Saturday, 2 April 2011

Debating the French 'Burqa Ban'

In today’s Guardian I debate the issue of the French law banning the wearing of the niqab (veil) with journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Yasmin does not ignore the obvious racism that surrounds this debate in France.  “I don't want to ban the veil in the French way”, she says, “The French are racist. They're doing it for the wrong reasons.” But she still concludes that “...they're doing the right thing.”

I have always opposed those who think they have the right to force women to dress in a particular way. It is not right for this choice to be taken away from women in Saudi Arabia or Iran. And it is not right in Europe either. This is even more the case when measures like these are cynically used to exploit prejudice and encourage fear and suspicion of minorities.

As I said to Yasmin,

“Some women find it liberating and emancipatory to uncover themselves – and some find it oppressive. A ban is saying that Muslims don't belong. It's not about encouraging a sense of belonging, forging multicultural relationships. It's the opposite. It's a thinly veiled disguise for patronising, for racism. This isn't about emancipating women. It's doing the very opposite. It doesn't promote cohesion and respect – it promotes fear.”

It was an interesting conversation, and you can read it all here.