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14 November 2013

What Guardian Readers Think of the Muslim Veil

Veils hit the headlines in early September.

(1) A prospective Muslim student at Birmingham Metropolitan College complained that the school's long-standing dress code, which forbade all head coverings on campus, would discriminate against her and her desire to cover her face.

The college promptly caved in to an extremist campaign and changed its rules allowing Muslim students to veil their faces. Other face covering clothing, balaclavas and crash helmets, remained forbidden on college premises.

(2) A judge decided a Muslim woman must take off her veil to give evidence, but she could wear it during the rest of the trial. He expressed the hope that Parliament or a higher court would soon ‘provide a definitive answer’, adding: ‘The niqab has become the elephant in the court room.’

Following this The Guardian published rapidly what seemed like an endless stream of articles all with more or less the same message.

"The veil isn't a problem. We can change our rules to suit Muslims if they think their religion requires it."


According to readers' comments on five of those articles that in total attracted over 5700 readers' comments (a huge number, indicating the interest in the subject) and the recommendations other readers gave those comments ....


We have looked at (well, scanned) all 5700 comments! It hasn't been easy, as the Guardian, doesn't allow sorting of comments by popularity. [Some people might think this is wise as otherwise it shows starkly how much The Guardian is out of tune with its readers when it comes to Islam apologetics!!]

For each article, we have made extracts from a selection of high scoring comments (mostly those with more than 100 reader recommendations). See below

The number of Guardian reader recommendations each comment received is shown followed by a code created and allocated by "Islam Surveyed" to indicate the point or points made as follows:

BF = Ban the veil in public, like the French.
BNE = Ban face covering where required, No Exceptions for Muslims.
DR = Disagree with the veil because of the religious beliefs it represents.
DS = Disagree with the veil because those who wear it separate themselves from society.
DC = Disagree with the veil because it hinders human communication and interaction.
MV = A Muslim view.
GP = Guardian problem. The Guardian does not give a balanced picture and ignores the views of its readers.
TP = Teaching problems. The veil is a barrier to good teaching and not appropriate in school or college environments.
TF = Two fingers. It is a deliberate anti-West or political gesture and even a form of showing off.
N = It is new. There are more veil wearers than there ever used to be
WR = When in Rome etc.
MM = Muslim men don't have the same or equivalent restriction.
PI = Promotes anti-Muslim feeling.

The artcles covered are:

(1) My veil epiphany - Just what was Birmingham Met thinking of when it tried to stop women wearing the niqab? By Victoria Coren Mitchell.

(2) Spare us a 'national debate' on veils By Simon Jenkins.

(3) Full-face veils aren't barbaric – but our response can be By Maleiha Malik.

(4) Don't follow France's burqa ban. It has curbed liberty and justice By Nabila Ramdani.

(5) Should there be restrictions on wearing the niqab? - five-minute video debate. By columnists Nabila Ramdani and Joan Smith.

My veil epiphany - Just what was Birmingham Met thinking of when it tried to stop women wearing the niqab?

By Victoria Coren Mitchell. 39 top recommended comments selected from a total of 1400 comments.

Leopold1904 - 1357 DC DR
The real point is surely the basis for the woman's choice to hide herself from the kufr world. It cannot really be an individual's choice when the pressure from conservative elements within those communities is there.

The niqab is against what makes us human - it is a denial of species interaction, a denial of nature. A forced cultural choice that denies what we are. The appropriate reaction to seeing a woman enclosed in one is sadness.

IanInOz - 1059 BF
While we may laugh at the French, at least they show some spine when it comes to upholding their secular values!

Londonhongkong - 1053 BF
[I laugh at the French because they ban the burqa in the name of liberty]
I admire the French because they ban the burqa in the name of liberty.

JamesHardman - 1002 DC DR
What were they thinking?

Maybe they were thinking that in this country, so many aspects of non-verbal communication depend on seeing the other person's facial expressions, and that hiding your face limits your ability to communicate.

Maybe they were thinking that whatever Muslim women think about it today, and whatever choices they can make today, the concept was born of oppression and patriachy and mysogyny and subjugation.

Maybe they were thinking that in western cultures, the hiding of the face is associated with dishonesty and bad faith.

Maybe they were worried about exam fraud.

Maybe they were thinking that they have the right to define the values of their institution, of making openness and transparency and honesty core to what they do.

Maybe they didn't think any of this.

LeVendeen - 885 DR DC
.... when it comes to mixing personal religion with public office, I have no such doubts. When I saw that the English police had adopted a uniform hijab for muslim policewomen I had to check the date to make sure it wasn’t April 1st. The very idea is so obviously stupid, it beggars belief!

The whole point of police uniforms is to make all coppers look the same; the uniform says, “I represent the law of the land and I’m the same for everyone.” But, before she even opens her mouth, the first thing a woman in a hijab says is, “I am a practicing muslim.”

For an anonymous woman in a Paris street, that is one thing; for a policewoman, it’s another, and it’s obviously, screamingly wrong.

The same thing applies to a person appearing in court - any person in any role, but especially the judge, the lawyers, witnesses and the accused. By appearing fully veiled, that woman was effectively saying, "I am different. You cannot judge me as you judge other people. I exclude you from my world and I hide myself from yours."

In addition, it's not enough in a court of law to see "the smile in someone's eyes". Judge and jury need to see a person's reaction under questioning, because non-verbal language often reveals much more than mere words. I'd have thought that too was screamingly obvious.

crypto71 - 747 DC
In our culture concealing the face or most of it means just that, concealment. A mask.

It is not unreasonable to expect to see who one is teaching, being taught by, treating or being treated by etc;

I too am with the French on this one.

Cecile - 517 DC
From the gut - I just hate to see veiled women - sorry. To me, it feels like a slap in the face - the wearer might just as well be saying 'I don't want anything to do with you' to me and the world around.

Leopold1904 - 483 DR N
The niqab for us secular Britons is a phenomenon of the street, an increasingly more common aspect of street life, of locking the woman in - the apartheid system of Islamist fundamentalsim. Oppression begins at home.

It is not really a matter of the woman herself feeling 'comfortable' - it is above all else a matter of the patriarchy feeling comfortable that the woman knows her place in the street and in the house. You know this. You know it is a matter decided for the woman - whatever illusion the woman may have about 'choice'.

woman55 - 454 DS
[To me, it feels like a slap in the face - the wearer might just as well be saying 'I don't want anything to do with you' to me and the world around.]

It is a statement saying 'I set myself apart from the rest of the UK population and I don't espouse its values.'

It is reasonable for the majority population to expect those from other cultures to integrate. Worship who or what you like in private, but at school, college and in the public sphere there is no space for religious arrogance. A refusal to conform with the dress code and behaviour standards of the majority means you are probably living in the wrong place. You might be happier somewhere where such behaviour is welcome.

Richmanchester - 437 BNE
[bans Muslim women from wearing veils on the grounds of "security risk" – then changes its mind within days.]

Not quite. It banned all students from wearing a variety of clothes which obscured thier faces. The special exception does seem to be afforded to Muslims though.

TotallyBlunt - 410 DR
How can the writer be so sure that every single one of those niqab wearing ladies do so by their own choice?

Freedom implies the right to not do so, and I know for a fact that many women and young girls have to wear it or else. How does she know those women didn't just internalized the niqab because they were raised with spoken or unspoken threats of 'or else'?

I'm Turkish. I know a thing or two about how women cover themselves 'freely'.

kepler1 - 398 DR
You seem to see it as some sort of historically free floating individualistic fashion statement unrelated to a centuries old ideology grounded in hatred and control of female sexuality. You talk as if feminism never happened.

