Now SYRIA bans the burka… as British female Cabinet Minister says freedom to wear Muslim veil is a right. The Education Ministry’s ban comes as similar moves in Europe – and calls for one in England – spark cries of discrimination against Muslims.
An official told local media: ‘Our students are our children and we will not abandon them to extreme ideas and practices.’
Syria is not a Muslim country. An official at the ministry says the ban affects public and private universities and aims to protect Syria’s secular identity. But the burka – the most concealing of the Islamic veils, in which women are forced to peer out at the world from behind a mesh mask – and the niqab, a veil that covers the head and mouth but leaves the eyes exposed – have both been banned.
The niqab and the burka are not widespread in Syria, although they have become more common recently. The secular, authoritarian government has recently tried to curry favour by rallying to the cry of moderate Islam at home. But it remains wary of Islamic fundamentalism, which is a threat to its power – especially in education. Last month, hundreds of primary school teachers who wear the niqab were moved to administrative jobs, local media reported.
The move came as the pressure was turned up in Britain and across Europe for as similar ban. A British Cabinet Minister today delivered a staunch defence of a woman’s right to wear a burka. Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said women were ‘empowered’ by the freedom to wear the face coverings. Her comments came after her colleague, Immigration Minister Damian Green, resisted demands from within the Tory party to ban the burka, which critics claim is a symbol of the oppression of women. Mr Green said a ban would be ‘rather un-British’ and run contrary to the conventions of a ‘tolerant and mutually respectful society’. This is despite a YouGov survey which found that 67 per cent of voters wanted the wearing of full-face veils to be outlawed.
France’s lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly approved a ban on wearing burka-style Islamic veils, and Spain and Belgium have similar votes in the pipeline. Tory MPs who back a ban include Philip Hollobone, who has tabled a private member’s Bill that would make it illegal for anyone to cover his or her face in public. Mr Hollobone, the MP for Kettering, said that he would refuse to hold any constituency meetings with women wearing burkas. He said: ‘This is Britain. We are not a Muslim country. Covering your face in public is strange, and to many people both intimidating and offensive.’ But Mrs Spelman yesterday made the counter-argument that wearing a burka is important for women’s rights. Normally, the burka is defended on the grounds of religious freedom, but the minister made what appeared to be a feminist argument for the face-covering. She said: ‘I don’t, living in this country as a woman, want to be told what I can and can’t wear. I’ve been out to Afghanistan and I think I understand much better as a result of actually visiting why a lot of Muslim women want to wear the burka.
‘It is part of their culture, it is part of understanding that they choose to go out in the burka and I think those that live in this country, if they choose to wear a burka, should be free to do so. ‘We are a free country, we attach importance to people being free and for a woman it is empowering to be able to choose each morning when you wake up what you wear.’ French parliamentarians voted last week to outlaw full-face veils, including burkas, in public.
‘I think very few women in France actually wear the burka. They [the French parliament] are doing it for demonstration effects. ‘The French political culture is very different. They are an aggressively secular state. They can ban the burka, they ban crucifixes in schools and things like that. ‘We have schools run explicitly by religions. I think there’s absolutely no read-across to immigration policy-from what the French are doing about the burka.’ The new head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Farooq Murad, said that Britain was the most welcoming country in Europe for Muslims. He pointed to the spread of mosques and sharia, or Islamic law, as positive signs of the greater freedom Muslims are given in this country. Catherine Heseltine from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee said MPs should not waste their time discussing a ban.
She said: ‘Britain is a free country. We value our freedoms and we don’t want MPs or the government telling British citizens what they can or can’t wear. ‘How does it hurt anybody else if a woman chooses to wear a small piece of cloth across her face? ‘Quite frankly, MPs, there’s a £160billion debt; shouldn’t they be busier worrying about what they’re going to do about that, than a small piece of cloth that a few women choose to wear?’ Under the French ban, which is expected to be approved by the country’s Senate in September, a woman wearing the burka can be stopped on the street by police and ordered to a police station, where she will be compelled to remove the veil. The woman faces a possible fine. Muslim men who are deemed to have ‘forced’ their wives or daughters to wear the burka will also be fined. President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that the burka ‘is not welcome’ in his country. He claims that it is ‘oppressive’ to women and reduces them to ‘servitude’. He said: ‘The burka is not a sign of religion, is a sign of subservience.’