Jeremy Browne: Need for national debate on banning the veil

Jeremy Browne - Some rights reserved by Foreign and Commonwealth OfficeJeremy Browne, the Liberal Democrat Home Office minister, told The Telegraph that there is a need for a national debate on whether Muslim women should be banned from wearing the veil in public places. He said:

I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion of their choice. That would apply to Christian minorities in the Middle East just as much as religious minorities here in Britain.

But there is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil when society deems children to be unable to express personal choices about other areas like buying alcohol, smoking or getting married.

Nick Clegg responded:

My own view, very strongly held, is that we shouldn’t end up like other countries issuing edicts or laws from parliament telling people what they should or should not wear.

I think there are exceptions to that as far as the full veil is concerned – security at airports for instance. It is perfectly reasonable for us to say the full veil is clearly not appropriate there.

And I think in the classroom, there is an issue of course about teachers being able to address their students in a way where they can address them face to face. I think it is quite difficult in the classroom to be able to do that.

Meanwhile, at Blackfriers Crown Court a judge has ruled that a woman must remove a full-face veil when giving evidence in her trial on a charge of intimidation. The judge offered to provide a screen to hide her from public view but said that her face should be visible to the judge, jury and lawyers.

We seem to be in the middle of another dilemma, in which the civil liberties arguments have to be balanced against the greater good of society, the fair conduct of the law and the protection of children.


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  • No, just no. I can’t comment further without falling foul of the comment policy.

  • “We seem to be in the middle of another dilemma, in which the civil liberties arguments have to be balanced against the greater good of society, the fair conduct of the law and the protection of children.”

    I don’t doubt that a “greater good” argument can be produced in favour of any infringement of civil liberties you care to think of. It’s dead easy to produce one in favour of torture, for example. (“Would you condemn innocent children to die to protect a cowardly terrorist?”)

    I just thought liberals were against that sort of thing.

  • National debate? Why?

    There is no dilemma, there is no religious requirement – any one who says there is, is just showing off their gullibility. No the whole issue is about the exercise of power by a few ignorant men over women and our society.

    I also see no substantive reason why the judge, at Blackfriars Crown Court, offered a screen to the women accused of intimidation. It would seem that she has successfully intimidated the judge!

  • Is this an attempt at bypassing trying to get the centre right votes and going straight for those to the right of Tebbit, Thatcher et al ?
    Dog Whistle anyone….

  • I agree with Nick. I simply can’t understandnJeremy Browne’s logic in his comment above. He seems to be saying that a girl wearing a veil is a bit like her parents forcing her to smoke or drink alcohol. It’s completely bonkers.

  • Controlling what people choose to wear is pretty much a textbook example of authoritarianism. If we’re to go down that route, shouldn’t we start by banning silly hats? That would send a strong message that we are opposed to silliness. Just as banning religious garb sends a strong message that we’re opposed to the free practice of religion.

    This ever-lengthening list of occasions where it’s absolutely necessary to see someone’s face seems to have little basis other than individual preference. But if there is really a vital national security interest involved, perhaps we should ban opaque spectacles and goggles as well. Ultimately, of course, we can narrow permissible attire options until everyone is wearing a uniform set of coveralls with an individualised QR code on each shoulder, for more efficient processing of the prisoners. Er, citizens!

    In a similar turn of events, the separatist Péquistes in the Canadian province of Québec have put forth a “Charter of Values” which, among other things, forbids public employes from wearing symbols or attire that could be considered religious, anything from a headscarf to a Sikh turban.

    This is a cynical exploitation of xenophobia that stands at the top of a very slippery slope. As we have seen in, for instance, Russia, when discriminatory laws are enacted, the discrimination is not limited to the letter of the law; rather, it opens the gate for tolerance of every sort of private prejudice, discrimination, hatred, and violence. The government says, in effect, “we do not consider these people to be under our protection; go forth and do with them as you please.” Even apparently toothless “symbolic” measures can have a powerful influence.

  • This has ally got me going. So is Jeremy Browne saying that when Christian children are confirmed at around age 11 and then receive communion the communion bread and wine is a bit like their parents forcing them to smoke, is that it? In the Christian faith, children are regarded as able to make a choice to follow the faith/religion around 12. Surely if we are going to say that Muslim girls are not able to make a choice about wearing the veil until they are 18, we ought to also say that Christian children cannot be confirmed until 18, oughten we?

    Excuse me…..


    That’s better.

  • First line abive should read “this has really got me going”

  • As for the case at Blackfriars Crown Court, one can sympathise with the judge’s attempt to thread the needle of the different requirements of the court and the privileges of the defendant, and, under the circumstances, the judge’s ruling is reasonable.

