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...