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.