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Sweden says no to veil ban

Published: 18/01/2012 06:12:04 PM GMT
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Sweden’s education agency on Monday 16 Jan rejected a blanket ban on veils but said that teachers had in some situations the right to ban students from wearing them. A general ban on Islamic garments such as the full-face niqab or full-body burqa could be considered a violation of religious freedom, the National Agency for Education said. The agency had been asked to clarify its guidelines on in which situations it was possible to ban facial coverings.Teachers in Swedish schools can, in certain situations, prohibit students from wearing Islamic veils that reveal only their eyes. The ban covers clothing that could hinder interaction between students and teachers or which could pose a specific risk, such as in a laboratory. However, a general ban on headscarves isn't possible.Teachers will have the power to decide whether or not to require students remove their headscarves, although schools should attempt to be as accommodating as possible, according to updated guidelines issued by the Swedish National Agency for Education.  The guidance comes in response to a 2009 case in which two women sued an adult education centre in Spanga north of Stockholm after they were banned from class for wearing niqabs.Clear violationIn December 2010, Sweden's Equality Ombudsman ruled that the ban amounted to a violation of Sweden’s anti-discrimination laws, after which the schools agency decided to review previous guidelines regarding the wearing of headscarves in Swedish schools.Education minister Jan Björklund welcomed the education agency's clarification. “It gives precisely the sort of room to maneuver that schools need. Teachers can prohibit veils that cover most of the face, if it inhibits contact and interaction in the classroom,” he told the TT news agency. “Classroom lectures are interplay between people, and in many situations, such interactions require that you can see each others' faces.”Uncertainty remainsAccording to Björklund, there has been uncertainty regarding the wearing of Islamic veils in Swedish schools ever since the ombudsman's 2010 ruling. “But now you could say that things have been cleared up and that the National Agency for Education has maintained its original position, going against the ombudsman,” said Björklund.However, the Left Party's education policy spokesperson Rossana Dinamarca criticized the agency's decision. “This is a bad ruling, which means that it will be up to each individual teacher to determine if you have the right to an education or not. That's a basic right for everyone, regardless of which religious background you have,” she told TT.The updated guidelines are meant primarily for high schools and adult education centers, but can be tailored for use in primary schools when appropriate, although the education agency points out that “it's important to respect compulsory school attendance and the right to an education”.The niqab issue in Europe is a symptom of a greater ailment afflicting various Western societies Niqab is now banned in France,Holland, Belgum and Australia. Fear not of the niqab (also called burqa) itself, but what the veil has come to symbolize, namely Islam.If current institutional intolerance toward Muslims continues, they will contribute to the gradual erosion of the very Western values that Maher holds so dear. By denying Muslims the right to practice their faith freely, the West has turned its back on the very French motto "liberty, equality, and fraternity."