Saturday, October 07, 2006

Veiled threats?

There's a debate going on at The Sharpener, and over at Not Saussure's place, and on many other discussion boards, and in the papers, about Jack Straw's recent comments about his personal difficulties meeting his Blackburn constituents when they are concealing their faces with full veils, or naqab. He stressed that he was not making a demand when requesting women remove their veils when talking to him. He was making a polite request, in the interest of enhanced communication. He pointed out the difficulties in communicating with people when you cannot see their faces. (Particularly for him, as he is partially deaf.) Well, he wanted a debate and he has got one. Good, because it's a way of discussing integration and seperation, whether veiled Muslim women are oppressed or not, and whether non-veiled women are oppressed by a culture that sets so much store by what we look like. And that is an interesting debate to have. Sexism, multiculturalism, terrorism/extremism, fear, racism, religion and freedom of speech all in one debate. How timely is that?

Listening to the BBC's Asian network programme on the subject you can hear a huge variety of views. Several callers pointed out that if a woman can't meet Straw's eyes and show her face to him, why doesn't she speak with him on the phone instead? There were discussions about the Koranic meaning of ''dressing modestly''. There was anger at a perceived ''insult to Islam'', and there was frustration about the debate about integration and multiculturalism centering once more on what women wear.

There was a lot of talking about ''respect'', the respect accorded to a woman who is veiled, or fully veiled, or flashing flesh; the respect or lack of respect shown to Muslim culture and Islam in general, the respect or lack of respect shown to the non-veiled people amongst whom you live and work by opting to screen yourself off from them and to totally hide your face and body in public life.

It's a lightning rod, this debate, and of course it runs the risk of turning into yet more Muslims vs. Everybody else polarisation, adding to a sense of grievance, persecution and resentment all round. But the debate doesn't have to be framed in those terms. There are many voices to hear. There aren't ''sides''; how can there be, when Muslims are just as diverse a group of opinionated individuals as anybody else?

It's sad that Straw's respectfully couched ( albeit politically astute) debate opener has been greeted with such extreme reaction by some. Tabloid headlines like '90% back Jack' are not helpful, nor is rampaging about calling it an ''attack on all Muslims'', or ''race-hate''. It isn't. Straw just said that he found it hard to have an equal face to face conversation with someone when you couldn’t see their face at all. Some people have said that as a politician, he shouldn't be discussing religious things, which is daft. Such an extreme declaration of modesty is a political statement in this country, just as tattooing or piercing your face or walking around naked is a political statement. It presents a challenge, because it is so very different to the norm.

We have a lot of free expression in this country. Your can wear a headscarf, or salwaar kameez, or a sari, or traditional African robes, or the black clothes and fur-lined streimel of orthodox Judaism round the streets where I live and it's pretty much normal, in a way that in some other European countries, it isn't. People will look. But people look anyway. That's what happens when you walk about the streets, humans look at each other. They interact. Get over it.

There are plenty of ways of dressing modestly and in accordance with your religious and cultural traditions. School uniforms have been adapted so that girls can fulfil their faith requirements of modest dress, in tunics and trousers that allow them to cover up whilst playing sport and attending lessons. Sikh boys can wear their turbans. No problem. What we culturally understand as ‘modest dress’ does not mean you have to cover up in what is effectively a giant bag with, in some cases, even your eyes hidden. You can signal 'modesty' and 'religious beliefs' very effectively without making such a big deal about it. Surely the point of modest dress is so that the woman’s intellect, opinions, faith, character can come through clearly and truthfully - the niqab seems to take that away by acting as an ostentatious mask - and masks are usually worn to disguise the person wearing them.

Is there a danger that the all-enveloping niqab actually detracts from the woman’s active witness to her faith? By focusing only on one aspect of it - exaggerated ‘modesty’ - covering herself from ‘lustful gaze’ - does she thus miss out a far more important part, which is her witness to her faith lived out through her life; an active witness surely best served by fully engaging with her fellow humans, believers and non-believers alike, as a beloved daughter of God living out her full potential?

