Cameron backs ban on veils: time for national debate?
Judge says woman must remove veil during court case as Clegg and Cameron enter the debate
DOWNING STREET appears to have given its tacit support to such institutions as hospitals, local council offices and civil service branches to ban Muslim face veils if they wish. A spokesman for the Prime Minister told the Daily Telegraph today that there was no "incompatibility" between a free society and the imposition of dress codes that forbid the niqab and burqa.
Lib Dem leader and deputy PM Nick Clegg appeared to echo that sentiment, admitting he would be "uneasy" about banning the veil, but agreeing that sometimes it would be "appropriate" for it to be removed.
The comments came after Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Jeremy Browne called for a "national debate" over the veil and on the day that a judge ordered a woman to remove her niqab while giving evidence in a court case.
A renewed argument for and against the veil blew up last week after a college in Birmingham withdrew its ban on veils after it was accused of discrimination.
Yasmin Alibhai Brown, writing in the Independent on Sunday, railed at the "aggressive guerrilla army of Muslim Salafists and their misguided allies" who support the veil.
She has support from an unlikely source. Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips says she has no issue with "distinctive clothing" but claims that the niqab threatens "basic standards of security". What is more it "destroys nothing less than the presumption of equality on which human communication is based".
But others, including Victoria Coren Mitchell in The Observer, disagree. She claims: "Forbidding the veil is an infringement of liberty."
The debate neatly illustrates the "anxiety of the British political classes in 2013," says the Daily Telegraph's Benedict Brogan. People are "uneasy about what they perceive as a contradiction between their liberal values of individual freedom and identity and a faith that appears by some interpretations to suppress freedom."
But fellow Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges says the issue is clear-cut. "The debate about 'The Veil', is neither necessary, nor is it complex," he insists. "In fact, it's very, very simple. This is Britain. And in Britain you can wear what you want."
However, he appeared to acknowledge that things are not that simple by accepting that there are "practical exceptions" to that rule.
Last word for now to Simon Jenkins of The Guardian. "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. Blind people manage without being able to see the people with whom they deal." ·