‘Whatever happened to free speech in Britain?’

“With the ink hardly dry on his words, Jack Straw is plunged into a maelstrom of denunciation for daring to suggest that Muslim women should discard the veil. Many of his constituents in Blackburn are vociferous in their dismay.

“The Lancashire Council of Mosques says he is ‘very insensitive and unwise’. The Islamic Human Rights Commission accuses him of ‘selectively discriminating’. The Muslim Public Affairs Committee attacks his ‘headline-grabbing’….

“But if this is the reaction to a calm and measured critique of Islamic culture – and one that is intended to open up a dialogue – what hope can there be of mature debate between the communities? Whatever happened to free speech Britain?

“Sadly, the pass was sold long ago. For years, this Government has actively promoted multiculturalism, encouraged Muslim ‘ghettoes’ and set its face against greater integration. Anyone who dared to question this new apartheid was routinely denounced as a ‘racist’.

“Britishness? Who cares? For New Labour – yes, including Mr Straw – it became an article of faith for the ethnic minorities to celebrate their own languages, culture and traditions, at the expense of shared values. There could hardly be a more effective recipe for division.

“Is it really surprising that some Muslims are now pressing for Sharia law in their own communities? Or if they see Mr Straw’s views on the veil as a juddering reversal of all that has gone before?”

Daily Mail, 7 October 2006