Defence of hijab ban is backward thinking

Letter in Morning Star, 6 April 2005

Peter Duffy’s defence of the reactionary French law on religious symbols (Morning Star, April 2) merely shows how backward many parts of the left have become in relation to the rights of Muslims and other minorities in Europe.

In particular, he argues that there are “progressives” who support the headscarf ban.

Just because some people who regard themselves as being on the left support the law – perhaps even a majority – does not actually make it progressive.

Many people who regard themselves as progressive argued that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a cause to celebrate. Being on the left did not stop them from being wrong.

One’s position must be judged on whether it really is progressive. There is nothing progressive about banning a child from school because of the crime of wearing an under-turban, a hijab or a skull-cap. It is merely the subordination of genuine secularism to intolerance and prejudice.

In his long letter, Peter Duffy mentions Muslims many times but omits to mention the plight of the Sikhs. What am I to tell Sikhs in London? “Don’t worry, Sikh kids are banned from their schools in France for wearing their under-turbans, but it’s OK because ‘progressives’ support it”? I somehow doubt that they will be convinced.

It is our obligation as progressive people to tell them that we firmly oppose this law.

If there is not a place for an Asian person in France to have a full state education and also to continue to hold their religious beliefs, including wearing their religious dress, then forgive me as an Asian person in Britain for saying as clearly as I can that this is a reactionary state of affairs, regardless of the sensibilities of some rather prickly parts of the left.

Yasmin Qureshi
Human rights advisor to the Mayor of London