On the 26th January 2016, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, further contributed to the systematic attempts by the British Government to ‘radicalise’ the British society against Islam, this time by accentuating the decade old Niqab debate. From the onset, it would be politically imprudent to view his comments in isolation of the general ideological onslaught that is taking place against Islam and Muslims. Wilshaw, like his comrades, is deliberately using futile arguments – even primary school children could refute – to engineer a reformation of Islam.
His argument for backing the marking down of institutions where students/teachers wear the Niqab is that the veil could hinder “positive social interaction.” This comes days after Cameron threatened non-English speaking Muslim women that failing to learn English could affect spousal visas and juxtaposed the proposals with resisting extremism. In addition to this, the out-of-school registration proposals are designed to root out normative Islamic beliefs and practises in Mosque/Madrassas under the smokescreen of the counter-extremism strategy. Thus, Sir Michael Wilshaw’s remarks about the Niqab cannot possibly be viewed in isolation of the general anti-Islamic environment.
The Niqab Debate: A hindrance to communication or a political football?
Whilst Islamic Schools are topping education league tables, as many as one and a half million children will have finished primary school unable to read adequately if the 2025 literacy target is missed based upon a report by ‘Save the children’. Surely, the Chief Inspector should be focusing on the 17% of school leavers that are functionally illiterate rather than peddling narratives that are based upon absolutely no evidence.
Dr Andrew Clapham, a senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University said: “Ofsted’s threat to penalise institutions where the Muslim veil is worn has no basis in research. There is no credible evidence base to suggest that “wearing a piece of clothing on one’s head has an impact on intellectual or academic ability”.
“Moreover, the veil is no more or less physically inhibiting than a whole range of other headwear. Consequently, it appears bemusing that this piece of clothing should be signalled specifically as having a hindrance on learning. To claim that the veil, as Sir Michael Wilshaw the Chief Inspector suggests, can impact negatively on “positive social interactions” is also lacking a basis in research.
“Penalising an institution because of a piece of clothing raises a whole range of questions which appear beyond the remit of the school inspectorate. If Ofsted is to pursue this initiative, then empirical evidence should be analysed prior to making such a policy decision.”
Just like the argument that Muslim women who cannot speak English are more susceptible to cultivate non-assimilative attitudes for children and the proposals to register Madrassas on the basis that radicalisation takes place in Madrassas, the idea that the Niqab impedes “positive social interaction” also lacks any form of credible evidence or academic enquiry. Politicians and Ministers are literally spouting anti-Islamic rhetoric and gradually infecting the wider society to be suspicious of Islam and paint Muslims as misogynistic ‘extremists’ with a propensity for violence.
Of course, the fact that Muslim women continue to wear the Niqab/Headscarf and Jilbab confidently in the west, is indicative of their aversion to the British liberal conception of women and the failure of Britain to convince Muslim women to abandon their beliefs. Instead of focusing on real problems, Ofsted is willing to compromise its own remit and be politicised at the behest of the atmosphere the government has created. A government that continuously pushes its values across the globe yet contradicts them on its own doorstep with regards to the Muslim community. It was only a matter of time before the cracks of secular liberalism were clear for all to see.