Muslim Women’s Dress: Let’s use common sense and proportion

Published on MSN News website on 16th September 2o13

I welcome the judge’s decision today – the Muslim woman who refused to remove her face veil in court can stand trial in her veil but must remove it to give evidence.  He will allow her to be screened from public view but she has to be seen by judge, jury and lawyers.  I believe this is a very reasonable common sense approach.

Although I vociferously oppose a ban on the face veil, I believe there are particular circumstances in which it is necessary to show one’s face.  Giving evidence in a courtroom would be of those situations.  Studies show that much of communication is nonverbal. That means it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it.  When being questioned in court the face therefore becomes an essential part of the communication process and should be seen to ensure justice is done.  This is not just about making an assessment on the truthfulness of an individual but also for their protection. For example, it would be important to know if the person being questioned is getting upset or being put under unfair duress.

Jeremy Browne MP has called for a national debate on face veils and wants them banned in schools and public places.  We do not need a national debate on such a minor phenomenon.  Let’s put things into perspective.  The Muslim population in Britain is 2.8 million and there are about 1.4 million Muslim women, the overwhelming majority of who do not wear the face veil.  No one has carried out any research on how many actually wear it and the figure could vary between a few hundred to perhaps a couple of thousand. So any kind of ban would be a disproportionate response to this issue.

Although I agree that girls in school should not be wearing the face veil because it would interfere with learning, I am concerned about the timing of Jeremy Browne’s comments and for wanting to see a ban in all public places.  Is this really about political point scoring? Muslim women’s dress is often used for that.  I question whether such rhetoric is really about the protection of Muslim girls and women as he claims. In fact, they are facing unprecedented levels of discrimination and hostility, which includes verbal abuse and physical assaults. I don’t hear politicians rushing to their defense when this happens.  It feels like that there are people who simply don’t like the look of the face veil, and finding excuses to ban it.  I am a Muslim woman and I don’t like the face veil either but that is not a good enough reason to ban it.

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