UKIP’s burqa ban is desperate and daft

What do you do if your party is on the ropes? For UKIP, a party hurtling towards irrelevance, the solution is to announce a controversial, outrage-inducing policy: a burqa ban, in this case.

‘[Firstly] we have a heightened security risk at the moment and for CCTV to be effective you need to see people’s faces’, said Paul Nuttall, UKIP’s leader, on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show. ‘Secondly, there’s the issue of integration’, he continued, ‘I don’t believe you can integrate fully and enjoy the fruits of British society if you can’t see people’s faces’.

Putting aside Nuttall’s illiberal desire for increased CCTV, his attempt to present a burqa ban as an aid to integration is absurd. Why would restricting a woman’s civil liberties make her feel more integrated into British society? Surely she would feel more estranged from British society, oppressed even. No matter how alien it may seem to most people in the UK that a woman would want to cover her face in public, cultural attitudes at odds with mainstream attitudes are not changed by the intervention of the law.

If arguing that criminalising burqa-wearers makes for a well integrated society wasn’t mad enough, Nuttall has also attempted to frame the burqa ban in terms of women’s equality. Hence Nuttall announced UKIP’s intention to campaign for gender equality, starting with a ban on burqas, on International Women’s Day in March. He said that UKIP is seeking ‘to protect genuine choice for those that feel pressure to wear a face veil…’. Or, in other words, UKIP is freeing women by, er, limiting their freedom of choice.

Many people are rightly critical of burqas because they are a sign that men and women are to be treated differently. They suggest that while it’s okay for men to be seen in public, it’s not okay for women. But being critical of a cultural or religious practice is wildly different from banning it outright. In calling for a burqa ban, UKIP is actually disempowering the potential agents of change; namely, women. Banning women from making personal decisions about dress is never going to wash as a step towards gender equality because it assumes women are incapable of changing things for themselves.

But Nuttall’s idiotic plans can hardly be considered outlandish today. In fact, in a political climate where many are comfortable with state encroachment on civil liberties – whether that’s restrictions on what we can eat and drink or what we can say or tweet – calling for a ban on a certain type of clothing can appear perfectly acceptable. That UKIP is focusing on the burqa is a sign of its political ignorance, that it sees Muslim women as a threat to British society. But the illiberal drive – the desire to control what people wear and the personal choices they make – is completely in keeping with the policymaking tendencies of other political parties.

So let’s call UKIP out for this daft plan to hamper women’s freedom. But let’s not stop there. Every time a politician plans yet another encroachment on individual freedom, whether that’s the freedom to don a burqa or to criticise those who wear them, we must oppose them. As for UKIP, I don’t think many Muslim women should be worried – the likelihood of UKIP winning enough support to carry out a burqa ban is about as likely as Nuttall donning the veil himself.

Ella Whelan is assistant editor at spiked. Follow her on Twitter: @Ella_M_Whelan

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