Friday, October 06, 2006

A Man of Straw

'Question Time' was starting on BBC1 when I got back home last night. First topic up was something I'd missed earlier on, which was Jack Straw's call for Muslim women not to wear veils to his surgeries, since in his view they were a 'visible statement of separation and difference' .

My first thought was to wonder how he’d react if I had turned up wearing a kilt at his surgery as a visible statement of my separation and difference, and whether I’d have been asked to remove that to make him feel more comfortable. But instead of getting a well-deserved kicking from the panel, I was shocked to hear a pro-Straw consensus develop between 'Liberal' Democrat Shirley Williams, Private Eye Editor Ian Hislop and Labour chairman Hazel Blears.

Rather than uphold the right of women to dress however they choose, they essentially agreed that Straw was right to ask for a veil to be removed before he dealt with a constituent. Very pointedly, no-one criticised his claim that veils were a symbol of difference, or asked why this would be a problem even if they were.

We are expected to see people like Blears and Williams as tolerant social liberals. After all, they must be, because they keep telling us they are. But the strongest sentiment the utterly vacuous Blears could muster was to call for a ‘debate’ on the issue. It was instead left to the unlikely figure of Tory Oliver Letwin to describe as "dangerous" the suggestion that women should not be allowed to wear a veil even if they wanted to.

But by that time, the damage was done. Taking their cue, out sallied the hellish legion of newly liberated racists in the audience, with a new-found justification to vent their own putrid little prejudices against anyone who dares to be different:

“I’m not a racist, but…”, “The way things are going, we’re going to become a Muslim country”, “We pander too much to these people”, and my personal favourite, “It’s all political correctness gone mad”.

Great Britain - the most tolerant and inclusive country in the world? Sure, provided you're white, don't have a funny accent, keep your head down and know your place. If expressing disapproval of different cultures is what now passes for tolerance and inclusiveness in the salons of New Labour, then as Sam Goldwyn once said: 'Include me out'.

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