We've been back in the UK for 10 days. 10 days in which we have been living again in a country that isn't predominantly Muslim. 10 days in which I haven't been woken for the call to prayer by the mosque over the road. So why is it that in the last 10 days I've seen more fully veiled women here than I saw in 2 years in Bosnia?
Women in headscarves and loose fitting clothes are a common sight in Bosnia, and they often look amazing, really elegant and very stylish. Bosnia is a country where Islam is widely practiced, yet virtually no woman feels that they should be fully covered. In two years I saw 2 such women, and from the expressions of those around me I could tell that I wasn't the only one to find them unusual.
I like to think that I'm a tolerant person. I do believe that people should be able to wear whatever they want to. But if I'm being really honest with myself I find that I do have a problem with women being fully covered. It makes me very uncomfortable, I don't like it. I can't quite pinpoint what it is that I don't like. Is it that I feel the women are being discriminated against for having to wear it? Or that I just can't trust someone if I can't see their face? I'm not sure, I haven't decided yet. But in my unease I find more discomfort that I appear to be agreeing with the extremist political parties who preach intolerance.
Countries like France are considering bringing in a ban on the full veil in public places. On the one hand I oppose it, it affects peoples ability to practice their religion as they wish too and it curtails their freedom to dress themselves as they wish. Vince Cable's argument on Question Time used to defend South Park's various highly insulting sketches is applicable; the right to freedom of speech for everyone must come before the rights of smaller groups not to be offended. So the rights of religious groups to dress as they wish should come before my discomfort at what they choose to wear.
But then I think that many devout Muslims in Bosnia do not feel the need to cover their women in order to practice their religion and at a very basic level don't really understand why others can't practice their religion in the same way, particularly when living in Europe. But I am interested to know what other people think. Do you feel comfortable seeing fully covered women in public? What do you think about a ban on the full veil in public places?