The Politics of The Niqab.

4th December 2013

The special debate on the politics of the Niqab

URN’s The Big Picture and UoN Feminists collaborated to discuss the politics of the niqab.

The niqab has been a topic of much discussion in the media recently. We wanted to provide a platform at the University of Nottingham for a diverse panel of speakers to talk about it.

Our panel of speakers included:
Bessima Dargham from Islam Society, who has interviewed niqabi women.
Lauren Selfe, a PhD student, researching representations of Muslim women in contemporary German culture.
Emma Pearce, a member of UoN Feminists and presenter of URN’s The Pulse.
Nathan Chalk, a member of UoN Feminists and President of Debating Union.
Yasmin Talsi, SU Black and Ethnic Minorities Officer.

Our Chair David Hayes, introduced the debate and our panel.

We began by talking about the niqab in the public place, an issue that’s come to the forefront of the news in the past few months, both here in Britain and abroad. Frankie Garforth gave us a brief overview of the key issues and we picked up here with the issue of our courts system. What do the panel make of the decision of Judge Murphy of Blackfriars Crown Court to compel defendants to remove the veil when giving evidence? If justice is blind, why does the Minister of Justice believe that the niqab ‘undermines’ it?

We then moved on to talking about the place of the niqab specifically in education. Jo Estrin reported on the issue. We then got things going with a direct question. According to Jeremy Browne, a Liberal Democrat MP in the Home Office, young girls ought not to wear veils such as the niqab on the basis that they are not yet considered ready to choose to vote, to marry, or to smoke. Are children capable of deciding whether to wear the niqab, and if not, how old do they have to be before they can?

We moved on to discuss the niqab as an institution. Can it be feminist to uphold full-face veils? Is it inherently Islamophobic to oppose them? First, Seb Bench gave us some background information and we began our final debate with the question: does the niqab oppress women?

We hoped you enjoyed listening to this debate; massive credit to all the speakers who took part. Continue the debate online using the hashtag #URNNiqabDebate or comment below.

Thank you so much to all of those who texted in; here are some examples of the comments we received during the show.

This should not be a religious issue, but a legal issue. By definition it involves religion and women. But we have to look at the law first. Our justice system works on the basis of open justice and the rule of law. Transparency is key.

Surely if a jury’s judgement could be swayed merely by a defendant’s facial expressions, you need a new jury that’ll pay more attention to the principle of ‘reasonable doubt’ – James

I think it’s quite important to distinguish between the UK and France, the French are an entirely secular country and therefore religion legally has no part in their society. The same is not true for the UK and therefore you cannot compare them like for like.

Educational order is not a good enough reason alone. Can’t the veil be integrated into the school uniform?

Agree with Yasmin – the veil only seems a barrier to learning for those not wearing it! Don’t ban freedom to wear the veil, encourage teachers to understand that they don’t have to treat or react to people wearing niqab differently and that seeing a person’s face is not a necessary prerequisite for learning, just what a Western teacher might be used to. Change classroom management to accept niqab, not push niqab-wearers out!

People who think the full face veil is a central tenet of Islam should probably be reminded that, were they to go to Mecca (Islam’s holiest place) they wouldn’t be allowed in if they were wearing one!

I think it’s terrible to train women to think they should be slim and pretty and wear feminine clothing but that is what Western culture does, and if a woman chooses to do that we accept that they can make that choice for themselves. Why not the same with niqab? – Charlotte

Why do people consider covering oneself on freewill an act of oppression? -Ismail

What’s more oppressive – a niqab, or a bikini?

Tune into URN’s The Big Picture next week to hear more live debating on issues that affect students. Look out for our next collaborative debate with @UoNFeminists!

The panel.