There was never any question of a ‘veil ban’. The whole thing was a Twitter storm in a teacup

There was never any question of a 'veil ban' at Birmingham Metropolitan College.

Those things which make the headlines are often far from the most important parts of a story. Indeed, in some instances the headline is a wilful distortion of the entire issue in question.

In the age of internet news, this is inevitably amplified by the need for websites to attract clicks with manufactured outrage. And so it is with a story currently doing the rounds about a ‘veil ban’ at a Birmingham college.

The story has been kept going this week after fresh comments by Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Jeremy Browne, who has said he wants a “national debate” over whether the state should step in to protect young from having the veil imposed upon them.

Cue media outrage: the idea that freedom from religion is as important as freedom of religion is apparently controversial.

Back to the original issue, however: whether one agrees with a veil ban or not – I don’t; and it’s actually the niqab which some secularists want to restrict, rather than the veil – there was never any question of Birmingham Metropolitan College bringing in a ‘veil ban’. A specific veil ban was never on the cards in any sense at all.

What the college wanted to do was introduce a policy which would have restricted the wearing of ‘all hoodies, hats, caps and veils while on the premises’ so students were ‘easily identifiable’: a policy without exceptions whether one’s dress was religious or otherwise.

The college has now backtracked after media (mostly twitter) outrage. It will now allow “specific items of personal clothing to reflect their [students’] cultural values”.

What the college really means here of course is religious values, for it is hard to imagine the college is set to allow the wearing of hoodies on its premises – an item of clothing which certainly reflects the cultural values of many teenagers.

That religious followers should be afforded special treatment is nothing new of course. The college’s backing down, however, is confusing in that it implies the easy identification of students is not as big an issue as it was originally made out to be. Either students need to be easily identifiable or they don’t, including students of all religious denominations and ‘cultural values’.

The college’s backtracking also raises the issue of inequality: if the authorities there are happy to allow some students to wear headgear, then why not others? After all, what right do the college authorities have to judge the cultural value to a person of their clothing, regardless of whether that clothing choice stems from a religious belief or not?

It might well have been easier to stick to the original policy of a blanket ban on all head coverings, making clear that it was no such thing as a veil ban, and that all students were to be treated equally. Either that or the college should have dropped the clothing rule entirely – presuming the easy identification of students isn’t that big an issue after all. In any case, one rule for all, surely.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

8 Responses to “There was never any question of a ‘veil ban’. The whole thing was a Twitter storm in a teacup”

  1. bassnation

    Anyone who thinks this was about a ban on head gear rather than an attack on muslims needs their bloody head examined. There are complex issues around the burka, social, religious, historical – they aren’t going to be solved by a knee jerk ban and in fact will just stigmatise muslims further.

    There’s no difference between men forcing female relatives to wear one and a bunch of self appointed moral guardians FORCING THEM TO TAKE THEM OFF.

    Where is the women’s voice in all this? Disagree strongly with your assessment. Storm in a teacup, my arse. Will you be happy when the police end up dragging away women wearing the burka like in France? Freedom right?

  2. sajid

    Well informed and sensible piece.

  3. Stephen Bell

    “That religious followers should be afforded special treatment is nothing new of course”. Usually the “special treatment” given to Muslims is taken from a menu of discrimination, bigotry, violence, abuse and ignorance. Preventing Muslim women from dressing as they wish would be entirely in line with the “respectable racism” highlighted by Baroness Warsi, and ignored by James Bloodworth.

  4. swatnan

    Its an abhorent practice. What would you say if we allowed the KKK to parade openly in public? Well, that is precisly the emotions it generas in the public at large, whenever they see this kind of thing going on. You just can’t ignore it and turn a blind eye to it. Its unnatural and unnerving. Its a feudal practice that must be legislated against.

  5. GO

    “one rule for all, surely”

    That’s a bit simplistic, and obscures the difficulty of deciding just how secularist principles should be applied.

    Historically, there has been, in a sense, “one rule for all” when it comes to marriage. Gay and straight people alike have been entitled to marry only someone of the opposite sex. But that’s the wrong sense of “one rule for all”. What we want is a rule that doesn’t de facto favour one group and leave the other at disadvantage.

    Arguably at least, we have “one rule for all” in a similarly useless sense if some rule applying equally to Muslims and non-Muslims, or theists and atheists, or whatever, de facto favours some groups and leaves others at a disadvantage.

    If a school requires boys to wear their hair short and not to wear head coverings indoors, is it successfully applying secularist principles by having “one rule for all” and refusing to give special treatment to members of a particular religious group (Sikhs)? Or is it *failing* to apply secularist principles, by imposing rules that leave members of that particular religious group at a disadvantage (since they, unlike everyone else, are prevented from dressing in a manner consistent with their cultural and religious identity?) The latter, surely.

  6. Cliftonella

    How many women have been “dragged away” in France exactly?

  7. treborc1

    if you say so I of course would not bother taking to a pair of eyes.

  8. Philip

    Definite troll.

Leave a Reply