Archive for October, 2006

Jack Straw

Saturday, October 7th, 2006

It pains me to admit this, but my admiration for the former dithering Home Secretary has sky-rocketed ever since he took the unusual decision to connect his mouth to his own brain, and not to the bible of No 10. His quest to ignite debate has probably exceeded all expectations and his provocative statements have cut straight to the heart of the cultural stand-off between "Bristishness" (whatever the hell that is) and Islam. And why the hell not? After all, he's only saying what most British people think. We've recently been conditioned to blindly "accept" different cultures and in these days of Islamic hyper-sensitivity, it's simply not PC to voice personal judgment anymore. The last thing we expected was for a political heavy-weight to light the fuse.

No doubt I'm probably going to hell for this (not to mention ruin any chance of indulging in 17 virgins), but if Jack can do it then so shall I.

I can't help it, but every time I see a Muslim woman wearing the niqab (et al) various thoughts start racing around my head: "poor sod, having to wear that ridiculous outfit", "it just smacks of male owenership to me", "I bet she's wearing a Wonder Woman's outfit under that", "maybe she's too much of a munter to show her face in public", etc etc. I was brought up to look people in the eyes and to engage with them using dialog in which the intricacies of facial expression are a crucial and integral part. That's not compatible with religious hoodies. And that's just how I feel.

A Muslim scholar from Jack's constituency of Blackburn came out with the predictable bollocks insisting that his comments were an "insult to Islam and to all Muslims in the world" blah blah blah. Well, Mr Angry Ranty Scholar, cultural misunderstanding works both ways and you're displaying an astonishing lack of understanding for ours: debate is not an insult, you'll find it's a pretty handy tool intended to build intellectual bridges.

If anything, the row has provided the British public with a suite of handy new nouns: how many non-muslims could tell apart a hijab from a niqab, jibab, abaya or even a chador? We've been familiar with burqas for a while and now we have a whole new range to enjoy! The point is that debate leads to education and that should always be valued.

Nobody is saying that Muslim women should not wear head veils, it's just that people in Britain just don't seem to like what they stand for. That's not an insult it's just an opinion.

Interestingly, Charles Clarke also seems to have turned agent provocateur having been released from the shackles of Home Secretary under His Tonyness, the King of Spin. Just as Boris Johnson has always done, open one's mouth just that split second before engaging the brain. It seems that these Home Secretary droids can only take so much spin and censorship – even David Blunkett's at it! Eventually they'll crack up, screw up and get sacked before spewing out a torrent of common sense, political insight and beautiful honesty.

What you get is genuine and stimulating debate. Personally, I love it. Can we have some more please?