WOMEN SHOULD UNVEIL SAYS JACK STRAW
(5 October 2006)
of the House of Commons, Jack Straw has caused controversey by asking
Muslim women in his constituency to remove their veils (Nikab) when
consulting with him about issues in the Blackburn region. In his
regular column for a Lancashire newspaper, he stated his reasons;
that the veil acted as a "visible statement of separation and
difference" and that being able to see a face would help in
improving community relations. In later interviews he added that
he had received a positibe response from his muslim constituents
with most agreeing to remove the veil.
the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme he stated that he would prefer
that veils be discarded completely. "I am not talking about
being perscriptive, but communities are bound together partly by
informal chance relations between strangers - people being able
to acknowledge each other in the street or being able to pass the
time of day. That's more difficult if people are wearing a veil.
That's just a fact of life".
Straw explained that he wanted to create a mature debate about the
issue in a society where watching facial expressions was important
for contact between different people. "I come to this out of
a profound committment to equal rights for Muslim communities and
an equal concern about adverse development about parallel communities"
he told 'Today' programme listeners.
Straw's comments have provoked a mixed response from Muslim groups.
The Lancashire Council of Mosques described his comments as "ill-judged
and misconceived" and said many women found them "offensive
and disturbing" but Dr Daud Abdullah, of the Muslim Council
of Britain, said he could understand Mr Straw's discomfort. The
Islamic Human Rights Commission claimed the Blackburn MP's request
would cause selective discrimination. "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," said commission chairman Massoud Shadjareh.
Protect Hijab organisation issued a statement noting that "While
it is commendable that Mr Straw has taken steps to find out about
the Muslim womans veil and understand its significance; it
is also perplexing that in the same breath, he is asking women who
wear it to remove it in his presence."
is concerned that Mr Straws statement shows a deep misunderstanding
of the significance of the face veil to those Muslim women who choose
to observe it, and his professed concern for community relations
is largely unfounded. There are thousands if not millions
of women around the world who wear the face veil and their societies
function very well and they are able to conduct their daily affairs
without any problems. So I do not buy his argument and I think it
is spurious grounds for restricting freedoms which form the foundations
of our society, stated Rajnaara Akhtar, chair of Protect-Hijab.
is concerned that Mr Straws statements may be perceived by
the Muslim community as a step towards constraining the freedom
of choice for Muslim women in how they choose to dress in Britain