CAIRO – Debated for long years in the UK, a full-face burka ban seems closer than ever after British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that Muslim women can be banned from wearing veils in schools, courts and other British institutions.
“I think in our country people should be free to wear what they like and, within limits, live how they like and all the rest of it,” the Prime Minister told BBC Radio 4 on Monday.
“What does matter, if for instance a school has a particular uniform policy, sensitively put in place and all the rest of it, and people want to flout that uniform policy, often for reasons that aren’t really connected with religion, I think you should always come down on the side of the school.”
Breaking from former leaders of the British government, Cameron said he would support “proper and sensible rules”, which may require people to show their faces in some circumstances, but did not advocate a nation-wide ban on full-face coverings.
He made the comments as he announced a number of new measures aiming to tackle radicalization and segregation in British Muslim communities.
Though supporting a principle to ban full-face veil in courts or border controls, he voiced opposition to a French-style burqa ban.
“When coming into contact with an institution or you’re in court, or if you need to be able to see someone’s face at the border, then I will always back the authority and institution that have put in place proper and sensible rules,” Cameron said.
“Going for the French approach of banning an item of clothing, I do not think that’s the way we do things in this country and I do not think that would help.”
France in 2010 banned full-face veils, burka, after years of debate.
The Prime Minister’s announcement triggered mixed reactions.
Education watchdog head, Sir Michael Wilshaw, supported a ban on veils in the classroom, saying inspectors have sometimes found coverings cause communication problems during lessons.
“We have come a long way in our society to ensure that we have equality for women and that they are treated fairly, We mustn’t go backwards,” Sir Michael told BBC’s Newsnight.
“Many inspectors say on occasions they go into classrooms where they see there are problems about communications.”
Meanwhile, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan launches a new website “educate against hate” on Tuesday, to provide information for schools and parents to tackle the “spell of twisted ideologies”.
“We’re not going to tell people what they can and can’t wear”, but added schools did have the right to uphold a uniform policy,” Morgan told BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday.
On the other hand, some politicians accused Cameron of risking “stigmatizing” Muslim women with “clumsy” policy announcements.
“[David Cameron’s] clumsy and simplistic approach to challenging extremism is unfairly stigmatizing a whole community. There is a real danger that it could end up driving further radicalization, rather than tackling it,” Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham was quoted by Russia Today.
Lady Warsi, who was the first female Muslim cabinet minister, also rejected the new decisions.
“I think it is lazy and sloppy when we start making policies based on stereotypes which do badly stigmatize communities,” she told The World at One.