Jack Straw and the Veil

Let’s look at what Jack Straw actually said. Yesterday he said that facial expression is an important part of communication and that therefore wearing a veil over your face makes it harder to communicate. He then said that for that reason he asks veiled women if they would mind removing their veil when they visit his constituency surgeries. He also said that so far no-one has refused.

Is there anything contentious there? He explains why he thinks that the veil hinders communication (and, in my opinion has a valid point) and says that he asks women to remove them. He doesn’t demand it. This all sounds perfectly sensible to me. Women are completely free to keep wearing their veil if they want, but so far none of them have.

Then today when interviewed by the BBC, Straw goes further and says that in his in his opinion veils potentially harm community relations and that he doesn’t think that anyone should wear them. Again, nothing contentious there I would hope. He’s just expressing his opinion. He’s not demanding that all women immediately stop wearing a veil.

In my opinion he doesn’t go far enough. Despite what I’ve heard a few veil-wearing muslim women say, I can’t help but see the veil as an expression of the oppression of women and I’d like to see them all banned for that reason. But I’m a lily-livered socialist and it’s against all I stand for to force people to change the way they dress against their will. I just wish that there was some way to communicate with these women and tell them that they don’t need to believe all the patriachal nonsense that the men in their communities confront them with every day.

This country has laws which aim to prevent sexual discrimination and I really wish that someone would start to use those laws to confront the obvious sexual discrimination that takes place in muslim communities (and I realise that it’s not just muslim communities, other religions have the same problems, it’s just more obvious within islam).

This is similar to one of the questions that Richard Dawkins raises in The God Delusion[1]. Why is it that we are so happy to ignore discrimination, prejudice and bigotry if it has a religious basis? Why are religious communities seemingly exempt from the civilised levels of behaviour that we’d expect from anyone else?

[1] I’ve just started reading it, so expect lots of references to it over the next week or so.

One comment

  1. Just reading the foreign and commonwealth office advice for travellers to Iran where the dress code is a little more demanding than even Jack Straw requires – see belowYou should take care not to offend Islamic codes of behaviour and should dress appropriately when in public.As a general rule men should dress conservatively with long trousers and sleeves. Women should cover their heads whenever they are in public, at least by wearing a plain-coloured headscarf, and wear loose fitting clothing with their arms and legs covered and a knee length coat or tunic.If you do not strictly obey these rules you may encounter difficulties or even face arrest.Relationships between non-Muslim men and Muslim women are illegalUnmarried partners and friends of the opposite sex travelling together should be discreet at all times in public.You should also be aware that:• Homosexual behaviour, adultery and sex outside of marriage are illegal under Iranian law and can carry the death penalty.

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