Thursday, October 19, 2006

Veil row woman loses appeal

The Muslim classroom assistant suspended for refusing to remove her veil while at work has lost her appeal against religious discrimination.

Aishah Azmi was asked to remove the veil after the school in Dewsbury said pupils found it hard to understand her. I must say having just seen on the news her press conference after the decision, I found I was perfectly able to understand her as she bellowed into the microphone. Ms Azmi intends to appeal against the decision.

The tribunal did, however, uphold her claim that she had been victimised and criticised MPs for speaking out on the matter and potentially prejudicing the hearing. Ms Azmi was awarded £1000 for 'hurt feelings'.

It has been said that Ms Azmi removed her veil when interviewed for the post and that a male school governor was on the interviewing panel. I must admit I've not seen that confirmed anywhere, but please direct me to the source if it has. Nonetheless, if true, it does not say a great deal for her religious convictions and certainly not the sort which she now professes if she is willing to abandon those beliefs when it is expedient.

Of course, much has been said and written in recent weeks following Jack Straw's initial comments. In my opinion only Harriet Harman- speaking in last week's New Statesman- has elucidated the salient reasons for banishing the veil from British society. Harman points out that it will only be Muslim women themselves (those who choose to wear the niqab) who can move us towards veil-free societies. More importantly, Harman points out that the veil, "is an obstacle to women's participation, on equal terms, in society." This is the fundamental, the glaring, and the overwhelming point that Blair and Straw and others missed.

The veil and any other item of clothing Islam dictates a woman wear are, quite simply, symbols of oppression. They are the product of a male-dominated religion, in which males have made the rules to which women must conform or suffer the direst consequences. The same is true of Christianity which in times now far behind us women were expected to wear long skirts and dowdy clothes to hide their femininity away from public (other men's) view. Love, honour and obey, remember.

Not all Muslim women choose to observe each intricate sartorial command. But those who do are as guilty of female oppression as the religious leaders and preachers who demand it of them. I don't pretend that it can be easy to release oneself from such deeply buried reins and shackles, but it is nonetheless true particularly in Britain where there is freedom to so where there may not be in an Islamic state.


At 11:53 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we should be very careful when we say that muslim women should remove their veils.

Contrary to Ms Azmi's statement yesterday that she was perfectly capable of teaching children, as someone who has taught, eye contact, use of facial expression and the showing of emotion are extremely important to engage a class. As the Tribunal chairman said yesterday, a balancing of interests had to take place between Ms Azmi's right to freedom of expression and the interest of the children. The interests of the children won and in my opinion, fairly so.

A balancing act of human rights versus public interest is at the forefront of our human rights system. However, to deny a Muslim woman the right to wear a veil generally is a denial of their civil liberties. Similarly, like the woman employee of BA, I would feel affronted if I were told to take off my cross, (which incidentally I wear not as a symbol of christianity but because I like it). Granted the veil could be seen as a symbol of religious oppression but if someone openly and freely chooses to wear it, surely that is their choice.

With regard to your comment about Tony Blair commenting on the case before the Employment Tribunal had made their decision, certainly this would seem unfair and indeed if this were a high profile criminal case, there might be prejudice to a fair trial.

However, in fairness, I do not think that many people realised that a Tribunal case was pending when this story hit the press. Although you would think Tony Blair et al would have been properly advised as to the circumstances of the case before speaking out in support of the local authority dismissing Ms Azmi.



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