Monday, January 22, 2007

Children and the Niqab

Mehrabian's classic study argued that in many common conversations 55% of communication is through body language; facial expression is by far the most important form of body language. Think about how much it would harm someone's interests to excise their vocal chords; wearing the Niqab has a similar effect on someone's ability to conduct social conversation although it is probably less significant in technical discussion. The importance of facial expression is illustrated by the incredible difficulties burn victims who lose the ability to smile face; it is instantly massively harder to set people at their ease or tell anything approaching a good joke and their relationships often suffer tragically.

Now, as adults people have a certain liberty to hurt their own interests in this way. Most of the harm to someone wearing the Niqab will be felt by themselves so there is little public good case to justify state intervention although Jack Straw was right to note that it undoubtedly harms race relations and others were right to argue that it was a very serious abuse of those pressured to wear it. However, the idea that a fourteen year old is able to make this choice is absurd and it is clearly a decision made by her parents. Now, while parental choice and authority is important we do take steps, such as the imposition of formal education, in order to ensure that parents cannot make their children unable to interact in mainstream society.

Iain Dale reported on Saturday that a School in Buckinghamshire is to face a legal challenge to its decision to prevent a student wearing the Niqab to school in contravention of its uniform policy. Iain focussed, in his article, upon the importance to discipline of the school's uniform being maintained but I think that it is, perhaps, more important that we defend this child's chance to grow up able to engage with those around her. While a ban on children wearing the Niqab might be too controversial not allowing it in school seems a fine way of ensuring that the child does at least have experience, and develops confidence, in engaging with those around her without the profound separation of hiding away her smile.

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