Birmingham Metropolitan College overturns veil ban – a triumph?

Following the decision by Birmingham Metropolitan College to overturn a ban on veils, the debate about facial coverings has resurfaced once again.

There is no widespread policy about facial coverings in the UK. The Department of Education allows institutions to decide themselves whether they want to ban veils, as long as they have carried out a consultation. So was the college right to ban veils initially, or has their recent U-turn proved a triumph for those who would have been discriminated against?

The college’s policy originally banned veils as well as other coverings such as hats and hoodies but has now allowed ‘specific personal items which reflect cultural values’, following widespread media attention and a 9,000 signature petition by the NUS’ Black Students’ Officer.

One side believes that pupils need to be identifiable for security reasons. At banks and airports, you would not be allowed to cover your face, so it should be the same in schools: they need to know who is on the premises. Teachers also need to be able to communicate effectively with students. How will a teacher know if a student is engaging properly, paying attention or experiencing difficulties if all they can see are their eyes?

However, the other side believes that everyone has a right to express their faith and if the college kept up the ban, some students would be excluded from applying to and attending the college.

A browse through the comments section of articles shows that the majority believe we do have a right to ban veils. A popular Huffington Post comment said, “Rulings like this are counter-productive – it leaves moderate and tolerant Britons feeling frustrated and embittered towards Muslims who insist on preserving their own cultural values while exhibiting total disdain for the UK’s cultural values”.

Caroline Chan (@Carro_Chan)

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Photo: Steve Snodgrass (Flickr)

One Comment
  • Jacky D
    29 September 2013 at 13:39
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    I agree with the Huffington comment. Multiculturalism does not help us to mediate cultural clashes. Treating all cultures the same is one thing, but what happens when two cultural values collide, like here? It is both cultural and expedient for security to not wear veils from a British and European perspective. In some respects it would be considered rude to cover ones face, just like it is to wear a hat indoors or at the dinner table etc. British people very much interact with faces and it runs counter to that to cover it. However, the Muslim females may wish to very much run counter to that cultural convention. Who wins? Do British standards prevail, seeing as we are in Britain? Or do Islamic cultural values prevail? My intuition would say the British.

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