Saturday, 7 October 2006

Jack Straw is wrong on the veil


Jack Straw MP, the UK Cabinet Minister has attacked Muslim women who wear the veil, he says they should remove it permanently, this is article and some comments on the BBC website
Jack Straw's column
IT’S really nice to meet you face-to-face, Mr Straw,’ said this pleasant lady, in a broad Lancashire accent.She had come to my constituency advice bureau with a problem. I smiled back. ‘The chance would be a fine thing,’ I thought to myself but did not say out loud. The lady was wearing the full veil. Her eyes were uncovered but the rest of her face was in cloth.Her husband, a professional man whom I vaguely knew, was with her. She did most of the talking. I got down the detail of the problem, told the lady and her husband that I thought I could sort it out, and we parted amicably.All this was about a year ago. It was not the first time I had conducted an interview with someone in a full veil, but this particular encounter, though very polite and respectful on both sides, got me thinking. In part, this was because of the apparent incongruity between the signals which indicate common bonds – the entirely English accent, the couples’ education (wholly in the UK) – and the fact of the veil. Above all, it was because I felt uncomfortable about talking to someone “face-to-face” who I could not see.So I decided that I wouldn’t just sit there the next time a lady turned up to see me in a full veil, and I haven’t.Now, I always ensure that a female member of my staff is with me. I explain that this is a country built on freedoms. I defend absolutely the right of any woman to wear a headscarf. As for the full veil, wearing it breaks no laws.I go on to say that I think, however, that the conversation would be of greater value if the lady took the covering from her face. Indeed, the value of a meeting, as opposed to a letter or ‘phone call, is so that you can – almost literally – see what the other person means, and not just hear what they say.I thought it may be hard going when I made my request for face-to-face interviews in these circumstances. However, I can’t recall a single occasion when a lady has refused to lift her veil; most seem relieved I have asked.Last Friday was a case in point. The veil came off almost as soon as I opened my mouth. I dealt with the problems the lady had brought to me. We then had an interesting debate about veil wearing. This contained some surprises. It became absolutely clear to me that the husband had played no part in her decision. She had read books and thought about the issue. She felt more comfortable wearing the veil when out. People bothered her less.OK, I said, but did she think that veil wearing was required by the Koran? I was no expert, but many Muslim scholars said that the full veil was not obligatory at all. And women as well as men went head uncovered the whole time when in their Hajj – pilgrimage – in Mecca. The husband chipped in to say that this matter was ‘more cultural than religious’. I said I would reflect on what the lady had said to me. Would she, however, think hard about what I said – in particular about my concern that wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult. It was such a visible statement of separation and of difference.I thought a lot before raising this matter a year ago, and still more before writing this. But if not me, who? My concerns could be misplaced. But I think there is an issue here.
Comments from the BBC News website

Straw comments stir controversy

Debate is going on with the Muslim communitySome Muslim groups have attacked Jack Straw over comments on the veil, although one of the main bodies has expressed understanding.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission said he was selectively discriminating. But the Muslim Council of Britain said Mr Straw's views were understandable.
One Muslim human rights campaigner praised Mr Straw's stance, but a local mosque said it was "insensitive".
Islamic Human Rights Commission chairman Massoud Shadjareh said: "It is astonishing that someone as experienced and senior as Jack Straw does not realise that the job of an elected representative is to represent the interests of the constituency, not to selectively discriminate on the basis of religion."
Mr Shadjareh compared Mr Straw's stance to asking an Orthodox Jew to remove their religious clothing.
At the moment covering the face is a threat because I don't know who is underneath that veil or underneath the whole thing
But Dr Daud Abdullah, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said Mr Straw's views were understandable.

"This veil does cause some discomfort to non-Muslims. One can understand this.
"Even within the Muslim community the scholars have different views on this. There are those who believe it is obligatory for the Muslim woman to cover her face.
"Others say she is not obliged to cover up. It's up to the woman to make the choice.
"Our view is that if it is going to cause discomfort and that can be avoided, then it can be done. The veil over the hair is obligatory."
Oppression symbol
Muslim Labour peer Baroness Uddin said she defended Mr Straw's right to speak on the issue but said his choice to do so had been a mistake.
"He's walked into the latest onslaught on Muslim communities and by citing Muslim women into this arena without doing all the groundwork to make sure that Muslim women are a full part of society.
"The greater British public will support him and I support his right to speak but I think that Muslim women have become the symbol of oppression and of fear."
Muslim human rights campaigner Ahlam Akram said Mr Straw had "hit the nail on the head".
"I stick to the argument that in this insecure world we are living today, I would rather prefer women coming to the UK - or even living in the UK - to respect the culture as well here.
"At the moment covering the face is a threat because I don't know who is underneath that veil or underneath the whole thing."
'Misconceived' comments
The Lancashire Council of Mosques said Mr Straw had "misunderstood" the issue and it was "deeply concerned".
"For such a seasoned and astute politician to make such a comment that has shocked his Muslim constituents seems ill-judged and misconceived.
"We fully support the right of Muslim women to choose to follow this precept of their faith in adopting the full veil, which causes no harm to anyone."
By requesting the removal of veils which cover the face, Mr Straw was denying Muslim constituents proper access to their MP.
Mr Straw has not suggested he would not talk to Muslims who choose to continue wearing the veil through the conversation.

1 comment:

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