Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, is under pressure to apologise for the use of Islamophobic language in his most recent Daily Telegraph column. In reference to Denmark’s decision to fine Muslims for wearing niqabs and burqas in public, Mr Johnson described the traditional Islamic clothing as “weird” and “ridiculous” and likened women who wear it to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”. A spokesperson for the prime minister, Theresa May, said on Monday: “The longstanding government position on this is clear – we do not support a ban on wearing of the veil in public.
“Such a prescriptive approach would be out of keeping with British values such as religious intolerance and gender equality.”
This is also the official line in the United States, despite President Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and efforts in Republican-dominated states to introduce a ban.
Clothing restrictions remain a contentious issue around the world, however, with the need to balance freedom of expression often sitting uneasily alongside security concerns and opposition to the perceived oppression of women.
In Denmark, the new legislation targets all items of clothing that completely obscure the face and the country’s government insists it is not intended to place restrictions solely on Muslims.
But critics argue the law does not apply to other faiths: Sikh turbans and Jewish kippahs are not subject to the same 1,000 Danish krone (£118) fine.
Other Islamic headscarves, including the hijab, al-amira, shayla, khimar and chador, are also exempt, because they do not conceal the wearer’s face, only their hair.
Similar full-face veil bans have been enforced in France and Belgium since 2011 and Austria since 2017, brought in to ensure citizens could be clearly identified on the street as part of enhanced anti-terror measures. However, the moves have been welcomed by far-right, Islamophobic and anti-immigration groups in those countries. Read more
Related news: Boris Johnson under fire for comparing niqab-wearing women to ‘letter boxes’. Read more