Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Straw Man?

Andrew comments on the Labour Party's recent issues regarding veils here.

I myself think that whilst the turban and the skullcap are likewise 'visible statements of separation', what makes the veil different is that it practically implements that separation (which the others do not) in a potentially unhelpful way. If, as is often said, most communication is non-verbal, then much of this will be facial. And for one person to cover their face when in a conversation puts the other person at a disadvantage. As such, his point is valid.

I have heard neither Straw nor any of his Labour colleagues express a desire to legislate against the wearing of the veils, merely an admission that he finds it unhelpful and has expressed that view in his constituency surgeries. Living in a society with freedom of religion is a very good thing, but it is also good when politicians promote expression of responsibility with those freedoms.

I doubt if any muslim will significantly change their practise with regard to veils due to Mr Straw's statements. However, I don't think that they should be shielded from being politely made aware that such practise causes some of the people with whom they share a society (and this includes people such as Jack Straw who have promoted religious tolerance) difficulty.

I agree with Andrew's rejection of the argument about the wearing of the veil being a provocative act (this is not an argument I have personally heard espoused by Straw nor any of his colleagues in the mainstream parties). But the same judgment ought to be applied to Straw's comments (likewise Andrew has not himself used this as an argument against Straw) - people using Jack Straw's words as an excuse for religious hatred are responsible for their actions, and should be held responsible as such.

I am glad that we live in a multicultural society (although Andrew's classification of muslim cultures in Britain by their country of origin raises questions about the level at which a community or culture can, does and should acquire an identity), I am proud that we have freedom of religious expression (in contrast with many muslim states) and wish it to increase and be promoted. But this ought to go hand in hand with the freedom to encourage responsibility with those freedoms.

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