Niqab at school controversy


by Sunny
22nd January, 2007 at 2:55 am    

It looks as if the first controversy over the right to wear a niqab (full veil) at school is nearly upon us. Tory blogger Iain Dale, who has covered this quite even-handedly, reveals that:

The head teacher of Wycombe High School in Buckinghamshire has told a fourteen year old muslim girl that she will no longer be allowed to attend school if she continues to wear the Niqab as it does not conform to the ethos of the school. The school allows pupils of muslim faith to wear a veil as long as it does not cover the face.

The girl’s father has now applied to for a Judicial Review (funded by legal aid, natch), which is expected to be heard in the High Court in February. The head teacher of the school, Jane Wainwright, believes that the School must fight the case and has asked the County Council for its support and its financial backing. … If the girl’s father wins the case a very important precedent will be set.

Could this be another Shabina Begum? That case was an individual ruling rather than a general one, hence it seems to have set no precedent for the future. My view is the same as before: given that the school uniform allows for most interpretations of the religion, there is no need to allow every child their own rules. The same would apply if any Sikh kid wanted to bring a full-length sword to school – they can make do with a small symbolic kirpan. I wonder how long it will take for the papers to pick this up.


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  1. Refresh — on 22nd January, 2007 at 10:04 am  

    Sunny, aren’t you bored with this now?

    Why bother with it when all that could have been said has been said thanks to Straw et al?

    Go be adventrous and find something that really does relate to NGN.

    Here is something that really does touch on all the key issues (and I think you missed it all):

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1995736,00.html

    “The Blair court has presided over this new rottenness

    New Labour has played along too happily with the greedy and bullying. Society is now uglier than it was under Thatcher”

  2. Leon — on 22nd January, 2007 at 10:36 am  

    Society is now uglier than it was under Thatcher

    That’s some statement.

  3. Bert Preast — on 22nd January, 2007 at 11:01 am  

    I’m getting sick and tired of pupils and parents thinking they have the right to tell schools what to do. I see the breakdown of discipline in schools as responsible for a large part of the chav culture, and this has to stop. We need scary and violent teachers, not the current bunch of wishy washy nancies. Harumph.

  4. Refresh — on 22nd January, 2007 at 11:03 am  

    Leon – Is it possible it could it get worse?

    More :

    http://comment.independent.co.uk/columnists_a_l/johann_hari/article2175017.ece

    “Johann Hari: Jaded contempt for the working class

    By any tangible measure, the white working class is the least racist part of British society”

  5. Refresh — on 22nd January, 2007 at 11:04 am  

    And more:

    http://comment.independent.co.uk/columnists_a_l/yasmin_alibhai_brown/article2174976.ece

    ” Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The view from India: horror at these barbarians

    Everyone I met wanted to know what had happened to the once impeccable Imperial nation”

  6. Kismet Hardy — on 22nd January, 2007 at 11:42 am  

    Children should be taught to open up not cover up

  7. Sunny — on 22nd January, 2007 at 2:29 pm  

    Sunny, aren’t you bored with this now?

    Yes, I’m sick of talking about Jade Goody et al. This piece of news may set a legal precedent so it is a big topic.

  8. Don — on 22nd January, 2007 at 4:18 pm  

    I seem to remember that last time we discussed this issue (during the Shabina Begum brouhaha)it was before we had the advantage of a finely honed legal mind on PP.

    I think we more or less agreed that as that judgement was so very case specific that it could not set a precedent that eroded freedoms by allowing schools (and by extension other institutions) to set up arbirary or draconian dress codes.

    But it seems to be becoming almost routine that someone will wave a religious symbol around and demand their extra layer of privilege. If there are enough such cases, will we end up with legal precedents that impact on the day to day running of schools that have established consensual accommodations?

  9. Leon — on 22nd January, 2007 at 4:32 pm  

    But it seems to be becoming almost routine that someone will wave a religious symbol around and demand their extra layer of privilege.

    Yep.

  10. ZinZin — on 22nd January, 2007 at 4:36 pm  

    Refresh read the link.

