The Daily Mail, London Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph all covered news of two Islamic schools in London that are ‘forcing’ girls as young as 11 to wear full-face veils.
The papers focus on two London schools, the Madani Girls School in Whitechapel, and the Ayesha Siddiqa Girls School in Southall, both of which enforce a conservative dress code according to the uniform policy stated on their respective websites.
The Daily Mail quotes the Madani Girls School website where their uniform policy is described as ‘strict’ and as supporting the ‘desired dress code of a Muslim female’.
The school’s website states: ‘The present uniform conforms to the Islamic Code of dressing and must be adhered to at all times both within the school and dismissal at the end of the day.’
With regard to the Ayesha Siddiqa Girls School, the paper acknowledges that ‘pupils wear a navy blue burka or a jilbab, which does not cover the face.’
The Daily Telegraph also quotes from the schools website, which says it is ‘not willing to compromise on any issues regarding uniform’.
The focus on uniform policy at Islamic schools and the ‘forcing’ of veils on young girls is interesting given the comments of the Prime Minister to the initial guidance issued by Birmingham Metropolitan College. Its decision to ban the niqab on college premises and the subsequent reversal of the ban has prompted copious media coverage on veiling.
A spokesman for Mr Cameron said, in relation to the ban imposed by Birmingham Metropolitan College: “We support schools in setting their own uniform guidelines.
“These are decisions that are rightly for schools to take. There is an important point here around head teachers and their leadership teams being able to take the decisions that are right for their schools and we support that.”
How then is the uniform policy of some Islamic schools news, if indeed “these are decisions that are rightly for schools to take”?
Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has also spoken on the subject saying:
“I don’t think it can be classed as any kind of uniform.
“I’m totally against any kind of compulsion in this matter. If a school is forcing children to wear the veil, that in my view is completely wrong.”
He added: “That is against my principles and it’s against the principles of liberty that London should stand for.”
But if parents who send their children to schools that follow such conservative views are exercising their right to educate their child in the school of their choice, how can that be considered incompatible with the ‘principles of liberty’?
Home Secretary, Theresa May, spoke in defence of a woman’s right to choose saying, “I start from the position that I don’t think Government should tell people, I don’t think the Government should tell women, what they should be wearing.
“I think it’s for women to make a choice about what clothes they wish to wear, if they wish to wear a veil that is for a woman to make a choice.
“There will be some circumstances in which it’s right for public bodies, for example at the border, at airport security, to say there is a practical necessity for asking somebody to remove a veil.
“I think it’s for public bodies like the Border Force officials, it’s for schools and colleges, and others like the judiciary, as we’ve recently seen, to make a judgment in relation to those cases as to whether it’s necessary to ask somebody to remove the veil.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph front page yesterday covered news of a policy review by health minister, Dan Poulter, to ensure dress codes in the health sector allow for face to face communication between patients and healthcare professionals.
Poulter told The Guardian, “I am writing to all healthcare regulators to ask them to look into this matter and to review their professional regulations, to ensure that there is always appropriate face-to-face contact between healthcare professionals and their patients.”
Few articles have been authored by women who wear face veils in the last week despite the great volume of coverage devoted to the issue.
Sahar Al Faifi writing in The Independent is author of one such article. She laments the lack of diverse views when it comes to debating the veil, in particular the absence of veiled Muslim women.
On the hypocrisy and short sightedness of the papers, politicians and political commentators Al Faifi writes: “The common impression that many people have about those that wear the niqab is that we are oppressed, uneducated, passive, kept behind closed doors and not integrated within British society. The terms used in the press often reflect this, as do some politicians statements.’
“Jeremy Browne MP is a case in point with his call for a national debate about whether the state should step in to “protect” young women from having the veil “imposed” on them. Sarah Wollaston MP finds the niqab “deeply offensive”. Enter the Prime Minister and commentators across the political spectrum ready to discuss us.”
On the disingenuous claim that veils are a ‘security’ concern, Al Faifi points out:
“Islam is not a monolithic religion and therefore Islamic scholars may differ in their jurisprudence but most agree that in particular cases, Muslim women are allowed to take off their veils – though each case should be dealt with individually. Muslim women including myself do not find this a problem.”
Criticising comparisons drawn with more illiberal countries, Al Faifi notes, “In Britain, public freedom is a part of the fabric of our society. Those public freedoms extend to religious freedoms that give us the right to practice and articulate our religious freedoms and rights. We cannot take this public freedom for granted for the sake of social scares, deep-seated psychological fears, ignorance and fear of the unknown.”
John Wight, in the Huffington Post, comments on the steady drip feed of negative coverage and the slow and systematic demonisation of minority groups that materialises as a result. He notes the “misconception [that] the Holocaust arrived out of thin air, rather than as the culmination of a prolonged campaign demonising its victims on the way to achieving their dehumanisation in the eyes of mainstream society, so that it became normalised and accepted.”
“Today in Britain we see evidence of the early stages of just such a campaign of demonisation being waged and reaching mainstream acceptance against the Muslim community.”
Wight believes that the demonisation of Muslims in the UK has been exacerbated further because ‘mainstream politicians and liberal commentators’ continually lament the “refusal or reluctance of Muslims to integrate“.
“The normalisation of anti Muslim sentiment, the way it has achieved acceptance at the level of government, mainstream media, and in the street with the acceptance of overtly racist anti-Muslim groups such as the EDL, takes it to a new and alarming level,” he writes.
How poignant that Wight’s article, drawing parallels between the demonisation of Jews as a prelude to the Holocaust and the overwhelmingly negative coverage of Islam and Muslims in the British media, is published days after the Prime Minister, David Cameron, pledged to “do everything possible to make sure that the memory of the Holocaust is preserved from generation to generation.”