Veil hang-ups may pass

“For years I worked in a school where a number of memorable parents wore the niqab, a full veil. These women taught me a lot about Islam. They also challenged my understanding of inclusion. However strange I felt in our first encounters, I now remember their faces with fondness. Aisha Azmi’s tribunal, coming in the wake of Jack Straw’s discomfort over veil-wearing, challenges our society from the top down.

“When government minister Phil Woolas calls for her sacking, saying she ‘can’t do her job’ I have to ask whether he’s taken any time out of publicity-seeking to explore alternatives. If not, can I call for his sacking?

“When Mr Straw clumsily complains that veils make him ‘uncomfortable’, I can’t help but wonder if the key to community relations really is to keep men like him comfy. Would he like us to fetch his slippers as well? … And when the Prime Minister refers to the veil as ‘a mark of separation’, I have to point out that he usually wears a tie. If ever a silly piece of clothing reinforced separatism it’s that absurd, class-bound strip of silk.”

Huw Thomas in the TES, 27 October 2006