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06 October 2006

Veiled confusion

So the biggest story of the last 24 hours has been Jack Straw politely requesting Muslim women not to wear a veil. Certainly Jack Straw got the debate he wanted. However I have a few questions.

1. Despite the apparent controversy raging in the media, many of the Muslims interviewed have been men. Excuse me, but it's not men that are being asked to lower the veil. Would I ask a bunch of men their opinion on whether bras were too tight? Could we ask the BBC for more female opinions please?

2. In all the time that Jack has been asking women, they have been free to refuse and none have done so. Does this not imply that the real people objecting are the men who wish to subjugate women to the status of dressing up according to their ideals rather than what the women want? Is this acceptable in a Western Society which advocates equality?

3. If women are choosing to dress this way, why is it that the toilet on air flights out of strictly Muslim countries is full for the first hour of the flight while women change into normal clothes?

4. If we force people to show their face at passport control, is a polite request in an MPs surgery really so controversial? What if veiled women want to go into a bank which has a big sign saying "Motorcyclists please remove your helmet'. Is it not seen as a security risk that a bloke could dress in a veil to rob a bank? The identity parade could be quite interesting. Also, what is going to happen when ID cards become mandatory?

5. If western, non Muslim, women don't cover their heads in Muslim countries or drive a car in Saudi Arabia, they face arrest. Westerners MUST conform to Muslim ideals in Muslim countries. If we had the same attitude here we'd be forcing Muslim women to go around half naked in summer like most Western women. The fact that we don't is a sign that we are a tolerant society, so why is it so controversial just to ask the question or removing a veil? We enshrine freedom of speech in this country and not being allowed to ask the question or have a debate on it is an attack on this right.

6. If a Muslim woman comes to collect a child from school and is wearing a veil, how do you know it is her and not a kidnapper?

7. Supposing you employ a Muslim woman wearing a veil at work and you employ a deaf person. The deaf person will not be able to work with the Muslim woman as they will be unable to lipread. If the deaf person can't do their job as a result, they could sue under the Disability Discrimination Act. The Muslim woman could sue under Religious Discrimination. Who is right?

8. The Muslim custom of wearing a veil could be considered the Islamic equivalent of men in western countries wearing ties. Neither is in fact prescribed by any religion. Both are long standing customs that allow the wearer to conform to other peoples ideals of dress. When we accept men in this country without ties to be equal to those that do and do not force any man to wear a tie at work then we will be in a much better position to judge the dress codes of other nations and religions when we have learned to accept people for who they are, not how they dress. Is the request for women to show their faces a parallel of expecting male politicians not to hide their mouth behind a beard?

9. Why is it that because an extremely tiny proportion of radical Muslims advocate violence and terrorism that suddenly every story concerning Muslims suddenly becomes a major crisis point? Did we react the same way towards all Irish people and carefully consider their point of view when the IRA was terrorising London. No. You can just imagine the nonsense that would ensue if Irish jokes were banned following an IRA bomb. Double standards?

10. If you look at the BBC debate on this point you'll see that the vast majority of people think on the BBC forum think that Jack Straw is right. If the BBC was reporting this in a balanced way, their TV reports could perhaps give some more objective analysis of this discussion by conducting an opinion poll amongst both the public at large and the people affected, namely Muslim WOMEN. Then we would be able to look at the issue objectively rather than the endless vox pops we've been getting where one person who disagrees with Jack seems to be speaking for the entire Muslim community when clearly the position is likely to be a lot more complex than that. In the struggle for so called balanced reporting, are the views of a small minority being over emphasised?

Can we have faith in more objective discussion on this or will the BBC continue to cover it up?
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