Straw Defends Muslim Veil Stance

{mosimage}Jack Straw has defended his comments that he would prefer if Muslim women did not wear veils at his surgery. The Labour MP for Blackburn went even further on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme saying he would rather the veil was not worn at all. The Conservatives criticised Mr Straw over his views, after he said wearing the veil could damage “better, positive relations” between communities. Downing Street said Mr Straw was expressing a private opinion. The prime minister said it was reasonable for people to express opinions.

“You cannot force people where they live, that’s a matter of choice and economics, but you can be concerned about the implications of separateness and I am,” Mr Straw told the Today programme.

The ex-foreign secretary, whose constituency is about 30% Muslim, earlier told the Lancashire Evening Telegraph women wearing veils could increase “separateness”.

“Wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult,” Mr Straw wrote in his local paper. Being able to see mouths and noses would lead to true “face-to-face” conversations with his constituents. This, he wrote, would enable him to “see what the other person means, and not just hear what they say”. He said he made sure he had a female colleague in the room when asking someone to show their mouth and nose – and his constituents had so far always agreed to do so.

But Conservative policy director Oliver Letwin said it would be “dangerous doctrine” to tell people how to dress. He said he did not want to “slip gradually” into a situation where we did not allow differences because they create separations. “If a person is making a statement about how they want to dress, I think it’s pretty important we live in a country where you’re allowed to do that,” he said.

Mr Straw’s comments provoked a mixed response from Muslim groups.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission labelled the article “astonishing” and accused Mr Straw of discrimination. The Protect-Hijab organisation said the “appalling” comments showed “a deep lack of understanding”. But Dr Daud Abdullah, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he could understand Mr Straw’s discomfort adding that women could choose to remove the veil.