Is this Koranically-unnecessary 'competitive' modesty actually immodest? Modesty for me is about fitting in gracefully, rather than trying to stand out to prove your piety. (And making others uncomfortable in the bargain - including some Muslim women who don't cover their faces. )

A woman letting her God-given character, intellect, sweetness, intelligence, etc shine through and making her sexual allure a non-issue other than to the person she wants to have sex with, is, I can see, a woman liberated in that it gives her a freedom from the endless judgements we get about our appearance, body shape, fashion sense and so on. Lots of women dress modestly, for lots of reasons. Sometimes I go about with my hair covered in a headscarf. A headscarf is warm in winter, protects my skin and hair from the hot sun in summer.It's comfortable, practical, and yes, it's modest. Sometimes I like to wear long, loose clothes for similar reasons. Other times I like to dress up more provocatively. I am mindful when dressing of the effect that I will have on others, and I am aware that I am expressing something about myself with the clothing I choose to wear. And honestly, I don't think there's a woman in the world who doesn't think the same way when she gets dressed, even elderly nuns. Of course your clothes are a statement to the world. And the woman who covers herself so that not even her eyes are visible is making a pretty extreme statement. One that the majority of her Muslim sisters do not choose to make.

I worry about the message sent out by the increasing adoption of the niqab by the young women of Blackburn. Isn't it insulting to say that a woman must cover herself totally from the risk of strangers' lust, as if that is all men are, lustful animals? Do we - all of us - and men especially, since they are assumed to be the predators - not deserve more trust and respect than to be assumed to be lascivious, uncontrollable rutting ‘brute beasts without understanding’ as the Book of Common Prayer puts it? If not, then what hope is there for any of us? It seems so negative… and so unnecessary. And, I think, contrary to the spirit of the faith, if you read the whole thing in context. Yes, of course you can get past it and talk to the lowered eyes behind the black sack. But why put the barrier up to that extent in the first place?

Of course I'm not a Muslim scholar. But I can still look at the Koran, the Hadith, can't I? Just as I can read St. Paul telling women to cover their hair and dress modestly in a strikingly similar injunction to the Koranic one. There is of course, no definitive account of the life of either of these men, who lived so long ago and who made such an impact. You have to pick your way through many different theological and critical interpretations of their words, just as you do with many other religions, and as usual it boils down to interpretation, informed by cultural and societal issues.

It strikes me that Mohammed was surprisingly modern for his time in his dealings with women. I cannot believe that he would have wanted women to walk about silenced and 100% covered, as if they are too dangerous and inflammatory to be seen or heard. I think he would have given them, and all of us, more credit than that. In the Prophet's time, women wore loose dresses and head veils but left their necks, throats and shoulders exposed to some degree. The Koran tells women to pull their veils down to cover their chests and to dress modestly. And so the vast majority of Muslim women worldwide don't wear the full veil; they simply dress modestly, wearing the hijab headscarf or some other covering of their hair and decolletage, and they go about their lives with more important things to worry about.

There is, after all, zilch in the Koran to indicate that women disappearing entirely from public view is the way forward favoured by God. And this is the paradox, by wearing the billowing tent-like naqab rather than the hijab which shows the face, but modestly covers the hair and chest you are, I think making the debate all about the body and the lustful gaze of strangers.

It is an exaggerated modesty that SHOUTS at you, and yes, it does get in the way of normal communication in a country where face- to-face contact is the polite, accepted norm of discourse between neighbours, colleagues and friends. Motorbike couriers take off their helmets when walking into buildings, because it is frightening to many people when a masked person enters your space. If a woman is wholly covered, you can't communicate as well, she can't eat with you, drink with you, you can't see her face at all, though she can see yours. It's excluding, and it says something unavoidable to the non-veiled person. You are forbidden to look at me. And that of course, just makes people look more. It makes things uncomfortable on both sides.

If a woman feel so at risk from male sexuality that they must cover up in full , then the problem lies with the menfolk around her, surely? (As if wearing a burqua stops women being raped and mistreated anyway. Go look at Afghanistan under the Taleban, rural Pakistan). You can dress it up as 'cultural differences, just like you can dress up female circumcision as 'cultural differences'. But mutilating women's bodies and shrouding women's faces and bodies is taking something away from them. If its only women who have their movements curtailed, their freedom impinged and their sexual response deadened, because of honour, or shame, because of the behaviour and dictates of men, then, sorry, but yes, it is sexist and unfair. Yes, I know the Koran also tells men to dress modestly and lower their eyes. But look at the way that the injunctions of the Koran are carried out by different groups, countries, societies. And look at who gets more choices, more education, more freedom and more power.

