“… does wearing a veil make multi-culturalism more difficult? Does it stoke racial tensions? Is it anti-social? Is it right to ask Muslim women to remove their veils?
“I would answer no. It is true that for a society, multi-cultural or otherwise, to function properly its citizens must observe certain basic, shared values. For example, that the law of the country is paramount, and must be observed by everybody. If this value was not common throughout British society, we would have people of every religious or cultural sect acting according to their own specific laws, society would degenerate into chaos and would, effectively, cease to exist.
“So it is right, then, to say that even in a multi-cultural society (indeed; especially in a multi-cultural society), we must expect all citizens to observe certain common values (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.). However, ‘not wearing a veil’ is not a common value, nor should it be. Mr. Straw makes a mistake by conflating ‘difference’ and ‘separation’. The whole point of a multi-cultural society is that we allow people to express their differences, in fashion, in religion and in culture, within certain limitations (based on public safety)….
“Wearing a veil is, then, a ‘visible statement’ of ‘difference’, but this is not a negative thing. The freedom to express difference is what liberal, progressive democracies are all about. If it is true that ‘people who don’t understand [Muslim] culture’ can find women in veils ‘frightening and intimidating’, as a minister for Communities and Local Government (strangely, the Sunday Mirror described him as ‘Race Minister’) Phil Woolas put it, then the solution is to help people to understand Muslim culture, not to urge Muslims to ‘Westernise’ in order to to fit in better. Multi-culturalism is about embracing cultural differences, not seeking to homogenise society to make everyone look and act the same.
“… the truth is that there is no ‘issue’ with veils; the issue is one of intolerance among some white Britons to people of different cultures. This has been illustrated perfectly over the last few days, with yobs around the country committing hate crimes against Muslims. For example, yesterday a man in Liverpool attacked a Muslim woman, pulling the veil from her face. Earlier this week a 16-year old Asian youth was stabbed in Preston in a racially motivated attack, after a flare-up involving up to 200 people. Local yobs had been chucking bricks and concrete blocks at cars parked outside a mosque.
“This is the real issue, the real obstacle to the success of multi-culturalism; Islamophobia due to fear, ignorance and association with terrorism….”
Also features an effective reply to Joan Smith’s Independent on Sunday article.