Burka ban MP is accused of 'publicity stunt'

By staff writers
21 Jul 2010

Philip Hollobone, Conservative MP for Kettering, has been accused of a 'publicity stunt' over his calls for a French-style ban on the burka and the niqab - and his claims that he would refuse to talk to fully veiled Muslim women.

Cvil rights, equality and racial justice campaigners are among those who have expressed horror at the recent French parliamentary decision to ban the burqa, and at Mr Holloborne's attempt to raise the issue in Britain - something opposed by all the leading political parties in the UK.

In an interview with The Independent newspaper at the weekend, the English MP said that he would not hold meetings at his constituency office with Muslim women wearing "full Islamic dress" unless they lifted their face veil.

He was immediately accused of offering a "second-class service" to Muslims.

Anjona Roy, chief executive of the Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council, said this week: "Mr Hollobone gets a lot of media attention from this and I think he feels that's to his advantage, but the number of people he's potentially offending or are potentially experiencing detriment as a result of him focusing on this, is a handful."

Ms Roy added: "He clearly wants to be seen as a person who stands up for his own opinions and I have no problem with that but it would be nice if he stood up in such a strident way for things that are more obviously the needs of his Kettering constituents; things that benefit more people and aren't going to have the same amount of detriment in terms of good relationships within communities in the town."

The local equality chief went on: "Mr Hollobone says he wants to verify these women's identities but to what extent do MPs normally do that with people who come to see them? Do people who want to talk to their MP have to take identification with them? That's certainly not my experience."

"He says a woman who doesn't want to lift her veil can write a letter but that will still not verify her identity. Anyone could write a letter. To what extent does showing your face verify identity, unless you have accompanying photographic identification?" she asked.

Meanwhile, Spain has turned down a similar ban to the one adopted in France, rebuffing a right-wing campaign. Following a lower chamber debate, 183 lawmakers opposed the ban, 162 voted for it and two abstained.

Laure Rodriguez Quiroga, head of the Union for Muslim Women in Spain, said: "not identifying yourself in a public building is, quite rightly, already illegal in Spain. We do not need a specific bill regarding the burqa or niqab."

Simon Barrow, co-director of the UK-based religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, said today that "attempts to proscribe particular forms of dress, whether religious or non-religious, and whether we approve of them according to our own convictions and conduct or not, will be widely seen as a threat to free expression."

"Clothing codes based on genuine safety considerations, or needed to facilitate identification and communication, are a different matter. These need to be encouraged through negotiation, mutual respect and agreement.

He added: "As Muslim scholars and commentators have remarked, bans of the kind adopted in France are also profoundly counterproductive in relation to stemming the growth of narrow, politicised types of Islamism. They contradict the philosophical premises they are supposed to be based on and they feed xenophobia and general anti-Muslim sentiment."

"The kind of secularism promoted by some in France and elsewhere is restrictive and prescriptive. It is opposed by those who see secularity as a means of encouraging free expression and equal participation in civil society, rather than imposing one ideology. We need to be encouraging and modelling an open, plural culture in which people are neither disadvantaged nor privileged for their subscription to a belief system, their style of dress, or their membership or otherwise of organised religious or non-religious organisations. The French ban raises profound issues of religious, political and civic freedom," said Barrow.

[Ekk/3]

Keywords: burqa | france | niqab | secularism
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