Friday, October 06, 2006

Drawing a veil

Jack Straw's remarks that he feels more comfortable in conversation with Muslim women if they remove their veils has attracted a good deal of comment - almost all of it of it in opposition.

And most of it doesn't compare like with like.

Asking a Muslim woman if they'd mind removing their veil during a conversation is not like asking them to 'get their tits out', as Jamie K says and George Galloway implies.

Neither is Jack Straw's 'discomfort' akin to that which might be experienced when talking to a woman wearing too little, or Sikhs wearing turbans, or Jews wearing yarmulkes, or neds wearing Burberry caps or sporting tattoos, as suggested by Mike Marqusee and Chris Dillow.

Because the latter examples to not interfere with face-to-face communication, whereas the veil does.

And to compare it to other instances where we communicate with others without seeing their faces, as Norm and Chris do, isn't right either because in telephone or email conversations, the inability to see the face of the person you're talking to is a reciprocal experience.

Nevertheless all the above are right, I think, to suggest that it is not really tolerable for a senior politician to lecture people about what they should wear.

I suppose Jack Straw is entitled to make the request in private - provided those he is addressing feel equally free to decline.

But writing an article about it comes rather too close to a sort of Peter the Great hacking off people's beards for my liking.

And the suspicion that the normally more careful Jack Straw is making these remarks in the context of his apparent desire for the post of DPM - in much the same way that John Reid set out his stall for the leadership - makes me feel, well, uncomfortable.

Update: The Telegraph conflates the issues that are the subject of the two previous posts:
"Mr Straw is to be commended for brushing aside the politically correct nostrums that have inhibited such discussion among senior politicians.

What a contrast to the supine behaviour of the Metropolitan Police when Pc Alexander Omar Basha sought to be excused duty outside the Israeli embassy – and was allowed to do so."
What a porous concept 'political correctness' is. I don't see what these have to do with each other. The state is perfectly entitled to tell its employees what their duties are, which includes where they are stationed and of course what they should wear. But Jack Straw's constituents are not his employees. In a democracy the relationship is supposed to be the other way around.

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