Once again, the “national debate” over the niqab is filling the pages of our newspapers. The latest discussion comes after Birmingham Metropolitan College reversed a decision to prevent Muslim students from wearing the veil, and a Lib Dem minister suggested that the government should consider a ban to ensure freedom of choice for young girls.
In the Observer, Victoria Coren Mitchell compared wearing a veil to a woman taking her husband’s name—“a strong and happy choice,” and not to be considered “a blow against feminism,” when done freely—while in the Telegraph Sean Thomas made the less flattering comparison to a slave wearing shackles. On the one hand we have those who feel that everyone should be free to wear what they want; on the other, those who worry that the veil has damaging implications for gender equality and that we should take steps to protect women from having to wear it.
These positions are often represented as mutually exclusive—but they’re not. A commitment to the freedom to wear whatever we want does not imply that clothing is never morally or socially problematic.