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Back Activities Alert Archive URGENT ALERT: British Liberal Democrat MP supports the French hijab ban

URGENT ALERT: British Liberal Democrat MP supports the French hijab ban

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Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Dr. Evan Harris supports the French government's decision to ban religious symbols in states schools

Islamic Human Rights Commission

30th January 2004

URGENT ALERT: British Liberal Democrat MP supports the French hijab ban

1. Background
2. Suggested Action

1. Background

Participating on a BBC Radio Five Live discussion on 29th January, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Dr. Evan Harris stated that he supported the French government's decision to ban religious symbols in states schools.

2. Suggested Action

IHRC suggests campaigners contact the Liberal Democrat Leader Rt. Hon. Charles Kennedy MP asking him to take immediate action against Evan Harris for supporting a ban that will violate many basic rights, and to clearly state that the Liberal Democrats oppose such a policy. A copy of IHRC's open letter to Charles Kennedy is pasted below:


Rt. Hon. Charles Kennedy MP
House of Commons

30th January 2004

Dear Mr. Kennedy,

Re: Discriminatory opinions expressed by Dr. Evan Harris MP

We write further to a radio debate yesterday in which your MP Dr. Evan Harris took part on Radio Five Live. The Chairman of IHRC, Massoud Shadjareh (one of the undersigned) also participated in this discussion.

We are deeply concerned at the opinions expressed by Dr. Harris which we feel can only be described as abhorrently prejudiced.

Dr. Harris has strongly supported the French government's decision to ban 'religious symbols' in state schools. Based on his enthusiastic support for this policy one assumes that he would like to see such a ban enforced in the UK also. Such a ban as will be enacted in France disproportionately affects Muslim women and Sikh men in that it targets a religiously mandated way of dress for both of them. In this country such a ban would violate existing race relations law that already protect Sikh schoolboys and indeed Jewish schoolboys from racial harassment. This latter principle is one which organisations like ours but also the Runnymede Trust and many others have argued should be extended to cover all religious groups. We are sure that you are aware of these issues already.

The French ban is a clear violation of basic human rights. In the case of Muslim women, for whom it has been spuriously argued this will be a way of combating gender discrimination, it will violate their ECHR rights to an education, subsequently it will impinge on their right to work and obviously it prevents them from the free expression of their religious beliefs. This will either force Muslim women to the margins of French society or force them to violate their own principles to enjoy what should be their basic rights to education and work.

You may be unaware that the proposed ban in France has resulted in an upsurge of anti-Muslim discrimination. Currently Muslim women will be refused a civil marriage ceremony in Paris unless they remove their scarves, hospitals and clinics are refusing to treat Muslim women unless they do likewise. Other women have been denied access to shops and banks. Is this what the Liberal Democrats wish to see in the UK? Certainly based on his remarks, Dr. Harris sees little wrong with this scenario.

Having just asked Jenny Tonge MP to step down from her front bench position for expressing remarks much less controversial than those expressed by some Israeli lawyers like Lea Tsemel or academics such as Michael Neumann, we trust that given the opposition that Dr. Harris has evidenced to universal human rights and the enjoyment of basic rights by religious groups that he will be reprimanded and strong action taken by your office against him.

Before recent events your party was viewed as one that acted on principle and less prone to be swayed by opportunistic and often unethical lobbying. We hope that swift action on this matter will help to restore part of the damage done to this view. Your failure to deal with this issue will sadly evidence that you believe these views to be compatible with Liberal Democrat party policies and principles.

We look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Yours sincerely,

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\"And what reason have you that you should not fight in the way of Allah and of the weak among the men and the women and the children, (of) those who say: Our Lord! Cause us to go forth from this town, whose people are oppressors, and give us from Thee a guardian and give us from Thee a helper.\"

Holy Qur\'an: Chapter 4, Verse 75

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Islamic Human Rights Commission
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Telephone (+44) 20 8904 4222
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