Monday, October 09, 2006

Again and once more...on Jack "strip off!" Straw

I was just going to add my twopenn'orth to the Strawgate debate by way of Volty's esteemed if overcrowded comments box. Then I remembered that I'm a member of this blog, and have the privilege of boring y'all at greater length. So here goes!

The bourgeois press have been going crazy with silly stories about Muslims over the last week, the silliest being the taxi driver who wouldn't let a guide dog in his cab. Of course, the motives of the Evening Standard for running this very small story on its front page can be easily understood: they're a sad bunch of racist wankers. Nevertheless, the event does raise an interesting ethical dilemma (though not in the Evening Standard). When does a right or value trump another one - in this case, non-discrimination against non-discrimination? How much latitude can be given in such cases to religious peculiarities?

I think one has to ask whether or not the thing objected to is necessary, practically or morally. A human right must always trump a religious or cultural preference. Or to put it another way: something which applies to everyone equally takes precedence over something which applies only to a self-defined group of people. Everyone should have equal access to basic facilities like transport, and abolishing discrimination against disabled people is an important part of that. So the court was right to fine the taxi driver (though why didn't they fine the firm? If he felt he couldn't provide the required public service they shouldn't have given him the job).

With Jack Straw and his peculiar aversion to the niqaab, we are (to state the bleeding obvious) in a different case. There is no practical or moral reason why one should have to show one's face to the Leader of the House of Commons before speaking to him. (Maybe it should be Straw wearing the niqaab - he's no oil painting after all!) I say Straw's objection is peculiar because he says nothing about the veil or its patriarchal social function at all. In fact, he makes no rationally understandable criticism of it. Socialists and secularists should abhor the niqaab because it demeans and restricts women, brutally demonstrating male domination. Yet Straw seems to dislike it because it intimidates him!

If Jack Straw is so unnerved by talking to a woman wearing a veil that he feels compelled to criticise her clothing while she's asking for his help; if that's so important to him that he insists on shooting his mouth off about it when doing that will inevitably make a very sensitive situation even more tense - then he shouldn't be an MP. Actually, he shouldn't be an MP for many, many reasons. He's just added another one. "Well done" Jack: now sod off back to Blackburn and try keeping your mouth shut!


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