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Posted on Wed 18 September 2013

Sometimes we Cannot Allow the Niqab to be worn in Public

In a free society the debate about the niqab or the full-face veil (which covers the entire face including the eyes) cannot be about being “affronted” or “offended”, nor can it be only about preferences, whether personal or social.

The presumption must be for people to dress as they choose, provided this does not cause disruption or disorder as we go about the normal business of life. There are two dangers to guard against. One is of young women (or even girls) being forced to wear the veil by their families or the religious community to which they belong. The other is the ultra-feminist war cry, already heard, that people must be forced to be equal even against their will!

Any decision made by society must be based on objective criteria which have to do with maximising freedom and maintaining fairness, justice and good order for all. It seems to me that there are a number of such criteria which would restrict or prevent the full-face veil or the niqab being worn in public places.

Paramount is, of course, the need for security. There have been a number of cases, worldwide, where criminals or terrorists have escaped arrest wearing a burqa. More often, there is a need to identify people for security reasons and not only at immigration booths. Those dealing with our security, need to be able to tell, by people’s behaviour in public places, including facial expressions etc, whether they are any danger to others. Schools and colleges in particular, will want to be very sure of the identity of those in their buildings so that they can protect children and young people from those who may to wish to harm them. Again, this must go beyond the checking of identity at the entrance but will extend to the rest of the premises during the course of the day.

There is then the need for personal interaction. Doctors and dentists will, naturally, wish to interact with their patients and teachers, similarly, with their pupils. More generally, employers will be wary of employing those who cannot interact freely with their colleagues at the workplace. Such interaction may be also necessary for social services, community policing and a myriad of other activities. The recent ruling in court that a witness or an accused must remove the veil whilst giving evidence is not enough as jurors and the judge may also wish to observe behaviour when others are testifying or when counsel are arguing their case.

Finally, there is the question of safety. Wearing the veil will be hazardous in situations where machinery is involved, where the terrain is difficult or the weather dangerous. Naturally, it will be extremely difficult for anyone to operate a vehicle safely but simply crossing a busy road or negotiating the underground may also be full of difficulties.

With such objective criteria, it should be possible both to uphold freedom for what people do in their personal lives but also to regulate what is of common interest. Where there is a need for the security of others, where social or personal interaction is required and for reasons of safety, it should be possible to prevent the use of the niqab or the full-face veil.

The article, published by The Telegraph, can be viewed here.

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