    However, the court’s requirements are based on the wholly unscientific and illogical notion that judges and jurors can determine a witness’s reliability by “reading” his or her face. This is a fiction comparable to phrenology and cheiromancy. Many innocent and truthful people can be induced to react with dismay, horror, or tears that might suggest guilt to some viewers, while practised criminals may be skilled in the art of giving nothing away. An immovable face is,, depending on prejudices, as easily attributed to stunned shock or to remorseless indifference. A facial expression ultimately says nothing relevant to guilt or innocence, and it is shameful that the pseudoscience of face-reading is allowable in courts, whereby a premium is set on one’s ability to convincingly act out a set pattern of emotions. A great many innocent people have been sent to prison because they did not show an expression that a judge or jurors thought to be appropriate, and doubtless many guilty people have been let go because jurors simply thought their faces too cherubic to be liable for a crime. Maybe it would be better for *all* witnesses to testify from behind a screen.

  • I have seen lots of women wearing veils in the Middle East but never a young girl.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Sep '13 - 6:08pm

    I don’t agree with Jeremy or even Nick Clegg when he says “but they could be removed from the classroom”. If they get removed from the classroom people will then say “remove them from the workplace” and then soon they would be banned from all public places.

    I think this half-baked idea of policy making, falling for the claims of lobbyists with vested interests, or populism (both left and right wing), is all too prevalent in the Liberal Democrat approach to policy making.

    The argument about children not being able to make a decision on the matter doesn’t hold enough water, in my opinion.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Sep '13 - 6:23pm

    How utterly depressing. I seem to recall some people defending Jeremy Browne (against accusations of over-eager Tory-loving from the earliest days of the coalition) on the grounds that he was simply a real liberal, in both economic and social dimensions. In fact, I recall him defending himself on those grounds. Has he changed? Or was he always confused about what people meant by “liberal”?

  • @Simon Shaw: The Telegraph article linked above has the headline “Jeremy Browne: Ban Muslim women from wearing veils in schools and public places” followed by the summary “Britain should consider banning Muslim girls and young women from wearing veils in schools and public places, a Home Office minister has said.”

    However, there is nothing in the article itself that warrants either the headline or the summary; naturally enough, considering that this is The Telegraph. The article *does* quote Conservative MPs — notably Sarah Wollaston — who argue for the banning of veils from schools.

  • If he did not want to be associated with the headline he should have made that plain early in the day. Even if he were unaware of the headline, if there a no press officers reading every major daily during the conference to check headlines then they should all be sacked. As such it is not unreasonable to assume he is content to be associated with the comments.

    Here fido, (or whatever UKIP and Tory supporters call their dogs nowadays) plenary of room for narrow minds with Jeremy…

  • @Simon Shaw
    This is a Government Minister being either quoted or misquoted on an issue of some importance for racial and religious harmony. If the quote is untrue it is not just lousy reporting, but a direct piece of misinformation relating to a Minister in the department that would be responsible policing any ban in public places. Misquoting a Minister in such circumstances would not be a trivial matter.

  • A Social Liberal 16th Sep '13 - 7:06pm

    I am absolutely lost for words.

  • Ruth Bright 16th Sep '13 - 7:06pm

    Firstly it would be good to talk about what Browne actually said and not what we think he said. Secondly we should be clear about what form of dress we are talking about. Are we taking about a mere covering of hair which does nothing to hide the identity or the niqab or the burqa which could be used as a disguise?

    It is an illusion for Western women to feel free because they can wear what they like; but I am glad that Browne has raised this. Over the summer holidays I spent countless hours in the parks of Southwark and Lambeth with my young children. They are British and they had the privilege of playing with many children of many backgrounds – a majority I would guess of Nigerian and Somalian backgrounds. Many girls as young as three or four were wearing a veil. It is reasonable for society to question whether these girls have a choice.

  • I do not support banning face coverings, except in very very limited cases where it is necessary for identification purposes. Even then, it would be better to accommodate veil wearers by allowing them to identify themselves to female officers, where possible. Banning things makes them more popular, not less. I suspect those calling for bans know this only too well – they wish to popularise the veil, to make it into a bigger issue than it is.

  • I doubt that many children aged 3-4 have much choice in the clothes they wear.

    I find it interesting that this “debate” is framed around Saving The Children. It is astonishing how many measures of different sorts have that as a justification. It seems that not only must we ban the veil, we must also keep tabs on adults’ private internet usage in order to Save The Children. Two weeks ago, it was deemed necessary to bomb another country in order to Save The Children. And if you believe Vladimir Putin, it is also necessary to discriminate against gays and lesbians in order to Save The Children. I suspect that a great many more such measures will be required before the authorities deem The Children to be Safe. Whether by that time anyone will have noticed that The Children are not real children, but rather a convenient notion for slipping illiberal measures past the public, and that their Safety consists in being the subjects of a police state, is something I confess myself increasingly doubtful about.

  • Mark Seaman 16th Sep '13 - 7:24pm

    There is nothing Liberal in the reasons why women are wearing the veil. I’m a member of the National Secular Society, and heartily recommend its website for the decent arguments about this subject.

  • The veil is used to oppress women and should be banned.

