‘Brave Trevor makes so much sense on race’

“There are quite a few useful rules of thumb in life. If something seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is too good to be true. If a book is still boring after 100 pages, it’s not going to improve. And if Ken Livingstone violently disapproves of someone, the chances are that they are an admirable person. The London mayor keeps company with Jew-hating, gay-baiting Muslim extremists such as Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi. But he can’t bear the black, liberal chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips. Which is odd, as Phillips has so many brave and sensible things to say….

“It would have been easy for the chairman of the CRE to stay in the comfort zone of ‘diversity policy’ and the unquestioning defence of minority rights. Instead, Phillips supported Jack Straw’s expression of concern about Muslim women covering their faces in his constituency surgery. He criticised ‘so-called Muslim leaders’ for attacking Straw: ‘They were overly defensive and need to accept that in a diverse society we should be free to make polite requests of this kind.’ And he called on the teaching assistant Aishah Azmi to drop her discrimination case after she was suspended for refusing to remove her veil during lessons. Most of all, Phillips wants us to be able to talk about race freely, to bust the last taboo….

“Forget Ken Livingstone: Phillips talks a lot of sense. And it is not just ‘so-called Muslim leaders’ who should be listening to him. We all should.”

Mary Ann Sieghart in the Times, 30 November 2006