Thursday, October 05, 2006

Straw invites Muslim anger

Jack Straw, Leader of the House of Commons, has today sparked controversy by revealing that he asks Muslim women who visit his surgeries if they would consider removing their veils.

Straw believes failing to show the nose and mouth is
"a visible statement of separation and of difference." Straw feels the veils can act as a barrier to communication and makes understanding between communities difficult. The backlash to his comments was immediate. A spokesperson for the Islamic Human Rights Commission 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."

Catherine Hossain of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee speaking on Channel Four news just moments ago echoed these criticisms and felt that the Blackburn MP was trivialising the wider problems. However, I think this is short-sighted and grossly unfair. There is, of course, a question of how far different communities should go in order to foster understanding between them. It may be argued that society must be tolerant of religious customs and practices. But not being one to be swayed by the tenets of religious dogma I must demur.

Straw undoubtedly (thanks, AMac, just an oversight) has a point. To illustrate: I have often gazed agog at news reports which have since the beginning of the war in Iraq shown footage of American soldiers who were patrolling the streets while wearing mirrored sunglasses. I don't know much about the conventions of soldiering; I was never in the cadets at school but it seems to even my non-militaristic brain that in the effort to broker trust with the people of a country it might just be helpful for a foreign national who can't speak your language, nor you his, to see your bloody eyes. It left me incredulous. Stupified. The soldiers didn't look human, they looked and moved like robots. (I should add I use the example of American soldiers deliberately as I can't recalling seeing British soldiers adorned in similar accessories.)

Ok, in Straw's case he isn't trying to abate the effects of being seen as a foreign invader, but surely he makes a salient contribution, nonetheless. It's why we object to people talking to us while obscuring their faces with hoods or baseball caps. It's far easier to talk and empathise with someone you can see. Doubtless many will claim that the wearing hoods and baseball caps is in no way the same and is much less serious than the obligation of shrouding oneself in the name of religious conviction. But to them I say cobblers. Indeed in the pursuit of understanding it is surely necessary to consider the landscape free of the shackles of
tendentious thought.


At 2:14 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're welcome! AMac


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