Sunday 30 April 2017

Burka ban? What burka ban?

The media have been falling over themselves to condemn UKIP's proposed burka ban. There's just one problem: it's not a burka ban.

The party revealed its integration policy a few days ago which called for a ban on covering your face in public, mandatory checks for FGM on at-risk girls, an end to Sharia courts, abolishing postal voting on demand and making the "honour" in honour killings and the race or religion of grooming gangs (if different to the victims) an aggravating factor.

The policy that has caused most controversy is the proposed ban on covering your face in public. Clearly the burka is one of the face coverings that would be affected by such a ban but so too would masks, scarves and bandannas that are a common sight at violent protests. The reason for the proposed ban is partly to promote integration and partly for security reasons. Only this week a burka-wearing terrorist suspect was shot by police during a raid. Face coverings are banned in Austria, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and in some parts of Denmark, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Spain. UKIP's policy would require everyone to ensure that their faces can be seen in public.

Female Genital Mutilation has been illegal in the UK since 1987 yet there has been just one attempted prosecution and that failed because the doctor in question hadn't actually performed the FGM. In France girls who are at risk of FGM are checked by doctors to ensure they haven't been mutilated. The zero tolerance approach in France has seen more than 100 people go to prison for mutilating girls and a small number of prosecutions have also been secured in the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark. UKIP's policy would not only introduce medical checks for at risk girls but it would place a legal obligation on all adults report FGM if they are aware of it and introduce a presumption of prosecution of parents, putting an end to the unacceptable blind eye the police turn to it.

Sharia courts and tribunals have no place in our legal system. They are discriminatory toward women and undermine the principle of us all being equal before the law. Despite many attempts by politicians and academics to portray Sharia courts as benign organisations advising the faithful on religious matters, they have remained stubbornly problematic and a government report is due to be published this year on the misuse of Sharia courts and their incompatibility with English law.

Postal voting on demand has caused a fraud epidemic that seriously undermines the democratic process and it nearly always involves Muslim communities and is usually for the benefit of the Labour Party. There have been numerous prosecutions for postal vote fraud, including the infamous Lutfur Rahman seeing his mayoralty of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets annulled by a special election court and his party banned. People involved in elections all over the country will have their own stories of blatant postal vote fraud yet the system remains open to abuse. UKIP's policy is to return to the previous system of only issuing postal votes to those who need them because they are unable to attend a polling station.

Between 2010 and 2014 there were 11,000 "honour crimes" reported to the police in the UK and an estimated 12-15 "honour killings" every year. Yet when prosecutions are pursued the fact that it has been done in the name of religion has no bearing on the punishment. Sexual grooming of young girls is an increasing problem and again, one that most commonly involves Muslim communities but disproportionately targets young white girls as their victims. UKIP's policy would require the courts to treat the racial and/or religious aspect of these crimes as an aggravating factor and increase the punishments accordingly.

Back in 2011 an army recruitment video was broadcast on TV showing an irate man facing up to a soldier. He calms down when the soldier removes his sunglasses because "army officers worldwide have learnt that eye contact is crucial in gaining trust".

Allowing the facial covering policy to be wrongly portrayed as a ban on the burka was clumsy and unhelpful. People should be free to wear what they choose but it is sometimes necessary to curtail such liberties when the risk of domestic and international terrorism is so high. Whether there should even be such a thing as an "integration policy" rather than rolling these rather sensible policies into more conventional policy areas like communities and local government or justice and home affairs is debatable. It certainly doesn't need to be a flagship policy in a snap general election when there is next to no time to correct the mistruths and deliberate misrepresentations before polling day. But despite all that, they are (on the whole) sensible policies designed to make the country safer and to promote community cohesion.