Interviewed on this morning’s Today progamme, Ken Livingstone was asked: “Which do you think is more important: the freedom of religion and cultural identity which encourages many young Muslim women to wear the veil, or a sense of integration in a society in which everybody has fundamentally some kind of common commitment to that society and its values?” The Mayor replied:
“But I think we’ve got that. We have here – and London typifies it more than almost anywhere else in Europe – a whole group of shared values, but at the same time people can continue to carry on with their cultural difference. Step back and think, if we had said, over a hundred years ago to the great wave of Jewish refugees fleeing anti-semitism in Russia, ‘you can come here but you’ve got to leave your religion, you’ve got to leave your form of dress’, we would have been immeasurably diminished as a society. That community gave a vast amount to London.
“I don’t hear politicians saying that they feel intimidated or cut off because Orthodox Jews dress the way they do. We fought a long time ago to get the right for Sikhs to wear their turban while they’re in the police force or on the buses. It seems there’s a different standard being applied to Muslims. And it’s nothing to do with domestic politics. It’s the background of war and oil and international politics that drives that agenda.”