There is undoubtedly a lot of anti- Muslim sentiment around, but you shouldn't allow that to confuse you: the niqab is enmeshed in oppression, irrespective of what anti-Muslim bigots or happy seeming niqabis get up to.

Verysensiblebloke - 374 BF
It's nice to see the vast majority of comments disagree with the wearing of these masks.
There can be no sensible argument for not banning these from public life and the sooner our government has the balls to stand up and say it, and ban them, the better. I won't be holding my breath unfortunately because all of our politicians are spineless and weasly.

Swan17 - 342 BNE GP MV
This is the expected (almost obligatory in the Guardian/Observer nowadays) article supporting special rights for Muslims. Where is the article pointing out the opposite view - you know, for balance?

This is a policy that has, I understand, lasted for 8-years - faces must not be obscured. For some reason that policy has been acceptable for all that time (despite whatever complaints - if any - have been made) until a single Muslim girl complains.

Immediately all the forces of Political Correctness swing into action - the Muslim Women's Network and the Black Students Group and the local MP all complain. Strange how the policy is acceptable until someone THEY approve of is affected!

There were good reasons to have this policy originally and those reasons still apply. I work with a number of Muslims and they are appalled by this decision - it can only add to the anti-Muslim feelings in the UK. This is a cultural NOT a religious issue.

frannie5 - 280 BNE
And, in exams, you can be sure that the student 'under the veil' is the student named?

TheGreatRonRafferty - 245 DC TP
If you're teaching someone, you are constantly looking for visual cues that they have understood what is being taught. To diminish those means that you have little possibility of spotting that student "a" has grasped it, but student "b" hasn't.

crotty32 - 257 BNE
The education authority comes out of this very badly, the reasons for the banning face coverings was valid 3 days ago and they are valid now, the security question now is that anyone that dresses as a muslin woman is to be given total freedom to ignore all rules as they are for everyone else and not for them

Londonhongkong - 245 DC
I don't see why anyone should accept having to deal with someone who deliberately conceals their features unless in the extreme case of disfigurement.

woman55 - 224 DS
[They're not re-writing social norms, they're exercising their right to freedom as citizens of a supposedly enlightened democratic country.]

Freedom to reject us, whilst expecting us to accept them? No reciprocal obligations then?

As citizens of this enlightened country, they need to understand and participate in the culture that made living as a free person possible. Worship who of what you like, but integrate please.

bluepaul99 - 223 DS
I always wonder what type of employment the veil wearing woman attending collage are looking to enter following the completion of their education. Turning up for an interview wearing a veil regardless of how many exams you have will seriously limit your employment prospects.

woman55 - 205 DS DR
Most people outside the cities do share cultural norms and values that have been developed over the centuries and we are still the majority. We may be happy to welcome newcomers that integrate but rightly refuse to accommodate those who want us to rewrite the social norms to accommodate their values, whilst they reject our own.

Tehillim - 173 DS
The full face veil, as shown in the photo, is an appalling thing. I'm not in favour of banning clothing, but that doesn't mean we should embrace it: imagine a country where we all wore those things, men, women and children.

It's not part of our culture, it's not even part of the qu'ran (which asks for modest dress only, I believe). So while we should tolerate it, let's not make the mistake of accepting it as a perfectly agreeable choice of clothing. A liberal society allows people to make their own choices, but that doesn't mean that it should treat all choices as equally good.

Victoriatheoldgoth - 132 BNE
.... in my Sixth-form I was banned from wearing a long, flowing gothy garment made from a surplice on health-and-safety grounds. I thought, fair enough, there are a lot of stairs and it is a bit of a hazard in the art room. It would have been impossible to do science in that sort of gear.

We also had to have out hair pinned or tied back for health and safety reasons all through school. I do not understand why theses health and safety concerns suddenly don't apply if the wannabe wearer of flowing robes is religious. Do they have divine protection, and does that figure in the schools' insurance policies?

Copperanne - 132 BNE
The critical point to recognise is that even if all veiled women are wearing the veil through choice (which I doubt) and every single one of those women was entirely free to wake up one morning, put on a T-shirt and shorts and walk around freely, there are still issues as to the appropriateness of conceiling your identity in public.

Nufubar - 130 TP
As someone who teaches (not lectures, but small group teaching) in a university I would have to ask Victoria one question. Do you know how hard it is to impart detailed information to someone when feedback is limited?

A large proportion of those I teach are overseas students. Cultural differences already mean that smiling is a tricky indicator of understanding or agreement, and now we have to rely on smiling eyes? Where English is already poor we can't lip read?

NuitsdeYoung - 121 DC
I recall a situation in a college where I was working (all female staff in the room) when 3 girls came in with an enquiry: 2 in hijab, one in niqab. All spoke English, but the 2 in the hijab had to repeat everything the girl in the niqab said because no-one could hear her through the cloth. She did not offer to remove the niqab even though no men were present.

Aliasboy - 118 BNE
Sunglasses, bandanas and balaclavas probably wouldn't be acceptable in lectures or exam sittings.

Apart from my personal view that state buildings should be secular and free from excessive displays of people's personal religious beliefs, there is a question of being able to recognize students.

woman55 - 116 TF
Whatever the wearer's nationality, people's religious and cultural persuasions are their own business, but using these to justify "wearing whatever the fuck they want" is the equivalent of sticking two fingers up at the rest of us.

Is it a surprise that some of us stick two fingers up in return?

As tolerant people, we often ignore people that reject our norms but understandably baulk at changing rules to accommodate those who want to be 'free' to remain behind the niqab where legal or security rules require the rest of us to show our faces.

royaldocks - 111 DC DS
I think every woman should have the right to hide their face if they so wish. My cultural response (which is just as valid as theirs) to a masked face is that of an inherent threat and the most I could accommodate that would be to completely ignore veiled women.
No interaction. No helping with prams up stairs. No answering questions. No serving in shops. No showing directions. They're non-people, deliberately cutting themselves off from any social interaction.

Akiba - 108 DR DS
You can look at this in two ways. The first is a simple issue of women's rights. While some women may choose to wear a sack over their heads (arguably through years of childhood indoctrination by family and preachers), many do it because they are forced to by misogynistic husbands. To ban the head bag, is to free them, and tell their women hating relatives that they don't belong in the modern world.

The other way is the old "when in Rome" approach. In the West we don't cover our faces, as it hamper communication, and to be frank, is rude and intimidating. If you want to live in the West, you do as everyone else does, and you don't cause a fuss. Therefore, remove the bag.

bigbadwolf - 103 DR TF
[.... it's to hide her face from males who are not close relatives]

And the reason for this? Is it because Muslim men are brought up with no respect for women and, therefore, cannot control their urges when in the presence of an unveiled woman? If this is the case then Islam needs to take a very serious look at how it brings up and educates its boys and young men.

However, it seems to be going in the opposite direction and some muslim women in Britain now seem to be expected to cover their faces rather than just their hair. How many choose do to this and how many are coerced we will probably never really know.

As for the student in this case, maybe she was wearing the niqab to draw attention to herself. Look at me! I'm holier than thou!!!

Rudedude - 100 DS DC TF
[And you only need to see someone's eyes to know if they're smiling back.]

Not really. The original 'purpose' of these clothes was for the desert Patriarchy to de-sex and de-individualise women. The 'barrier' is very real, it isn't 'in our minds' or anything; it makes women 'there but not there', semi-invisible. It's the original point. No amount of being 'right on' will change this fact.

