Under the headline “The niqab is a worrying symbol of segregation” the Sunday Telegraph has an editorial supporting the prohibition of the veil in some circumstances. While it stops short of calling for complete ban, the Telegraph states that “facial communication is important in some parts of the public sphere, and … the relevant authorities should be at liberty to require it if they wish”. Like the Express, the paper thinks that Birmingham Metropolitan College capitulated to PC pressure by changing its rules to allow students to wear the niqab.
For the Sunday Telegraph the question of whether Muslim women should be allowed to cover their faces in public is apparently the issue of the week, because in addition to an editorial the paper also features a double-page spread on the niqab.
An article by the paper’s chief reporter Robert Mendick brackets the Birmingham Metropolitan College controversy with an ongoing legal dispute over whether a Muslim woman should be allowed to wear her niqab in court. According to Mendick, these are just two components of a Muslim-leftist plot: “An alliance of Islamic groups and Left-wing activists have been accused of conspiring to put pressure on institutions to overturn existing bans on the wearing of full-face coverings.”
Mendick further ties these two controversies to the demand for an outright ban on the veil, by quoting as an authority on the niqab and its place in society a notorious right-wing crank who is trying to illegalise the wearing of the veil:
Philip Hollobone, the Conservative MP for Kettering, who has tabled a private member’s bill that would make it an offence to wear clothing obscuring the face in public, said he had no doubt that the Government should have given more support to Birmingham Met in backing its burka ban.
Mr Hollobone said: “This campaign has been orchestrated by professional agitators and the college has rolled over too fast. It is a shame but I am not surprised because they have come under huge pressure. The DfE needs to issue protective guidance to prevent colleges and schools being bullied.”
He described the wearing of the veil as “uncivil” and “medieval”. “We are not a Muslim country,” he said adding: “There are plenty of countries around the world where those who would like to wear the veil would feel more comfortable.”
Mendick’s report is accompanied by a comment piece from Theodore Dalrymple, who takes it for granted that “the niqab is deeply demeaning of women” while also demonstrating “not only difference from the society in which one lives but implicit hostility towards it”. Indeed, Dalrymple thinks these points are so obvious that he sees no need to present any arguments to justify his assertions.
Posing the rhetorical question as to whether the reversal of the Birmingham Metropolitan College ban was “a triumph for grassroots democracy, or for intimidation and religious thuggery”, Dalrymple opts for the latter, claiming that the college authorities backed down in the face of “the threat of a demonstration with every potential for violence of a very nasty kind”. Needless to say, he presents no evidence that the planned demonstration would have been anything other than the peaceful protest it was advertised as.
Dalrymple goes on to identify the danger posed by Muslim women’s right to wear the veil with the more general threat that Islam itself supposedly represents: “If the niqab were the garb of a tiny and bizarre religious sect with no universalist pretensions and absolutely no history of aggression towards others, we might be inclined to overlook it as a mere contribution to life’s rich tapestry of eccentricities: but such is not the case here.”
Dalrymple concludes with the no less disgraceful smear that the Muslim veil is associated with criminality: “There is no reason for us to tolerate the niqab in our public institutions. Among other things, how are authorities to know that the person within the covering is the person it is supposed to be? It is an invitation to the most flagrant abuses, including disguising a person’s identity in order to commit crime. This, of course, is one of its attractions for some of the men who support the right to wear it.”
But this ignorant, bigoted and inflammatory journalism is hardly surprising, given the Torygraph’s record on the issue. In 2011 it was Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson who hailed the French ban on the veil with an article headed “We too should ban the burka”.
Update: The Daily Telegraph ramps up the anti-veil campaign with an interview with Lib Dem minister Jeremy Browne, who calls for a national debate about whether the state should step in to protect young women from having the veil “imposed” on them, and an article by Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, who calls for politicians to “set clear national guidance” that the veil is unacceptable in courts and colleges (“Women should be clear that the burka is a symbol not of liberation but of repression and segregation … We must be bold in resisting those who would allow the niqab to masquerade as personal freedom … Sometimes you have to force people to be equal”).