When a woman stepped onto his bus, a driver asked the customer a simple question. However, she found the query so offensive and “racist” that police confirmed they are investigating him for a hate crime.
While most Muslim women in the West opt to wear the hijab headscarf, some still don the more restrictive niqab, which leaves only an opening for the eyes, either by choice or compulsion. Although this is clearly an issue of religious freedom, it throttles the line of an individual’s rights and the public’s safety.
When a driver watched as a customer boarded his bus while wearing a full-face covering, he was confronted with a decision. He realized that he must choose between staying silent or voicing his concerns. Unfortunately, his choice led to some negative consequences that he didn’t anticipate.
After a woman wearing a niqab climbed aboard the First Bus 24 in Bristol, England, the bus driver, who remains unnamed, asked her a simple question that has resulted in a serious criminal investigation under the UK’s hate speech and hate crime laws. Understanding that the woman’s face veil was a security hazard, the driver prosed a query that apparently is against the law, asking why she was wearing a veil when it is a safety concern.
“How I can see your face?” the driver asked in a seemingly foreign accent. “You can see my face. We should see our faces.”
Another female passenger then comes to the defense of the anonymous 20-year-old Muslim woman, who was apparently holding her toddler at the time, arguing that it is her right to cover her face.
“She doesn’t want you to see her face. That’s her choice then,” another woman said.
The man explains that he is concerned with being unable to see the Muslim woman’s face, making no mention of her faith or race. Still, he is accused of being a racist and insinuating that the woman wants to launch a terror attack on the bus.
“I care because this world is dangerous,” he answers the customers. “If you don’t see somebody’s face, that’s not good in this time we live in.”
The female passenger then steps in, arguing that the woman has every right to refuse to show her face to the bus driver, insisting that it’s her choice.
“It’s not about her choice here,” the bus driver replied.
“It is a choice, actually,” the passenger said. “It’s not any of your business just how she is dressed. You are a member of the public.”
Frustrated, the bus driver then steps off the platform to speak with his manager. The conversation continues between the Muslim woman and two other female passengers, possibly providing context for the argument.
“I’m recording an incident of racism to report later on. I have the right to do that,” one woman said.
“He is basically saying she might blow up the bus. That’s what he just said,” another female passenger claimed.
The driver can be heard outside explaining to his supervisor that the incident is “nothing about racism.” He then returns to the platform and carries on with his work, ignoring the accusations of racism from the female passengers.
The man was accused of a hate crime, which the authorities in the UK take most seriously. According to the Independent, the man is under a hate crime investigation and faces serious charges that often result in a lengthy prison sentence.
The woman told The Bristol Post: “He said I was scary and I was dangerous, and he kept talking about it during the journey. He was insinuating I was going to bomb the bus. How is that possible, when I’ve got a baby with me?”
The Muslim woman claims that the driver not only accused her of plotting a terror attack but made disparaging remarks about her niqab, although these comments weren’t captured on video.
She added: “He continued to insult me, and he made me out to be a terrorist, and kept saying everyone should see each other’s faces. He asked why I was wearing a balaclava.”
Fearing legal repercussions, First Bus confirmed that the driver has been disciplined and that they are cooperating with local police. The also offered an apology to the Muslim woman and disavowed their employee’s concerns.
“We would like to fully and unreservedly apologise to the customer for the distress caused when one of our drivers expressed his personal opinions,” said a spokesman for First Bus. “The driver behaved in an offensive fashion that in no way reflects our deeply held values as an inclusive company which welcomes all people, irrespective of background, race, nationality or religion as customers or employees.”
Only time will tell if the bus driver is charged with and convicted of a hate crime for asking the woman to uncover her face. The incident paints a disturbing portrait of the fine line between religious freedom and public safety, while also putting into perspective just how fragile the right to speak freely truly is.