That original 'purpose' seems to have morphed into a symbol of 'resistance/refusal' for the Islamic diaspora in the West, ironically understood by the liberal bien-pensant as an expression of individual 'freedom' or 'choice'....because the liberal can only understand the world from this individual point of view, where 'choice' is self-evident and made the most sacred thing.

Booling - 94 DS DR PI
Every time a women goes outside in the full veil they promote anti-Muslim feelings. The dislike of it unites Left and Right, men and women, feminists and misogynists. It undercuts attempts to promote Islam as a reasonable religion that can fit into British society.

Any comment that Islam 'respects' women is treated with derision. I find that my male friends treat it as weird, but the sight of a Muslim female slave enrages women that I know.

If I wanted to cause discord between Muslims and rest of the population I would certainly promote the veil.

chilledoutbeardie - 91 MV BNE
If I may give a Muslim perspective.

The current trend towards veiling is, at least in substantial part, a concentration towards outward forms of piety at the expense of the inner; it has become, in certain circles, fashionable, mad as that may sound. In a society of large, ethnic ghettos, one of the few areas where these women encounter the wider society is in colleges. Do we really wish to drive down their interaction with wider society by allowing the veil in these situations?

Of course, in a free society, people should be free to dress as they please, within reason. In public places, colleges, courtrooms etc where identity confirmation and facial reactions are important, the veil has no place. I am loath to advocate a legal ban, unless as a last resort as I fear it may be used by more unsavoury elements to cause disharmony.

Perhaps the best way to go, at least initially, is to involve Muslim clerics. Having talked with a good number, here and in Arab countries, the consensus is certainly that there is no obligation to veil and, if it leads to local frictions, should not be adopted on that basis. After all, if veiling is so obligatory, why is it expressly forbidden during the Hajj pilgrimage, the holiest time of the year?

sojomo - 85 MV
As a Muslim, I am sick of the way the fundamentalism and conservatism of the overtly "uniform-wearing" Muslims are pandered to and given so much air time. That is what they are after, it is the oxygen of publicity they crave. This is their rebellion, the outwardly in-your-face assertion of their individuality. They should not be banned. They should just be ignored, as is their right.

overworkeddoc - 82 N MM DS
I grew up in Handsworth in Birmingham, trained in Birmingham and worked in Bordesley Green and in Leicester. Until about 1992, I never saw a woman's face covered in those cities.

"Dress modestly" is the injunction in the Koran, I believe? Why should women cover the face, but not men? And why are female children (and I mean 6 year-old girls) having to cover the hair?

My parents were immigrants and we encountered racism. We were just as affected by the historical (and indeed more contemporary) problems of Britain's colonial ventures - but this is both a feminist issue and a question of respect for the country you are in. The cultural norm in the UK is not to hide the face - the niqab is as offensive as a balaclava.

CaledonianSmokeball - 74 N
[I don't see why anyone should accept having to deal with someone who deliberately conceals their features unless in the extreme case of disfigurement]

Especially as the custom of covering the face seems to be an ancient religious custom of all of about 5 years' standing. Before then - al least in our neck of the woods - you never saw anyone with their face covered.

If fact, I can remember a time when robes and hijabs were unknown. Pakistani women wore shalwar kameezes - loose tunics and trousers and a scarf would loosely round the head, but never dark robes, tight headscarves and certainly no face coverings. Why the change?

Keo2008 - 74 BNE TP ###
I much prefer the French approach which tries to ensure that no religious symbols or clothing are allowed in educational establishments.

As it happens the College argued for no Niqab partly to ensure that the students could be clearly identified when taking their exams, as well as to ensure non-students could not easily come onto the campus.

As someone who was once responsible for student discipline at a FE College, I can assure Victoria that the problem of outsiders coming into college premises (trying to sell drugs or to steal from classrooms for example) is a real one and not to be dismissed lightly

chockychocky - 60 N TF ###
How times have changed: I lived in Hounslow in the 70's and there were lots of Muslim women there then - immigration from the Indian subcontinent started in the 1950's,not the 1990's. But no veils whatsoever...

Islam hasn't changed obviously, so why the veils now? it's a political statement as far as I'm concerned and one which looks like a slap in the face to the indigenous English people. I read a veil as "You can't see me, infidel, I'm far superior to you".

Nothing to do with the women issue, and everything to do with wishing to be outside of British culture.

Not a good omen for cultural cohesiveness, I say with rather a hint of sarcasm.

Spare us a 'national debate' on veils

Home Office minister Jeremy Browne wants the nation to discuss how Muslim women dress, but it is hardly a menace to society.

By Simon Jenkins. 25 top recommended comments selected from a total of 1048 comments

dirkbruere - 390 BNE
[Individuals and institutions should be able to make their own decisions ad hoc.]

But preferably without being called racist and taken to court.

Spike501 - 346 DS
[The sight of totally hooded people wandering the streets may spook some people and can sometimes pose a security threat to police but it is hardly widespread or a menace to the state and society.]

No but it is just another sign that some groups are not willing to integrate and it creates a divisive society. Veils are not part of British customs and society - there are certain things that should not be accepted and if some groups are not happy with that then they should not be living in a society they are not happy in.

StVitusGerulaitis - 219 DR
I'm against banning most things, and I don't think the state should be involved here.
However, let's not pretend that the veil is not a disgusting symbol of oppression. Yes, some women may choose to wear it, but that choice does not occur in a vacuum. There are intense pressures upon them

StephenStafford - 194 BNE
If the Court allows the woman to wear the nijab this could no doubt raise the question about other modest women wearing a veil in Court.

Hopefully the Court will rule that the nijab is removed as this is an English and not a Sharia Court

Psigram - 192 BNE
The Birmingham college reversed its decision for muslim women wearing the veil. As far as I know, the ban on face covering is still in place for motorcycle helments. So muslim women are given special treatment.

The same is true of the court case where a muslim woman was allowed to appear in a veil. Would the right to cover their face during a court appearance be granted to anyone else (except in very special circumstances)?

The real issue is that an exception is being made for muslims that is not being made for anyone else: they expect our society to change accommodate their culture, but make no attempt to adapt to ours. And that is what causes resentment.

Deicidium - 170 BNE
[But preferably without being called racist and taken to court.]

And herein lies the problem. Institutions such as Birmingham Met and Judge Murphy's court have made their ad hoc decisions. They are subsequently forced to change their position after threats of legal action, disruption, bad publicity etc (and we would be fooling ourselves if we said that the possibility of violence is not an issue). It is because of this that there need to be fixed rules covering where it is not permitted to cover your face, thus removing the influence of undue pressure on decision makers.

Special exception should not be granted for any reason. Covering the face is not a requirement of Islam and the vast majority of Muslim women do not practise it. It is therefore a personal choice and requiring removal in court, for example, is no more infringing someone's rights than requiring them to remove a balaclava.

Robjmac - 164 BF
.... to me the niqab is a symbol of female slavery. It should have no place in a civilised country.

bailliegillies - 161 BNE
I've no problem with a Muslim woman choosing to wear a veil but think that given the law of this country and that it is secular it should be removed in a court of law, or when the person is dealing with business or authorities where identification is important.

The jury has the right to see the person who they are going to make a judgement on, otherwise we might as well dismsiss the jury and have the decisison made behind closed doors

Yorkied24 - 156 BNE
[but it is not up to us (non veil wearers) to tell women what they should/shouldn't be wearing.]

The rest of us get told all the time what we can/can't wear. Why should this be any different when it comes to a veil?

Can I walk around naked? Apparently not. Can I walk into a bank with a motorcycle helmet on? No. Can I appear in court in a balaclava? No.

