Lifting the Veil on the Debate!

Lifting the Veil on the Debate!

The UK veil controversy is perhaps the biggest step backwards so far in the long fight against extremism.

By Liam Bailey

When senior British politician Jack Straw commented that he would prefer Muslim women not to wear veils which cover the face, he sent a rock rolling down a hill, which over the last week and a half has turned into a religiously discriminate avalanche separating the U.K.

The cabinet minister also said that in closed “surgeries” where he meets his constituents, he asks Muslim women if they would mind removing their veils. He added that although he didn’t want to be “prescriptive” he believed covering people’s faces could make community relations more difficult.

His comments sparked outrage from some in the Muslim community but others apparently agreed in some way with the former Foreign Secretary. The debate has been raging on almost every British media site and television talk show ever since.

Jack Straw has vehemently denied that his comments and the ensuing debate were an intentional outburst to raise his profile, which it has undeniably done, ahead of the Labour party’s deputy leadership election.

In the light of the Danish cartoon controversy and the mass protests sparked by the Pope’s innocent comments, I find it hard to believe that a former Foreign Secretary was surprised at the debate his comments had provoked, as he told reporters at a Blackburn press conference on Oct. 13.

I don’t deny that a good debate on this issue could be very beneficial for this country’s recent problems of increasing separatism within Britain’s young Muslim community.

Comments like this from a prominent figure, stating his opinion before any debate, in many people’s eyes has accelerated the rate at which the demonisation and persecution of Muslims has become seen as acceptable behavior. Behavior which became more common after 9/11 and even more so after the July 7 terror attacks on London.

The many conflicting views on this issue, including within the Muslim community, have formed a very interesting debate, one which might have led to many Muslim women volunteering to remove the full veil, perhaps in public, perhaps when speaking to someone, or wearing only the Hijab headscarf in public, who knows.

However, the repercussions of Jack Straw’s remarks and the ensuing debate have the potential to reverse the little progress we have made in the war against extremism.

A classroom assistant who in the past would almost certainly have been free to carry out her job while wearing the full veil, was suspended last week for refusing to remove her Niqab in the classroom at Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. Although she had said she would remove it when adult males were not present.

The school’s children are mainly of Pakistani and Indian heritage, although a few are white British. Aishah Azmi worked as a bilingual support worker for the children, many of whom only spoke English as a second language. If Mrs Azmi was the only person who fully understood the children at all times it is incredibly likely that the children had become attached to her. To see and hear about her being suspended for wearing headgear that they quite possibly see regularly in their family lives must seem very unfair. Therefore this is displaying discrimination against Muslims to the next generation of Muslims. This will not help community relations in the long term.

A local government minister responsible for community cohesion, Phil Woolas told the Mirror that Miss Azmi: “Should be sacked. She has put herself in a position where she can’t do her job.”

The Muslim Council of Great Britain was quick to condemn the minister’s comments as an “outrageous” and “reckless” foray into a “matter that should be decided by the school — and if necessary by the courts.” I’m sure many Muslims agreed and saw the minister’s involvement as persecution and discrimination, in that if this was an assistant suspended for refusing to remove a nose piercing or such like the minister wouldn’t have called for her dismissal.

I feel Phil Woolas should have been attacking the school administration for suspending her for wearing the veil, when no rules prohibit its wearing. I suggest he may have if a Sikh man had been suspended for refusing to remove a turban.

Either way, discrimination and persecution are surely two words which should never be associated with anyone who is responsible for community cohesion. Phil Woolas is therefore as much a candidate for dismissal as anyone.

Phil Woolas wasn’t the only person to take on Jack Straw’s stance, or unfortunately to get it badly wrong.

The Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, has said: “What Jack touched on was the fundamental issue of whether, in Britain, we are developing a divided society.”

As this varied debate has shown with many Muslims speaking out in support of Jack Straw and others, all Muslim women do not wear the veil so there is no divided society as in “them” and “us,” only the division between women that choose to wear the veil and women that don’t. David Davis also warned that Muslim women wearing the veil may create a “voluntary apartheid,” when in reality the opposite is true.