  • I don’t understand how a national debate is conducted or how it comes to any conclusion. However there are concerns about women wearing the veil. Firstly it is every parent’s right to try to get their children to wear parent chosen clothes it is not for the state to interfere. Each school has the right to dictate what children wear to school subject to religious freedom. Lester Holloway quotes Issan Ghazni as saying, “Muslims that embrace the veil do so out of their reading of scripture”. It is my understanding that the Quran does not state that women must where the veil. Also it is generally accepted by Muslims that wearing the veil is not a command of the religion it is just chosen by some.

    Therefore the rules for wearing the veil should be the same as wearing any type of clothing. If someone can’t give evidence wearing a hoodie then there is nothing wrong with banning the veil for the same reason. Shopping Centres are free to set their own policy with the wearing of hoodies, crash helmets and the veil.

    There are other restrictions on what people can wear generally and the naked hiker has had problems with these restrictions. We as liberals should not add to these restrictions by legislation.

  • @Mark Seaman: If liberalism consisted in tolerating only those decisions which we deem to have “Liberal reasons,” then it seems to me it would be an utterly bankrupt and hypocritical ideology. Private decisions that people make for their own reasons, such as the books they read, the music they listen to, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, and the gods they worship, generally ought to be above government intrusion.
    Not that I would be particularly surprised to find that some well-intended person has already proposed legislation to save the children from the dangers of unpleasantly ethnic home cooking.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Sep '13 - 7:53pm

    “Lester Holloway quotes Issan Ghazni as saying, “Muslims that embrace the veil do so out of their reading of scripture”. It is my understanding that the Quran does not state that women must where the veil. “

    That may be your understanding, but that’s probably because you prefer to listen to the interpretations given by those Muslims whose views you find congenial with your own. I don’t blame you — and I find it preferable to those who find the most hateful interpretation of Islam available and insist that all Muslims must believe in that — but we can’t adjudicate on whose interpretation of a religious custome is correct in the name of liberalism.

    Ghazni doesn’t say that all Muslims believe that the veil is required by their religion, only that those who do wear the veil (or “encourage”, if that’s the right word for it, “their” women to wear it) do so because that is how they interpret their religion. It’s no good a bunch of non-Muslim liberals coming along and saying, “Oh well, you’ve misinterpreted your holy books that I don’t believe in, so we’re going to ban you from acting on your interpretation because it’s illiberal and incorrect!”

  • Peter Hayes 16th Sep '13 - 8:01pm

    There are several cases where the identity of the candidate needs to be confirmed, school and university exams and perhaps unlikely driving test. So how do those who want the veil to verify identity? Face check with perhaps a photo and a female checker? Take finger prints aged 11 and check them for GCSE or A level? Or perhaps a DNA test. What option is less liberal or more acceptable?

  • @Scott Walker: ” Part of the decision making process for a jury is to weigh up evidence given by witnesses. Being able to see a witnesses face is a key part of that decision making. ”
    Unfortunately, there’s not a shred of scientific evidence that suggests that people who can see the face of a witness are any better at weighing their evidence than people who cannot. In fact, people who depend on their intuitive ability to read another person’s face are routinely deceived.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Sep '13 - 8:37pm

    Sorry, I apologise for jumping to condemn without reading the detail, exactly the kind of behaviour I was criticising (ouch!).

    I make a rapid U-turn and agree that it is completely relevant to discuss whether or not the state should step in to protect children from having veil wearing imposed on them. I am unsure of my opinion on this, but it is worthy of debate.

  • Richard Dean 16th Sep '13 - 8:46pm

    Liberals really need to get rid of the idea that freedom includes freedom to oppress. If the veil is an instrument of oppression, then we should be against it, and one way to do that could be to ban it wherever possible.

    But the veil is sometimes – perhaps often – worn willingly. In circumstances when it is used as an instrument of oppression, it is probably not the only such instrument, so focussing on the veil alone is not enough. We likely need a much more comprehensive approach to the fight against oppression wherever and whenever it happens.

    We would not be liberals if we did not fight for human rights. If the fight produces cultural strife, then so be it.

  • Liberal don’t just fear the state but also social conformity and that happens in all communities including Muslim one’s. Jeremy Browne is right.

  • “His quoted comments in the Telegraph are not controversial in any way.”

    Oh yes they are!

  • Now then, Simon, what about this?

    It is not ‘appropriate’ for students to wear veil in classroom, says Nick Clegg:

    Or does he?

  • @David
    “Unfortunately, there’s not a shred of scientific evidence that suggests that people who can see the face of a witness are any better at weighing their evidence than people who cannot.”

    Whilst this may or may not be true, we can be sure that the assessment the judge and jury make of an accused (and at Blackfriars we are talking about the accused) or a witness, will be different depending upon whether they can see them and related to them as a fellow human being or not.

  • @Simon Shaw
    The first words from the relevant Telegraph web page as of 22:00
    “Jeremy Browne: Ban Muslim women from wearing veils in schools and public places
    Britain should consider banning Muslim girls and young women from wearing veils in schools and public places, a Home Office minister has said.”

