In today’s Daily Telegraph, Philip Johnston examines the issues behind the current court case over the right of a young Muslim woman (“X”) to wear the niqab at school. He recounts:
“The head teacher sent X home last autumn when she saw her in a lunch queue dressed in a niqab, which covers the face apart from a slit for the eyes…. She asked the girl to remove the veil before returning to school. But being relatively new, she had not appreciated that X’s three sisters had already passed through the school wearing the niqab. X, therefore, felt aggrieved that she was being treated differently….
“X’s eldest sister – the first to attend – told the court: ‘When I started I was not certain about wearing the niqab. However, having spoken to my parents and religious scholars, I decided that I did want to wear the niqab and began doing so.’ Does that sound to you like a child who arrived at this decision unilaterally through her religious devotions?”
Well, actually, it does. Indeed, Johnston reports that “X’s father said she was not forced to wear the niqab and to do so was her own choice.” But let us allow Johnston to continue:
“The sister started wearing the niqab in 1995. ‘The school and staff were very supportive,’ she said. ‘I was even told I could wear the jilbab as well if I wanted’.”
Good for the school and its staff, I would say, for handling the issue so sensitively. But Johnston lectures us sternly:
“This was the high-point of multiculturalism, that benighted concept now disavowed by its most enthusiastic proponents. Had the school put its foot down then – along with many other public institutions in thrall to a well-intentioned, but ultimately self-defeating, concept – we might not be in the mess we are now. But it was felt to be the right thing to do, even if it exacerbated division and made integration difficult.”
So, did their wearing of the niqab prevent the sisters from integrating? Not according to them. Johnston reports:
“X’s sisters testified that they had never been held back by wearing the niqab. It could be adapted for sports or for science work in the laboratory. It was taken off when there were no male teachers present. They all came through the school with excellent qualifications and all went to university. Two are now working in good jobs, still veiled. They all made friends and felt they had integrated well.”
So, no problem there, then.
All in all, you might think, a pretty good argument in favour of allowing X to continue wearing her niqab at school? Not according to Johnston, who comments that X’s decision was “hardly surprising given her age and the fact that her three sisters had all worn the garment. Yet we now know that the eldest sibling did so only after consulting a religious scholar. And not only did the school do nothing 12 years ago to help her reach a different decision, it actively conspired in an extraordinary piece of gender apartheid carried out in the name of ‘cultural inclusion’.”
Johnston concludes: “this is a case about rights. Not of Muslims to pursue their religion, for they have that freedom already. It is about the right of a 12-year-old girl, living in Britain, to grow up in a world that treats men and women equally.”
Johnston’s arrogance and condescension defy description. His argument is both sexist and racist. In his view, a young Muslim women is incapable of making up her own mind over whether or not to wear the veil, and if she does decide to wear it she must have been pressurised by her family and by older Muslim men. Her decision can therefore be discounted and she must be forced to remove her niqab – all in the interests of imposing upon her Johnston’s narrow, dogmatic, culturally-determined conception of what constitutes “equality”.