and Religious Symbols
updated down the page - latest April 20th 2007

OCTOBER 6th 2006
Press Association News extract:

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has revealed that he asks Muslim women to remove their veils when they visit his constituency surgery.

Mr Straw said he now invites the women to take their veils off because he feels "uncomfortable" about talking with someone whose face he cannot see. The article provoked anger from Muslims who accused Mr Straw of discrimination.

Mr Straw made the comments in a regular column for a local newspaper in his Blackburn constituency.

He wrote how he is concerned the veil is a "visible statement of separation and difference". He said wearing the full veil "was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult."

The headline to the above is:

Straw veil comments provoke fury

What are we to make of this?  If there are medical reasons why someone must wear a veil or a mask, I suppose a doctors certificate could exempt people from normal behaviour. But in general our society depends entirely for its freedom of movement and remarkable liberties on the frankness of our approach to life. We deliberately expose ourselves to visual facial identification and use our face to show our demeanour. This is particularly necessary, as anyone who has travelled abroad and does not speak the language fluently or at all knows only too well, when dealing with any situation that may arise in a public place.

A masked man does not enter a bank. A masked man does not enter any public place actually. A person wearing a mask could be of any gender, as could anyone wearing a veil. If we allow masks to be worn without arising the slightest suspicion we might as well abandon security cameras or passport or driving license photos. Security cameras are based on the deliberate vulnerability that honest people exhibit. A person with nothing to hide has nothing to hide.

There can of course be societies where the wearing of veils by women is the custom, but not in Western Europe. It was tolerated in the 20th century because it was of limited extent and we were not in the globalised new environment with its completely new problems and privileges; but now it has to stop. Jack Straw has not insisted, all he has done is to go public with what he has said in private, adding that when he has suggested it there were never complaints and usually obvious relief, So although it may be some time before we get round to it, just as some malls have stipulated that young men may not hide their faces in hoods, many public places will make it a rule that people do not hide their faces by any means.

We are told Mr Straw has been accused of discrimination. We do not allow men to wear masks in normal public circumstances, so the only obvious discrimination would be against men as far as I can see. The world in which we can travel freely on transport that is vulnerable to catastrophic destruction is incompatible with a masked population. Privilege has only ever been sustainably granted to those who can handle it with appropriate appreciation. We do not take horses on the underground railway. The most widely accepted custom of much of the world until recently was smoking cigarettes, pipes and cigars. We have given it up in places where it is no longer appropriate. So abandoning the veil in public, while it must be done gently and with kindness, will have to be done. There can still be many places where those who really wish to hide their faces can stay.and maybe even whole countries where they can wander about masked if that is what they really need. It cannot possibly have anything to do with informed religion.

On the radio this evening a Muslim lady was explaining how anyone could see, when she was smiling, her eyes lit up. Sorry dear, nobody's eyes light up, ever. It's all in the mind. The eyes and sockets take on different shapes, but they are easily confused without the rest of the face/

On BBC Radio 4 we had the benefit of hearing the views of the public in the phone-in ANY ANSWERS.
Jonathan Dimbleby made the strange assumption that in the case of Jack Straw's surgery, the identity of the woman was of course known, as she had made an appointment!!

Maybe I have overlooked something. Perhaps at the door they scanned her iris, took her fingerprints and a voice scan and checked them against the records. In which case I accept Mr Dimbleby's proposition. But somehow I doubt it. Even if an individual is identified correctly when they make an appointment, the veiled individual who turns up may be another taking their place.. If both the appointee and the person who turns up are veiled, Jack Straw may be listening to people who are posing as his constituents but come from elsewhere, or to constituents who are posing as others, or even a few politically active constituents who are good at imitating other voices. Admittedly Osama bin Laden is rather tall, but I see no reason why he could not have entered posing as a woman wearing what in this context is called a veil, but which most people would call a mask, provided he new all the personal details of an accepted appointee.

