In a week when political parties are pitching some of their key election pledges, UKIP launched what they are referring to as their ‘integration agenda’. One of the policies proposed is the banning of face coverings in public places, which quickly landed itself the alliterative title of the ‘Burqa Ban.’ Needless to say, left-leaning Twitter keyboard warriors have been spitting out their skinny lattes and flying into a fevered frenzy, claiming that the very suggestion is ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobic’. But what is perhaps more interesting is the divide in opinion among UKIP members. Despite seemingly receiving overwhelming support within the party overall, it has raised many eyebrows. Indeed, several influential figures have been extremely vocal in their condemnation of this controversial move, some even relinquishing their positions as a form of protest. But why is it such a point of contention? Is it not UKIP’s duty, now that the referendum has been won and Brexit is underway, to move on to what could simply be described as another radical policy? Or is this ‘ban’ truly as abhorrent as many are making it out to be? Admittedly, speaking as both a member of the general public and a loyal ‘kipper, I find myself somewhat on the fence…

Arguably, banning the burqa is indeed a strident step towards the full integration of Muslim women into British society. After all, what could be more of a barrier to integration than an actual physical barrier preventing others from seeing your face? And as UKIP deputy leader Peter Whittle has pointed out, this move would simply bring us into line with other western European countries such as France, who introduced the ban in 2010. Interestingly enough, it was a French feminist group who pressurised the government into adopting this policy, claiming that the burqa or niqaab ‘deletes a woman’s identity from society.‘ (I must say on this point, I am inclined to agree.) This is a far cry from the collective attitude of the militant plaque wielding so-called feminists who have been screeching about supposed equality during several anti-Trump protests earlier this year, amongst whom the general consensus is that face coverings and headscarves denote liberty and the empowerment of women. Because nothing quite says equality like a woman feeling obliged to hide her face in public…Right?

But there’s a practical side to the argument as well. UKIP has pointed out that most workplaces do not allow face coverings, meaning that women who wear the full face veil are unlikely to be considered for employment, thus further alienating them from society. Another way UKIP has justified the move is to point out the very serious threat to security that face coverings present. How are we to know, for example, if the person passing through customs at an airport is who they claim to be on their passport? Recently a friend of mine expressed his incredulity at having witnessed two women in full face veils pass through a security check in Abu Dabi, no questions asked, whilst he and his friend had to stand for a good 30 seconds whilst the same member of staff scrutinized their passports before allowing them to proceed. Indeed, we currently have an unfair setup when it comes to face coverings. A man is required to remove his motorcycle helmet to enter a shop, and yet if the same rule were to be applied to a burqa clad woman, the mainstream media (MSM) would be in uproar. People argue that wearing the burqa is in line with the religious freedoms we promote in this country, and yet, there is no mention in the Q’uran of women needing to cover their faces.

Despite all the points in favour of the proposed burqa ban, I must admit it leaves me feeling somewhat uneasy when I consider the possible ramifications. For starters, whether or not the decision to cover their faces is one they have made themselves, won’t women simply be driven indoors when this ban comes into force? If a Muslim family believe strongly, as part of their culture, that a woman should not show anything but her eyes in public, then the risk is that the women in these families will become prisoners in their own homes. It goes without saying that this would mean some Muslim women would have absolutely no chance of integrating into society, as they wouldn’t be part of it at all. It reminds me of the ‘burquni’ incident in France, when a Muslim woman was forced by two police officers to remove part of her swimsuit on the beach, because the country had decided that, in light or recent terror attacks, they must take steps towards Muslim integration as a way of tackling the issue. Now, this bothered me on three levels: firstly, that poor woman, regardless of her race, religion or cultural leanings should not, under any circumstances have had to face the humiliation of essentially stripping in front of two police officers and goodness knows how many other beach-goers. Secondly, wasn’t this woman, by being at the beach in the first place and mixing with the general public, integrating into society? She clearly felt the need to dress as modestly as possible, but she wanted to take part in French culture, so she wore something that would allow her to do just that. The fact that she was essentially punished for it is abhorrent. And lastly, I found it laughable and in all honesty downright disgraceful that France’s answer to radical Islamic terrorism was to make a middle aged Muslim lady take off her waterproof headscarf. I suppose they felt they had to be seen to be doing something, and she was an easy target. I think this incident really called into question whether or not it is right that the government should dictate what people can and cannot wear. In terms of the Libertarian values that UKIP supposedly stands for, the notion of banning any form of clothing, Islamic or otherwise, goes against the grain.

I fully understand what my party is trying to do in introducing the integration agenda. Without doubt, we have a very real and very dangerous problem with radical Islam in Western Europe. It is now widely acknowledged that there are people in the UK and abroad who detest our way of life, and are plotting around the clock different horrific ways that they can carry out more and more atrocities on British soil. And let’s focus on those ‘home-grown’ terrorists for a moment: these are people who have lived in Britain all their lives. It is terrifying to think that we, as a country, have enabled them to fester in isolated communities; that they have been brought up with an irrational hatred towards the West and the desire to seek revenge for the government’s interference in countries like Syria and Iraq. To quote the only sensible thing David Cameron has ever said: ‘…under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, different cultures have been encouraged to live separate lives. We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.’

Of course, the likes of the Tories and Labour are able to identify these problems (problems which, I would point out, they have themselves created through irresponsible immigration policies amongst other failings), but their solution is to simply reel off vacuous sound bites here and there, with no real plan in place to tackle the issue, and a genuine fear that they might upset the multicultural apple-cart should they dare to act upon their words. What UKIP have tried to do in their integration agenda, which also addresses the issues of FGM, non-stun halal slaughter and faith schools, is bravely and boldly lay out the clear changes they would implement in order to achieve their goal of a fully integrated United Kingdom. But is banning the burqa part of the answer? Will we see oppressed women given a new lease of life, and an instant change in the dynamics of these isolated communities? Would it be a fundamental step towards tackling the issue of Islamic terrorism? Or would we be in fact taking a catastrophic step backwards, creating a society where a significant proportion of Muslim women lose the only means they have to mix with the outside world?

I think it’s wrong that women feel obliged, let alone forced, to cover their faces. I’m not a fan of the burqa.

But I’m not sure banning it is the way to go.

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