Muslims being allowed to wear the veil freely is nothing more than the same freedom granted to everyone else in the U.K., the right to wear a turban or skull cap or even a habit, in other words the same freedom to wear exactly what we want enjoyed by all in the U.K., no apartheid.

In comparison Jack Straw’s comments, including his call for the complete dropping of the veil by Muslim women and comments by others in support, are basically saying everyone can wear what they want, except Muslims. That is apartheid and that is why the words discrimination and demonisation appear many times throughout this article.

A prominent person is worried about this rising trend of discrimination and demonisation coming from the very top levels of government down. Labour’s Lord Ahmed, the first Muslim peer, dropped a bomb on the debate during an interview on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme: “Let’s be honest, there are people in our community who call themselves Muslims who have been threatening our national security. It is very unfortunate. But the problem is that the politicians and some people in the media have used this for demonisation of entire communities, which has become a very fashionable thing today.”

This trend is already becoming a real problem in Britain, as shown by this ugly incident in Liverpool when a man forcibly tore the veil from a woman waiting at a bus stop.

Religious discrimination against Muslims increased after the July 7 attacks, which also showed that the increasing separatism within our Muslim communities, particularly among the young, can easily turn into extremism and “home-grown” terrorism. This increased the demonisation, discrimination and persecution of Muslims, which in turn increased Muslim separatism, and the vicious cycle continues.

This debate, provoked I’m sure, at least partly to further Jack Straw’s career, has fed the vicious cycle and indirectly influenced the next generation. It will likely result in more “home grown” terrorism in the
U.K. and possibly around the world.

The above article was first published by Oh My News International 17/10/2006



  1. blackthumb said,

    November 6, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    I think this is a really interesting issue as it cuts across so many issues. You can read a little more about my take on it at, if you’re interested. I’m interested in trying to get beyond the integration vs. cultural relativism angle. Feel free to contribute to the debate.

  2. November 15, 2006 at 1:48 am

    […] Jack Straw’s –publicity stunt- comments that Muslim women wearing the veil was a barrier to communication and would hinder the integration of Muslim communities. Also adding that he felt all Muslim women should voluntarily remove their veils. The debate they provoked brought support for his remarks from several other prominent government ministers. Shadow Home Secretary David Davis feared the veil was creating a voluntary apartheid. As I wrote in a previous article, Jack Straw’s comments and those supporting them could eventually lead to government sanctioned apartheid, by denying Muslim women the same rights as everyone else, to wear what they want in a “free” country. As the first Muslim peer Lord Ahmed said this added to the demonization of and discrimination against U.K Muslims coming from the top of government down, this again increased the separatism making terror networks and radical cleric’s job of recruitment far easier. […]

  3. November 16, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    […] The Jack Straw induced veil debate, and the other prominent ministers drawn in supporting his view, Nov. 13, perhaps more than anything else accelerated the rate at which the demonization of Muslim’s and Islamaphobia was not only becoming acceptable behaviour but the norm in Britain. The debate, still making the news and drawing in yet more prominent people, like the Archbishop condemning the wearing of the veil in public, has the potential to do even more damage to race relations in Britain. […]

