Friday, October 20, 2006

Sucking beyond the telling of it

The British Labour Party have been in power since 1997. The main advantage of this appears to be that the Conservatives no longer seem that scary. The Tories have taken to attacking the British Labour Party from the left or at least the centre (there's really not that much room on the right). Tony Blair and co. have certainly done their best to ensure that even people who want a mildly social democratic government have realised that the British Labour Party are not going to deliver.

So they've responded to the fact that everyone hates them with attacks on brown people. In particular Jack Straw had the following to say in his local paper about women who wear veils over their faces:*

All this was about a year ago. It was not the first time I had conducted an interview with someone in a full veil, but this particular encounter, though very polite and respectful on both sides, got me thinking.

In part, this was because of the apparent incongruity between the signals which indicate common bonds – the entirely English accent, the couples’ education (wholly in the UK) – and the fact of the veil.

Above all, it was because I felt uncomfortable about talking to someone “face-to-face” who I could not see.

So I decided that I wouldn’t just sit there the next time a lady turned up to see me in a full veil, and I haven’t.


I thought it may be hard going when I made my request for face-to-face interviews in these circumstances.

However, I can’t recall a single occasion when a lady has refused to lift her veil; most seem relieved I have asked.


Would she, however, think hard about what I said – in particular about my concern that wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult.

It was such a visible statement of separation and of difference
I mention not just to point out again the vile racism that supposedly left-wing polticians will stoop to. But because I think it demonstrates really well the point Rachel was making in her post Bikinis and Burkas - that demands that women cover themselves, and demands that women uncover themselves, are both ways men claim ownership over women's bodies (she also had some excellent points about how the discourse around these issues enable imperialism to hide itself and you should go read her whole post).

Jack Straw feels entitled to women's faces. he believes that if a woman comes to his office asking for help, he is a better judge than her about what she should wear, and that he is well within his rights to demand that she dress in the way he wishes to.**

* To be clear while Jack Straw is obviously a troglogdyte he isn't quite so stunningly ignorant as our own Bob Clarkson - he does appear to know the difference between a head scarf and facial veil.

** Can I just randomly mention that I hate George Galloway? Because I do. It's not just that he's part of the current push in Britain to restrict abortion rights. It's that his comment on these eventscontroversy could be summarised as:
George Galloway, the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, called on Mr Straw to resign, saying he was effectively asking women "to wear less".
Lets be clear you misogynist moron - the problem isn't with asking women to wear more less, it's men demanding that women dress for them in the first place.


  1. Yes, women have to be told what to wear, how to make a smile that is endearing but not scornful and not emotionally remote, etc. If you can't see her face, you aren't able to dicipline her when she makes the wrong facial expression

  2. Thank you for this post. I was uncomfortable with Straw doing this but I didn't know why, but you have shown me.

    You are absolutely right.

  3. I wonder if Straw would have had the same response if the woman had been wearing a veil, or face mask, or similar for non-religious reasons, eg medical. Maybe that would have been acceptable to him (because that is obviously the important thing here). Personally I don't see what difference it makes - surely it is her choice? Stupid man.

  4. I think Straw, like me, feels entitled to people's faces if they have some business they want to conduct with him. Instead of crying racism, we might consider why Straw's male muslim constituents aren't turning up in his office with their faces covered - that's more where the problem lies.

  5. I understand your point and first thought "uh oh MPs telling people what they should wear", but what Straw has provoked is a useful discussion within Islam in the UK about the role of the Burkha and how people intepret it. Many are upset, many are engaging.

    Notwithstanding that it is not for the state or anyone to tell adults what to wear or not what to wear. Adults DO have the choice of requesting other adults to wear or not wear certain clothes when they enter THEIR premises. I for example wont tolerate someone entering my flat with a neo-Nazi tshirt on, and wouldn't hire someone who turned up in only underwear.

    Some Islamic women have come out saying the burkha is unnecessary under the Koran and oppressive, as well as giving the impression that Islam oppresses women, other women have said it is their choice "leave me alone". Which, of course, it is.

    Straw's comment was - to be fair - that if you enter his premises he prefers if the face is not veiled because he is uncomfortable with that. I doubt if many MPs, of either sex, would be comfortable with any constituent arriving only in underwear and shoes. It is his personal issue, and as long as it is personal choice how adults interact with each other, then it seems ok.

  6. Anonymous1:55 pm

    I'm not sure I understand your point about Galloway - he's an utter wanker in general, yes, but I don't see how his comment as reported quite justifies the vitriol. Surely "to wear less" is a part of "to dress for him", just more specific?