Almost precisely seven years ago, Britain was having this same discussion. A public official, Jack Straw, the then Leader of the House of Commons of the British Parliament, decided that it was appropriate for him to bring up the issue of Muslim British women wearing the face-veil/niqab in a commentary for a local newspaper in the north of England. The consequences of that discussion notwithstanding then, seven years later, we seem to be having it – yet again. It is not clear if we’ve actually learned very much – if anything, it seems as though we’ve learned very little indeed.
This discussion is primarily about Muslim women, and it ought to be Muslim women who are the strongest and most influential within that public discussion.H.A. Hellyer
Straw claimed he did not want to be prescriptive – but he did not need to be. He was a powerful, senior, and very influential, public official – and as such, when he wrote anything on such an issue, it meant that public discourse was immediately energised. As a result of his intervention, there were calls from politicians and media outlets that called for the niqab to be banned in the UK. The public discussion, then, described Muslim women who wore the niqab as “frightening and intimidating,” with politicians suggesting Muslims were responsible for “white flight,” and declaring Islam “forbade” Muslims from conforming to British society.