Bri­tish ex-min­is­ter stirs up de­bate on Mus­lim in­te­gra­tion

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - World -

LON­DON (AP) — Bri­tain has been plunged into a de­bate over Is­lamic in­te­gra­tion af­ter rev­e­la­tions that for­mer For­eign Sec­re­tary Jack Straw asks Mus­lim women visit­ing his of­fice to re­move their veils and a Mus­lim po­lice­man was ex­cused from guard­ing the Is­raeli Em­bassy.

The up­roars have left many ques­tion­ing whether Bri­tain’s mul­ti­cul­tural ideals can with­stand the strains of a cul­tural di­vide that is in­creas­ingly tor­ment­ing much of Europe.

Straw said in a news­pa­per col­umn pub­lished Thurs­day that he be­lieves the veils favoured by some Mus­lim women in­hibit com­mu­ni­ca­tion and are a sign of di­vi­sion in so­ci­ety. At his con­stituency of­fice, he said he asks that veiled women re­veal their faces, adding that the women have al­ways com­plied, and a fe­male as­sis­tant is al­ways present.

On Fri­day, Bri­tish me­dia quoted Straw as say­ing that he would pre­fer that Mus­lim women not wear veils at all.

“I just find it un­com­fort­able if I’m try­ing to have a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one whose face I can’t see,” Straw told the Bri­tish Broad­cast­ing Corp.

Many Mus­lims in Straw’s par­lia­men­tary dis­trict of Black­burn, in north­west­ern Eng­land, re­acted with out­rage.

“It is triv­ial to sug­gest that you need to see some­one’s face to speak to them freely. Peo­ple can still com­mu­ni­cate with a veil on,” said Fauzia Ali, 23.

Ali, who does not wear a veil, added: “I know some women would refuse to leave the house if they had to re­move them.”

The Straw con­tro­versy erupted just as Bri­tain was abuzz over news that Lon­don po­lice had ex­cused a Mus­lim of­fi­cer, who is of Syr­ian de­scent and has a Le­banese wife, from stand­ing guard at the Is­raeli Em­bassy dur­ing the re­cent Le­banon con­flict.

Of­fi­cials say they ex­cused him be­cause he cited con­cerns about his fam­ily’s safety and de­nied it was re­li­giously or po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

For decades, Bri­tain has prided it­self on a grow­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. Work­places have prayer rooms for Mus­lim em­ploy­ees to ful­fil their daily prayer obli­ga­tions, Sikh rights to wear tur­bans are en­shrined in law, and In­dian curry is prac­ti­cally a na­tional dish.

“We have to re­spect peo­ple’s dif­fer­ences and de­ci­sions to go their sep­a­rate ways but ev­ery­body in so­ci­ety, too, has got a re­spon­si­bil­ity to­ward the co­he­sion of our so­ci­ety and so I just wanted to put that on the ta­ble,” Straw told the BBC.

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