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A key part of the impetus for this move came from the decision of the European Court of Human Rights this month to uphold the ban instituted by the French Government in 2010 on all face coverings in public. Supported by lawyers from Birmingham, a 24-year-old French woman of Pakistani origin took her well-funded case to the ECHR, claiming that the ban was a violation of her — and note the sequence — religious, cultural and personal rights.
On every level, this questionable appeal relied on distortions and untruths. Thankfully her case was thrown out, but her arguments illustrate the chronic weakness of any suggestion that we must allow the burka to be worn in public. First, there is no religious requirement on Muslims to don the burka; second, the burka is not a feature of Pakistani culture, where 90 per cent of women do not wear it; third, there is no unqualified human right to wear whatever we want in public. In every developed society, personal freedoms have to take account of wider social mores.
The French ban has proved to be legally sound as well as sensible. I have long believed that the same measure should be introduced here in the UK to prevent community separatism and social apartheid. And, like the ECHR, I see no basis for the pretence that there is any religious sanction for the burka. The wearing of the face mask is a custom originating in ancient Persia and Byzantium, more than 1,000 years before the birth of Islam. It was upheld by male aristocrats because of social snobbery rather than religion, since they did not want their womenfolk — wives, daughters, sisters or mothers — to be seen by the peasantry.