Thinly veiled hysteria

The hoo-hah caused by Jack Straw’s remarks about Muslim women wearing veils is perhaps the biggest storm ever to rage inside a tea cup.

The Leader of the House of Commons is an MP for Blackburn, where the Muslim population is estimated to be somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent. Writing in a local newspaper, he said that he now asks veiled women to show their faces when meeting them in person. Unsurprisingly, he finds it easier to communicate with a fellow human being if he can see their face. On the occasions when he has asked for this, the constituents have obliged. That’s it. That’s the story.

Judging by the reaction in some quarters, and the shameful hysteria being whipped up by the media, you’d think that he goes around Blackburn ripping the veils from women’s heads then setting fire to the cloth. Take this blustering headline from The Independent, for example: Straw fans flames by insisting he wants women to stop wearing veils altogether. From where have they got the word ‘insisting’? I’ve read what Jack Straw actually wrote in the Lancashire Telegraph and he doesn’t ‘insist’ on anything at all. He respectfully asks if they would mind removing their veil during what is meant to be a face to face conversation. So far, all have done so. But it’s their choice whether to do it or not, just as much as it is their choice (at least, it should be) to wear it in the first place. He is not refusing to speak to women who wear veils, nor is he telling anyone how they should dress, which some people have accused him of.

Asked on Radio 4’s Today programme whether he would prefer to see veils discarded completely, Jack Straw said: “Yes. It needs to be made clear I am not talking about being prescriptive but with all the caveats, yes, I would rather.”

That’s one of the great things about this country: Muslim women can choose what clothing they wear, and everyone else is free to have their opinion on it. That is Jack Straw’s opinion. I happen to share his view. I would go further and argue that a cultural requirement that all women cover themselves from head to toe amounts to subjugation (although whether or not the Koran explicitly requires that women wear these garments is a matter of conjecture). I would rather people did not dress this way but, as long as they choose to do so by their own free will (and I would be interested to know how many Muslim women dress this way out of community pressure rather than personal religious conviction) I don’t particularly care one way or the other. For the record, I would also prefer it if people didn’t wear gold jewellery, tracksuit bottoms with Reebok trainers, Chelsea shirts, hooded tops or baseball caps.

But that’s just my opinion.


Centrist. Atlanticist. Dry liberal. Anti-totalitarian. Post-ideological pragmatist. Child of The Enlightenment. Toucan.

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7 comments on “Thinly veiled hysteria
  1. cogitata says:

    This is an example of an issue upon which sensible people from all frequencies of the political spectrum are able to join together and ask, ‘what the hell are you all shouting about’? There is no story about religion here, but there is a story about our inability to have a rational debate in public. See my blog for my comments on this issue. If you choose to, of course.

  2. ph says:

    If British society feels negatively enough about veiling then I see no reason why they should not let this opinion be known vociferously. The liberal left seem somewhat amazed that people have such strong negative opinions about this, particularly after all that PC multicultural indoctrination.

  3. Citizen Sane says:

    I think what you term the “liberal left” is wholly split on the issue. Remember that this whole saga was triggered by the opinions of Jack Straw who I suspect you would consider to be part of the “liberal left” and an otherwise ardent multiculturalist.

  4. ph says:

    Not sure the liberal left would count Jack as one of their own would they. Personally I use the word liberal-left to mean Polly Toynbee and her fellow travallers

  5. Citizen Sane says:

    Ah yes. That lot.

    Great example of that in yesterday’s Guardian with this piece of shit article by Madeleine Bunting.,,1890821,00.html

  6. ph says:

    Miss Bunting seems to think that the two reasons young women wear the veil is shyness and piety. I am sure this may be the case, but another reason could be militancy. How do we know, the non muslim population is unlikely to start a conversation with a woman whose attire screams ‘keep away’ I want nothing to do with you.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I wear hijab, not niqab. That being said, I am unbelievably offended by the idea that SO many Western women have that women who wear hijab or niqab are forced to by society! I am an American revert, my fiance is from Morocco. If I choose not to wear hijab, so be it. If I choose to wear niqab, so be it.

    There is NO argument, however, in how the Qur’an and the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) tells Muslimahs and Muslims to dress: with modesty. Muslim women are told to “guard your breasts and private parts and those which Allah has guarded”. Even if you take away the head or face covering, you still have a woman covered head to ankle.

    People say, “oh, it must be soooo HOT under there!” Well actually no. I live in muggy weather. I wear light, cool fabrics in the summers that are loose-fitting around my body that allow for air flow – and they are SO much more comfortable than the tank tops I wore before my conversion. Hijabs? Hot? Perhaps, if you’re in no wind and it’s 100 degrees and you AREN’T in the shade. Hijabis and niqabis buy silk and loose-weave cottons that keep us cool during summers. I’ve kept my hair long and down in the summers, up, in a bun, and covered with hijab is MUCH cooler, believe me.

    What’s the problem with women dressing this way? Is it intimidating that we do not feel the need to show our butts or breasts to everyone? Is “liberation” walking around with my cleavage showing? The so-called “feminists” (and make no mistake – I am a feminist) around me say I am not liberated unless I am…naked? Naked and therefore being leered at by men who I don’t want to touch me, let alone look at me?

    I dress in Western fashions, I wear jeans and khakis like everyone else. My shirts just happen to be longer and I wear a cloth on my head.

    Why does this make so many women feel threatened? I am treated with more respect by most people – men and women – when I am in a loose-fitting shirt and khakis with hijab than I ever was in a tank top and flip flops. Is this why people get so nervous?

    We get more respect?

    Of course I get stares, but where I live people are mostly just curious. They ask questions and I welcome them (it’s better than being stared at, and it creates a dialogue).

    I’m just absolutely astounded when I read that it’s ok for women to flash every part of their body, but if they cover it up they’re being oppressed? What about being objectified by the fashion industry, that advertises pants so low-slung you can see a woman’s thong? That in itself isn’t sexist or oppressive?

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