    Yes I do have a problem with what he is quoted / misquoted as saying. He is a Government Minister and if he didn’t say “Britain should consider banning Muslim girls and young women from wearing veils in schools and public places” it should be corrected. If the headline is misleading it should be challenged.

    Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that it is a misquote. This is not a misquote on an online blog, this is a major media outlet with a worldwide audience.

    The ramifications from this can be concerning for a number of reasons.

    1. It gives encouragement to those in both mainstream right wing parties such as UKIP and more fringe ones such as the BNP that banning the veil is even up for consideration by the most liberal of the main three UK parties.
    2. It gives ammunition to those extremists in the UK who hope to radicalise young Muslims. They will be able to twist this into a government attack on their religion.
    3. It gives ammunition to those extremists overseas, especially where we have service and civilian personnel in theatre where any perceived attack on Islam is like adding spark to tinder. By the time this reaches Islamist publications it will be twisted. Even other western ones will do so either through sloppy reporting or deliberate mischief making. For example the Irish Independent has “British minister calls for ban on young women wearing veils in public” note already “consider” is missing. A quick google search and you can already see the words being twisted.

    You say ” Life is too short for Lib Dems to go round seeking to correct every piece of lousy reporting which appears in the press”, I would agree if it were a back bencher or official. But this is a Minister of State in the Home Office. The very department who would have to police any ban in public places. This is at best ill judged and at worse a blatant dog whistle.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Sep '13 - 10:59pm

    Let’s keep the issues clear.

    Nobody on here is arguing that women should wear a veil, or even seriously contesting the argument that it is an oppressive custom. The argument there is whether it is appropriate or justifiable for the state to criminalise people who nevertheless do choose to wear the veil or require their children to do so.

    The question of the veil in certain official situations is also separate. No one here has suggested that women should be allowed to keep their faces veiled in situations (court, passport control) where identification is important. That is not what banning the veil “in public places” means.

    As to what Browne himself has said. According to the Telegraph, he says:

    “I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion of their choice. That would apply to Christian minorities in the Middle East just as much as religious minorities here in Britain.
    “But there is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil when society deems children to be unable to express personal choices about other areas like buying alcohol, smoking or getting married.
    “We should be very cautious about imposing religious conformity on a society which has always valued freedom of expression.”

    This is not the language of a liberal resisting state control of people’s choices. It is not “I hate what you say but I defend to the death your right to say it.” It is, rather, “I know I should defend your right to say what you think, but as I strongly disagree with you I may have to lock you up instead.”

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Sep '13 - 11:11pm

    “Unfortunately, there’s not a shred of scientific evidence that suggests that people who can see the face of a witness are any better at weighing their evidence than people who cannot.”

    A genuinely neutral question: are you aware of any evidence that shows the contrary?

    If there’s none either way, then it seems not unreasonable to stick in the meantime with the natural assumption that it is easier to judge sincerity when one can see the other person’s face, since humans are clearly primed to do that and there are obvious advantages in being able to do it moderately successfully.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 16th Sep '13 - 11:15pm

    Simon, Lester actually states ““We are seriously concerned by Jeremy Browne’s comments reported in the Daily Telegraph today, which come across as illiberal and wildly out of step with the values I believe Liberal Democrats stand for.”

    If, and I say if Jeremy Browne did not say or mean what was printed then it for him to take up with the papers. It is odd though that Nick Clegg himself has distanced himself from what you and others seem to believe is misinformation.

    Muslim bashing may well be a n excellent policy for EDL, UKIP and even the Tories to gain support, but we are meant to be ‘liberal’. Being liberal is not about tolerating (in other words putting up with), but we embrace and cherish diversity (or so I am told we do).

    I am neither a Muslim nor am I a follower of any of the other Abrahamic faiths, although ethnically I am associated with one, but I am appalled at the level of intolerance exhibited towards Islam and its followers, and the assumption for some that being male and Muslim equates to being a misogynist .

    What many people in the LibDem Party do not seem to realise is that there exists outside of their ‘ivory towers’ a world that is Islamophobic, Muslim men are deemed misogynist (without any corroborating evidence) and where people do not only verbally discriminate but where they cause serious physically harm as well.

    There may well be a desire within society to scrutinise Islam, but is it from a healthy perspective? Sadly generally it is not, so the debate that Jeremy Browne is purported as desiring will only fuel the fires of hated that already exist, and may well cause some communities to become even more entrenched in a specific and culturally based interpretation of their faith. As someone who knows quite a bit about race relations issues and community cohesion, I can assure you that starting a public debate at this very moment in time when many people are only interested in defending their own ‘ism’ will not result in anything positive, and Jeremy Browne was immensely naive to think otherwise.

