OVER THE summer France has once more debated the issue of Islamic dress after mayors in more than 30 seaside towns introduced a ban on burkinis-the full body (but not face) covering swimwear.

Here in Britain, banning the burka or the burkini has hardly been a topic of discussion outside the fringes of the right. UKIP candidate Lisa Duffy called for a ban on wearing them in public places earlier this year and David Cameron suggested a ban on face covering in public places. Of course tabloids like the Daily Star resort to it – its latest offering is “Burkas on The Beat” reporting that police may allow officers to wear Islamic dress.

Now YouGov polls suggest this could be a popular policy with a majority of the public (57 per cent ) supporting a ban on wearing the burqa in the UK, whilst just 25 per cent are against. Support for a ban is in the minority amongst young people, only 34 per cent of 18-24 year olds whilst for those aged 65 or older it rises to 78 per cent.

Some feminists and secularists believe that a ban promotes the liberation of women claiming that Muslim women are forced to wear Islamic dress by their husbands and patriarchal imams. Certainly socialists and all those who support women’s liberation should support the right of women and girls at school not to wear these garments if that is their wish and any violence used to enforce it should be illegal.

But demands to forcibly liberate Muslim women ignore the very real pressure already exercised on women and school children who wear the hijab or fuller “veils”. Indeed since the Paris and Nice terrorist outrages, the numbers of cases of verbal and physical abuse of women when wearing the hijab or the niqab in Britain have increased hugely. The Tell Mama helpline, report that many of the attacks take place in public places, on buses and trains, and often no one came to their assistance. Perpetrators were mainly white males aged 15 to 35. These attacks are plainly racist and indeed sexist.

The Labour Party and the trade union need to make it clear that they will totally oppose any ban Islamic dress as an attack on both religious freedom and the right of people to wear what they want. Party and Union members should always come to the aid of people being abused and shame the abusers. We must make islamophobia as isolated and despised behaviour as antisemitism and, when it is a matter of verbal and physical abuse, one punishable by law.