|The Daily Telegraph and ITV News both report on the exchange in the House of Commons on Monday when home secretary, Theresa May, while making a statement on Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, dismissed calls to ban the burqa.|
During the debate in parliament, the home secretary was asked by Sir Gerald Howarth whether she would consider banning the burqa and face veil "... because it is alien to our culture, and has enabled this man to abscond!"
Howarth misquotes the words of the former Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, claiming the latter supported a ban on the burqa. In fact, Clarke in his comments on the BBC Radio 4's The World This Week programme, said women should be free to wear "what the devil they like'' but in a courtroom setting, we''have got to be able to see the face of the witness''.
May, in her response, reiterated her view on the "right of a woman to choose how she dresses".
She told the House:
"He [Howarth[ asks about the burqa. I will repeat my position, which is one that I have made clear on previous occasions. First, I believe it is the right of a woman to choose how she dresses. We should allow women to be free to make that choice for themselves. There will be circumstances when it is right to ask for a veil to be removed, for example, at border security or perhaps in courts, and individual institutions, like schools, will make their own policies on dress. However, I fundamentally believe it is the right of a woman to be free to decide how to dress."
London Mayor, Boris Johnson, also asked about the issue, said on an LBC radio show,
"I certainly think it's a bit much to ask teachers or judges to deal with people who have their faces covered.
"That seems to me to not be how we do things in this country and it is absolutely reasonable to say that face veils, burkas, whatever, should not be acceptable in state-funded classrooms in this country and nor should they be acceptable in the system of British justice."
A ban, however, was an entirely different measure of response and akin to "ban[ning] balaclavas and ski masks" he added.
The Independent letters page yesterday included the publication of a letter by Taj Hargey, himself no stranger to advocating a ban on the burqa. Hargey calls on our "pusillanimous politicians to follow the lead of France and Belgium and proscribe this preposterous costume that has nothing to do with Islam."
He refers to the burqa and veil as an "archaic tribal garb" used for "face-masking" which he claims is a "patriarchal invention that originated in ancient Persia". He also claims that the "... British public has been swayed by moderate as well as militant Muslim apologists...that female face-masking is a religious requirement, a free personal choice, or a woman's prerogative to maintain public anonymity."
"Since there is no compelling theological basis for this obsolete dress, and as face-masking poses grave security, legal, health and social implications for society, the time has come to outlaw this odious outfit that only serves to deform and defame Islam.
"Parliament, do what is right: ban the burka and free women from male chauvinism."
Hargey's claim that women exercise no choice in adopting the burqa or that a ban would 'free' them have been repeatedly refuted by women who wear the niqab and human rights agencies that have identified the impediments bans place on the free movement of women, their right to religious expression and their denial of agency.
In related news, the Guardian and Daily Telegraph both report that Lord Thomas, the new Lord Chief Justice, has announced that a public consultation will open on the subject of the veil in UK courtrooms following the trial at Blackfriars Crown Court that sparked this long-running debate about veiling.
"I wouldn't describe it as the elephant in the courtroom but it is an important issue that has to be addressed. I regard it as the responsibility of the senior judiciary to give guidance.
"But we shall look forward to all your assistance in trying to reach the right answer to what is without doubt a problem that many people found divisive.
"We hope to be able to issue a draft for consultation in the very near future," Lord Thomas said.
But he indicated that any final guidelines would leave judges with scope to make a final decision in each case.
"The basic principle will be that it must be for the judge in any case to make his own or her own decision but we will give clear guidance," he added.