    Abuse against women no matter their faith, ethnicity or the culture in which they reside is plain and simple wrong, and it is not dealt with appropriately, but so is assuming that all women are abused merely because they choose to wear something that others cannot comprehend doing. Unfortunately female victims of abuse no matter their ethnicity or faith sadly get ‘short shrift’ in our male dominated society, but for some reason this same society wishes to champion Muslim female’s equality when it shows little care for other females. Sadly I think that this extra interest has nothing to do with protecting females from abuse, but is merely a convenient means to further discriminate against Islam, which if people actually read the Quran, they would realise is promotes love and compassion, as does the Bible.

    The current onslaught on Islam is in my opinion no different to what happened when I was somewhat younger when gangs of (generally) lads would go out XXXX-Bashing, the only difference is now is that the middle classes have put an intellectual spin on things.

  • I was stunned by the headline when I read it. Though it is clearly not an accurate reflection of what was being suggested. That said (as with David Ward) he is an experienced professional politician and has to take some responsibility for the message he was communication being warped.

    Initially I quite like the idea of a debate as it would be a good opportunity to properly challenge silly illiberal idea that UKIP put out there. However the current level of debate (exaggerated claims in headlines) is likely to make one minority feel threatened, not really a way in which you can conduct a sensible discussion.

    I have to agree with Amalric on most points he makes.

  • @ Simon Shaw

    I personally would have no problem with a school telling a teacher that they couldn’t wear a veil if it interfered with their job. Much in the same way some employers will not allow certain religious dress if it cannot be made same in that particular workplace.

    But what we are discussing here is central government dictating a dress code, that can’t be right.

  • daft ha'p'orth 17th Sep '13 - 12:04am

    @Malcolm Todd
    I suspect there will be quite a few effects. You could probably look at the literature on video-mediated communication as a starting point, since that tends to compare and contrast various types of interaction (face-to-face, video, audio-only etc). The literature speaks in detail about the differences between these modes. A really brief look at the research suggests you’d get emotion by and large from vocal cues but it’d be harder to infer info about personality, also that it’d probably take a few more words to get a given bit of info across on average. For people with slight hearing impairment or similar it’d also make some mitigation strategies unavailable. Of course this is not fatal to the process of justice. Still problematic in some cases though.

    I’m quite, quite sure that there will be many studies of relevance to this question. There are even many that deal with the niqab, such as “Veiled Communication: Is Uncovering Necessary for Psychiatric Assessment?” and “The Veiled Truth: Can the Credibility of Testimony Given by a Niqab-Wearing Witness be Judged Without the Assistance of Facial Expressions? ” although unfortunately many of these are based on assessment of law rather than empirical evidence (so some basically say ‘yeah it has effects we haven’t bothered to quantify but we assert that these can generally be handled sensitively’). I’d look at the general literature instead for that reason.

    Strikes me that if you want to debate on this sort of thing it might be useful to read the literature and compile some evidence?

  • @Simon shaw
    I am no fan of the Telegraph and have no problem taking issue with their headline, however, the part where they say ” a Home Office minister has said.” underneath his name means that they are attributing it to him.

    Unless corrected, what Government Ministers are reported to have said is as important as what they have actually said. You seem content to let people think that he said “Britain should consider banning Muslim girls and young women from wearing veils in schools and public places”.

    You state that no Lib Dem should worry about what they are reported to have said. That may be true at your level, but he is a Minister of State for the United Kingdom. What he is reported to have said matters, people throughout this country and overseas will take it’s accuracy as read unless it is corrected. It strikes me as odd that when a staffer accidentally released an email intimating that there would be tax rises for those earning over 50K it was quickly corrected.

    Anyway, as ever a childish retort from you to “get over it”, marvellous grown up debating from someone who is a representative of the Lib Dems.

  • For whatever it’s worth — which is practically nil — The Telegraph’s own unscientific online poll (at the same link as the article) is now running about 85% (with over 75,000 votes) against any form of ban. What may be more significant is that this response seems to result from a Twitter campaign that condemns Jeremy Browne (however unjustly it may be) for “ban[ning] Muslim girls from wearing a head scarf” and not “understand[ing] the democratic concept of freedom of religion.” The inaccuracies are regrettable, but so is the fact that Mr Browne is evidently letting things spin out of control. He ought to issue some sort of statement.

  • Ruth Bright
    “Many girls as young as three or four were wearing a veil.”
    I haven’t been to those parks but I find what you say surprising as in Muslim countries girls don’t wear veils until until they are older and go into purdah.

  • @ Malcolm Todd

    You correctly quote me and then you misquote Issan Ghazni as quoted by Lester Holloway. The Quran doesn’t require women to wear the veil. In fact neither Sunni nor Shia Islam require women to wear the veil. There is another discussion to be had on how far someone’s interpretation of their religion is the same as it being part of that religion and how far society should accommodate each person’s individual religion.

    I also said that wearing the veil should not be made illegal but organisations should be able to ban the wearing the veil like wearing a crash helmet or hoodie in their own rules.