People need to understand that what they believe doesn't mean dick when it comes to the law.

woman55 - 150 BNE
[Some authorities, possibly schools and colleges in populated Muslim areas and certainly the justice system, clearly regard obscured faces as a practical problem. They should make their own decisions, consulting and defending them in their local circumstances.]

This is unfairly placing pressure on local institutions, who need support when facing this type of difficult circumstance. Some minorities are too quick to impose their own culture on the majority and this is resented.

Your religion is your own business and I respect that, except when you expect me to adapt to suit you. Christians in this country (and I am not one) do not demand non-believers to adapt to suit their Christian preference and would get short shrift if they did. The same rule should apply to all other religions.

JoeDelta - 142 BNE ###
[Yet the point of a national debate is to yield a national decision. In this case it is not clear whether such a decision is really needed. The sight of totally hooded people wandering the streets may spook some people and can sometimes pose a security threat to police but it is hardly widespread or a menace to the state and society.]

I strongly disagree. You can't have a mish-mash of incoherent inconsistent bye laws here, nor can you say it is up to banks or shopkeepers themselves whether to allow people in with their faces hooded. That would be madness. Imagine the fuss there would be (more than fuss; riots actually) if a shopkeeper decided he or she didn't want to serve people in these costumes.

So clearly we need a national policy. It's also important because, like France, Belgium and other countries, it is appropriate to set out what our values are.
I believe that there is far too much emphasis on individual rights in this area and others. Everybody seems to have rights about everything but nobody seems to have the slightest responsibility.

It's also an interesting double standard. Individuals demanding the right to wear these face veils are quick to tell others to mind their own business about it - it's my individual freedom - but, as we saw with the Danish cartoon, for example, there's all hell to pay when somebody else's individual freedom causes them to be offended.

1nn1t - 142 BNE
[Individuals and institutions should be able to make their own decisions ad hoc.]

Good luck being the first shop to refuse entry to the veiled.

Swan17 - 142 BNE MV
There is a perception that Islam and Muslims are receiving special treatment in the UK. Not saying it is or is not but there is a perception.

Some form of debate could enable people who have concerns to express them so that they can feel that they are being listened to as well. I fear we are storing up trouble for the future by ignoring this.

Oh, for those individuals I have a number of Muslims as my friends and work colleagues. They also express such concerns as it will directly affect them. They tell me that the niqab is a cultural not religious interpretation and agree that there are circumstances where covering your face is not appropriate. So do not try to tar me with the racist brush please.

Serpentsarecreeps - 142 BF
Debating it means dignifying the defenders of a vile misogynistic practice with a platform to argue their case. Surely banning it outright, without any nitpicking, would drive the message home more pointedly.

Yorkied24 - 127 BNE
[Equally, it's not a requirement of Islam that a woman cover her face.]

More than that; who cares if it were? Why does stating that you believe something that falls under the heading 'religious belief', mean you should get an exception from any regulations that conflict with that?

There has to come a time when 'it's my faith' holds absolutely zero weight in society. Do whatever you want at home, but don't ask for special treatment in public or the workplace, because your beliefs are no more special than anyone else's.

Twosides2it - 118 BNE
It is quite simple.

The law of this land should change and veils should be banned in public areas.
Then these women can choose either to live here in a free and democratic land or go and live in another country, for example where they are not even allowed to drive a car.
That would soon sort their shyness problems out.

Entianonsunt - 112 BF GP MV
[France banned the wearing of the full-face veil in public in 2010 with Belgium following not long after. Their debates have been bitter and divisive]

No, they haven't, certainly not in France. There is a wide consensus, including Muslims, with only a very few incidents, such as a mass protest by two women in Meaux.
But it is true that the debate on the ban on full-face masking in France has been bitter and divisive in the comments columns of the Guardian.

seejaybee - 102 BNE
[Veil wearers don't ask for any exclusive treatment.]

Er, yes they do. The lady in the court case is asking to keep her face covered, when no-one else would be allowed that right. That looks like asking for "exclusive treatment" to me.

hebe02 - 100 TP ###
As a female TEFL teacher I have taught many women wearing a veil. When there are no men in class they remove the veil and become chatty & confident, smiling and openly expressive. I can see their mouths when learning new pronunciation, I can help them express themselves in another language and try to encourage them to interact as much as possible while they are living here.

When a man enters the room or joins the class it is a different matter entirely. Their notebooks are hastily put on their knees as they are 'not allowed' to share a desk with a man. Their confidence evaporates; they don't answer questions that I know they have the answer to; their whole body language changes into shrinking mode. The Muslim men see no problem with this, because it is all they know.

The European men sometimes feel shunned and confused; the energy in the class is so markedly altered and the education - which is after all the reason they all attend - is so diminished that I have often left the class in a state of frustration.
My experience has shown me that the veil is detrimental to women's lives. It inhibits their education and social interaction, not just with British people, but with their own community.

I wish the veil banned.

tomaszzaraza - 100 N
[I'm so tired about these "debates" about the niqab, only a very very small minority of women wear them, and they are not in anyway a national emergency.
Yet they are very handy when you want to revert attention from something else.

Clearly you don't live in yorkshire

1970 - 100 BNE
How would any of us feel if before a jury and we couldn't see the face of one or more of those deciding our fate. Can a defendant challenge the Niquab? Has the judge the authority to order its removal? What's to stop several women swapping the role to siut convenience etc.

It cant be left to individual circumstances there has to a general rule. But why oh why should ANYONE be exempt from a regulation merely because of their particular religious belief. If Muslim women can hide their faces regardless of rules and regulations then there should be nothing to stop anyone else including hoodies with scaves over the mouths and noses. NOTHING.

Yorkied24 - 75 BNE
[Veil wearers don't ask for any exclusive treatment.]

Yes, they do. That's the problem with the court case, that's the problem with not following dress policy at the Birmingham college.

[Just let then live their lives how they wish, and you live yours.]

That would be fine, but people are asking for exemptions from the rules, always on religious grounds - whether it's halal/kosher meat, wearing religious jewellery, or covering your face in court/exam halls.

Pinkfloydera - 71 BF
I worked in a college where ID cards were issued. We had a small but significant minority of Muslim women who would not remove a face mask even for the photograph. What is an individual institution supposed to do?

The ID card was placed on the desk during exams so that the invigilator could see the right person was taking the exam, even if the girl was persuaded to unmask for the ID card she wore the mask for the exam.

Veiling women has no place in a modern western society, it should be banned. Personally I would like to see that extended to all forms of dress that show women are subject to the rule of their male relatives, everywhere. But that is beyond us at the moment, banning the veil in public in Britain is within our power and should be done.

Johnny_Boy_GB - 67 BNE
The veil is not appropriate in any public institution...schools, hospitals, GP surgeries and of course Courts. How could you have a doctor, teacher or police officer who wore a veil? How could some one seing their doctor, a pupil or a defendant or witness in Court be allowed to hide their face?

It disgusts me that many liberals and secularists think it's fine for women to wear the veil in public places. I guess it's afear of being branded 'racist' by the ultra-politically correct.

LPBudovski - 64 DR
.... forcing a woman to wrap her head up in a medieval mask and not allow her to talk to any other men besides her husband and father is the height of modernity and women's emancipation and if you don't think so you're a xenophobe. That's how it goes correct?

Full-face veils aren't barbaric – but our response can be

By Maleiha Malik. 21 top recommended comments selected from a total of 1449 comments

londonhongkong - 710 N DR TF
Why have British girls from families with Indian subcontinental roots adopted the full-face veil when this has never been practised in any substantial form in their cultures?
Is it because of the politicisation of Islam by some?

And why do some of these girls insist on wearing it in situations which they know are unreasonable, for example whilst teaching junior school children or whilst attending university that wanted any covering banned which prevented identification of the students?

