Labour ministers should oppose niqab, says Tribune columnist

Joan Smith“Labour must be more principled at a time when the whole notion of equal rights for men and women is under attack from religious extremists.

“Since Jack Straw became the first mainstream politician to question the practice of wearing the niqab last autumn, it’s become clear that a small but vocal minority in this country no longer accepts the premise that women have exactly the same right to the enjoyment of public space as men.

“If women have to cover their faces with a mask (which is what niqab means in Arabic) whenever they leave the house, they are signalling their acceptance of conditional access to public space – and a Taliban theory of gender relations in which women are responsible for avoiding men’s accidental arousal.

“Neither of these propositions is compatible with a notion of universal human rights, and Labour ministers shouldn’t be afraid of saying so.”

Joan Smith in Tribune, 16 March 2007

From the standpoint of this sort of secularist fundamentalism, of course, the concept of human rights doesn’t include the right of Muslim women to dress as they choose, without being bullied by white male non-Muslim politicians.