  • @Amalric: “The Quran doesn’t require women to wear the veil. In fact neither Sunni nor Shia Islam require women to wear the veil. There is another discussion to be had on how far someone’s interpretation of their religion is the same as it being part of that religion…”
    There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of Islamic jurisprudence here. First, the Qur’an is by no means the sole authority on Islamic law; there are many other writings and exegeses. Second, Islam is not summed up by “Sunni or Shia.” There are many schools of jurisprudence, and within those schools Islamic law is interpreted by scholars who stand somewhat in relation to the ordinary Muslim or Muslimah as priests or ministers: that is, they are the people through whom Muslims get their understanding of the Qur’an and of religious law. Muslims do not in general feel free to change their affiliation simply in order to find a more lenient interpretation of the law; rather, their affiliation is determined by geography and ancestry. Of the five main Sunni schools, three consider the covering of the face in the presence of strange men to be mandatory; in one there is variation among jurisprudents; and in the last it is not required, but is considered praiseworthy.
    In that context, your interpretation, or a judge’s or government official’s interpretation, of what the Qur’an requires is of no relevance whatsoever. A strongly religious Muslim or Muslimah will take advice on the correct interpretation of the rules of hijab from a respected scholar of the jurisprudential school with which they are affiliated, not from an official with little or no understanding of the rules and laws under which religious Muslims live.

  • The veil is a means of repression of women and therefore alien to UK culture. Just as I would not expect to be able to go around in skimpy speedos in a catholic church in Southern Europe nor would I put on a ‘mankini’ and expect to be able to go around wearing it in Saudi Arabia, the veil is a form of dress is simply not permissible in UK public life. Why should we happily follow other countries’ cultural rules when abroad and yet not expect incomers to follow our own rules when they come to this country?

    Which is more important: the rights of women, fought for over centuries of political struggle, or a cultural norm of dress not even specified in major religious texts, imposed by conformity on possibly unwilling people (who can know?) that has been imported from abroad?

    This is a fundamental, either/or bifurcation in the path of the UK’s cultural and political development and I know which way I would prefer my country to go.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Sep '13 - 9:56am


    Ruth Bright
    “Many girls as young as three or four were wearing a veil.”
    I haven’t been to those parks but I find what you say surprising as in Muslim countries girls don’t wear veils until until they are older and go into purdah.

    Yes, but this probably illustrates the reality of veil-wearing amongst Muslim women here. It’s a fad they’ve picked up on recently rather than a long-term cultural thing. So they end up doing it in ways which don’t fit in with how it’s done where it is an established cultural thing. In those places where it is an established cultural thing it goes along with the notion that women have no place in public life. It seems to me that those who want to wear face-covering while engaged in public life are picking and mixing those aspects of that culture they want to, while ignoring others. I’ve seen this fad in the university where I work – those students who go for it tend to be doing it for its shock value, for a “look at me” impact.

    To me, the way those words in the Quran ought to be interpreted in this country (my recollection is that the translation of the Arabic to English is just something like “cover those parts that are usually covered”) is simply to wear conventional clothing which is not particularly revealing. I would say that wearing clothing which in this country looks outlandish and draws attention is very much not in accord with what seems to me to be the intention of those words in the Quran.

    As others have said, it’s not up to me, not being a Muslim, to interpret how Islam should be. However, I am a Christian, and I recognise the phenomenon with some in my religion as well – a sort of attention-attracting “look at me, I’m holier than you” attitude. This sort of attitude was common at the time of Jesus, and he is quoted in the gospels as condemning it in no uncertain terms. I feel a great frustration with Islam, because worldwide it seems to be going through a very bad patch at the moment, no great thinkers who are able to develop it in a way that is true to its traditions and speaks authentically for its deeper message, too many who push themselves to the top with silly, shallow, but attention-gathering interpretations of it. It would be great if those who are Muslims would do more about this than endlessly protesting about supposed insults to or attacks on their religion (which pales into insignificance when one sees how Christian minorities are being treated in majority Muslim countries right now).

    Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that there is no great authority in Islam who can say “Enough is enough, your interpretation is silly, you have missed the point”. When this is the case, it does seem to be that extreme interpretations come to dominate and push out more thoughtful interpretations, to a large extent because of this “look at me” factor. We have seen this too in Evangelical Christianity. I have made no secret of the fact that my Christianity is of the Catholic variety, and some may perhaps have wondered how I manage to reconcile that with my views on leadership in general. Well, you might say I have enough of authoritarian top-down leadership in my religion, and that’s why I don’t also want it in my political party. However, one of the things that has reconciled me to the concept of authority in my religion is seeing what happens when it doesn’t exist – the result does seem to be that simplistic extremists come to dominate and push out all the others.

  • “Why should we happily follow other countries’ cultural rules when abroad and yet not expect incomers to follow our own rules when they come to this country?”

    Because it would be liberal? You know – letting people wear what they like, rather than the state telling them what they can wear?

