Unveiled: Another Debate About Muslims in the West

The controversy started local and went global in a week.

"I want to unveil my views on an important issue," wrote British MP Jack Straw in an Oct. 5 blog entry for the Lancashire Telegraph, a daily news site in his north England district.

Straw recounted how uncomfortable he felt during a meeting with a Muslim constituent who wore a full veil that revealed only her eyes. Now when he meets veiled Muslim women, he wrote, he asks them to remove the covering. The veil, he said, is "such a visible statement of separation and of difference" that it makes communication between Muslim and non-Muslim communities "difficult."

First in Britain and then around the world, Straw's comments provoked passionate debate about the Muslim experience in the West. Like Muslim reaction to Danish caricatures of Muhammad and Pope Benedict's citation of a 14th century anti-Islamic thinker, the controversy illuminates the difficulties of Muslim assimiliation into Western societies.

Straw's preference to speak with Muslim women face to face has angered some Muslim leaders and drawn criticism from fellow politicians and advocates of multiculturalism. One British Muslim blamed Straw for an incident last week in which a man tore the veil from the face of Muslim woman in Liverpoool while shouting racist comments at her.

But Straw's views have also attracted plenty of support, both from his constituents (a quarter of whom are Muslims) and from women, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Novelist Salman Rushdie supported Straw saying bluntly, veils "suck."

Soumaya Ghannoushi, a blogger for the Guardian, said she was no fan of the niqab, as the veil is known, but "individuals and groups are entitled to decide how they wish to live, what they wish to eat, drink and wear, even if we strongly disapprove of their choices, as long as they cause no harm to others."

"Muslim women should thank Straw," countered Saira Khan in The Times, arguing that "the growing number of women veiling their faces in Britain is a sign of radicalisation."

When it comes to wearing the veil, she wrote, "a lot of women are not free to choose. Girls as young as three or four are wearing the hijab to school -- that is not a freely made choice. Girls under 16 should certainly not have to wear it to school. And behind the closed doors of some Muslim houses, women are told to wear the hijab and the veil. These are the girls that are hidden away, they are not allowed to go to universities, they have little choice in who they marry, in many cases they are kept down by the threat of violence."

"So for women such as them it was absolutely right for Jack Straw to raise this issue. Nobody should feel threatened by his comments; after all, the debate about veils has been raging in the Islamic community for many years."

But singling out Muslim women as the cause of social division is "absurd and dangerous," said Madeleine Bunting, a columnist for the Guardian.

"There are many far more important barriers to successful integration. Two-thirds of children from families of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin are growing up in poverty. More than 20% of all Muslim youths between 16 and 24 are unemployed," she wrote.

Muhammad A.R. Galadari, a columnist for the Khaleej Times in the United Arab Emirates, said the controversy demonstrates the need for British Muslims to assimilate.

"We must look at how Jews integrated with the British society but never changed their religious beliefs. They continued to pray in their synagogues and held on to their faith. I believe this is what the Muslims living in Britain and other countries in the West need to do. As long as the Muslims do not truly integrate with their host societies, they will continue to face hostility," he wrote.

Prime Minister Tony Blair defended Straw, who until recently served as his foreign minister. "It's a difficult, tricky debate to enter into, as we can see over the past few days, but he raised it in a very sensible and measured way," Blair said.

But Blair's deputy prime minister John Prescott disagreed, saying he would not ask women to remove the veil when speaking to them during constituent meetings.

"I've heard this argument before and I think it sometimes leads to considerable difficulties," Prescott said, adding that he had expressed his concern to Blair that "sometimes people might use it in a more prejudiced way and I'm concerned it might damage relations rather than improve them."

In The News, a Pakistani daily, sociologist Afiya Shehrbano said Straw's "cultural racism...is a veil itself -- one that covers itself under the garb of social cohesion."

