In a follow-up to our recent story (France to ban burqa) about the move across Europe to ban the full-face Islamic veil, the burqa, from public spaces, there have been some developments, with a clear message coming from the British government. Despite the most recent poll, which showed that 67% of British voters want a burqa ban, the British government says it will not be following France's lead.
Britain's Immigration Minister Damian Green said forbidding women in the UK from wearing certain clothing would be "rather un-British". He said such a law would run contrary to the conventions of a "tolerant and mutually respectful society".
In an interview with the Telegraph newspaper, he said it would be "undesirable" for Westminster to vote on a burka ban, and that there was no prospect of the coalition government proposing such a bill. But his comments will upset some in the British community.
Meanwhile, though wearing of the burqa is not forbidden in Morocco or other moderate Muslim countries, there are some surprising moves. Of particular interest is Syria, where around 1200 teachers who wear burqas have been moved out of the classrooms and given other jobs that do not bring them into contact with students.
Full-face veils, or niqabs, symbolise a conservatism that, many moderate Muslims and minority groups here say, is not in keeping with local tradition.
Most of Syria’s Muslim women wear open-faced headscarves – frequently white – a stark contrast from the all-enveloping black niqab. But the niqab has become increasingly common, particularly in the northern city of Aleppo, fuelling concerns that ultra-conservative interpretations of Islam are spreading.
Now the ban has been extended. According to news reports "Minister of Higher Education, Ghyath Barakat, has given his directives that women wearing niqab would not be allowed to enter the Syrian universities,"
"The Minister has totally rejected this phenomena which contradicts with the academic values and traditional morals and ethics of the Syrian society," one source told CBS News, on condition his name would not be used.
"We will not leave our daughters a prey for extremist thoughts. The Syrians have always shown through history their awareness, understanding and the ability for confronting those bad habits," the source quoted Barakat, the Syrian Minister, as telling his top assistants.
The ban, which was not made public in state-run media, does not affect the hijab, or headscarf, which is favored by the vast majority of veiled Syrian women.
(Photo credit: Louai Beshara)
According to commentators, the partial ban on burqas in Syria may be a sign that the authorities are trying to reign in hardline Islamic sentiments.
The first clear sign of renewed government action against hardline sentiments came at the end of 2008, when tight new regulations were imposed on private Islamic schools. Those measures were introduced after a deadly bombing in Damascus was traced to a private Islamic institute in the city, one described by a former student as a haven of extremist doctrine.