Covered faces, open rebellion

“Having spent time getting to know young British Muslims, I believe that comments like Straw’s will be counterproductive. That is because the niqab is a symptom and not a cause of rising tensions. Few young Muslim women in Britain are forced by their families to wear the niqab. British Muslims come predominantly from South Asia, where the prevalent school of Islam, Hanifi, makes no insistence on a woman fully veiling herself. Indeed, only one of the four schools within Sunni Islam, Hanbali, which is followed in Saudi Arabia, requires women to completely cover up….

“Frustrated by unemployment rates more than double those of members of other religious groups, put off by stereotyping in the news media, and estranged from British foreign policy, many alienated Muslims have turned to more overt forms of religiosity to express a contrarian identity. Says Murad Qureshi, the only Muslim councilor in London’s Assembly: ‘Girls are choosing to reaffirm their Muslim identity because the community feels a sense of besiegement.’

“… Calls by British politicians for Muslim women to stop wearing the niqab will only enhance the political symbolism of this act and make its practice more widespread. Instead, what is needed is an ambitious program to address the core grievances of Britain’s young Muslims, for example by creating economic opportunities and tackling discrimination.”

Paul Cruickshank in the New York Times, 23 October 2006

This is a lot more informed than some of the condescending rubbish you read in the UK press from the likes of Johann Hari, who sees in the veil only a “misogynistic cultural practice” forced on oppressed Muslim women by tyrannical men. But Cruickshank still takes a negative view of young Muslim women who have chosen reaffirm their Muslim identity, in the face of a hysterical and increasingly violent racist campaign against Muslim communities, by wearing the niqab. At the very least, he could give them credit for their courage. Cruickshank has also swallowed the nonsense about how a quarter of British Muslims supposedly agree with the 7/7 bombings – when, as the recent 1990 Trust poll has confirmed, the actual figure is between 1% and 2%.