    The County Council has caved in and the Headteacher needs the support of the governors otherwise the niqab could be worn in all state schools in the county. This is very serious.

    The papers will pick up on this eventually due to the craven approach of the County Council that failed to back its headteacher. Also there is the Muslim fundamentalist angle as i doubt a 14 year old would ask to wear a niqab in school.

  11. zahed — on 22nd January, 2007 at 4:59 pm  

    This is where Muslim communities (and by that I mean the Muslim families within a school’s district) must go through the messy business of establishing consensus on school uniforms and not simply bow to the lowest common denominator (as in the Shabina Begum case).

    If a 14 year-old had to face scores of other Muslim parents and schoolgirls while demanding that the uniform be based on her interpretation of modesty, it would be easier for her (and her parents) to “get it.” The Muslim students and their parents must reach a consensus (which would presumably be moderate), and the Government/school officials should insist they do so.

  12. Neil W — on 22nd January, 2007 at 5:16 pm  

    Perhaps when the case is heard the Dispatches program should be aired……particularly the segments about veils etc and what happens to Muslim girls if they don’t comply……..

    A school rule against full veils etc is an absolutely necessary bulwark against attitiudes like those displayed int he programme….

  13. Refresh — on 22nd January, 2007 at 5:22 pm  

    Sunny, bored with Jade Goody? So am I.

    Did we understand the implications of what happened? I am not sure. As far as I am concerned the issue managed to cover all the right things we should be ‘progressive’ about.

    As for this new issue you’ve unearthed, its just another ‘bandwagon’ being given a push.

    ZinZin, appreciate your point. I should have read it. But I am frankly bored with it.

  14. A.S. — on 22nd January, 2007 at 5:58 pm  

    I just discovered this blog, via a very old post (and got hooked). I haven’t read the earlier discussions during the Straw controversy, so apologies if I am repeating stuff that has already been said before.

    For most people, communication probably works best when (i) we know the other persons thoughts, (ii) hear their voice and vocal inflections and (iii) see their facial expressions.
    Schools are about teaching, understanding and communication. I’d say communication would certainly be hindered by veils, whether the student or teacher is wearing it. Otherwise a person need not come to school and might as well get educated by radio/cassettes/cds at home.

    I agree with Don,
    But it seems to be becoming almost routine that someone will wave a religious symbol around and demand their extra layer of privilege. If there are enough such cases, will we end up with legal precedents that impact on the day to day running of schools that have established consensual accommodations?

    And as Bert Preast says, schools need to be allowed to do their job. Teenagers are a rebellious lot (as I am sure we all were), and schools shouldn’t be made to lose all authority they have.

    I dislike the concept of veils, especially of convering one’s face… whether it be the ghunghat, burqa or nikab. I find it uncomfortable to talk to people who are in front of me, and can see me, but can’t be seen. In fact I find it rather disrespectful to be talked to that way. It is as if I shouldn’t be trusted.

  15. Chairwoman — on 22nd January, 2007 at 6:26 pm  

    If I were a teacher, I most certainly would not like to be unable to see the face(s) of my pupil(s).

  16. Anon+1 — on 22nd January, 2007 at 11:32 pm  

    There should be no political debate, rules are rules and this hijab garment is a disgrace.

  17. Clairwil — on 22nd January, 2007 at 11:51 pm  

    I’ve no problem with the hijab as it doesn’t cover the face. Like the Chairwoman says If I were a teacher I would be very unhappy if my class had their faces covered. Just a thought but wouldn’t the girl be better off at an all girls school if the local comp makes her want to cover up to that degree.

    Personally I think all this is a roundabout way of demanding Muslim schools rather than any serious concern about religious dress.

    Anon+1

    ‘There should be no political debate, rules are rules and this hijab garment is a disgrace.’

    There are rules about all sorts of things immigration for example. Are you seriously asserting that we can only debate issues where there are no rules in place?
    The next BNP manifesto should be short then.

  18. Sunny — on 23rd January, 2007 at 1:26 am  

    A.S. – thanks.
    Refresh, I know you hate it when I start a topic on Muslims here but what’s the reasoning here? I try and move on to other subjects too, but this is a current affairs blog where the stuff of ‘national conversation’ is reflected. If you want to find a blog full of poetry, this isn’t it mate.

