BBC News, the London Evening Standard and local paper, Camden New Journal all report on the decision by Camden School for Girls to deny a Muslim girl the right to attend school on account of her wearing niqab.
The girl, who studied for five years at the school returned to study for her ‘A’ levels but was told that the niqab went against the school’s policy of acceptable garb as allowing “teacher-student inter-actions”.
The girl, who has not been named, said in an interview with the London Evening Standard:
“The school has no uniform and I thought they were accepting and open-minded. To be honest a lot of people at the school wear inappropriate clothing — inappropriate as in very provocative and revealing clothing like extremely short shorts — so it didn’t make sense that they were refusing me to wear the niqab.”
The issue has attracted a degree of attention elsewhere with the National Secular Society quoting a tweet by Mohammed Amin, chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, stating:
“I think Camden School for Girls acted reasonably in refusing to allow a pupil to wear a niqab on educational grounds.”
Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian today however, argues that the niqab is no reason to deny a schoolgirl the right to an education. Navigating the arguments that confound liberals on do we/don’t we support a ban on niqab, Hinsliff correctly asserts the harm principle and the liberal’s defence of free expression even (or especially) where this extends to dress. Of the significance of Muslim female education, Hinsliff says, “We should do nothing to exclude from it those who may one day need it most.”
Indeed, the argument that Muslim women who adopt niqab are reinforcing inequalities by adopting sartorial choices that will inhibit their career development has been aired before and equally dismissed by the very women whose wearing of niqab has not had an adverse impact on their career.
In a twist of irony, the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, Maajid Nawaz, takes on a rather illiberal position in The Times arguing that the school was right to ban the girl from wearing niqab in class because ‘…just as pupils are not allowed to wear crash helmets or hoodies in schools, they are not allowed to wear the veil. Any policy but that would be discrimination.’
Of course, if crash helmets and hoodies could be construed as forms of religious garb, obligatory or otherwise, the argument may hold but since there is a world of difference between items that merely cover the face and those which connote religious meaning and significance to the wearer, the analogy is pretty poor.
Nawaz goes on to argue that ‘The view that the face veil is obligatory is a minority position, heavily disputed by most Muslims.’
How strange that while he advocates education as trumping the face-veil, he neglects the product of female education – the exercise of autonomy and the right to choose how to dress.