The wearing of full-faced veils by Muslim girls at schools in Britain has long been a controversial issue, so it was hardly surprising when comments made by Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw re-ignited the debate. In a statement, Wilshaw said he will give head teachers that have banned veils his “full backing for the stance they are taking”, and that Ofsted inspectors will be allowed to downgrade schools if the veils are deemed to negatively affect pupils’ learning. Unsurprisingly, the Ofsted chief’s seemingly harsh comments have enraged a number of people, whilst also generating support for his cause in equal measure.
It is easy to assume that those supporting Wilshaw’s plans are stereotypical right leaning people who tend to draw upon arguments such as the protection of their British identity, along with what they perceive to be the dangers of Islam, as a means to force the religion out of ‘their’ country. However, it is not just the right leaning who support Wilshaw’s plans. The National Secular Society joined the debate in support of abolishment, stating that the veil “impedes positive social interaction” amongst the children, which, as a result, infringes on their learning since they cannot discuss issues effectively with either their teachers or fellow students. Through a lack of communication with other students, the students are unable to integrate successfully into the community and face alienation as a result. They are often singled out because they don’t fit in with the general population, forcing them to become easy targets for anti-Islamic abuse.
However, in our country we have a need to accommodate for people of all religions and cultures. If we are to “have a claim to be the most successful multiracial, multifaith democracy on Earth”, as David Cameron suggests, we cannot force Muslims to neglect a key part of their religious practice.
Restricting Muslims of their religious freedom actively goes against what the Prime Minister outlined in his “Message to universities”, delivered on January 31st, in which he stated his desire for the nation to successfully become multicultural. Therefore, by indorsing Wilshaw’s comments for schools to ban the wearing of veils, Cameron is contradicting his wish to create a nation based on ‘British Values’. The ambiguous nature of ‘British Values’ can lead to multiple interpretations, but to me it includes, and perhaps even centres on, the right to freedom. Liberty is an important part of our society and we often take it for granted. In fact, one of the key reasons Britain is involved in Syria is to protect the liberties of the Syrian people. So it seems ludicrous that the government can contradict themselves so greatly and restrict a Muslim girl’s right to practice her religion. It seems that one of the main reasons behind the outrage caused by the wearing of veils is Islam’s non-existent association with terrorism and the fear that has been generated as a result, with the concealing of their identity causing fears that they could carry out unlawful activity. If we are to be a truly inclusive nation, we have to move past the prejudice many feel against Muslims and allow them to practice their religion within our culture. To be a multicultural nation is to incorporate many difference aspects of sub-cultures within the country, including the acceptance of a Muslim girl’s right to wear a full-faced veil.