English women often wore veils in the pre world-war days in the street. They took them off when in places where they were in conversation with others, as a matter of obvious good manners and practicality. When entering any place where they announced their identity they took it off at the door..The veils they wore were attractive and semi-transparent.

We listened to a Muslim woman who first said she wore the veil to avoid being abused in the street and then seconds later that she was abused because she wore a veil in the street. She wore the veil because it was 'part of the package', she said. Then seconds later that it was a free choice, when it had already been agreed that the 'package' was medieval (nothing wrong in that) and had been designed by men to stop others from looking at their wives, in an environment and a time when this was understandable but is not how we live in Western Europe today. These people are seriously confused.

 Whether or not they feel safer in the street wearing a mask, it is right, safer and good manners to remove it unless they legitimately fear being seen by the person they are addressing. If they are addressed uninvited, that is quite another matter. If they are addressed because they are being admitted into a building or a machine of transport, it may be a legitimate request that they should obey or accept refusal of admission. If addressed by a police officer in the street who is empowered to ask their identity as e.g. a witness to an event, it would seem to me reasonable to be identified by the face.

Then we had a man who said if Jack Straw's argument on communication was valid, how could David Blunkett be Home Secretary when he couldn't see at all. The answer is with great difficulty, a lot of assistance, a lifetime of practice and total faith and trust in all those around him. The result was a predictable disaster the moment he was up against people and media who betrayed him. He was also able to perform only because the rest of the government were not blind. Eyes developed through evolution in all life forms independently as a necessity for those lifestyles where they play a part.

We then had to listen to a man who said Jack Straw had never consulted muslims about anything. He gave as an example the invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. This was an unfortunate example, as it was listening to Muslims that decided the government that Saddam had to be removed by force, after which they would be able to unite the country under a single democratic government. Had we not listened to Muslims and gone to their assistance, they would have been slaughtered in former Yugoslavia and Saddam, after UN and Coalition withdrawal, would have extended his special form of control in the Middle East, leading probably to further conflict with Iran. Jack Straw has been a great friend of Muslims in the UK, in former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Iran particularly.

Those who argue against Jack Straw starting a proper debate on this issue are, as you can see from all the above, very confused people. Their confusion makes them very angry, and their anger from time to time leads to violence. That is why, if at all possible, we must see if they can be better informed.

John Prescott misses the point entirely. Of course he is right, women are entitles to wear veils! They should also know when to remove them, as women have known for ages and, if they do not, people are entitled to ask them to do so. If they still do not, people are entitled to assume they do not wish to take part in the social intercourse of the modern world and benefit from its privileges.This whole debate is becoming ridiculous.

OCTOBER 12th 2006
On BBC Radio 4 Fareena Alam, editor of the Muslim magazine Q News explores the impact of Jack Straw's views on women wearing the veil.

This was a good program. Give people plenty of rope,and then, if they are completely tangled up in themselves, they hang out to dry. However, I am not sure Fareena really spotted what was happening. It was a very fair bit of journalism, the journalist was amazingly innocent.

Race relations, as in all relations with those who have not by prior commitment expressed their complete identification and mutual solidarity, are based on trust - the degree of trust or the lack of it. On the whole we trust people when we believe them to be (a) rational and (b) capable of empathy. We do not trust them, even if we like them, if we judge them to be controlled by emotion or an egocentric view of life.

Fatima from Blackburn was introduced as a young, intelligent graduate, A lecturer in psychology (!!)
She made a complete fool of herself on the programme, however, with a non-stop stream of confused thought in which she contradicted herself again and again. At the end of her tirade Fareena the presenter was 'moved'. I was nearly moved to tears.

This women is a teacher? No wonder we have problems.

