burkaFollowing the comments made by Jeremy Browne last week about Muslim women who wear ‘the veil’, a number of the independent members of the Cross-Government Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred sent a letter to him raising our concerns about the way the matter was being handled. The text of the letter is reproduced below.

As yet, there has been no reply.

Dear Minister,

RE: Reporting in the Telegraph, 17/09/13

We are writing to you as Independent members of the Cross Departmental Government Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred working in partnership with senior members of the government and we have recently completed a successful joint work programme and we are in the process of developing a new work plan for the next 12 months. The comments attributed to you regarding the ‘Niqab’ which have been widely reported in various media will have a major impact on the work of the Group. We would like to state the following points in relation to statements reported in press sources:

– Discussions on the Niqab have been on-going for over a decade now and linked to community cohesion and integration policy agendas, as well as newspaper headlines which have done nothing to further understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. It is therefore with some trepidation that we hear about your call for a further social debate, given the length of time these discussions have been on-going.

– We acknowledge your point that such discussions should not be left to those with extreme views and this position is laudable, however, there are some potential dangers that are associated with such a position. Data from the TELL MAMA project indicate that women who wear the Hijab (religious head-covering) and the Niqab (the face veil), are more likely to suffer sustained anti-Muslim incidents and more aggressive incidents. Many veiled victims have stated that whenever there are national or international debates around the Niqab, they feel a greater sense of fear and insecurity and many feel that these debates increase the chances of them suffering anti-Muslim prejudiced incidents.

– The numbers of young people wearing the Niqab are extremely small and suggesting that a national debate is required exacerbates the real sense and proportionality of the issue.

– Qualitative research has also highlighted the fact that focusing on symbols of identity produce reactions within some who use those symbols as a form of ‘resistance’ to what they see as state intervention against their personal rights.

In light of your comments and given that they impact on our work, we would be grateful for a meeting at your earliest convenience so that we can discuss some of these matters.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Allen (the letter was also signed by other members of the Cross Government Working Group)

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