The countries where women cover up head to toe in naqab or burqas tend to be the countries with the worst human rights records and the nastiest treatment of women. That tells you something, as does the fact that most Muslim women, all over the globe, choose not to wear the naqab. Globally, the woman wholly covered tends to be the woman with the fewest rights and choices to speak out and to live freely. I don't think liberal sensitivity to ''cultural differences'' and freedom of speech should wilfully blind us to that. I am sure there are women wearing the naqab in the UK for all sorts of reasons, and as a free choice to make a statement about themselves. But I wonder why they are doing so. You can assert your right to do it, just as a submissive can assert their right to be beaten by their partner. But then to get cross when people stare or look uncomfortable, or debate why you are doing it, is a bit daft. Tolerance, politeness and respect, after all, go both ways.

UPDATE: An interesting article. The Dutch Commission of Equal Treatment passed a verdict that allowed high schools to prohibit Muslim girls to wear the headscarf in physical education classes if this would compromise safety precautions. Muslim girls were advised to wear a swim cap and a high turtleneck instead. A non-Muslim Dutch designer designed sport-hijab coverings, after Muslim schoolgirls were found to be dropping out of PE classes.

More hijab links from IslamOnline


Blogger Gamba said...

I think you put that very well. I find it hard to say the sort of things you've said without sounding prejudiced in some way.

October 07, 2006 1:36 pm  
Blogger Ocha said...

hi Rachel, Nice blog, hve very
interesting post here,
i´ll be back to read
these all...have a nice

October 07, 2006 6:23 pm  
Blogger Ally said...

I agree with gamba. I think you've said this very well. I've wanted to write about this and at the same time haven't wanted to - because I don't think I can articulate exactly what I mean. I now I can be lazy, because you've said what I wanted to :).

October 07, 2006 10:44 pm  
Blogger D.B. said...

Lots of good points there, very eloquently written as ever. Personally I think it's fair game if Straw asks people to remove their veil for the purposes of one-to-one communication, and maybe there issues of female equality/oppression at stake, but I think what has angered a lot of people (including myself) is two things.

1. He goes further than that: "... My concern that wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult. It was such a visible statement of separation and of difference." And then later on: "What I'm saying on the other side is: would those people who do wear the veil think about the implications for community relations?"

I don't think the veil is a visible sign of "seperation" and it needn't damage community relations, any more than a punk or a goth in make-up and a trench coat is a sign of "seperation" or a teenager in a hoodie. He may want to attribute that particular meaning to the veil, but it's not one I share and not one that is inherent in this form of dress. If I pass someone in the street who wears a veil, I don't consider them to be "seperate" from me or even particularly different.

I can understand why people would be angry at an imperialist Blairite lackey like Straw singling out the veil (of all things!) and blaming it for bad community relations. He could have mentioned war, poverty or discrimination but instead he chose the veil. He needs to take the plank out of his own eye...

2. Even though he made some sensible points, I suspect his motives are cynical and political. I honestly think he's probably angling for a place in the Labour leadership/deputy leadership race and he knew precisely the kind of reaction he'd get, which will be beneficial to his career by stoking support from The Sun etc.

Your cynically :P


October 08, 2006 12:24 pm  
Blogger ditdotdat said...

Great article Rachel. Your point about "Koranically-unnecessary 'competitive' modesty" being actually immodest is a very good one. I love it when people dress up in whatever fancy-dress they like but to put on an attention-grabbing outfit and then claim it's for modesty's sake seems a bit dishonest.

You're also spot on about what the niqab implies about men. I remember when a man at my work, a gentle, gay, Finnish giant, started walking around in a classic skinhead outfit with bleached jeans, combat boots and a shaved head. Several Asian colleagues found it really disturbing because of their bad experiences of racist skinheads. He was completely amazed at their reaction. To me, the niqab does actively challenge my belief that women and men should be equal and interchangeable. When I see a woman wearing one it's like she's making a sexist statement about how women and men should live, whether she realises that or not.

