Jack Straw says he doesn't regret remarks on women's veils 

Source Herald Tribune

LONDON: Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Thursday that he had no regrets about the article he wrote on Muslim women's veils that triggered an emotionally charged debate around Britain and as far away as the Middle East.  Straw wrote in a newspaper column last month that he asks women who visit his district office wearing veils that cover almost their entire face to remove the garment when they meet with him. That set off a furious national debate on British multiculturalism and the identity and integration of minority groups, particularly Muslims. Prime Minister Tony Blair eventually jumped in, saying the full-face veil known as the niqab is "a mark of separation." "I would write the same column again," Straw, who now serves as leader of the House of Commons, said at an interfaith forum in London. He said the piece he published in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph newspaper had been thoughtful and respectful, and that he had never challenged women's right to wear a veil. He emphasized that he only requested — and never demanded — that women remove the veils in his office and said he did not support banning the coverings. He said those living in Britain should have a stronger sense of shared identity based on the country's democratic values. The debate Straw set off reignited talk about the veils as far away Egypt and other parts of the Arab world, where the issue has simmered for years. The emotional dispute there centers on whether the covering is required by Islam for modesty or a dangerous sign of political extremism. Some in the London audience said that no matter how respectful Straw's comments had been, their effect was to stir up bigotry. "You haven't started a debate. What you have started is open season on Muslims," said Shamiul Jorder, director of the group Muslim Voices. "Some attackers pulled off a woman's hijab (head covering) and shouted, 'Didn't you hear what Jack Straw said? You can't wear that.'" Straw said such attacks predated his comments and argued that it was absurd to blame him. 

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