It struck me this morning, listening to Phil Woolas on Radio Four (mp3 download, about 11 minutes in), that the language used by liberal commentators on the subject of Mohammed cartoons/Pope's remarks/whatever is exactly that of Straw and Woolas.
"Muslim women have every right to wear what clothing they believe their faith requires or that they feel confortable with - we're not questioning that ... I am saying that people need to consider the effect of their behaviour on others - and just as this government is very strong in standing up against discrimination and bigotry, we're asking people to consider the implications of their own behaviour ..."
This is pretty much par for the "of course there is a right to publish, but there are times when it is right not to exercise that right" course. The big difference is that those vearing the veil are unlikely to have to go into hiding. I imagine the SWP and MCB are even now organising a dignified 'Defend the Nijab' march, and I look forward to the sight of lefty women donning their veils in solidarity with their oppressed sisters. We may as well get some laughs out of the whole depressing situation.
The dynamics aren't totally clear to me. Why are Straw and Woolas saying this, and why now ? Is it, as some have suggested, a move for the Deputy Leadership, a concern to show that he's as tough as John Reid ? Or is he genuinely worried for social cohesion ? I suppose it's possible. The obvious thing to do if that's the worry - given the demographics of high fertility and chain migration - would be to stop all immigration from the Indian sub-continent now - no more trips for clever female undergraduates to Bangladesh or Mirpur, returning with a second cousin husband and elderly in-laws. But that would be racist. It ain't gonna happen.
So it looks as if we're going for an extremely mild kind of assimilation - thirty years too late.
"Excuse me, would you mind awfully taking off the veil when you're talking to me ?"
The dynamics of the response aren't difficult to foresee, although I hope I'm wrong (as one who predicts an unpleasant future for my children's generation, I have no desire to be proved correct). A marked increase in veil-wearing. Mr Straw will have made his request and got his response.
Couple of other points.
Remember when Jack Straw ducked out of the cartoon debate, which was entirely the product of a campaign of orchestrated outrage ?
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: "The right of freedom of speech in all societies and all cultures has to be exercised responsibly and does not extend to an obligation to insult."
Phil Woolas today : "... the impact of the debate in the united kingdom goes directly across the world - particularly to the Asian subcontinent, where relatives watch the same news often, read reports of the UK debate - these things can be misinterpreted, can be twisted, can be used by any point of view to inflame or perpetuate a particular angle - now, some of the reports in the Asian subcontinent have questioned whether or not it is safe to be a Muslim in Britain ... my point ... is that this debate is reported elsewhere and is often misunderstood"
Perhaps you should have defended the Danes against lies and misinformation when they were the victims. Those who do not hang together will assuredly hang seperately.
"The issue of how do we have faith-based communities within a democratic secular country,is a question that is facing the world"
I didn't know we WERE a secular democracy. I thought the Queen ruled under God and that our constitution was specifically Protestant and Christian. Did they slip and Enabling Act through in the recess ? Admittedly our constitution is about the only Christian thing left. Which is why we're in this mess.
This bit was also interesting - the opening part especially (I couldn't actually grasp his waffling at the end) :
"Young Muslim people especially want to assert their identity, want to assert their faith - and that's very understandable in the modern world - equally that can cause an increase in stereotyping and discrimination against them, contrary to their own intentions - so while the government is strong in standing up against discrimination - and indeed we've legislated very strongly for that ; we also wish to create a very tolerant society where there's a greater understanding of why it is that people do what they want; I'm trying to get this out in the open so that we can debate this in a very mature way"
Would Mr Woolas find a desire in English people to assert their identity "very understandable" ? The problem with asserting identity is that it tends to be asserted against some other identity. If thet other identity is the straight white male, or the English. no problem - hence Gape Ride marches or Easter 1916 commemorations. Yet I haven't noticed an especial keenness on the part of our rulers to understand, say, the desire of British Ulstermen to "assert their identity" at Drumcree and other places.