October 08, 2006 3:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. Thank you for being the voice of reason on this issue.

October 08, 2006 4:37 pm  
Blogger Philip said...

According to Straw, he took the rather sensible step of asking the women to remove their veils for the purpose of face-to-face conversation, and all those he asked were happy to do so. Nevertheless, Straw has "issues". One of the women told him she wore the veil because she felt more comfortable wearing it, and her husband told him the choice was cultural rather than religious. Nevertheless, Straw proceeded to lecture them on the Qur'an.

Under the circumstances, I think I'd be a bit annoyed as well.

October 08, 2006 5:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point raised by Jack Straw is about the issue of seperateness and the contribution of this item of clothinbg to that seperateness he identifies.
The way in which the issue has been couched leaves no one in any doubt that what Straw sees the "problem", the responsibility and the blame for the existance and creation of this "seperateness" lies wholey and exclusively with those who wear this item of clothing, their culture, their way of life, their religion.
Now as an athiest I've got little time for religion, but I've also got little time for hypocrisy and cant. And the way this issue and the context in which it is being raised reeks of hypocrisy and cant.
The question is which of Jack Straws two contradictory positions on this issue of separteness worries him?
Is it the where the responsibility and the blame lie exclusively with the current target of the two minute hate session or is it the one in which he wholeheartadly supports the idea, concept and practice of separteness when it comes to faith schools?
Hecannot have it both ways. If Jack Straw has a problem with the concept of separteness on the issue of this item of clothing then Jack and those who support not only what he said but the context in which it is raised cannot at the same time support the practice of faith schools which Jack states he supports.
And this is the bit that gives the game away. Because Jack does want it both ways. And that very fact provides the context for the reasonable conclusion I've stated above that the issue is not really about the issue of separetness in PRINCIPLE its about a carefully crafted presentation in which the so called problem he raises is the exclusive responsibility of one section of the comnmunity.
The context in which this is raised and couched by Jack is important and relevent. We've had months of high profile media coverage and blog comment on dramatic arrests, of ricin plots; chemical vest plots; chemical plots to blow up planes that are scientifically impossible to carry out. People are arrested only to be released either without charge on some minor charge to save the face of the police chiefs and politicians (and the newspapers who rammed it down our throats).
Any attempt by those targetted to defend themselves, even verbally, is met with yet further high profile hysteria like this issue and the one about the policeman who raised honest concerns about his ability to carry out a potential task of guarding the embassey of a country which was carrying out what in other circumstances would be classed as war crimes if someone we had determined was the official enemy were carrying them out.
As an aside here, perhaps those who criticise this policeman might wish to recruit a member of the family of the British army Sergeants who were hung by the "terrorist" group who helped set up this particular state. Or perhaps those who died in the King David hotel. I'm sure any refusal from their descendents would be met with the same level of vitriol directed against this policeman.
Yet, in this same week in which these oh so vital issues are raised in the high profile manner we see, the police in Burnley (which for the geographically challanged is just up the road from Jack Straw's Blackburn consituency) find the largest haul of chemical and bomb making equipment they've ever found in a domestic property. Including a rocket launcher.
Where are the high profile wall to wall news items about bomb factories? The dramatic revelations from "police sources"? Where are the reams of newsprint and blogger comment on the issue of "separateness" this demonstrates?
Zilch. Sweet FA. nothing. Bugger all. You wouldn't think it had happened. Why? Because they are white. They are, allegedly EX-MEMBERS of the BNP (That EX is very convenient).
And the police comment. Oh it’s not a bomb factory. You can put your mortgage & pension on the table that if they had been Muslim or non-white this would have been been high profile and certainly would have been decribed by "police sources" as a bomb factory.
Ditto for the attack on a mosque in Windsor. Hardly showed up on the radar. Why? Well its more fun and more "interesting" to fixate and scapegoat "others" at every opportunity.
That's the context . And that why Jack Straw is talking bollocks. He’s picking and choosing to suit an own agendas. Its called scapegoating. A popular pastime in Germany during the 1930's I understand.

October 08, 2006 5:37 pm  
Blogger Rosa Cassells said...