Is this because of a deliberate policy of challenging cultural norms in this country and seeking to bend them to the wishes of a particular form of political Islam?

Tokaido - 601 GP ###
If you must have more articles on the veil, how about taking another point of view entirely – on a previous thread there was a good post from as TEFL teacher, who found that when there were no men in the class, women wearing the veil would take them off, become more expressive and confident.

But the minute a man entered, they would put them on and their confidence vanished, making teaching much harder. The poster found the veil to be a barrier to interaction, and a symbol of submission.

Why not examine soberly the reasons why some people want the veil banned, rather than painting everyone who objects to the veil as *sigh* islamophobic?

jeremyll33 - 526 ?? ###
[The motive for attacking the veil is racist. I have no doubt at all about that. It comes from a distaste for foreigners and is a product of the anti-muslim campaign launched by Tony Blair and Jack Straw, to justify their annihilation of Iraq. Britain should be ashamed that it is conducting itself in this bigoted fashion. Veils harm no one, just as gay marriage does no damage to conventional marriage.]

Absolute rubbish. Britain is one of the most tolerant countries in the world.

woman55 - 486 DR
[Is this because of a deliberate policy of challenging cultural norms in this country and seeking to bend them to the wishes of a particular form of political Islam?]


Elleygray - 476 TF DS
They are disrespectful to the values and culture of the host Nation. And I believe that in many cases it is a deliberate and indeed, intended display of disrespect.

candyapple - 443 GP
Typical CiF, isn't it? Hammer us over the heads with article after article taking the same view on a subject, expressed in slightly different ways, without ever taking the opposing view into account or even admitting that there might be more to the wish for a ban on the niqab than 'Islamaphobia'.

stokeite - 437 DR N BNE ###
[Our attacks on Muslim majority countries and the alienating of Muslims abetted by the press has got to be an issue as well. The pictures of women in Kabul in the 70s with their hair flowing is quite unnerving.]

This argument is often used on the left but is wrong headed. The adoption of the veil is not solely a reaction to western policy

For example your Afghan example is incorrect. Afghan women in urban area such as Kabul had the veil imposed on them under the Taliban before any western intervention.

The veil in Saudi is supported by elements of a state supported by the West.

Those who seek to promote the use of the veil in the UK generally do so as part of a wider fundamentalist agenda. There has been an increase in the wearing of the full face veil amongst women of bangladeshi background in London for example in recent years.

This is not just a response to the treatment of muslims in the UK. It is a political statement of rejection of liberal values and in some cases it imposed. Those who defend the veil in the name of freedom need to answer whether they defend the right of muslim women in muslim majority countries to not wear the veil? If not their protest is specious and Guardian readers should not be seduced into supporting people who are our deadly enemies. Ask liberals and leftists in Iran....

Bamboo13 - 378 DC BNE
The retail assistant who refused to serve a customer using a mobile, prompted a debate about rudeness.

Some may consider it rude to engage with others while dressed in a Burqua. Is it?

UndyingCincinnatus - 221 DR
We've been very, very tolerant of Islam for a very long time. But people are getting fed up of that tolerance being abused. It is a two way street: when we make allowances to foreign practices we expect those living here to try and acclimatise as well.

We see none of that, in fact the opposite: no-go zones for non-Muslims, increasing numbers wearing these symbols of oppression, Sharia courts in what is supposed to be a secular country.

And we don't like it. To tolerate means to put up with something you don't especially like, and our tolerance is being stretched further and further by the Islamic community who take and take without ever giving.

secondwave - 203 DC
Normally I would never comment on what a person wears. However when it comes to covering the face, I have an issue with that, just as I do with the wearing of balaclavas outside the confines of military training or the Arctic regions.

My objection has to do with showing others who you are and your intent towards them through body language and facial expressions, both of which play a large part in non-verbal communication. Attempts to hide the face can therefore lead to mistrust by others. I believe this is why so many dislike the full veil and feel uncomfortable with it.

devonguy - 201 BNE DR DC ###
I think the parallel should be drawn with full face helmets. There is a reason you wouldn't be allowed in court (or a bank, or in an official meeting, or any meeting actually) wearing one. It's not about persecution, it's about having your face open to be seen.

[Today's debates about, and treatment of, veiled Muslim women are akin to the way heretics, lepers and Jews were talked about and treated in medieval Europe when]

This is just hyperbolic rubbish. The inference is drawn because a small subset of the population hasn't been consulted on a law change. Most people who are affected by law changes aren't consulted, why should this particluar group be singled out for special treatment?

[Again, there are parallels today. Post 9/11 and 7/7 discussions of Muslims in Europe have generated an anti-Islam ideology that has now been adopted by the far right throughout Europe]

This is more hyperbole. The discussions have generated an anti-Islamist not anti-Muslim feeling, not ideology.

What people don't like are radical Muslims, those who actually have an ideology of hate. Obviously the ones who blow others up in the name of their ideology are the most feared. However, that feeling is also about the ones who chant in the street about killing or beheading people for calling teddy bears the wrong name, or writing cartoons or prose which say the wrong thing. Normal Muslims who may disaprove but accept these things aren't worrying or scaring people.

Calling the response to this behaviour anti-Muslim is fear-mongering, and pot stirring. As is the comparison with medeival lepers. It's calculated to generate an angry or even radical response in Muslims who read it. Given the previous responses from angry radical Muslims to being agitated - the redistribution of the Danish cartoons much later than they were published being a prime example - this approach is calculated to cause trouble.

WitNit - 198 BNE MV
The UK is by some distance the most tolerant Western country, in terms of accommodating immigrant cultures - and I say this as an immigrant of South Asian origin. Why not have a look at other European countries and see how they treat immigrants there.

Besides, Islam is not a race, so the whole racist thing is just hogwash and a nig red herring. Tents and veils for women are not compatible with a liberal and democratic ccountry.

DavidECooper - 178 BNE
Every society has the right to ban shocking and indecent dress from being worn in public. No doubt some Naturists would find it empowering to have the right to walk naked in public places. But since this would go against our cultural sensibilities, it is justifiably banned.

Wearing the full face veil is equally offensive to sensibilities in this country, regardless of whether it empowers or dis-empowers the wearer.

LeoL - 130 BNE
I think the French and Belgium decisions have much more to do with Europe's Enlightenment tradition than with the writer's half-baked attempt to portray the veil ban as 'medieval'.

Personally I think the French approach is taking those ideals too far, creating unnecessary conflicts over headcoverings, when the state should be working with Muslims to tackle the actual underlying sexism that is prevalent in Muslim communities.
The self-flagellating tone of the article (only in Europe was identity founded by attacking vulnerable groups? Really?) is incredibly unhelpful when it actually comes to building on what European society has to offer, now, today, in 2013.

The writer wallows in our long history of persecution, while conveniently sidestepping the fact that for all its defects, western Europe now offers freedoms and a level of self-critical debate that in the vast majority of Muslim countries would be unthinkable.

leftleast - 110 DR GP ###
Many of us find this crude "separation" with black garb and slits for eyes an anaethema to our culture, our freedoms and our sense of equality.

To many these "black ghosts" are an affront to British women who have worked for years to fight the opression of men over women and (whatever) people say about their right to choose, we all know family pressure, and male pressure whether it be from brothers or fathers or uncles, "force" many women to dress in this way.

.... mydaughter has two Muslim friends who are forced to wear headscarves and they have both confided that their parents force them to wear them and that in the future they want to forget about the religion and live what they consider a "normal" life. I can well believe it.