At the end she said that if forced to meet Jack Straw she would ask him to cover his face, as she could not bear to look at it. She probably does hate him, of course, not because as she claims he is responsible for hundreds of thousands of Muslim deaths, but because he has punctured the denial and unbelievable dishonesty that has made her mind such a mess. The dishonesty is not, of course, intentional. The self-obsession was unconsious

Fareena congratulated her for 'reaching out and meeting people half way'. I think when she plays the discussion through a few times she will see that this stream of emotion was, essentially meaningless except as just that, and Fatima reaching out is Fatima doing her show-business..

But the programme was excellent. It's only absurdity at the end was of criticising Straw of being 'obsessed' by the veil issue, when the reverse is true. The most valid point made was the failure of today's debased local British culture to offer Muslims an acceptable society into which to integrate. No wonder they want to keep out of it. I can even understand them wearing veils in the street in some places. But then when they go to see Jack Straw they should take it off and tell him loud and clear why they do not wish to integrate into a bunch of yobs and ladettes who have no idea of how to live or eat or behave,.who find crap TV interesting, and don't understand their own national.language, culture, history or religion.

Muslim teacher defends her veil

The 23-year-old insists the veil is not a communication barrier
Aishah Azmi interview
A Muslim teaching assistant suspended for refusing to remove her veil in class said her pupils never complained.

Aishah Azmi, 23, also claimed she had been willing to take the veil off, but not in front of any male colleagues.

Headfield Church of England Junior School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, had said pupils found it hard to understand her during English language lessons.

Government minister Phil Woolas told the Sunday Mirror Ms Azmi should be sacked, accusing her of discrimination.

"She has put herself in a position where she can't do her job," he told the newspaper.

"She is denying the right of children to a full education by insisting that she wears the veil."

Excerpt from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/10/14 21:53:21 GMT


After protesting all day, the teaching assistant finally admitted that when she went for the job interview she did not wear a veil..
I don't think we should be surprised. It will take time, but eventually all this will be seen for what it is and we can move on.

OCTOBER 15th  The unbelievable argument continues. Ms Azimi's lawyer's statement below beggars belief. Wearing a face-mask (let's face it these garbs are not veils, they are total face-masks), is a mediaeval practice from another type of society and even then had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam other than that some Muslim women practised it because it was forced on them and others in the same society followed suit when it was the way to survive or just good diplomacy. The same herd mentality is common today in our society, from high-fashion to punk. There are however appropriate limits on dress in all sorts of public and regulated places and anyone not subscribing to these has obviously to avoid them if attendance is voluntary. If attendance it is compulsory, then they have to adapt.



Ms Azmi's lawyer called for Mr Woolas to withdraw his comments, which he warned might influence the classroom assistant's employment tribunal.

There are so many people in this country who wear the veil and who are very well educated
Aishah Azmi

"Mrs Azmi is very well able to carry out her role as a teaching assistant providing support to pupils who speak English as a second language," said Nick Whittingham, of Kirklees Law Centre.

"She is able to do this effectively while wearing the veil. She has demonstrated in a number of interviews that she can communicate effectively while wearing the veil."

Mr Whittingham described Mr Woolas's comments to the Sunday Mirror as "ill-advised" and called for him to withdraw his demands.

Kirklees Council earlier said that Ms Azmi had been asked to take off her veil in class because children had difficulty understanding her in English lessons.

When she refused to remove the veil, she was suspended pending an employment tribunal.

The council said the school's action had "nothing to do with religion".

Ms Azmi told the BBC her veil had not caused problems with the children, with whom she had a "brilliant relationship".

"The children are aware of my body language, my eye expressions, the way I'm saying things.

"If people think it is a problem, what about blind children? They can't see anything but they have a brilliant education, so I don't think my wearing the veil affects the children at all."

But Ms Azmi later admitted she had taken the veil off to be interviewed for the job by a male governor.

The school, which has 529 pupils aged seven to 11, takes many children from different ethnic backgrounds where English is not the first language.

