Susan Williams contested Bolton West at the general election and responds here to Phillip Hollobone's proposal to ban the burqa.
During the course of my time as a parliamentary candidate in Bolton West, I debated on a number of occasions about the right to religious freedom and it has always been my view that this freedom is paramount in a fair and democratic society like ours. Whether that right means the freedom to say prayers, attend a faith school, wear a crucifix, a niqab or a burqa, it doesn’t matter - the right to religious freedom must not be undermined.
I fear that some of the sweeping statements made on the subject of the niqab and the burqa are actually thinly veiled (no pun intended) expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment and curtail the freedom of women in their choice to dress as they wish, despite claiming the contrary view. In stating that banning the burqa or niqab will empower women, it actually does just the opposite by dictating to them what they can and cannot wear. Phillip Hollobone MP, in his speech on the subject reported on ConHome this week, made such a contradictory assertion.
His view that the woman he encountered in the park dressed in full burqa did not want any normal human interaction with anyone else is pure speculation, as is the view that she wears the burqa because she finds our society objectionable. He said: "In my view and that of my constituents, the burqa is not an acceptable form of dress and banning it should be seriously considered". Was the woman he met in the park not one of his constituents?
I met plenty of women during the course of my candidacy who wore the niqab - they did so as a symbol of modesty and none of them that I met had been forced to do so. I am not trying to make the claim that all women who cover their faces do so of their own free will, because that would be to join the ranks of the sweeping statement, but to generalise that the covering of the face equals repression is wrong.