But she also acknowledged that Muslims "cannot be defensive all the time and in that pose, deny young Muslim women the opportunity for higher studies or the right to employment. Choice and freedom has to work both ways -- if a woman has the right to veil herself, she must have the equal freedom to chose her partner, to inheritance and to challenge oppressive institutes, such as the family, as well as a state/politician that attempts to tell her how to dress."

Elias Harfoush, columnist for the pan-Arab daily Dar Al Hayat, insisted the issue could not be reduced to one of cultural insensitivity.

"To the British citizen in general, the veil is not the problem. The problem is the political 'declaration' about this clothing set against the backdrop of security," Harfoush wrote. "True, one must not forget the fact that there are racist tendencies in British society. This is the case in every country. Such tendencies reject a stranger's looks and religion, simply because he is a stranger. However, for the sake of their interests, at least, it is the duty of the leaders of the immigrant communities, chiefly the Muslim ones, to try their utmost to keep these trends at a minimum. The Muslims have another duty: to seek to integrate into the community rather than live in seclusion."

Straw concluded his commentary in the Lancashire Telegraph by writing, "My concerns could be misplaced. But I think there is an issue here."

He was certainly right about that.

Talk About It

Journalist and commentator Mona Eltahawy will join World Opinion Roundup for a live discussion on the Britain veil controversy Thursday at 1 p.m. ET. Submit your questions now.

By Jefferson Morley |  October 12, 2006; 9:00 AM ET  | Category:  Europe
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

You know what, Muslims need to stop playing the victim. Com'on guys, be men, not whimpering schoolboys.

Posted by: Dan | October 12, 2006 09:35 AM

As a muslim I fully give my support to the mp Jack Straw Regarding this issue.because it is redicilous masking their face!!!! like alien please do not allow this any more thanks

Posted by: Salahadin Ahmed | October 12, 2006 10:00 AM

A Modest Proposal: If they want to be Muslim, they should pay a tax, as they would enforce on anyone different. They should never say anything anti-US, or in any way perform any action that might be viewed as anti-US such as burning a US flag, lest they face the death penalty. Wait, that does not sound very tolerant does it? That is precisely how they would treat us. However, we in the US are tolerant- so much so that it is ok that they react with intolerant violence if we even hint that they aren't tolerant people. Enough being PC. They have kept their women so violently oppressed that many are brain-washed into thinking it is ok!
I saw one such woman loudly bashing the US in a grocery store line one day. I said if you had said something like that against your home country government you would have probably been shot. We may not be a perfect country, but consider the freedoms you are enjoying right now.
That drew some applause.
Sadly too many people are blind to how far such mistreatment permeates their society. How violence is central to their not so moderate ways. In our PC world it is too easy to sweep things under the rug for convenience sake- to turn a blind eye to the offensive reality of things. The veil must come off!

Posted by: Not so PC | October 12, 2006 10:11 AM

Sir, I have read articles written by people outside of this country about this subject.
They all seem to miss an important point, most likely due to their own agendas.
Why did Jack Straw say this? With respect to his constituency being about 30% Muslim, and he has been the MP for 27 seven years. Why at this time?

There is something that foreign commentators don't know about, and everyone in the UK recognises. That is the image politics of British Parties in general and New Labour in Particular.
Image is what dictates who will gain powerful ruling positions. There are two contenders for the position of deputy Prime Minister. Jack Straw and John Reid.
John Reid managed to get ahead by explaining to Muslim parents why they should spy on their children.
Jack Straw needed to look tough, manly and strong. In British politics the way politicians achieve this is by bashing minorities or women.
He decided to do both with his Veil comments.
You might not know that Blackburn, Jack Straw's city, is the most racially divided city in the country. Jack Straw has been the MP of that city for over 27 years. With his veil comments, he diverted, all the blame from him self to a few dozen women at most who wear it.
It was under his leadership that local government implemented a racist policy of dividing communities on racial grounds. They did this by reserving all the good housing for whites, while Blacks and Asians had to wait long periods of time to obtain substandard housing; this housing was often unfit for human habitation.
Privet companies were also in on the act, a government investigation found that at least two estate agents were selling homes in locations by race.
This meant streets, schools and whole neighbourhoods were divided by race.
Now, common sense dictates whether blame lies on the minority of women who cover their faces, or the man who has been representing that area for 27 years.