The Guardian, once a champion of female rights and a champion of the oppressed now finds itself supporting the "right" of women to be garbed in a black robes so only their eyes can be seen. The Guardian should be ashamed of itself using the ridiculous claim of "religious freedom" to justify the enslavement of vulnerable young Muslim women by ignorant and bullying muslim males.

KillickThere - 108 ??
[It comes from a distaste for foreigners]

Rubbish, get yourself down to the next Notting Hill carnival. There you will see a colourful, confident, integrated culture that British people love. The Caribbean community has given so much to Britain. What does radical Islam give?

Rastafori - 86 DR TP ###
As someone who has worked for an extended period of time with a large number of muslim women often 1 on 1 (lunch time meetings) in north Sudan, I am in a very good and unusual position to assess the impact of veils.

Those female students who wore a full veil at the university at which I worked struggled to communicate their ideas, did not gain empathy from other students, had a striking lack of self confidence, and had a very small group of exclusively female friends. Those who eschewed the veil (from more liberal familes) were the opposite and were striking in the advancements they made in their studies.

From a disinterested standpoint, the veil appears a very good tool for the subjugation and limitation of females in both their abilities and their ambitions.

MrVholes - 75 DS BF
It's really nothing to do with religion whjether the practice is acceptable in the UK. It's about people's willingness to be more fully integrated into society. My own view after much deliberation is that there is no place for this practice in UK society and yes, face veils ought to be banned.

FawltyGenome - 74 BNE
I couldn't care less if women want to wear it (as long as they actually have the choice).
But at the same time, there will be occasions when they should have to remove it because of British cultural practices: like showing one's face in a court appearance, passing through airport security, teaching children. I'd probably even go so far as to say in any workplace.

But in your personal and private time, they can do what they want. Who are we to tell people what to wear? There was an interview on the C4 news yesterday, and the Muslim Niqab wearer interviewed made it pretty apparent that her decision was based on her self-identity.

eminexion - 68 DR TF ###
[A couple of questions? Why have British girls from families with Indian subcontinental roots adopted the full-face veil when this has never been practised in any substantial form in their cultures? Is it because of the politicisation of Islam by some?]

In various parts of Pakistan, some women have been wearing niqab for a long time, so there is some tradition, though far less pronounced. As for women in the UK whose families originate in South Asia, the niaqb has been adopted as a political symbol, indicating an identification with a far less compromising and usually fairly literalist interpretation of Islam.

Many women in this country who now wear niqab are making a statement, and it has a limited connexion with observing codes of modesty or being submissive to men.
For some it is a means of being provocative and assertive as far as Muslim identity is concerned.

Toom - 63 BNE
Give them the freedom to wear what the hell they want as long as as everyone else has the freedom to refuse them entry to their places of work and/or employ them.
Freedom for everyone I say.

Don't follow France's burqa ban. It has curbed liberty and justice

There's a sorry parade of women being fined for wearing the veil – and the people who attack them

By Nabila Ramdani. 27 top recommended comments selected from a total of 703 comments

blessmycottonsocks - 377 BF
[a sorry parade of women being fined for wearing the veil]

Which is surely preferable to the sorry parade of women wearing the veil because they are either coerced into so doing or because they hold and wish to flaunt Islamic fundamentalist views.

Well done to France for upholding secular standards and la liberation de la femme.

Andrew Fox - 345 BF
Both the niqab and the burka should be banned.

Ukwraith - 312 BNE
So far as requiring facial exposure in schools, shops, banks medical premises etc. Yes, absolutely - establishments and employers alike should be able to set that as a rule. In court, no compromise. One rule for all.

.... France's ban on the wearing of face-covering headgear in public places is not specific to Muslim face masks, but all face masks for males or females. Like their law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools, it applies to everyone of any religious persuasion.

Freedom cannot be absolute. Democracy does not and cannot insist on complete freedom (anarchy). France's government (any government) must reconcile competing views and interests in order to find the position most acceptable to the largest number.
And particularly to preserve the values shared by the majority of citizens, which form the backbone of their national identity. The overwhelming democratic will of the people of France is that they wish to protect the secular nature of their government, their education system and their nation. And they are going to do so actively and timeously. Understandable and legitimate.

Coldfilter - 285 BF
Unfortunately, the British are intent on learning the hard way that these cultures do not want to integrate,much better to create a state within a state.
The great experiment has failed and the British need to redraw the rules respecting the rights of the minority.

Like most Western countries now, Britain, is a hostage to the PC Brigade who mow down all bastions of reason in it's path leaving the ordinary citizen paralysed with fear to speak out against injustice!

Akiba - 270 BF
Of course the burqua should be banned. The reasons are obvious and entirely sensible, and far outweigh the bizarre, brainwashed opinions of a few crazies who actually want to wear a bag over their head.

1 - Many women actually are forced to wear this hateful garment by their sadistic husbands and relatives.

2 - The garment represents the triumph of men (who never cover up), over women, who are apparently just sex objects and of little worth.

3 - Face to face communication is vital in the Western world. There is absolutely no history here of wearing masks, and I see no reason why we should suddenly bend over to accommodate this illogical and nasty practice.

4 - The burqua is a very visible sign of an extreme form of the most extreme religion. Religion does not belong in the modern world, especially not something as dangerous and misogynistic as this. We need less religion in the UK, ideally no religion.

Cherry picking a few cases of abuse and assault from France do not somehoe make it right to allow state sanctions misogyny. The French are right on this, and we should absolutely follow them as soon as possible.

Hopefully it will become an EU wide thing, and send a very clear message that extreme religion is not welcome, and that women are every bit as good as men, regardless of whatever magic and pixie worshipping cult they've been indoctrinated in.

steena - 256 BNE
You make it sound like there are vigilantes standing on every corner of Paris waiting to beat burqa-wearing women up. While I absolutely don't condone violence against anyone, this is a complete exaggeration.

France is a secular country, and has the right to regulate when it comes to the separation of Church and State. Muslim women can wear what they like in their own homes. In public they have to respect the law, just like the rest of us.

FlummoxedCollywobble - 248 BF
[France's ban on the wearing of face-covering headgear in public places is not specific to Muslim face masks, but all face masks for males or females. Like their law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools, it applies to everyone of any religious persuasion.]

This needs to be repeated.

And Ms Ramdani, you can't really believe the majority of Muslim women who wear the veil choose to do so.

Lioneljoseph - 215 BF
[The ban in France is a hateful assault on basic freedoms]

really? A law passed by a modern democracy with considerable public support (polls indicated about 80%) reflecting the state's strong secular values is a hateful assault on basic freedoms.

I think we could all find better examples....

rosybeeme - 202 DR
The attacks on women for wearing the niqab or burka are deplorable, who can possibly argue with that? But I take issue with the assertion that women freely choose to wear it.

The weight of social and religious pressure to do so means that that women do not need to be coerced into wearing it, except in a few cases. They are conditioned from childhood into a mindset that makes them comply with a deeply misogynistic and medieval notion of female 'modesty', so they 'choose' it themselves.

I'm afraid that taking the veil off in front of children does not negate the message it sends that women must cover themselves in front of men or that men's sexual urges are so uncontrollable they will be aroused by the sight of any bare-faced woman. I do not want my grandchildren to get that destructive and insidious message.

LabanTall - 218 DS BNE
Historically, the British have been strongly against face-masks, and they've only been used by criminals wishing to disguise themselves.

If the burqa is to be legal, you'd like to think the rest of us would have the right if we wished to go around in IRA-style balaclavas - but IIRC a chap who wore one in Ipswich was arrested when he refused to remove it.

