Chair of Young Greens Against “Penalising” Full-Face Veil in Schools.
Photo by Yemeni photographer Boushra al-Moutawakel.
This has appeared in Left Foot Forward.
Earlier this week, Ofsted head Michael Wilshaw confirmed that inspectors can downgrade schools if they feel that the wearing of the niqab – by either teachers or pupils – is impairing learning. Phrased like this, it seems a reasonable policy.
In reality, however, opening the door to penalising the wearing of Islamic dress in this way is deeply worrying.
For a start, it’s unclear exactly why the niqab might be an obstacle to learning. Muslims have been teaching, learning and otherwise communicating wearing the full-face veil for centuries in Islamic countries all around the world.
I shall not discuss her comments on Ofstead’s targets.
I shall leave aside the obvious point that the full-face veil is clearly a barrier to anybody who relies on lip-reading, and is clearly a barrier to interacting to people on an important non-verbal basis – seeing people’s expressions.
And the fact that dress codes exist in all schools.
The full-face veil introduces the fact of religious practice into all school activities.
The author of the article puts approval of sanctions on the Niqab in the context of the Prevent Strategy and attempts by the British state to tackle Islamist extremism. She sees this as part of a “a trend in recent weeks and months that has seen the practise, expression or even discussion of Islam in schools as suspicious.”
Undoubtedly the government’s plans and actions do little to deal with what is a real problem. Few will have much confidence in a Cabinet or a Prime Minister’s anti-racist status when they have shown callous disregard for refugees.
But if indeed Van der Ham thinks that there is no problem with Islamism then she is welcome to visit Kobane and see the graves the martyrs who died protecting the Kurdish town from Daesh, and the unmarked remains of the tens of thousands of who have been slaughtered by the genocidal Islamists, enslaved, been raped and tortured. Fighting the religious cleansing of non-Muslims form the region, and the inter-Islamic murders, are frankly the number one issue in the world today.
Faced with this horrifying religious murder it is no doubt commendable that the Young Greens find time to worry about the fate of school pupils proclaiming their religious identity.
She could have there to see our Kurdish sisters and brothers when this happened: Kurds Celebrate Liberation of Kobane as Islamic State Calls for New Paris-Style Attacks. Liz Fields.
If Van de Ham thinks that this do not affect Britain – however much the hundreds of UK volunteers for the death squads of Daesh are in the minority – then perhaps she should have watched The Jihadis Next Door, or looked at the list of those who have left the country to join the genociders.
There is another context.
It is impossible to ignore that it is an erosion of the separation of religion from the state and legal and educational system.
Time to end the special favours shown to faith schools: Allowing new free schools to select 100% of admissions on the grounds of religion would be a backward step that would further divide communities.
Jamie Martin Guardian 26th of January.
Faith schools accused of ‘religious racism’ for turning away pupils. Rabbi says closing the door to children over race would be ‘intolerable’ but religious segregation is permitted.
Richard Garner. Independent. 28.1.16.
Supporting the full-face veil in schools lets the way open for religious division and the exercise of religious power in the classroom, and, one should underline, will happen if the teacher herself is wearing this garment? What message does this give to ‘non-believers’?
There are many serious difficulties at stake.
This article explains some of the wider issues about what some would call the “religious racism” of the Niqab.
Why feminists should oppose the burqa. (New Humanist)
Islamic veiling is a form of sexist patriarchal oppression, and supporters of equality have a responsibility to say so, argues Terri Murray
In Islamic cultures the predominant theological reasoning for veiling seems to be that the female body is such a powerful sexual object that nothing short of covering it can prevent men from molesting it. According to Islamic Hadith (or poor interpretations of it) the female body is so powerfully sexual that it is literally irresistible to the opposite sex. I refer those who argue that this is a misinterpretation of Islam to this statement by Australia’s influential senior Islamic cleric, Sheik Taj Aldin as-Hilali:
“If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside. . . without cover, and the cats come to eat it. . . whose fault is it, the cats’ or the uncovered meat’s? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.”
Some Westernised Muslim academics deny the primary theological significance of the burqa and instead claim that it is imbued with powerful symbolism by Western colonialism. Westerners, they argue, see the burqa as a symbol of the irrevocable “otherness” of Muslims. Accordingly the “hysterical” reactions to veiling are just a Western contrivance (a pretext for racist attitudes towards Muslims following 9/11). Yet the discourse vacillates between this claim and the contradictory claim that the veil has no special significance other than what the wearer intends it to mean, and so is no more than a form of personal expression – a symbol of Muslim women’s freedom to “be themselves”.
Sharia law is still enforced in approximately 35 nations, where some form of veiling is compulsory. An estimated 83 Sharia courts operate in England today. Many Muslim families living in Western Europe use legal forms of coercion to make girls and women conform to veiling. The murder of Shafilea Ahmed, by her own parents, is a case study in how Europeans respond to these situations of family violence with an embarrassed silence, rather than the kind of outrage that would be seen as appropriate were its victims not exclusively female. The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (Ikwro) found last year that 39 out of 52 police forces across the UK had recorded at least 2,823 “honour” attacks over 2010. Some forces showed a jump of nearly 50 per cent in such cases from 2009. This is the backdrop against which Muslims in Europe claim that wearing the burqa is a “choice”.
The claim that covering yourself up in public is an empowering choice insults the intelligence and dignity of women everywhere, just as the theological claim that the burqa is a necessary defence against predatory male sexuality insults Muslim men insofar as it treats them as fundamentally incapable of responsibility for their sexual behaviour.
The reason Western feminists (male or female) object to seeing women in burqas is not that we can’t tolerate diversity, but that the burqa is a symbol of patriarchal Islam’s intolerance of dissent and desire to contain and repress female sexuality.