Nuns, too, were once suspected of being agents of a foreign power
Does the above image offend you? Do you believe that there is no place in our country for people who cover themselves so thoroughly? Do you fret, perhaps, that the women in the picture have been brainwashed into accepting an oppressive belief-system?
Let’s try a little experiment. When we discuss the hijab, let’s think of it as a traditional coif and habit. Are we really saying that in this country, where we have traditionally lifted the freedom of the individual above the power of the collective, the state should tell us what we’re allowed to wear?
Freedom includes the right of free association. Societies and institutions should be allowed to set any membership obligations they please. Schools should be entirely free to demand uniforms, employers to impose dress codes. If a shopping centre wants to ban hoodies or niqabs – or crosses or yarmulkes, come to that, if it’s mad enough to want to turn customers away – that is its right. But British ministers do not tell their people how to dress. This is something, I’m pleased to say, that differentiates us from Iran or Saudi Arabia or France.