The Face Coverings (Regulation) Bill received its first reading yesterday, proposed by Philip Hollobone, the MP for Kettering, whom the Indy describes as”Parliament’s cheapest MP, and one of the most right wing”.
Mr Hollobone justifies his proposal to ban the niqab and burqa at Conservative Home:
As I was sitting on the bench in the playground watching my children play on the slides, I thought to myself, “Here I am, in the middle of Kettering in the middle of England – a country that has been involved for centuries with spreading freedom and democracy throughout the world (sic) – and here’s a woman (wearing a burqa – Ed) who, through her dress, is effectively saying that she does not want to have any normal human dialogue or interaction with anyone else. By covering her entire face, she is effectively saying that our society is so objectionable, even in the friendly, happy environment of a children’s playground, that we are not even allowed to cast a glance on her.” I find that offensive and I think it is time that the country did something about it.
Now most of us on the Left wouldn’t have to think too long about whether or not we wanted people like Mr Hollobone deciding what we could and couldn’t wear when taking our children to the park. But in general, many of us are quite troubled about cultural relativism and where to draw the line. Like Jack Straw, we may not feel comfortable with the burqa but are troubled too by the bans introduced by Sarkozy in France, and even, perhaps, by the idea that women should be discouraged from wearing it as advocated by French Socialists.
This issue was addressed by Dave Osler in his admirable blog “In defence of cliterodectomophobia: the left, secularism and religion“, written in his inimitable style and worth reading in its entirety.
Although Dave is there concerned to justify drawing a line rather than not doing so, his argument can be turned around. Our commitment to “unconditionally support freedom of religion as being among the most basic of all human rights” is perfectly compatible both with secularism:
‘the attitude that religion should have no place in civil affairs’. This position is entirely consistent with theism in most manifestations, and one which many believers embrace in recognition both that faith is a private matter, and that a multifaith society cannot work if one doctrine enjoys a legally privileged position.
and with our socialist responsibility for:
relentless and sustained ideological assault on the religious representatives of the ruling class, from the Pope through to Pat Robertson and onwards to the repulsive theocracy in power in Tehran.
Accordingly, it’s OK for medical authorities to “make a determination on whether necklaces of any type constitute a health and safety hazard in hospital wards, and enforce prohibition if appropriate” or school authorities to decide that, from a pedagogical point of view, it is “undesirable that teaching assistants be clad in full face covering when in charge of young children.” Outside of work, however, people should be able to wear whatever they choose, without interference or even preaching. It may well be another matter to take issue with religious authorities about the social pressures they place upon their communities.