‘The hidden truth of the veil: it’s all politics’

“Britain, for all its faults, is not a society in which women are pestered or harassed as a matter of course. When we walk outside we have to contend with a tuneless wolf whistle at worst. For a woman here to argue that simply uncovering her face will automatically inflame the men around her to dangerous levels of lust is absurd: indeed, it is ostentatious modesty inflated to the point of vanity. To feel compelled to wear the full veil in Britain is the sexual equivalent of attending a Quaker meeting accompanied by three heavily-armed bodyguards.

“Behind this absurdity lurks something rather more worrying, however: the persistent agenda of a minority of Islamic fundamentalists to emphasise difference and push the boundaries of secular society. The arguments over Muslim women’s clothing have really been thinly disguised political battles, such as the 2002 attempt by the schoolgirl Shabina Begum to force her school to permit her to wear a cumbersome garment called the jilbab in contravention of school uniform. Begum’s brother, who was extremely vocal in court, was a reported member of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hizb-ut Tahrir….

“A clear, constant distinction between the sartorial obligations of private time and work time would surely relieve us all of mounting irritation, and deprive these wearisome attention-seekers of the substance they seem most eager to breathe in through the niqab: the oxygen of publicity.”

Jenny McCartney in the Sunday Telegraph, 3 December 2006