After the first lot of riots in Bradford, but before the major ones, the city's former race relations officer wrote a fascinating document which can be found here.. While it relates to Bradford, I think it has wider application.

[The Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities now expect to recreate the environment of their country of origin. They have settled in village patterns which reflect their origins and they constantly reinforce this by bringing in new members from the country of origin. This, in turn, leads to spatial and social immobility, communities which are internalised on themselves and are relatively self-sufficient in social and cultural terms ...."]

Swan17 - 180 BF
France has a tradition of not allowing religion to impact on public life. That is their tradition, why is it that the traditions of immigrants seem to be more important that the traditions that France has from the centuries? It also applies across the board, not just to Muslims. No faces covered in public.

RichieRich66 - 169 DR
[The myth around which France's burqa ban was formulated is hugely offensive. It suggests that a cartel of faceless bogeywomen dressed in medieval black personify an alien religion, one whose values threaten those of the secular French republic and, by implication, those of all civilised nation states.]

Well the stuff in the core Islamic texts and main schools of Islamic jurisprudence about the obligations re offensive jihad and killing apostates is, for some, evidence that its values are not akin to those of "civilised nation states".

Alex71 - 161 BF
I do not agree that because of some correlating attacks, that the ban should not be enforced. Nor do I accept your argument that women you refer to have made a free choice.

It is a choice made in the context of a regressive cultural and religious norm. They might be technically 'free' not to wear it, but they choose not to endure the ostracisation and exclusion from their families and culture that would result. Presumably the author is aware of this, but why is it not bought into the article?

[The ban in France is a hateful assault on basic freedoms]

The veil is a hateful assault on basic freedoms. In the majority of the Muslim world, it is not commonly worn, with the exception of the barbaric Saudi Arabia.

scubaM10 - 158 BF
[If someone wears something on their head of their own free will, who is it repressing]
Both you and Ramdani need to do a bit more reading about French history and culture and about the Enlightenment in general.

It is very important to the French to keep religion in the private sphere and to have a coherent society.

The burka and the niqab are powerful statements about the status of women in society, a declaration of separateness and an culturally insensitive encroachment on secular space, extreme by even the standards of Islam.

Also there are clear security problems involved and the French dohave general bans on face coverings in banks, airports etc.

This article is just another example of this victimhood guff about the wearing of face coverings we are getting on an almost daily basis on c.i.f.

Learning_by_doing - 153 TP
[Just as no one in Britain can produce a veiled woman in the National Health Service who has unsettled patients, or teacher who refuses to take off her niqab in front of children when asked]

I am sorry but a teacher, covered in black cloth from head to toe with only her eyes barely visible, will only take her niqab off if asked? I am, for the sake of children, against niqab wearing teachers. No child should have to be in a situation where the only grown up in a classroom is dressed up in such a frightening manner. The human face is very important with all its imperfections and to deprive the children of facial expressions is frightening.

fedupandenglish - 143 BF
Simple answer if anyone doesn't like the veil ban, move to a muslim country. Otherwise accept the norms of your host country and integrate.
Bet this gets deleted!

ziggythehamster - 139 BNE
This is exactly right. Muslims complain about their right to wear whatever they like but there are many examples where the general population have to obey similar rules e.g. our local shopping centre has banned people wearing hoodies and motorcycle helmets.

Why do Muslims in a country where they comprise less than 5% of the population always feel they have a sense of entitlement to overrule the wishes of the majority? And more to the point, why do so many Guardian columnists think that's OK?

Andrew Fox - 137 BNE
Neither the niqab nor the burka are required by Islam. Both are also against this countrys culture and cultural values. If you choose to live in this country you must abide by the majoritys values. Why do you find thatso hard to understand?

Nonkey1 - 130 BF
[Don't follow France's burqa ban. It has curbed liberty and justice]

Excellent point.

And, of course, it would explain why so many thousands of Muslims are fleeing France and pouring into countries where they can live under Islamic law.

SaraNovember - 104 GP DR
Banning everything that makes us uneasy is illiberal indeed, but it's also something this paper is usually in favour of. Because this particular practice involves women and better still, largely non-white women, you take the opposite view.

Clearly there is no excuse for the acts of racism referenced in the article. But Ms Ramdani uses this to shut down legitimate criticism of the niqab by decent people who are not racists, but want to protect western values just as much as Muslims want to preserve theirs.

The burqa does not represent Islam per se but only the radical, militant Wahhabi strand which is a threat to anyone who values a free, open society. For the past week on CiF we’ve had feminist journalists, who panic on a daily basis about twerking and pop lyrics, telling us to relax about the burqa! Complete hypocrisy and complacency.

hbomb2200 - 103 GP DR
Oh good, another article about the burqa on cif to get us all riled up.

I would not describe myself as a "patriotic male" nor do I wish to "persecute a religious minority" I do however have a big problem with the burqa/niqab as I see it as a symbol of female repression.

For every woman who wants to wear it here there are far more in countries such as Afghanistan where it is simply not safe for women to leave the house uncovered, or where it can only be removed on the husband's say so.

Also, in Western societies it is possible for women to be intimidated into wearing it and they are unlikely to be in a position to be able to admit this. So until it can be used world wide purely by women who freely chose to do I will always be against it.

lynxeffect - 90 BNE
The face covering is not required in Islam. It is a cultural thing. The whole religious freedom thing doesn't even apply here.

Londonhongkong - 87 BF ###
One additional point - a lack of a UK-wide law banning full-veils will mean individual institutions (schools, unis, hospitals, govt offices) will have to take these decisions. This will leave them open to pressure ranging from organised protests to threats of violence.

As can be seen with Birmingham Met uni recently, some will cave into these. This is one of the reasons for a campaign against a UK-wide law, because you can now target and take down institutions one-by-one. All this will do is increase animosity and strife.

diviani - 86 BF
The niqab and the burka should be banned.

Yosserian - 84 DC DS
No, you don't have to abide by majority values, you can put yourself outside them. But then why the hell should you be surprised if people view you as having put yourself outside those values? And be upset when people when people react to you differently because you have? Or they reject your rejecting society?

platform3 - 79 BF ###
[In fact, of the 354 women "controlled" for covering up in the first year of the French ban, all said it was their own decision to do so.]

And a lot of victims of domestic abuse say it was entirely their fault for provoking their partners. Do you genuinely think all those women freely chose to wear the burqa or that some may have felt compelled to through fear of the consequences from their family and community if they didn't.

Backtothepoint - 76 N ###
Ms Ramdani, I don't know whether you ever lived in an area with a high proportion of working-class North Africans. I lived in such an area in the Paris region for over 25 years, until last year.

If you ever talked to the women of the generation of Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians who fought to gain a certain freedom (to go out and work, not to cover their heads, to be able to live their lives without seeking permission from their father, husband or even son before doing anything), you'd know they were terribly disappointed by the reappearance of the hijab headscarf in the 90s and are now utterly distressed by the sight of young women wearing the full veil.

It's depressing for them, offensive to all men - implying that we can't control ourselves if we see a woman's face - and utterly degrading for the women concerned - far more of an objectivisation of women than page 3 of the Sun, reducing them as it does to anonymous objects in society.

[In fact, of the 354 women "controlled" for covering up in the first year of the French ban, all said it was their own decision to do so.]

Really? You astound me. Forced to wear it by the men who own them, do you think for one second that they'd say anything else? If they were ready to speak out, they wouldn't be wearing a full veil, now would they?

I've know quite a few young women who have rebelled. Forced to wear certain clothing by father or husband, or even confined to their flat and forbidden to go out, they've finally had enough and fled, risking violence and ostracism. Only then do they speak out about what was done to them.

