Friday, October 06, 2006

Praise for Jack Straw

In a first for this blog I pay tribute to Jack Straw MP for having the courage to point out that Muslim women who insist, or are told, to wear the veil could be exacerbating tensions within our community. Around a quarter of Jack Straw's constituents are Muslims so he must have a greater understanding of issues related to Islam than most. I hope that instead of condemning him out of hand he will be listened to with courtesy by people on all sides of the religious and political divide.


Blogger Prodicus said...


4:58 AM  
Blogger newsjunkie said...

Yes as usual though it will be the British non-muslim, i.e. Jack Straw who will suffer for merely asking a Muslim woman to show her face in his office where she has, after all, requested to 'be seen'. Ridiculous. More comment at my blog at

5:20 AM  
Blogger johnthebarman said...

The veil encourages me to LISTEN to what the person is saying. Politicians should LISTEN more and pronounce less. Many British women wear skimpy clothing. I'd never ask them to cover up. Yes, they also want to 'be seen' and that is how they also choose to present themselves.

5:30 AM  
Blogger Welsh Spin said...

For a start one should give Jack Straw credit for his assiduous discharge of his responsibilities as a constituency MP whilst serving in the highest offices in the land. His example is by no means unique, but he could easily get away without doing the number of advice surgeries he does in person by delegating to his agent and constituency office staff. This reputation was part of the reason why he comfortably survived the high profile anti-war challenge by Craig Murray in the General Election.

The niqab may have a social role in Sunni Arab/African societies, but one can’t help associating it also with the misogynist and medieval behaviour of the Taliban, Saudi Arabia and several other countries where it was/is rigorously enforced alongside the systematic denial of education and other basic human rights to females.

I won’t pretend to be a fan of the ‘hijab’ headscarf. I still find it disturbingly suggestive of female subservience, but it’s really no different to a turban, yarmulke or even Rastafarian dreadlocks. In many ways, particularly in view of Britain’s weather, the hijab has a practical purpose as an item of clothing, what it symbolises I have reservations about, but its wearers don’t especially alienate me any more than people who wear their Christianity, Buddhism or any other theological superstition on their sleeve do.

The niqab or burka however are in another category again. They are, frankly, alien. By completely cutting off any more than basic transactional interaction with the wider wide, non-Muslim society they send out a message of separateness and lack of an individual identity to which the face in western societies at least is so important.

snowflake5 makes the point that women wearing these garments “can't work, they haven't money of their own, they can't mix with people outside their families and communities, they can't look good, they can't even have coffee with friends at M&S.” Her point about the liberating aspect of work among western women in the last 100 years is well made.

As a recently retired MP, Clive will know the number of times he has been asked to take-up complaints or issues by people he suspected might not be revealing the whole truth. Of course in theory one should make such judgements based purely on the evidence presented – but in that case, many deprived people who are unable to articulate their case properly themselves and who go to their MP as a last resort, would be turned away.

The point about constituency MPs is not that they should be social workers to 80,000 odd people, or even operate as alternative advice bureaux, but that they should take up difficult cases on behalf of citizens who have been treated unfairly and have failed to receive redress by other means. Such casework is complex and resource intensive, but it ultimately does more good than acting as an amateur social worker or advisor. Jack’s staff in Blackburn are no doubt very good at dispensing basic advice, referring constituents to the appropriate agencies and following-up.

Top politicians, like top poker players, may perhaps be more adept at reading faces than the rest of us, but it is disturbing for pretty much any westerner, male or female to converse with a fully veiled woman. One feels like one is talking to the veil, not the person inside. It seems to me to ‘de-humanise’ the individual wearing the burqa or niqab.

Straw says that he doesen’t demand that consitituents remove their veils, but that to date all have agreed to do so. I would surmise that few of those who come to their MP as a desperate last resort would wish to upset their opportunity to tell their tale to someone with the potential authority to lift a phone and sort things out would feel obliged to decline on grounds of islamic purity. Doubtless he will shortly be visited by one who refuses to. Although of course in practice there is no reason why one shouldn’t lobby one’s MP about a position they have taken, it would be nice if she has a legitimate personal grievance too.

Intuitively, I think that veil wearing British born muslim women appears to be on the increase. It is a statement of a rejection of the social and political values whose development has underpinned western judeao-christian society since at least some women stopped being treated as chattels around the 16th Century. Specifically it is a rejection of the basic principles of feminism and women’s autonomy. It is a statement in support of literalist and dogmatic reading of the Koran by people living in a 21st Century liberal democracy and it is this religious fanaticism (which would be familiar to John Knox) that is unable to bring itself to terms with the 21st Century, with murderous consequences.

I don’t pretend for a moment that every observant muslim woman who wears the full on veil is a radicalised fanatic, but do these articulate talking heads on Newsnight really speak for them? What is the incidence of domestic violence is observant muslim households compared to the national median (why not consider tabling that one Clive?)

If motorcycle helments are barred from banks and post offices and hoodies from shops, what about the black moving objects? I predict that in the coming few days we may read about petrol stations being held up and other misdemeanors committed by criminals disguised in burka’s. Ah well, if it moves the debate on …

12:49 PM  
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11:40 AM  

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