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The Veiled Women of London: Part Two - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It seems somewhat strange that the British are debating the Niqab (the veil that covers the face), which was recently rejected by British former foreign minister Jack Straw who states that he cannot talk to woman whose face he cannot see. However, this kind of debate is not strange for this society that is known for its liveliness and controversy and debated topics such as hippies, miniskirts, nudity and the religious turbans worn by Sikhs. It is only normal that there are many opinions of the Niqab especially as it coincides with extremism and terrorism and the consequent discrimination towards Muslims shown by some people.

I believe that the Niqab will lose its battle for no reason other than it being impractical in a society that previously accepted the headscarf with no argument unlike France, Turkey and Denmark. The Sikhs lost their protest against wearing a crash helmet that is prescribed to ensure the safety of motorcyclists, as nothing should be worn on top of the religious turban. They were told that no exceptions could be made; therefore, they either wear the helmet or walk.

The niqab represents the biggest test of freedoms in Britain, considered one of the most tolerant of Western societies. Up until now, it has been a losing battle and previously, Muslims have lost important blocs that used to support them. The leftists and the liberals supported Muslims based on the principle of protecting individual freedoms despite disagreement on some points. Many supporters backed down following the 7/7 bombings, Abu Hamza’s nonsense, the increase of Bin Laden followers, forced marriages, the emergence of anti-women viewpoints, and recently, the Niqab, which was unknown before the emergence of political fundamentalist movements amongst British Muslims.

Nevertheless, one must distinguish between various opinions. Most of the politicians who have expressed their opposition to the Niqab do not deny a woman’s right to cover her face as long as this does not hinder her responsibilities at work, such as the case with the school teacher, Aisha Azmi. Nobody has demanded that women should remove their veil.

There are two sides to this debate, the first of which is law-related regarding place of work. This is determined by a court and not by society. The other aspect of this debate is related to culture. As Jack Straw said, the veil causes separation between various segments of society, especially the Muslim community, which, today, is in desperate need to integrate and coexist with wider society, he said. There is consensus amongst politicians about this despite their sharp partisan differences regarding other issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan, UK-US ties and so on.

The real loss is more important than a piece of cloth and it is that Muslims have lost a great deal of sympathy because of the practices of an extremist minority. In fact, the presence of this minority within western society contradicts not only the principles of the host country but the group’s own principles and religious beliefs. I do not say this out of discrimination or to complain, rather out of hatred for contradiction. It is better for that Muslim teacher to leave the country and live in a Muslim country that respects her privacy rather than living in a society where social values and what she considers a religious duty conflict. Britain and the west in general is not the place for extremists as everything that they see or live with in that society contradicts their stances. Some people seek to justify this contradiction with the claim that they were forced to move to a country like Britain to earn a living, an invalid justification in most cases. The reality is that they wish to lead a prosperous life and not only earn a living. The two matters are quite different. Living in Britain, is like living in any Islamic state in that it is governed by rules and regulations to which residents must abide and must respect. If they cannot, they should go back the way they came.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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