The reaction to this mild suggestion? Muslim outrage, nonviolent this time, in the person of Haleema Hussein of the U.K. Muslim Public Affairs Committee, who demanded that Jack Straw should not be allowed to voice his opinion. See it here.
a substantially more rational viewpoint is expressed by Saira Khan in the London TimesOnline:
The growing number of women veiling their faces in Britain is a sign of radicalisation. I was disturbed when, after my first year at university in 1988, I discovered to my surprise that some of my fellow students had turned very religious and had taken to wearing the jilbab (a long, flowing gown covering all the body except hands and face), which they had never worn before and which was not the dress code of their mothers. They had joined the college’s Islamic Society, which preached that women were not considered proper Muslims unless they adopted such strict dress codes. After that, I never really had anything in common with them.Read it all.
It is an extreme practice. It is never right for a woman to hide behind a veil and shut herself off from people in the community. But it is particularly wrong in Britain, where it alien to the mainstream culture for someone to walk around wearing a mask. The veil restricts women, it stops them achieving their full potential in all areas of their life and it stops them communicating. It sends out a clear message: “I do not want to be part of your society.”
Some Muslim women say that it is their choice to wear it; I don’t agree. Why would any woman living in a tolerant country freely choose to wear such a restrictive garment? What these women are really saying is that they adopt the veil because they believe that they should have less freedom than men, and that if they did not wear the veil men would not be accountable for their uncontrollable urges — so women must cover-up so as not to tempt men. What kind of a message does that send to women?
What is dangerous here is the demand by Muslims that Muslims, no matter what they do, should be above criticism by non-Muslims. That is a dangerous concept of free speech. It is a dangerous concept to a multicultural civilization.