Prohibiting the niqab?: A critical examination of Western attitudes towards the Islamic veil and its relationship with law in the United Kingdom and France
The central argument of this thesis maintains that the reasons why Muslim women elect to veil various parts of their bodies are not clear-cut or homogenous, but instead cover a spectrum of religious convictions, social motivation, and cultural impetus. It is therefore possible to argue that the West’s arguments for, and justifications of, the prohibition of veiling lack universal validity. The thesis will explore and consider some of the reasons for veiling offered by Muslim women, with reference to recent case law, academic debate, published anecdotes and blogs. Additionally, it will offer detailed examinations of recent legal developments and the present socio-legal position in both the UK and France. The author identified these neighbouring jurisdictions, both with growing Muslim populations, as having some noteworthy contrasts in their approaches to the Islamic veil, presumably brought about in part by their differing constitutions: whilst France banned the wearing of face veils in 2011, the UK is yet to follow suit despite pressure from certain political organisations and their supporters. In particular, the in-depth exploration of the UK cases will illustrate some of the difficulties the UK legal system has encountered with disputes over the wearing of religious items, and Islamic garments in particular. Testing of the validity of the thesis will be made through a comparison and critical analysis of these findings and of the reasoning offered by the legislatures of the UK and France for their respective positions on veiling.\ud \ud The thesis further argues that the prohibition of veiling is problematic and undesirable in twenty-first century Europe, unnecessary in democratic societies, serves to polarise (or further polarise) Western and Muslim populations, and is harmful to the rights and interests of Muslim women. A critical analysis of case law, academic commentary, and media reporting will illustrate that such prohibitions have served to exacerbate tensions between Western and Muslim populations and promote a lack of tolerance and understanding of veiling among Westerners. This will further demonstrate the thesis that prohibition of veiling without a full understanding of the practice is highly inadvisable in our increasingly multicultural society.
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