Take The Veil Jack Straw?

So, Jack Straw has expressed his opinion that he would prefer it if Muslim women did not wear veils at all. Fair enough, I say. It’s his opinion and he is entitled to hold it. I’m not sure that he’s right but in the typical outcry that follows in response, I have to say I see where he’s going.

It is time for a debate in this country about where exactly multi-culturalism is taking us and whether or not it is working. Why do I say this? Well, because the immediate response by many Muslims to Mr. Straw’s opinion is to bridle, express anger, decry him as intolerant, and generally make a fuss. Not all are doing this, of course, but this is the publicised reaction and this is the problem. The reasoned response to a statement such as this should be to ask why he is saying it and, if you believe he is at fault, to then try to explain without rancour why you think so. And you must also be prepared for the possibility that he will not be persuaded from his view by your argument!

After all if non-Muslims are expected to be tolerant of Muslim beliefs then Muslims must surely be tolerant of non-Muslim beliefs and customs of others, as well as ignorance of the Muslim faith. Tolerance is a two-way street. If you respond with intolerance and anger every time then is it any wonder that people get fed up listening and refuse to offer either respect or consideration?

Speaking for myself, as an atheist, I have experienced various attempts by people of different faiths to persuade me that I am wrong. Some have been reasonable. Others have not been but I have always attempted to be tolerant and reasonable no matter what. So far no one has yet given me cause to think that my position is wrong and, as far as I know, I can’t claim to have convinced anyone of faith that I am right – even though I believe I am right and that my reasoning is sound.

To close, is Jack Straw right? Well, he seems to be phrasing his opinion in the form of a preference, or request, rather than a demand so I would say that he is. Were I in his position I would certainly prefer to deal face-to-face with someone. However, I would not insist that anyone remove their veil, kippah, turban, or any other covering/adornment if they did not want to. He is also right to express fears over “separateness” and “parallel communities” as I feel this is already happening and it does no one any good. Whatever our creed, we share this country and this planet and ought to be able to live together in spite of our differences.


6 thoughts on “Take The Veil Jack Straw?

  1. Not sure why you’re coming at it from a Muslim response and a non-Muslim response after a promising 1st paragraph. I’m not sure a view on this has to be based on your religion or lack of it.

  2. You’re right, it is not necessary to base a view on this on your religion or lack thereof. I use the Muslim, non-Muslim thing because it’s in that context that Jack Straw’s remarks apply. It could just as easily apply along lines of colour, disability, age, Old Firm, or whatever other lines we see fit to segregate ourselves by. That said, it seems to me that intolerance develops most often because of religious divides.

  3. Just found your blog and woo what a difficult subject! Religion seems to distort the issues and it would hurt my heid trying to give an intellectual answer…. so all I will say is…

    I was a was always told/brought up that if you spoke to someone that was wearing sunglasses and they did not remove them they were being rude… ergo if you were wearing same and did not remove them you were therefore being rude!! That all makes sense until you add in religion.

    I do not think there is any real answer to it all defeatist, I know! Just live and let live springs to mind. Then again at the present time the Muslims do not appear to want a two-way street, I could be wrong.

  4. Alex,

    Quite a flurry of comments on this one!

    The tricky thing with this issue, as one of the BBC pages linking from this story makes clear, is that Islam itself is divided on the practice: some see it as prescribed for their religion, others don’t (my understanding is that it’s partly a range of interpretation thing, but also that some of the ‘don’t’ people see it as not an Islamic but an Arabic tradition). Hence the mixed response from the Muslim community.

    A rather more extreme version of the hats/no hats in church debate… (Not entirely analogous, but I guess for those who believe the veil is vital to their religious observance, you’d anticipate a reaction similar to that which someone – a braver someone than me – would get if they asked an old lady in Lewis to take her hat off before she went into a church service.)


  5. Mmmm, interesting comments. Iain’s remarks about hats/no hats and little old ladies from Lewis has particular resonance for me. Not only because it’s where I’m from but also because of what happened to me one Sunday as a kid.

    I was 10 and out playing in our back garden. At about 5:30 pm I scaled the garden wall and was walking along the top of it. A little old lady in a hat was coming down the street, on her way to church, and she spotted me. She demanded that I stop playing and get down from there, branding me a “little heathen” before saying she would tell my parents what I had been up to…

  6. Scariest thing ever at that age. Now I’m older an wiser I would probably just laugh.

    No, no, wait, even today I’d be terrified. Those old ladies are WILD!!!

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