Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 22 July 2010

Should we ban the burka? For those of us in South West Devon this is a slightly academic argument because the chances of us seeing one walking through Plymstock Broadway anytime soon are remote. Ministers have suggested that it would be somehow un-British to ban it, but what do you think?
It depends surely upon the extent to which we should allow British citizens to retain elements of their religion and culture even though the rest of have legitimate concerns. In some cases, these decisions can be left to local policy makers. The recent decision to install a "squat" toilet at a shopping Mall in Rochdale did nothing for my pulse rate, but I assume that this was requested by a significant minority in that town and if you don't like it you simply don't use that facility.
The burka is different because it is paraded in plain view and creates a reaction in many people. The French Assembly has recently voted to ban it from their public life. Why should we not do the same? Some argue that we have to be tolerant of this harmless display of cultural diversity, others that the outfit oppresses women and should have no place in our society. But what if a woman genuinely chooses to wear it? We do not ban other forms of ridiculous clothing; a walk down Oxford Street at any time of day confirms that! I get the impression that Muslim women themselves are divided over this controversy.
Some extreme aspects of cultural diversity are already illegal: for example forced marriages, although sadly they still exist, and female genital mutilation, although we suspect that this too endures. Does the burka fit into these categories? It is not very British to tell people how to dress.
My starting point is: when in Rome do as the Romans do. We have not in the past placed sufficient demands on immigrant communities to integrate. Certainly we should insist that all British citizens speak reasonable English and know enough about our heritage to have some pride in it. But against this, cultural diversity has many positive dimensions in dance, song and cuisine.
So if this matter comes to a free vote in the House this year, what do you advise me to do? It is not a priority, but I can imagine a private members bill tackling this delicate subject and a decision will have to be made. Help please.

posted by Gary @ 11:10