‘Jack Straw started all this’

“Three years ago this month Jack Straw argued his case for urging Muslim women who attend his MP’s surgery to remove their niqab. He said that he wanted to start a debate. In this, at least, he was successful.

“The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy said ‘the veil is an invitation to rape’; the Daily Mail columnist Allison Pearson said women who wear ‘nose bags on their faces … have no place on British streets’; the then shadow home secretary David Davis argued that Muslims were encouraging voluntary apartheid.

“And 16-year-old Daniel Coine insisted he felt threatened: ‘I’d go further than Jack Straw and say they should all take off their veils. You need to see people face to face. It’s weird not knowing who it is you’re passing in the street, specially late at night when someone might jump you.’

“And so Muslim women passed, in the public imagination, from being actually among the group most likely to be racially attacked to ostensibly being a primary cause of social strife – roaming the land in search of white teenagers to physically harass.”

Gary Younge in the Guardian, 22 October 2009