The day after Jack Straw’s now infamous remarks about Muslim women wearing veils (niqabs), I was wandering through Tesco and stopped briefly to watch a cute but unruly child giving his mother the usual runaround. I smiled in sympathy at her exasperation and she returned the smile. A normal everyday encounter, nothing unusual about it. Only perhaps to Jack Straw and his ilk it would have been.
The woman was wearing a niqab. But her smile was there to see. It was in her eyes. I guess Jack must have forgotten about the eyes being the window to the soul and all that. If not, why should he request that veils be removed during discussions at his surgery? Isn’t it the eyes you focus on when you speak to someone? If it isn’t it says more about the person doing the focusing, I think.
Anyway, Jack, I find your useless tie a symbol of power and big business oppression. Hey, and don’t you realise you could hang yourself wearing a noose like that round your neck? I really find it uncomfortable to look at and, in the name of health and safety, I request you remove it immediately.
Some commentators have suggested that politicians such as the aforementioned are only articulating what the Great British public think. Cutting a heroic figure willing to stand up and say the unsayable. Oh yeah, and what is that exactly? Excuse me, but I think that veil you’re wearing is a little bit intimidating. Well you’re not speaking for me, pal. Leave me out of it.
Frankly, I find a veil that reveals just two dark eyes rather alluring. But then that’s just me. Straw uses the word difference and separateness like they fit together as in ball and chain. Difference: well, of course, that should be celebrated here, shouldn’t it?
Separateness is a different matter. I don’t think a woman wearing a veil – providing it’s done of her own free will and is not due to male coercion – wishes to be isolated or separated from society. On the contrary, I think Muslims feel enough of that already.
In an era of e-mails and every man woman and even child clutching at mobile phones it is sheer cant to suggest you need to see someone fully in the face in order to talk to them. We’re just back to Islamophobia in a very thin veil.
Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service