Saturday, October 07, 2006

Jack Straw cool under UK Muslim fire over veil comments.

Politics: I would have thought he buckle under by now like he did during the cartoon riots.

JACK Straw faced a backlash yesterday after remaining unrepentant in his call for devout Muslim women to discard their veils. The Leader of the Commons was in an unapologetic mood yesterday over his request for Muslim women to remove their veils when visiting his constituency surgeries, despite growing concerns in some quarters of isolation and tolerance in Britain. Muslim leaders were insulted and his own constituents condemned Mr Straw, who revealed in his local paper that he asks female visitors to uncover their faces to improve "community relations". But Mr Straw's views seemed to strike a chord with a large section of the British public. Of the 2000 who responded to a text poll carried out yesterday by BBC Radio Five Live's breakfast show, an overwhelming 93% supported his comments. Yesterday, the minister went further, saying he would prefer Muslim women not to wear veils at all. Mr Straw, the MP for Blackburn where about 30% of residents are Muslim, said he did not want to be "prescriptive" but he believed that covering people's faces would make community relations more difficult. "I understand the concerns, but I hope, however, there can be a mature debate about this," he said. "I come to this out of a profound commitment to equal rights for Muslim communities and an equal concern about adverse development about parallel communities." Asked if he would rather the veils be discarded completely, Mr Straw said: "Yes." He added: "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 made more difficult if people are wearing a veil. That's just a fact of life." He stressed that women had a choice and that he was making a request, not a demand. "What I've been struck by when I've been talking to some of the ladies concerned is that they had not, I think, been fully aware of the potential in terms of community relations," he said. "I mean, they'd thought of it just as a statement for themselves, in some cases they regard themselves as very religious – and I respect that – but as I say, I just wanted to put this issue on the table."

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