Jack Straw has made a measured and sensible statement about the wearing of full-face veils by Moslem women. And, predictably, he's being accused by Moslems of being discriminatory. The networks, notably Sky and BBC World, that we get here, have been leaning over backward to let spokesmen--and even a few women, none wearing more than a hijab or head scarf--claim that Moslem women's freedom of choice is being attacked.
That is a real laugh. The veil is imposed on women by Moslem men who want to keep them subjugated. You cannot drive, wearing a chador or burqa, you cannot work in any of the professions such as medicine or nursing--in fact, you can't really do any useful work at all outside the house (where you can take the garment off) and are completely dependent on your menfolk for everything. It is notable that in the countries where the full face and full body veil are customary, women rarely have more than elementary education (indeed the rate of female literacy is low) and rarely are even allowed to vote. Now, is that discriminatory or what?
Straw described the conditions under which he requests a veiled woman to show her face in a conversation with him. They actually show a rare degree of sensitivity, but I expect very few women take him up on it, because there is another aspect to the Veil--that of fear. Where men demand that their women become non-persons by assuming a garment that ensures their anonymity, they also kill them whenever the men decide their 'honour' has been compromised. The fear of being the victim of an honour killing will make most women completely submissive, as is the state of divorce in Islam, which gives women no recourse at all, and makes them lose custody of their children. All a Moslem husband has to do is to say "I divorce you" three times and you are thrown onto the street in the clothes you wear. Where are the Moslem leaders decrying this form of "discrimination"? Do Moslem women kill unfaithful husbands?
Furthermore, it is worth noting that even the hijab is not enjoined by the Koran, although it has become pretty universal as a statement of female adherence to Islam. But the number of countries where the full-face veil is customary is very small within the Islamic world. Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish, Indonesian and Malaysian women have never adopted it.
I wish Straw had had the guts to say that we belong to a culture where hiding one's face behind a veil, or mask, has very sinister connotations, and is totally unacceptable in civilized society. What is the person hiding? Of course, if he were to do that, undoubtedly he would be the recipient of death threats such as the Pope has received.
It's about time British Moslems woke up and smelled the coffee. Even those born in the UK are really guests there, and if they don't want to join the majority culture, they are quite welcome to leave and try to find somewhere where their religion is practiced the way they like it. Britain, unlike the US, has an established Church, and other religions are tolerated as a courtesy. I really hope that Straw doesn't turn out to be as lily-livered as everyone else who has been criticizing certain Islamic practices. Islam is an intensely intolerant religion, and if ever there was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it.