemn this excess,” said the President of the French National Assembly, Bernard Accoyer; he may wish instead to reflect on the excess inherent in his colleagues proposals, given that the proposed ban has been watered down out of concern for its constitutionality.
A society that cannibalises its own laws out of fear is dangerous; one that creates its own nightmares is ridiculous. The ghettoisation of Muslims and other faith and ethnic communities across Britain means that this issue only affects the country beyond certain urban areas via the front pages of certain newspapers. Much like the issue of foxhunting was presented as the urban well-to-do forcing an unwanted liberal agenda on the countryside, so we find Outraged of Tunbridge Wells deciding the social makeup and breakdown of Britain’s towns and cities.
If the necessity and importance of a ban on the Muslim veil are both circumspect, then one has to question the motives of those advancing the debate. Only the most recondite commentators would deny that there is an element of highly targeted xenophobia inherent in calls to limit the freedom of expression of one religious and cultural group alone. There are no demands from the residents of Golders Green to ban the traditional religious garb of the community’s Hasidic Jews; nor do the people of Birmingham or Leicester make the news in calling for a ban on Sikh turbans. This retrograde national debate says far more about the instability of British identity than it does about any member of the Muslim community’s failure to adapt to it.