Hi Rachel, I'm not sure if you've heard but whilst all this hoo-ha has been going on in the press about Muslim women and the veil, two BNP members were arrested last week in possession of the LARGEST AMOUNT of chemical explosives ever found at a private residence, a rocket launcher and a nuclear biological suit. And yet the mainstream media have TOTALLY ignored this. It is an outrage and I hope you will write a blog entry about this worrying development - not only worrying because of the 'master plan' that the BNP members were hoping to carry out, but also because it shows just how low the mainstream media's agenda has sunk that they would ignore this type of activity by members of a white supremacist political party so absolutely. Google news 'bnp explosives' to find the articles (from local papers and alternative media only). And that they have yet to be found guilty of anything is no excuse for this cover-up: when Muslim households are raided and sod all is found, the suspects are treated as guilty, the reactionary headlines are non-stop and their full identities are revealed from the word go.

October 08, 2006 10:51 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thanks for the comments. I haven't written about the alleged BNP plot yet, though I am following it on blogs and forums, because information on it is sparse and it is not clear about what has been going on. It is important to avoid prejudicing trials...I'm dying to cover it, but until I have accurate info, I'm holding fire. Look at how the 'Windsor dairy clash' was hyped into race hate when it was just a fight between local youths...

October 09, 2006 8:26 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

I've sent the story to a contact at BBC news, to see if he can explain why they haven't covered it and what os going on. I will report back...

October 09, 2006 8:31 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wear a veil and it is out of choice. I am neither forced as many assume nor do i do so in order to make a point about my piety as you stated.

I am not seperating myself nor hiding, it is purely for religious reasons. There is evidence in the Quran regarding the veil and from Hadith about the wives of the Prophet Muhammad doing so and i have never read that necks, chests etc remain uncovered stated in the post.

People do not know enough about the religion to make such comments. It is the same with myself, i know the basics regarding Christianity etc but not enough to pass judgements as to what is and what is not permissable.

I am intergrated, I have both Muslim and non-muslim friends and if anything i feel more comfortable and confident than ever, including when i unveiled.

We are not a threat but yes with the current climate, we are victimised. Yes of course there are people who have done wrong but it is not due to the fault of the Muslim community and the majority condem this as there is no justifcation for the killing of innocent people

We should be working together to end this 'us and them' mentality as we all want the same thing.. just to live a peaceful life.

October 09, 2006 11:32 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thank you all for your comments on this interesting debate.


Thank you for your comment especially, it is good to hear from someone who has chosen to wear the full veil.I am not, as a said, a Muslim scholar, just someone interested in religion. I tried to learn as much as I could before posting, so
I took care to read up all weekend as much as I could find about all the relevant parts from the Hadith and Koran about dress, and to look as extensively as I could at what Muslim scholars online ( at sites such as IslamOnline)had written on the subject. It was very interesting.

The point about uncovered necks in my post I think you may have misunderstood: going on what historical research I could find, women (in general) at the time of the prophet seemed to be generally found wearing loose dresses with veils and their necks and throats showing - that was the custom. It was a remark on what the historical/cultural current dress for women was *at the time*.

I understood from the relevant texts in the Koran and Hadith that the Believers and followers of the prophet at the time then *adjusted* their dress following the prophets words:

'Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: and God is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their zeenah (charms, or beauty and ornaments) except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimar (veils) over their bosoms and not display their zeenah except to their husbands, their fathers ... and that they should not strike their feet so as to draw attention to their hidden zeenah (ornaments)] (An-Nur 24:31-32).'

So that after this injunction, the women Believers were covering their necks and chests with ther veils that women at the time all wore - so they made a small change to the accustomed dress of their peers in the interest of modesty. They also lowered their eyes, avoided bright patterns and ostentatious fabrics and took care not to flaunt 'adormnments' - such as jangling anklets and cover themselves from head to toe.

Most Muslim scholars (in the admittedly limited reading I have done about what Muslim scholars think,) seem to think that faces and hands were left uncovered and that there is no need to cover them. Here I reference soem quotes from Islam online's scholarly round-up.

'Commenting on this verse, Ibn `Abbas, the inspired commentator of the Qur'an and the eminent Companion of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), said, "What is to be covered is all of the body except face and hands." The above divine order to lower one's gaze makes sense only where women do not veil their faces.

