Thursday, October 05, 2006

Straw - No Muslim Veils in Face-to-Face

Jack Straw, former foreign secretary, is in trouble after revealing that when having face-to-face meetings with Muslim women he asks them to please remove their veil. His problem basically is that he feels uncomfortable not being able to see the face of the person sitting in front of him. He raises a good point "The value of a meeting, as opposed to a letter or phone call, is that you can - almost literally - see what the other person means, and not just hear what they say."

The BBC reports:

Mr Straw said he always made sure he had a female colleague in the room when asking someone to remove their veil.
He said his constituents had so far always agreed to lift their veil when he has asked.

However, missing from the BBC report is this (from The Daily Mail):

Chairman [of the Islamic Human Rights Commission] Massoud Shadjareh 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.
"Mr Straw's comments are as objectionable as the elected representative of Stamford Hill, a predominantly Jewish constituency, requesting members of the Orthodox Jewish community to remove their religious garb when visiting the surgery."

Mr Shadjareh is completely wrong, of course. What Mr Straw is doing has little to do with religion. If these women were wearing veils for fashion reasons he would still be asking them to remove them.

UPDATE: I made a mistake with the statistics. The area I focused on was not the main Jewish area of Hackney. There are areas in Hackney where the Jewish population is as high as 25%. My apologies to Mr Shadjareh for my earlier harsh comments. Although I stand by my questioning of whether even 25% makes an area "predominantly Jewish".