All in all, I think you understand absolutely nothing about what's going on today in the community you were apparently born into.

Should there be restrictions on wearing the niqab? - five-minute video debate.

Columnists Nabila Ramdani and Joan Smith discuss whether any restrictions should apply to the wearing of the Islamic full-face veil (niqab) in public. Is Britain on the way to a French-style ban? Is the matter one of national importance? Or are the number of people wearing the niqab in Britain too small for it to be a serious concern?

22 top recommended comments selected from a total of 1112 comments.

Johnny_Boy_GB - 861 BNE
1. The veil is not a religious requirement of Islam - but a cultural one.

2. Even if it was religious - that should not trump laws, customs or plain common sense.

3. In a Court Case - a Jury, Judge and lawyers need to see the face and reactions of a defandant (and witnesses). It is their best interest.

4. Some professions wearing of a veil would not be appropriate eg for teachers, doctors. Women who are wearing the veil are excluding themselves from these professions.

5. It is obviously not suitable for airport security. Wearers would have to show their face when asked by officials.

6. If the veil is allowed in cases where it's not suitable why not crash helmets? Why not a Klu Klux Klan outfit? Some people may feel these are part of their 'culture'?

7. Isn't the reason, women wear veils and headscarves the belief that men will have uncontrolled sexual urges if they see an attractive woman? Isn't this an insult to men?

8. Isn't there a contradiction between wearing the veil and having eye make-up or wearing and headscarf andfull facial make-up? It's quite common to see those.

9. Does perceived "religious belief" trump other beliefs or make a particualr religion immune from rules applicable to everyone else?

10. In a "debate" on the veil isn't it the case that many feel criticism of the veil is "Islamophobic" and "racist".

Having said all that, there's not many who wear the ful veil face in the UK - so "problems" are quite rare. Still that doesn't mean it shouldn't be discussed.

7billion - 700 BF
Well done France.

Istanbullian - 580 BF
Of course the niqab should be banned in public.

It is demeaning towards women, a health issue if worn in extreme heat and can be used in crime. The Quran does not say women must wear it.

Idontwishtooffend - 429 BF
Would I be allowed to go about my business in society with a balaclava on 24 hours a day?

If not, then the answer is yes, there should be restrictions on wearing a Niqab.

godforbidowright - 429 BNE
It strikes me as an entirely anti-social outfit, not credibly based in faith. Anyone who entirely conceals themselves becomes intimidating - look at the way we've responded to hoodies in recent years? Why should these hardliners get any special treatment?

godforbidowright - 343 TF BNE
It strikes me as bizarre that we let people get away with all sorts of things in the guise of religion. Wearing this thing is not a credible way to conduct oneself - certainly in any formal capacity.

Its tantamount to waving a big middle finger up to secular society.

SouthLodge - 295 BNE TF
Places where the veil should not be allowed:

Airports, Banks, Train Stations, Trains, Shopping malls, Bus stations, Buses, Schools, Hospitals, Doctors' surgeries, Courtrooms, Churches, Synagogues. Anywhere which is at risk of terrorist atrocities

Places where it should be allowed:

At home, indoors. Mosques

The veil is a pre-islamic phenomenon which is required only by extreme versions of islamic practice. Its increasing use here is a direct result of Saudi sourced finance for wahhabist preachers. It is a political, not a religious, phenomenon.

It is increasingly worn by passive aggressive muslim women making a political point and as such it is fair game for political (as opposed to merely doctrinal) dispute.
It should not be banned outright, only severely limited as to its permitted use.

mrW_C_FIELDSesq - 283 BNE
Since its not in the Quran ..the excuse Its my religion falls flat on its face.

.... it should be banned on the grounds of hiding ones identity.

Go in a bank ...a doctors or police station wearing a balaclava ski mask ..youd soon get grappled and police called if you refused to unmask.

It also is used by dominating men as an excuse to control their wives...its just one more excuse for religious nutters to control women.
ban it.

nystagmus4u - 229 BF
Only one restriction needed, ban it.

poppy23 - 206 BF
[This should not even be a subject of debate--what a woman wears is her business and choice.]

Actually, that is not the case in the UK, nor has it ever been. Try walking down the street topless and see how far that argument gets you with the police.

poppy23 - 162 BF
We keep hearing people saying "It would be illiberal to tell people what they can and cannot wear". Why do these people not criticise Islam for this very reason?

Guileless - 142 BF
Why is this inane subject such a dilemma?

Just ban it outright. It doesn't represent anything British and it is profoundly distressing to many people including young children.

I blankly refuse to acknowledge anybody with this Islamic garment on.

studio1reggae - 133 DS DC BNE
I do not like the idea of the niqab. When I see a woman in the street covered head to toe in a burka/hijab and niqab I find it off putting, isolating and difficult to approach with a seemingly obvious statement of non-inclusion.

I for one do not agree talking to someone when you could only see their eyes, as their facial features are covered up.If people say it racist and Islamaphobist then I don't know how that could be when you just want to see who you are talking to. Wear it at home or in the street, but not think it should be worn in jobs which involves interaction/ communication, court or elsewhere.

poppy23 - 124 BNE
[Should we ban the skullcap; crosses; blacksabath t-shirts; orange buddhist robes?]

None of these cover the face. We banned the balaclava from certain areas because it hides a person's identity.

[And so it is with the niqab. Only racists think it should be banned]

Feminists in Muslim countries have long opposed the veil. Are they racist?

bailliegillies - 123 BNE
I think that a shopkeeper, bank/PO worker, local authority/government worker anyone who has to deal with the public on a daily basis should have the right to ask them to remove the veil because we have a tradition in Britain of doing our business face to face and not behind screens or masks.

If they want us to respect their traditions then they to must respect ours, especially if they choose to live here.

Billybagel - 105 DS DR
[But I would ask why you feel so threatened and fearful by it.]

This is always the get-out clause in almost any Guardian discussion, isn't it? No, I'm not 'fearful' of a woman wearing a niqab (although I may be a little apprehensive of the totalitarian doctrine that they are advertising). I just don't want to have anything to do with them, because they're making it as plain as day that they don't want to have anything to do with me.

Istanbullian - 101 BNE DR
Religion was created by man to control man and the niqab is another control over women.

Religion is not for public consumption but for personal choice.
Men have been known to wear niqab to commit crime. Niqab is used to hide identity.

godforbidowright - 73 BNE
Secular society requires a degree of both tolerance and compromise. Wearers of this garment are offering neither of these things.

londonhongkong - 71 BNE
Did you seriously write about 'demonising Islam'? On a day like today?

I don't think people demanding that others, a tiny minority, respect the norms and culture of a country is demonising anything. The followers of Islam seem to be doing a pretty good job of 'demonising' it without anyone else's help.

bailliegillies - 70 DR BNE
I don't think it should be restricted but I think that the argument that it is a religious requirement should be debunked.

I also think that when a wearer is facing someone conversing and doing business, asking for help either from a business or from authorities they should remove the veil so that people can see and verify who they are as we have a history and tradition in Britain of seeing each other face to face.

Stieve - 65 BF GP
Yeah, nice one Guardian- show a gorgeous woman with piercing BLUE eyes and nicely plucked eyebrows, tastefully lit to "illustrate" the niqab. The reality is very different 99.99% of the time.

Women in Saudi Arabia suffer from skin problems and vitamin deficiencies due to not being allowed to have the sun on their skin.

Mesomorph - 60 DR BF
By banning the niqab, we would be saying that whatever your medieval religion may preach, or whatever your tribal customs might say, this country holds men and women equal.

That is a principle worth defending, and those who disagree are free to either suck on it or go elsewhere.