  • @ Matthew Hunchback

    I don’t disagree that the veil wearing is a fad that has developed divorced from context. That doesn’t make banning it a good idea, that doesn’t mean that I can’t see a UK government introducing one though:

    Sadly we are awash with “something must be done” illiberal policies. If we are concerned that some women are being oppressed by their husbands and families then we need to deal with that, if we car concerned that there is an ill-informed approach to Islam developing someone will need to counter that (preferably people within the religion rather than well-meaning outsiders who will do more harm than good).

    If the suggestion is that we have to hide a symptom of a problem then that is truly depressing. If there is not a problem (someone just choosing of their own free will to wear a veil to the park) then why would we do anything? If the concern is that some people don’t like to look at others dressed a certain way then they can get over it. We don’t ban mini-skirts, which some considered shocking once upon a time.

  • daft ha'p'orth 17th Sep '13 - 10:40am

    @Matthew Huntbach
    Exactly – I’ve seen similar at mine.

    Long story short: set reasonable policies within those contexts that require a policy, which seems to have been happening for a while anyway, then get on with it to the best extent possible within those policies?

  • It does seem that the headline did it’s job – it grabbed people’s attention! Obviously, the paper can’t make people actually read the article and so inform themselves of the details.

    The Telegraph headline wasn’t inaccurate as ultimately there will need to be restrictions on where a person can wear a face covering and not be challenged to remove it. If anything the LDV headline for this article is more provocative…

  • @ Simon Shaw

    I don’t think KKK-style hoods are banned, and central government shouldn’t ban them. Employers and Schools should be allowed to stop people wearing them, shops, banks and pubs should be free to prevent you entering their premises wearing them and everyone else should be free to express their disgust at them within the law.

    Somehow I have never seen someone wearing one walking down the street (and people will wear a lot of things as an attempt at a joke). Perhaps it is because the basic situation above is sufficient.

  • nuclear cockroach 17th Sep '13 - 1:07pm

    A desperately intolerant idea from Jeremy Browne. What people choose to wear should not generally be a matter for the liberal state.

  • @Simon Shaw
    “I suppose, according to you, Neil Kinnock should be criticised for not complaining to the Sun about their “Will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights” headline on the basis that he never said that??”

    No because:

    1. He was not a Government Minister (thankfully).
    2. Due to point one, the issue was not related to the Department he had responsibilities in.
    3. It was not an issue that could have ramifications for community cohesion.

    “You keep claiming that Jeremy is reported as saying things like “Britain should consider banning Muslim girls and young women from wearing veils in schools and public places”. But he isn’t!”

    At risk of sounding like a Punch and Judy Show, oh yes he is. The phrase you used was followed by the words “a Home Office minister has said”. Under a Headline that begins with the words “Jeremy Browne:” and above a picture of him. Which other Home Office Minister do you take it to refer to? It’s been a long time since my English exams, but I believe it used to be acceptable that to quote someone you may use direct quotation, i.e. something within quotation marks, or indirect quotation, something proceeded by a statement such as “The Home Office Minister stated that…” or followed by “Home Office Minister Stated” or in this case “Home Office Minister has said”. Both require the phrase / phrase to be accurate.

  • @Simon Shaw
    No I am not agreeing with you, as there is an indirect quote attributed to him which I believe should have been corrected if it is not accurate.

    You fail to see that comments attributed to a Government Minister have the potential to cause great harm. Corrections are often made – I gave an example of one made during the conference. As he has not sought to make the correction (and if he has and I have missed it, I would be satisfied) I can only assume he is content with the piece as attributed. If this was a back bencher I would agree it would not be worth the clarification.

  • @ RC
    “The veil is a means of repression of women”. This is your view and it is not the view taken by Islam or by the women in the UK who wear it. I think every women wearing the veil interviewed on TV talk about the benefits of wearing it.

    @ David
    Thank you for pointing out that there are five main schools of Sunni “Islamic law”, which define Islamic practice. Please can you state which three schools state that wearing a veil to cover the front of the face is mandatory. When discussing the veil I don’t think we are discussing a hijab but are discussing niqab. If a woman wears the niqab and men can see her hands is she following the teaching of her school of religious interpretation or are western women just choosing which bits are part of their religion? Are you really saying that every practicing Muslim woman who doesn’t wear the hijab are followers of the one school where it is only “praiseworthy”?

  • Meral Hussein Ece 18th Sep '13 - 9:01pm

    Allow me to be the only woman from a Muslim background to, so far, express a view. No one in my immediate family wears a Niqab, though I have family with wear the hijab. I do not personally like women wearing the niqab, but the very idea that a Lib Dem minister should suggest that we ‘need a debate’ whether it should be worn by women in public places, is shocking. We have not stopped debating this! It’s a constant irritant with the Mail, Telegraph, EDL and UKIP. A small number of Muslim choose to wear this. What harm are they doing anyone? Has Jeremy Browne, or (men) who object, actually spoken to a women in a niqab? These women face daily insults and abuse. Of course there must be exceptions at airports and areas of security, as well as as some professionals such as teachers, and public services where there are specific dress codes. As Nick Clegg and others such as Theresa May have said: its not the place of Governemnt to ban what women or anyone else wears. I suggest Jeremy Browne focuses on prosecuting those who impose FGM on girls ( so far none) forced marriages and violence against women.

