The Face Covering Bill (burqa ban) receives its second hearing in Parliament today.
If passed into law the bill would make wearing burqas in public areas illegal in the UK.
The bill was forwarded by Conservative MPs Philip Hollobone, Peter Bone and Christopher Chope as one of 40 proposals in their “alternative Queen’s speech” in June 2013. The proposals included leaving the EU and tougher regulations for asylum seekers, have earned the three parliamentarians the nickname “Tory Taliban” by Labour MP Angela Eagle.
Similar legislation banning the public wearing of the burqa were passed by France and Belgium in 2010. Since then the debate has taken root in Britain about whether to follow suit. In 2011 a poll conducted by YouGov found that 66 per cent of Britons favoured a ban, the proportion rose to 79 per cent for respondents over 60.
Support for outlawing the Islamic attire known as “niqaab” was fractionally higher in France, where 80 per cent of the population were in favour. However, recent attempts to implement the ban in Paris have resulted in rioting and violence against the police. Many also believe the burqa ban has increased Islamophobic incidents in France. French Muslim leaders estimated that the regularity of Islamophobic attacks (verbal and physical) increased by 34 per cent after the 2010 ban.
Since then, the French Interior Ministry have defended the ban as being in the “interests of women”, echoing Parisian Imam Hassen Chalghoumi’s comment that “the burqa is a prison for women.”
The Tory ministers proposing a burqa ban in the UK have justifications less grounded in the protection of women’s rights. Hollobone sparked controversy in February after he described burqas as “the religious equivalent of going around with a paper bag on your head.” He went on to say, “In my view, it is offensive to want to cut yourself off from face-to-face contact with, or recognition by, other members of the human race.”
Hollobone and his anti-burqa posse aren’t the first British MPs to criticise the Islamic dress code worn by a significant number of Muslim women. Labour MP Jack Straw caused an outrage in 2006 for stating that he felt “uncomfortable” talking to constituents whose faces were covered and that burqas represented “a visible statement of separation and difference”.
It is more than likely that human rights groups such as Amnesty International will voice their disapproval of such legislation like they did with the French ban, arguing that it constitutes an assault on Muslim women’s rights to freedom of expression and religious belief.