There is always a conflict over the limits of freedom, even in matters of dress. We take such limits seriously. A man who ran out stark naked in the street would be sure to be apprehended more quickly than if he were breaking into a car. But the opposite extreme, covering up the body so that practically no part of it can be seen, strikes the vast majority of us as sinister and demeaning. When freedom becomes licence (and covering the entire body in public is as licentious in its way as complete nakedness), it cannot long survive.

A college in Birmingham had long forbidden students to wear the niqab (a cloth covering the face apart from the eyes) on its campus but, accused by a student of "discrimination" and under pressure from an electronic petition with 9,000 signatories and the threat of a demonstration with every potential for violence of a very nasty kind, the college has paid its Danegeld and given in to the demand to reverse its ban. At more or less the same time, a court in London has allowed an accused to appear in the dock in this tent-like form of attire.

Was the college's ban justified in the first place? Is its reversal a triumph for individual liberty and the protection of our fundamental human rights, as the organiser of the electronic petition, the constant activist Aaron Kiely, alleged? Or is it, on the contrary, the triumph of a regressive view of human existence whose adherents use the rights and protections of a liberal society to destroy those very rights and protections, with the ultimate aim of imposing an intolerant vision on the world? Is the reversal a triumph for grassroots democracy, or for intimidation and religious thuggery? Is Aaron Kiely a defender of a downtrodden religious minority or, on the contrary, the useful idiot of an aspiring totalitarianism?

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