British Prime Minister Tony Blair officially entered the controversy surrounding Muslim dress this week when he said he understands the reason for the suspension of a Dewsbury, Yorkshire teaching assistant.
In February, Aishah Azmi, a bilingual teaching assistant at a junior school, was asked to remove her niqab, a veil that covers everything but a woman's eyes, during lessons because students were finding it difficult to understand her. Azmi said she only wore the veil when around male colleagues and denied claims that children found it difficult to understand her when she wore the veil.
After she was suspended, she filed a religious discrimination complaint with an employment tribunal. On Oct. 19, the tribunal found in her favour for her vicimization suit, awarding her the equivalent of $2,125 Cdn. But it ruled against her claims of discrimination and harassment, a finding Azmi said she would appeal.
Blair's comments were the first public support of Jack Straw, the leader of the House of Commons, who said a couple of weeks ago that the full-face veil damages relations between people of different ethnic backgrounds.
Straw said Muslim women in Britain should refrain from covering their full faces, particularly when dealing with the wider society. He also said he asks Muslim women who visit his office to lift their full-face veils because the niqab prevents clear communication.
Blair said the full-face veil makes it difficult for Muslim women to integrate into British society as it is a “mark of separation" that makes people from outside the Muslim community feel uncomfortable.