Freedom of expression, subject to particular limitations, in all democratic societies is guaranteed to all citizens. Democratic values of human dignity and equality are affirmed by such freedoms, which we hold dearly. It is generally accepted in our country that while we exercise these freedoms, none of us should extend them to advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm. Despite these clear prescriptions in terms of the Constitution, there are those who see themselves towering supreme above the Constitution; who prescribe and dictate to society the nature of public discourse and the direction it should take in all matters relating to religion and culture. These people attempt to silence others who wish express an uncomfortable view on matters they have decided not to be open to discussion.

The president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, caused an uproar when delivering a speech at the Palace of Versailles recently. He intimated that the Islamic garment for women, the burka, is unacceptable and must be banned from France. He said: "We cannot accept in our country women imprisoned behind netting, cut off from any social life, deprived of any identity … This is not the idea the French republic has of a woman's dignity … The burka is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience … It will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic."

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) immediately responded as expected and expressed their disgust at the view expressed by Sarkozy. Dr Reefat Drabu of the MCB said: "It is patronising and offensive to suggest that Muslim women wear the burka because their male partners or guardians pressure them to do so … Instead of taking a lead in promoting harmony and social cohesion amongst its people, the French president appears to be initiating a policy which is set to create fear and misunderstanding and may lead to Islamophobic reaction not just in France, but in the rest of Europe also."

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