'Furthermore, there is no mention of face veil in the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him); if it had been an absolute requirement for women to cover their faces, then the Prophet would have said so clearly. It is no wonder then that the vast majority of scholars and jurists have never included the face veil as part of women's attire.'

'Therefore, in your earnest desire to dress modestly to comply with the teachings of Islam, you need not go as far as wearing a niqab. Once Islam has permitted women to expose their face and hands, you need not court hardship by going that route. Rigidity, I must add, is not an Islamic virtue; in fact, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) condemned it as being extreme.'( Islamonline

I know that it is said that the women relatives of the Prophet - (particularly Fatima, I think,) wore black and covered her face to mark herself out amongst all the women, and I know that some women do so now as a mark of respect to her and the Prophet's relatives who adopted this extra-modest dress. I know that the Prophet also warned against excessive modesty which stands out to make a point, rather than done out of submission to Allah ( I paraphrase here). I suppose that is down to the woman and her conscience. I do think it is a sad thing that she cuts herself off from us all in this way though, and that is my personal opinion, as stated in the post above.

I agree with you that the majority should not be penalised for the extremist fringe minority's terrible actions, and I agree with you that we should all talk more and learn more about each other and work for peace. I hope the discussion about veils is a small part of trying to understand each other more. I think it is a good debate.

Thanks for dropping in and peace be with

October 09, 2006 2:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rachel, my problem with this whole debate is that the only woman I'd have dreamed of trying to tell what she should or shouldn't wear was my late wife, and even then I'd have thought twice about it. I just don't see it as being anyone else's business what anonymous 10:32 wears; clearly many Muslim women don't share her understanding of what their religion requires women to wear, but she understands her faith the she does, and who am I or Jack Straw to tell her she's wrong? We'd think it very odd indeed -- at least I would -- if Muslims had started commenting on gay bishops in the Church of England. I wouldn't comment on that because I'm not an Anglican so, even though I've got views on the matter as it might be thought to affect wider society, it doesn't really seem any of my business. I don't quite see the difference.

If anyone's interested, I've had a further go at the matter, inspired by a truely fatuous article by Janet Daley in the Telegraph.

Also, I must take the opportunity to note that, by a pleasing coincidence, I was reading this weekend Marjane Satrapi's excellent graphic novel, Persepolis II, about her life in Tehran. One of the episodes concerns the great difficulties she encounters trying to get past the Deputy Mayor's receptionist for a meeting about some designs she's made... she's wearing the wrong sort of headscarf, you see ...

October 10, 2006 12:19 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The veil has caused me some discomfort in the past but, given the current climate, it seems pretty clear that this was yet another attack on muslims by a prominent member of our increasingly fascistic government. Jack Straw knew exactly what he was doing when he made his remarks, namely ratcheting up the tension between 'us' and 'them'.

Plus, I'm glad someone has raised the total silence in the media regarding the BNP weapons raid. If these people had been muslim, it would have been splashed over every front page and deconstructed by every little Toynbee out there!

Salaam aleekum. Shalom. Namaste. Whatever.

October 10, 2006 1:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hard for us in the UK to understand that the Islamic world realy does not treat women equally - so well done for your comments Rachel.

I'm surprised that no communications experts gave spoken up - given that 80% of communication is not verbal but body language, it's obvious that full veiling is a barrier to communication.

The veil is only a tiny item, on the bigger problem of the treatment of women.
An example, Muslim countries haven't signed the Convention on Human Rights - they have their own version the 'Cairo' convention.
This has the line that "women have equal rights to men" removed. Instead says they have 'equal dignity' -that has no meaning in a legal system, unlike the phrase equal rights.
The Koram itself is the basis for the mis-treatment of women under Islam law - it's not disputed that Mohammed says that a women's statement in court is worth half that of a mans! It's thus impossible in practise for a raped women ever to win in court.
Plus the explicit Koran right of a husband to beat his wife (there are some sadly amusing apologist websites that explain this away, and say that the word beating isn't hat bad, or that husbands are only permitted to do it with tooth brushes...)
The most important thing Jack Straw, and you have done, is to say that we do need to have a debate in the open about the veil. There are much wider and more important issues of Islam in our society, which also need a public debate - but lets start here.

well done!

observer in Kent UK

October 15, 2006 12:08 am  

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