Britain has ruled out a French-style ban on wearing burqa saying that it would be ``un-British’’ and contrary to the practices of a ``tolerant and mutually respectful society’’.
Rejecting calls for restrictions on the lines of those proposed in France, Belgium and several other European countries, the Conservative Immigration Minister Damian Green said Britain had a long tradition of tolerance and telling people what or what not to wear would be ``undesirable’’.
``I stand personally on the feeling that telling people what they can and can’t wear, if they’re just walking down the street, is a rather un-British thing to do. We’re a tolerant and mutually respectful society,’’ Mr Green said in an interview to The Sunday Telegraph.
In remarks that are not likely to go down well in Paris, he suggested that the proposed French ban was politically-driven, pointing out that there were few women in France who actually wore burqa.
``I think very few women in France actually wear the burqa. They (the French Parliament) are doing it for demonstration effects,’’ he said. He also pointed out that the French political culture was very different in that it was an ``aggressively secular state’’ where even wearing crucifixes in schools was banned. Britain, on the other hand, had state-funded faith schools.
Mr Green’s remarks came as an opinion poll showed that some 67 per cent of Britons favoured restrictions on wearing burqa in public places, and a Conservative MP, Philip Hollobone, tabled a private members’ bill in the House of Commons calling for a ban. He also said that he would not meet his Muslim constituents who insisted on wearing burqa.
Rather unusually even the viscerally anti-European UK Independence Party (UKIP) wants Britain to follow the lead of other European Union countries which have decided to ban burqa.
The Pakistan-born Michael Nazir Ali, a former bishop, said he was against an outright ban but favoured curbs to ensure that wearing burqa did not compromise public or personal safety. The right to personal belief had to be balanced against ``other considerations of the common good and public order,’’ he said recalling that the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s pre-eminent theological institute of Sunni Islam, the late Dr Tantawi famously made his women students remove their veils in the class room. British liberals echoed Muslim groups in calling the anti-burqa campaign Islamophobic.