To ban or not to ban? That is the question being asked across the West regarding Islamic veils that cover the face. One of the more active fronts of this battle: college and university campuses.
Daniel Pipes recently broke the news that a dean at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) had alerted students on December 8 about a revised identification policy going into effect on January 1. Among the updated provisions:
For reasons of safety and security, all students must be readily identifiable while they are on campus and/or engaged in required off-campus activities, including internships and clinical rotations. Therefore, any head covering that obscures a student's face may not be worn, either on campus or at clinical sites, except when required for medical reasons.
Perhaps the many crimes and terrorist attacks carried out by women and men dressed in burqas or niqabs sparked the reassessment. Or maybe it was the case of 2008 MCPHS graduate Tarek Mehanna, charged with plotting "violent jihad" against the U.S. Regardless, CAIR would have none of this, announcing on January 6 that it was filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that the rule "negatively impacts the religious rights" of Muslims. Fearful MCPHS dhimmis caved a day later, exempting Islamic veils from the policy.
Several European institutes of higher education have grappled with similar issues in recent months, coming down on different sides of the debate and citing different bits of reasoning:
- Burnley College in Lancashire, England, prevented a Muslim woman from enrolling because she wears a niqab. "All members of the college community should be identifiable at all times when in the college," the principal said, adding that unimpeded communication with students aids the learning process.
- Though its rigid dress code "is strictly enforced at ceremonies, and if you do not observe it, you may not be permitted to graduate on a particular occasion," Cambridge University stated that exceptions can be made for religious attire, up to and including niqabs and burqas. (Note the Daily Mail's helpful illustration.) They are also welcome in lectures.
- New regulations at Sweden's University of Gothenburg allow professors to set dress codes in their classrooms. According to SR International, "There are situations in which the face of a student has to be uncovered in order to enable lecturers and the other students to see a person's mimic, explained Pia Götebo Johannesson of the university."
Even a court in Egypt has upheld university bans on the niqab for examinations, arguing that schools must guard against crafty students disguising themselves as each other.
Pipes asserts that "it's just a matter of time before this [type of prohibition] becomes accepted fact" on U.S. campuses and beyond. But when veils are treated with more common sense in Egypt than they are in Massachusetts, one cannot be so sure.