  4. Amy said,

    July 17, 2007 at 7:11 pm

    I think it is wrong to allow a group of people to seclude themselves from society by masking their face. The veil worn in public makes it clear that ‘they don’t to be part of society’. In view of the reasons for the veil being worn ‘men are pressumed to have no control over their sexual urges and women that don’t cover are pressumed to be without dignity’ i think it’s highly immorally and offensive to all men and women, when this garment is worn. It judges all men to be sex beasts and women without dignity. No one should be given the right to discriminate against men and women in public. Nor should they be allowed to cry racist when challenged about showing their face. Racism doesn’t come into it. Racism is a lever being used to further a right to wear a garment that is a religious symbol no less. Religious beliefs of this extremeness belong in the home or places of worship where they don’t infringe on the rights of others. In addition, the veil gives out mixed messages to different people, i asked a young boy why he thought the teacher hid her face when the man came in the classroom, he replied ‘the women had done something wrong and was scared of the man’. That insight from a 9 year old boy is shocking. That said, the actions of the veiled teacher teach young girls cover up its shameful to show ones body’, it also teaches that women are submissive and that men are to be feared. These are indoctrinations we don’t want to force onto children in schools. The veiling could also cause young boys to grow up resenting women as it tells them ‘you are not worthy to share my space’.
    As for the outcry in regard to jack straws request, a simple one that most of us never need to be asked ‘can i see your face’, i find it laughable that he was labelled as being racist. Eye tests require the face to be unveiled, so does dental treatment and operations? I take it that all veilers go without these things??? So are these people that offer these services also racist? I think not. When the racist card is played by veilers its nothing more than an attempt to get their own way. Where is my right to see who i am talking to? Racism has no place in this issue. This issus is about veilers wearing a uniform to identifiy their difference. I also perceive it as a display of their intolerance for people that are different to them. To allow a group of people to wear publically their beliefs over their head and face is intimidating, it also ensures they dont have to participate in society. The purpose of the veil is to cause a barrier, it does that with flying colours. I feel let down by the powers that be for allowing this divide to happen. Showing your face is respectful in uk. Helmets are removed out of respect, so are hoodies and hats. Why should a group of people be allowed to hide their face? No one elses difference offends me as they don’t hide their face and peer out from behind a veil. This is 2007, not 700. No one should be able to make others feel as if they are not worthy. Religion has too much importance in society and it’s all one sided. No one should have the right to wear a portable barrier to keep out those different to them. I do think human rights are being manipulated by veilers and that they have the upper hand. What about the rights of others that don’t hide their face? We have none. Only in the workplace can a female be prevented from veiling, as it’s sexually discriminating against men when they veil among them.
    Communication problems caused by veils are another matter. Voices are muffled under a cloth. I could go on about this issue but i think the video of the teacher on u-tube makes clear the difficulty in understanding what the teacher was saying. She too had trouble understanding the questions put to her.
    When veilers liken their right to veil to that of a surgeons, its laughable almost. Some other instances of masks worn are below: Bike riders helmet is worn to protect the head from injury should they crash.

    Surgeons or dentists’ surgical mask
    is worn to protect from blood splashes and to prevent infection. It’s also smaller and thinner and attaches around the ears. Its the surgeons/dentist duty to protect the patient and themselves from infection.

    Rugby and hockey players face mask and helmet is worn to protect from injury.

    Welder’s mask is worn for health and saftety reasons.

    Fencer’s mask is worn to protect from injury.
    Not veiling doesn’t cause the wearer health and safety issues. Veils are also not required for speech. If they were life saving, i would accept them. If the person had a skin allergy to daylight, no one would object as exposure to light can kill people with this condition.
    I think all religious dress symbols should be banned from the workplace and schools, so that no one can wear anything religious. That way the rule is fair. Schools are not there to accomadate religious requests, they are there to educate children. Religion belongs in the home and in places of worship. Until this loophole is tightened up, there will not be equality among men and women. France and Turkey imposed dressing curbs, why on earth can’t the UK. On a larger scale, how do we know who we are talking too? If we can’t see them….The veil is not a religious requirement in the quran and it’s not compulory in Islam, so why is it choice here? How does one know all those that wear it, do so by choice? Given that females would be scared to speak out against their forcer.

    No one should be given right to go about with their face concealed. To give a minority special rights is discriminating against wider society. Motor cyclist remove their helmets, hoodies are banned etc In Uk we like to see who we are dealing with. Asking for the right to see who we are dealing with is not an unreasonable request. In uk veilers should respect the laws of the country and stop trying to change them. For instance, the veiler that went to court accused of an offence, expected to be given a hearing wearing a veil. The veiler told the judge, the veil had to be worn around men. The judge refused to hear her case and quite rightly so as sharia law has no place in uk. This is sexually discriminating against men and should not be tolerated. No one should be allowed to hide their face when the majority of uk don’t. Its disrespectful and an insult to all good men.

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