Jack Straw

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?

3 Responses to “Jack Straw”

  1. Zapdude Says:

    …What you get is a nutter ranting on about stuff which he doesn't really understand not a structured debate.
    It's hardly Islamic Hyper-Sensitivity saying Burqas or headscarfs should be banned. It's just as weird as a muslim cleric saying that all Nun's shouldn't wear dresses (or headscarfs in some cases)
    Regarding that crap about you going to hell I think your taking it too far, nothing wrong with a structured argument with a bit of critiscism but you've simply jumbled up many of your opinions on how you feel when you see a Muslim woman thinking she's oppressed…well many choose to wear it in the first place so…there you go, they just want to be more religious.
    And Mr.Straw was hardly debating it , he made a pretty solid statement regarding it.
    If anything this is hardly a debate but just a spew of insults, have you actually talked to any muslims about this…?
    Didn't think so

  2. Will Says:

    Who said that head scarves should be banned? It certainly wasn't me, nor was it Jack Straw or anyone else who has had the temerity to add to the debate. The whole point is one of personal opinion and the right to express one. By the way, I've never seen a nun wearing a head scarf that covers the entire face, but I would have exactly the same opinion if I did.
    Apologies if my tone appears flippant – it is not my intention to dilute the issues, it's just a language that I find more comfortable to use. You're comments are much appreciated.

  3. alison Says:

    Muslim women have a very complicated relationship to their headscarves. It's been a few years since I've been close with someone who wore the hijab (and she was very liberal, so no question of niqabs or burquas) but what I remember best from our many discussions of islam, christianity, feminism, colonialism, and the personal/political negotiations of all of these was the deep ambivalence that she felt about wearing a scarf. In a Western country, paradoxically, wearing a scarf makes you an object of an even deeper than normal male gaze, in contrast to wearing a scarf in an Islamic country (where, my friend argued, it gives you a very comforting feeling of anonymity, which I would appreciate greatly for those days when I feel like walking down the street is running the gauntlet of the male gaze). So this garment, which is not meant to protect you from men but rather to give you a kind of freedom through "invisibilty" (that was my friend's feminist interpretation; I think there are some rather less liberal interpretations out there) actually makes you (in a Western country) more of a spectacle. So why wear the veil? Piety is one reason: when one's identity is deeply bound up in one's faith, why be afraid of showing it. But there are surely other, likely ambivalent, reasons.

    Are the women who you are so deeply upset not to be able to look in the eye liberated or oppressed by their invisibility to you? You would have to ask them. And therein lies the possibilty for real debate. I really can't comment on "Britishness" (but as a "colonial" I'm a bit suspect) but one of the difficult realities of democracy is creating real discussion. And that means talking to everyone — even the people who are invisible.