  19. Refresh — on 23rd January, 2007 at 2:16 am  

    Sunny

    I am not looking for poetry. I am not looking for you to stop writing about muslims.

    Its just that it just seems to be almost exclusively about muslims.

    As it happens I did think it would need a muslim story to get us back ‘on-track’ after the ‘diversion’ that was the racism of Big Brother.

    I am sure you will agree – unless it includes muslims you get a limited number of respondents. Yes I know its all the world wants to talk about.

    The national conversation actually is moving on, thank God. With Blair ‘gone’ and John Reid (‘the butler’) hemmed in, we should consider the impact on foreign policy.

    Gordon Brown wishing to be a Gandhi also presumably has some impact on how British society will extract itself from the depravity of the Blair era.

    There are plenty of current affair issues which you have missed including 5 years of Guantanamo – but on this particular one you do tackle Pipes (your latest thread) – and in a roundabout way it presumably now enters the debate on PP.

  20. Arif — on 23rd January, 2007 at 8:43 am  

    The headteacher cites the ethos of the school. We can all have our own perspectives on what ethos they are reflecting by their regulations and how these are developed and enforced.

    In the position of that pupil, I would feel that if the ethos of the school excludes me, that is their decision to make and too bad for the school. If no school is available with an ethos that can accept me with whatever identity I have adopted, then better not go to school. It is hard on the parents, though, as they would get the law on their backs unless they can afford and learn to practice some method of home-schooling which the State can accept.

  21. William — on 23rd January, 2007 at 9:42 am  

    In the case of Shabina Begum there were also many muslims, pupils and relatives of the pupils who thought that she should also be more moderate in her dress. Maybe they have a problem with deviance in their own community. But why is it hard for people to put up with a bit of deviance.

    If there are cultural or psychological problems with her decisions then she can still be challenged in various ways. If she needs to be open and is hiding in some way she can be challenged on this. This could even come from her peers. But I don’t think there should be an official ruling preventing her from wearing whats she wants. There is a case for rulings preventing anyone being forced to wear veils whether by comminity or parents and it would be valid for this to be applied in any country or culture.

  22. Chairwoman — on 23rd January, 2007 at 9:44 am  

    Refresh – I agree, there are plenty of issues in the UK that are common to all minority groups, and I think that perhaps these should be addressed.

    Arif – I think it’s two sides of the same coin. The girl is isolated whichever way you look at it. Either by the school’s ethos, or by the fact that she’s the only girl in the school dressed differently. There’s no happily ever answer to this story, and the one who is going to suffer is a fourteen year old girl. I am going to make this one point, and it’s made purely from a parental aspect. It is not a good idea to make a decision that singles your child out from everyone else in their school. If you at such variance with the establishment, then you should send your child to a school that is more in tune with your philosophy.

  23. Safaa — on 23rd January, 2007 at 10:56 pm  

    I find it outrageous that the school and society in general encourages integration and tolerance but places its own boundaries on it. And as for isolation, the only time she will feel isolated is when she realises that the government of this so called ‘tolerant’, ‘democratic’ society is actually doing everything it can to build up indestructible barriers bewteen communities…that is isolation.

  24. celtic woman — on 24th January, 2007 at 2:40 am  

    The veil is discrimination to all the female race. Theres no place in the UK for medieval bogus practices that never were complusory in the name of ISLAM. This is propaganda thats all this is. No wonder the BNP get free advertising, with cases like this. Plenty of children terminally ill who could benefit from the 500,000 pounds. Dont allow the legal mob to line their pockets like Cheri Blair/Booth Associates.

  25. Chairwoman — on 24th January, 2007 at 9:43 am  

    Safaa – Democracy means a government of the choice of the majority. And I assure you, any child who is the only member of the school dressed completely differently feels isolated.

    It is why schools have uniforms, so that no pupil can be picked on for not wearing the ‘right’ clothes.

    I assume from your comment that you are either very young, or a man.

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