The Guardian has run a few articles lately on face veiling as it has hit the news again in the UK. I have detailed before my frustration with veiling (primarily on communication grounds, but also on the more complex and debatable grounds of being undergirded by sexism). Here are some interesting views of some Guardian readers:
Imagine that I am sitting outside a cafe in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, dressed in full crusader costume, my red pectoral cross prominently displayed, pouring whisky into my coffee. What message does this send to passersby? The message is: “I hold your customs and your values in contempt. I do not want to be like you because you are morally and culturally inferior.” Exactly the same is true of the wearing of a full-face veil: it is perceived by a large section of the non-Muslim population as unnecessary and arrogant. Such provocative behaviour, coupled with the almost daily reports of harsh, even virulent, misogyny in Pakistan, Iran or Afghanistan, is surely a public relations disaster for British Muslims.
I’m afraid it simply won’t do to say, as Maleiha Malik does (Full-face veils aren’t barbaric – but our response can be, 17 September), that “we need a debate within the Muslim communities“. What needs to happen, for the benefit of British Muslims themselves, is for the leaders of the various Muslim communities to signal a change of direction away from separatism and towards greater integration. To this end it is they, not politicians, who need to be making a fuss about full-face veils and the need to phase them out.
Bedale, North Yorkshire
• As anyone knows who has thought about what to wear at a job interview, clothes are a language. So what message do niqab-wearing women want to send? Do they want to fully participate, and the face covering is the only way they can do this? Or do they want to keep themselves separate and apart? We hear a lot from people speaking on their behalf, but not much from the women themselves. Also, how is that message received? I find it difficult, for example, to remove from the face veil all connotations of Saudi Arabian Salafism, with its long misogynist history.
• I’m a German-born Muslim and have been living England for nearly 10 years. My parents came here from Pakistan due to the freedom they saw their children would have in European countries. They came so that our chances of achieving a good life would be high because of the well-structured education system here. Many parents have escaped harsh cultural oppression so that their daughters and sons could achieve equal amounts of education. Some girls might be oppressed, and they have every right to speak out, but I suggest that politicians should find those girls first and have a solid case before they approach a topic nationally.
My love for education will go on for many more years, but I will not under any circumstances give up my religious beliefs, and one is the covering of my head and body and sometimes the face. I will not have politicians “impose” their belief on me as I have the right to dress the way I choose. I’m by no means a fanatic but an ordinary girl.
• The Guardian is clearly making peace with those who promote the covering of women’s faces. “Three leading Muslims” in your piece (‘Is the veil the biggest issue we face in the UK?’, G2, 17 September) express a range of supportive opinion. No mention of UK Muslim women who are unhappy with this antisocial black cloak. No word of women around the world who have bravely stood up to this expression of sharia law, defying brutal codes of honour and shame. And most shocking of all, no sense of outrage about the schoolgirls and women on our streets whose faces are concealed in the name of religious extremism, lest they tempt men’s uncontrollable urges. The liberal left is prepared to trade equality and civil society for religious appeasement.
• During the current discussion on the rights of Muslim women to cover their faces in public (Lib Dem calls for debate on Islamic veil, 16 September) I have not noticed any mention that, for many of us who have become increasingly deaf over the years, it is extremely difficult to follow a conversation without seeing facial expressions, in particular to be able to lip-read. This is not a question of religion or rights, but of human communication.
• Birmingham Metropolitan College is wrong to cave in to protests against its ban on face veils on campus (Report, 14 September). Sikh men and Muslim women are entitled to wear their head coverings, which are incorporated into uniforms of the armed forces, police etc. But such headgear doesn’t cover the face.
Wearers of the niqab conceal their faces completely, which puts them at an advantage over other people. They can see the uncovered faces of others, but others cannot see who they are or, more important, read their expressions. It is intimidating to be in the company of people whose faces are completely covered. I therefore fully support the MP Peter Hollobone’s private member’s bill to ban the wearing of face coverings in public.
• Maybe the niqab should be worn by everyone giving evidence in court cases (Woman told to remove veil to give evidence, 17 September). It would prevent judge and jury from making unpreventable assumptions due to a witness’s appearance. They could then focus on the evidence and use it more objectively.
Dr Petrina Stevens
• Arguments about whether the niqab is a symbol of free choice, religion, submission or coercion are missing the point and muddying the central issue. A person’s right to dress as they choose way can be overridden by secular law in certain circumstances – the Naked Rambler has been frequently jailed, and political uniforms were banned by the Public Order Act (1936). I’m not clear why personal choice should automatically trump our way of applying justice.
Dr Richard Miller