Until the last few years very few muslim women in Britain wore the burka or hijab. Why have they taken to doing so now? Feminists believe that they are being enslaved and that it signifies being owned by a male. Others believe it protects female dignity. The one thing we do know is that nowhere in the Koran does it say that women should wear the burka.
I don't like banning things and I want to uphold the right to freedom of expression. Seeing women wearing the full burka may make me feel vaguely uncomfortable but that is not reason enough to ban it. However, it is a symbol of cultural apartheid. The message it sends out is clear: I don't want to be part of British society even though I live here. The burka further ghettoises the women who wear it. But is that enough reason to ban it? We'd never ban a sari, but then saris don't shield a woman's face, do they?
Two further points. Burkas should indeed be banned by employers if they wish. How can you possibly teach wearing a veil covering your face? How could you be a social worker or TV presenter? In addition, the police and airport security must be able to order a woman to show her face if required. Jack Straw was right to feel uncomfortable when he had a burka wearing woman at his surgery. I would have been too.
Western women who go to Saudi Arabia are required to respect the dress code of the country and clothe themselves accordingly. Our liberal values don't require the same in return. Sometimes we may be too tolerant for our own good.
The day a woman can wear a bikini on a beach in Saudi Arabia will be the day I will totally accept the burka.
And from January...
We ban too many things in this country, and to ban someone from self expression is not British. Everyone has the right to dress in their own way. Why not ban punks from wearing safety pins, or goths from wearing eye liner? Go the whole hog and ban nuns from wearing habits! At least UKIP would then be consistent.
Don't get me wrong, I wish muslim women didn't wear the burka. I wish they didn't feel the need to set themselves apart from the rest of society. We should encourage integration into mainstream society, but it is clear that an outright ban on them wearing the burka would not, by itself, achieve this. Indeed, it could achieve the direct opposite. That is not to say that as a society we should treat burka-wearing muslim women from anyone else - airport security is an obvious example. But like Jack Straw, if I were conducting an MP's surgery, I would insist on being able to see the constituent's face.
The question UKIP have yet to answer is how on earth would such a ban be policed? I gather the ban would extend to what you are allowed to wear in your own home! Astonishing!
Feminists argue that the burka is a repressive form of dress and that muslim women are forced to wear it by their menfolk. That may be true in some cases, but I doubt it is any more common than white men forcing their women to slap on the makeup before they go out - which is also a form of repression. The fact is that a growing number of muslim women - even those born and raised here - are wearing the burka, and they are doing it out of choice, not because they are forced to.
Let's carry out a quick poll. Click HERE to vote on whether you think the burka should be banned.
UPDATE: Someone on Twitter just asked what I thought about Tesco banning hoodies. I have no problem with Tesco, or any other private organisation, deciding to ban something. I also have no problem with airports or banks banning anything covering a face. I do, however, have a problem with the state getting involved in freedom of expression.
UPDATE: The poll result is Yes 44%, No 56%. And quite right too.