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The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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Britain politicians target veil

Asking Muslim women to remove their veil only increases isolation of their community.

Recent controversial comments made by House of Commons leader Jack Straw and Prime Minister Tony Blair, identifying the wearing of veils by British Muslim women as isolating, have sparked heated debate and threatened to trigger riots throughout Britain. The remarks reflect a growing anxiety towards the country’s diversity and the alienation of British Muslims. Comments of this character from high profile politicians, however, only further fuel the current isolation Muslims are experiencing in the UK by discriminating against the community’s faith.

Straw set off the debate earlier this month when he asked Muslim women who visit his office to remove their veils when speaking with him. Contributing to the controversy, Blair made a statement last week calling the veil “a mark of separation,” when addressing the troublesome relationship between the British Muslim community and the greater British community.

However, both politicians fail to recognize the religious significance of the veil. Also known as a niqab, the veil is a part of a Muslim woman’s belief system, and to ask women to take it off would be an infringement on their religious beliefs. It also sets a dangerous precedent that a fundamental symbol of devotion can be attacked. Would we condone a politician’s call for Sikh’s to remove their turbans or Jews to remove yarmulkes due to the isolating nature of religious headwear?

The banning of veils is not going to bring communities together, but instead will further segregate minority groups. Community relations are not about removing difference. By asking a Muslim woman to remove her veil for the purpose of cultural adaptation, it is implied that one may not simultaneously enjoy their religious and national identities. It is the attitude towards choices different from our own that leads to separation, not the wearing of a veil.

Ultimately, it must be left to the Muslim woman to decide for herself whether she wants to cover up fully with the niqab as an expression of her faith and Islamic identity. Instead of urging for the removal of religious symbols, Britain needs to focus on how minority communities can better integrate into the wider society while still maintaining their cultural distinctiveness.

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