  • Richard Dean 19th Sep '13 - 12:12am

    @Meral Hussein Ece

    Here is a link which makes it pretty clear that someone, who is claiming to have some authority, is telling Muslim women what to wear. The Quran is being used as justification. I didn’t have any difficulty finding the website, I Google’d “Muslim teaching niqab” and it was the second site that was listed. So it’s likely to be quite a well-visited site.

    The second sentence of the teaching says this: “We cannot say that it is obligatory for a Muslim woman to cover the face with a multi-layered khimar. What is required is for her to cover the face, whether it is with a single layer or several layers”. In other words, Muslim women MUST cover the face, though not necessarily with a khimar.

    It seems to me ridiculous in this day and age that religious people should make this kind of detailed instruction about covering the face. I’d say that Muslims need to engage in the debate, not to shun it, because shunning it will just let it continue – which is what you seem to be complaining about. It’s a cross-cultural issue because people feel it as such, so non-Muslims have a perfect right to be involved too. Certainly there is prejudice on the part of some non-Muslims, but there is often a willingness to learn too – and learning requires that a very special thing be allowed to happen – the people learning must be absolutely free to make their own judgments. This is quite hard to allow, and it doesn’t happen by simple assertion.

    I am sad that the students on this site are having to memorize the Quran, because memorizing it doesn’t lead to understanding – free judgment does. I am happy though that they feel free enough to lift their veils!

  • Malcolm Todd 19th Sep '13 - 12:31am

    Richard Dean

    Are you suggesting that because someone claiming to be an (Islamic) authority gives instructions about what people wear that it’s okay for government ministers to consider doing so? If not, how is your link relevant to the debate?

    You may well think that it is “ridiculous in this day and age that religious people should make this kind of detailed instruction about covering the face”. So do I. But this isn’t a religious debating site, and the discussion here isn’t about whether we think it’s desirable for Muslim women to cover their faces in public but whether there should be a law to stop them doing so.

  • Richard Dean 19th Sep '13 - 12:43am

    @Malcolm Todd

    Not sure how your comment fits in here. People claim that Muslim women are subjected to unfair pressure to wear a veil. The link I refer to illustrates some pressure, and indeed illustrates it in a school context. Here’s another link, to what seems like a further claim to that effect, and sensible reaction:

  • @ Richard Dean
    The advice on the website is given by Muhammad Saalih Al-Munajjid. He is from Saudi Arabia and still lives there and he is from the Hanbali school of Islamic law which I think is very strict and conservative and mainly only followed in Saudi Arabia and Qatar and so is not a good example of main-stream Islamic thought. Also the Quran is not used as the authority it seems the ruling is based on Hanbali teaching based on the Hadith.

    I think it is a shame that Meral Hussein Ece as a “woman from a Muslim background” didn’t give us an insight in how modern Islamic women treat the teachings of the religious schools. I think it is important for people taking part in this debate to understand this because some people say that wearing the niqab is part of their religion while others say it is a personal choice in Islam. Those women who wear the niqab interviewed on TV all seem to have female relatives who do not and so it appears families are not united in following the same teaching on the niqab.

  • David “The Quran doesn’t require women to wear the veil. In fact neither Sunni nor Shia Islam require women to wear the veil. There is another discussion to be had on how far someone’s interpretation of their religion is the same as it being part of that religion…”

    It doesn’t! this wearing of the veil is an import from Saudi Arabia and their deeply masoganist repressive conservative approach to women.

    Actually it is good that Jeremy Browne has raised the issue – it is more a political statement and has very little to do with religious observance (if any – it is not written in the Koran – or that wearing it shows piety to God). It is banned in France and perhaps it should be banned here in public places as some people do feel both offended and threatened by it and more importantly it does represent female subservience. Women’s rights and feminism has come a long way and the wearing of the veil is an affront to female liberation and Liberal Democracy. However in a liberal democracy is banning it an affront to civil liberty & human rights (dear to the hearts of all true liberals)? Banning it at airport security? Banning in the classroom? Banning in all public places? I agree Mr. Browne we do need a debate

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 22nd Sep '13 - 6:15am

    Even if Islam was not currently subject of immense hostile scrutiny I personally question the right of others to have a debate about how some of its followers choose to interprete the Quran, unless laws of this land are being broken, and even then the debate should be amongst religious, legal and social science experts, and not with ‘the mob’ who are prone as we know to expressing their disdain with acts of violence.

    I personally agree with everything that Meral Hussein Ece has said and would loudly concur with the belief that Jeremy Browne should focus on real issues of concern, and I add, not issues that are possibly going to raise his profile with the extremely intolerant Right. Society has sadly since 9/11 and 7/7 become markedly more intolerant towards not only Islam but regarding race equality as well and the future even with the LibDem’s involvement looks gloomy whilst some of its members continue to pander to Right Wing bigotry.

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