I should add that Ms Azmi is inclined to speak fast and sometimes indistnctly, so on Radio 4 where one could not see her lips there were occasions when it was hard to decipher what she was saying. There is no way she would have been accepted for this job if she had won a veil. This whole story is one of utter absurdity. We are not in the Middle East and we are not in the Middle Ages.

OCTOBER 27th 2006
Now we have the Archbishop of Canterbury wading in with an opinion that politicians should keep their opinions to.themselves when it comes to individuals wearing any clothes or symbols they associate with their religion. That makes sense when the wearing of the clothing or devices do not conceal something that affects their relationship with others in the context and environment in question. The concealement of identity or of a weapon in a public place is a matter for regulation and approval. It is a political, not a religious matter. The rules regarding the wearing of a uniform to identify function, membership or authority is a matter for the rules of the society that has created and sustains the institutions involved. There is no way that the customs of cultures that are incompatible with the modus vivendi that has developed in the countries of western Europe can be adopted as public behaviour. Of course people can wear anything they want - they can be totally concealed or start naked - but they cannot under those extremes of behaviour take part in public in the free and privileged social intercourse that we enjoy in most of the developed world. The Archbishop has therefore, like John Prescott, completely missed the point: terms and conditions apply to the rights, the quite extraordinary privileges, that our modern society grants to every indvidual. The right to dignity, respect and justice, as well as the freedoms of access, are not unconditional. Terms and conditions apply. The privileges are granted at great cost, of both their establishment and their maintenance.

Let's face it, not a single Pope or Archbishop of Canterbury has even had the wit to point out that the parable of The Sower, in St Lukes Gospel, is a description of evolution through natural selection; so we are dealing here, when it comes to the leaders of the Christian Church, with people who have never even understood the basic teaching of the founder they claim to revere. All we can do is keep smiling and trust that in time enlightenment will spread and understanding will come because, since natural selection is an embedded part of temporal material development, this is tautological. The variables are how painful and how long, when it comes to the part our planet and our species and its progeny has to play.

NOVEMBER 5th 2006   -  The Bishop of Rochester rides to the rescue of logic

Bishop attacks 'Muslim hypocrisy'
A senior Anglican bishop has accused many Muslims of being guilty of double standards in their view of the world.

The Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, told the Sunday Times some had a "dual psychology" in which they sought "victimhood and domination".

The Muslim Council of Britain said the comments were "not very helpful".

The bishop, whose father converted from Islam, also said situations such as teaching could require Muslim women not to wear full-face veils.

Mr Nazir-Ali argued it would never be possible to satisfy all of the demands made by Muslims because "their complaint often boils down to the position that it is always right to intervene when Muslims are victims... and always wrong when Muslims are the oppressors or terrorists".

He compared Bosnia and Kosovo, where he said Muslims were oppressed, with the powerful position of the Taleban in Afghanistan, who he said had been the oppressors.

He added: "Given the world view that has given rise to such grievances, there can never be sufficient appeasement and new demands will continue to be made."

A Muslim Council of Britain spokesman said the remarks in the paper appeared "rather broad brushed".

He added: "We would normally expect a bishop to display more humility and work towards bringing communities closer together rather than contributing towards fostering greater divisions."

Veil debate

The bishop's comments on the use of full-face veils by Muslim women add to the debate sparked by Commons Leader Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, last month.

He disclosed that he asks Muslim women to remove the veil when they attend his Blackburn constituency surgeries.

Mr Straw also suggested that Muslim women who wear veils over their faces can make community relations harder.

In the Sunday Times, Mr Nazir-Ali referred to a "huge increase" in the wearing of Muslim dress in Egypt, Pakistan and Malaysia.

He said: "I can see nothing in Islam that prescribes the wearing of the full-face veil.

"In the supermarket those at the cash till need to be recognised. Teaching is another profession in which society requires recognition and identification."

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, entered the veil debate last month by saying people should be free to wear visible religious symbols.

He said aiming for a society where no symbols such as veils, crosses, sidelocks or turbans would be seen was "politically dangerous".