Terrorism suspect Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed went on the run on Friday, having employed the banal – and not very original – subterfuge of donning a burqa as a disguise. Now the British public is asking [in Parliament and via the popular press] whether this trickery provides demonstrable proof that an anti-burqa law is necessary in the United Kingdom.
My experience of researching both women's issues among Muslim women in Europe and counter-terrorism laws affecting Muslim communities in Britain tells me that an anti-burqa law would be ineffective and in fact counter-productive. It would go against this country's usually principled attitude towards human rights and freedom of expression and would contribute to alienating and upsetting parts of the Muslim population, both in this country and abroad. In addition this would play well into the propaganda of terrorist groups arguing that "Muslims are mistreated and discriminated against" and should therefore distance themselves from the "evil infidels".
On the other hand, increased "stop and search" tactics to find the suspect would probably be appropriate given these particular circumstances. And these searches, alas, will have to include innocent individuals who have chosen to wear burqas and niqabs. Obviously, there is no guarantee that Mohammad Ahmed kept his garb on after fleeing, but with the benefit of doubt the police has to do its job thoroughly and cannot leave paths unchartered.