Friday, October 06, 2006

Jack Straw and the veil

The emerging controversy over comments by the leader of the House of Commons, Jack Straw, indicating his discomfort interacting with veiled women is, to say the least, unfortunate. As has become sadly too frequent in recent times, candour on the part of a prominent individual has been used to whip up the underlying tensions that exist in a key minority community.

For my part, I have to admit to seeing his point. I was brought up to believe that, when you are talking to someone, eye contact is a matter of courtesy, indicating that you are actually listening to them. If the person you are talking to is veiled, establishing that link is difficult (if it is any consolation, I have the same issue with mirrored sunglasses...).

The most important point though is the lack of compulsion implied by Jack Straw. He would prefer it if Muslim women didn't wear full veils, but he isn't saying that he won't see them or work for them if they prefer to be fully veiled, and I see no problem with him holding that view.

In a society where freedom of speech and opinion is highly valued, mutual respect is a basic requirement. Jack Straw has had the decency to express himself in an honest and quite liberal manner. Now, perhaps, is a good time for those misrepresenting his views to think again...

3 comments:

The Cat said...

Surely the point is that this is a right-wing "dog-whistle" by Straw as part of his deputy leadership campaign.

I'm quite happy for him to express his (intolerant) view - and very much look forward to him being punished in the ballot box for it.

But it really says something about today's Labour party that Straw thinks comign out with this bogotry will be a vote-winner in their internal elections :roll:

Mark Valladares said...

Cat,

Has he actually said something intolerant this time, or are we measuring the man against his admittedly intolerant, rather authoritarian record?

If his comments are simply intended to appeal to an internal 'readership' then I would condemn him for opportunism. However, I find it hard to credit him with being stupid enough to place a higher value on his position within his party than his electoral position within his constituency.

The Cat said...

Has he said something intolerant?

Well, that's grey. He's certainly expressed intolerant sentiments.

Why shouldn't people dress as they wish?

And surely it's intolerant to put pressure on people to dress in a particular way when they exercise their democratic right to be represented by their MP.

Is it ok for an MP to refuse to help with someone's housing benefit or asylum casework until they shave off their beard or remove their waistcoat?

As far as his motivation is concerned, Straw has clearly calculated that he's 'safe' in Blackburn, after the efforts to oust him last time round. I think (and hope) that he may be wrong in that calculation. But he's not just a sh1t, he's an ambitious sh1t.

So in answer to your question, the fact that Straw has a track record as one of the most illiberal MPs in the Commons doesn't come into it; my criticism is very much about the here and now.