Veiled women suffer enough racism and discrimination as it is. What makes his comments so scary is, others have used is as an excuse for their own agendas.
They have used it as an excuse to support a University that recently banned veiled Staff and Students from entering and calling on other Universities to follow; others have called on Schools to ban it.
France shows us, that discrimination that starts with Muslims can move on to other groups.
That's why we are worried.

Posted by: Clive Rosenberg | October 12, 2006 10:13 AM

I'm sure the veil is not the problem, in any society there are impositions, mainly versus women, not as a rule, but it happens. It's truth veil is a choice most of times, and it's part of muslims believers, everybody should repect it.
No-muslims and muslims must respect everybody, it doesn't matter what we wear or how we live. Respect is peace. Everybody is free to express oppinions, but we cannot forget that our own freedom ends where others rights starts. For those whose muslims customs are out of understanding, it can be important to go close and find out why they ( muslims) are the way they are. It's not as hard :)
Over all appearance is not what matters.

Posted by: Hilda Garcia | October 12, 2006 10:13 AM

Jack Straw comments showed us who the real liberals were and who were the hypocrites.
Some people go one about Human rights and freedom what ever chance they get, as an excuse to force their own agendas.
With these comments people are able to spot those that really believe in Freedom, from those that just use it as a slogan.

Many liberals who called for the right to abortion, drugs, perversion saying that women have the right to do what ever they want with their own bodies, suddenly forgot all their slogans and said: "well they can't decide what they wear; we have to decide for them!"

They are hypocrites.
When they say Freedom, they mean Freedom for themselves, not for others.

This website is about their hypocritical attitude towards the headscarf, but it is equally relevant to the veil.


Posted by: hypocrisy | October 12, 2006 10:21 AM

A few facts:

1) there are a range of veil artifacts going from the simple headscarf to the hijab and then the niqab, in order of magnitude of what the veil covers.

2) the Koran does not mention wearing the veil at all. The origins of that particular "outfit" seems to be purely historical.

3) Moslem women carrying the niqab (veil covering everything except the eyes) are a tiny minority of the moslem women population. These women are not extremist at all, on the opposite, there are one the most law-abiding category of the UK population.

4) Mr Straw's comments are on the same moral level than the islamic extremists. Still a male opinion on how a woman should dress.

5) The opinion that women wearing the veil are somehow constrained to do it, is largely a myth. Most of them choose to do it.

6) The barriers to full integration of the moslem population into western societies is not only hampered by the attitude of islamic extremists, but also and in a large part by cultural racism, intolerance and discrimation towards moslems by the "white trash" mentality of many westeners.

Posted by: Tony | October 12, 2006 10:22 AM

God, here we go again. Another silly spat. Another Muslims-taking-over-Europe scare story. Another failed politician trying to resurrect his career with a bit of cheap populism.

Sorry, I was looking for the Washington Post, but I seem to have stumbled onto the website of the Washington Times.

Posted by: OD | October 12, 2006 10:58 AM

Two things that everyone should learn as they grow up are: 1) people will judge us by the clothes we wear; 2) you shouldn't judge others by the clothes they wear.

What we choose to wear does send a message to people around us. That's why business people worry about "dressing for success," why people dress up before going on a date with someone new, and why the kids of every generation create styles that differ from their parents'. Those messages are not all bad - such as "you are important enough for me to dress up" or "I'm part of this group" (and it's not always inappropriate to read the message in someone else's dress). It's critical to remember that people will see what we wear, and make certain assumptions about our background, place in society and allegiences. Clothes are a very public clue to how we view ourselves and how we want to present ourselves to others.

Wearing a veil is a choice that should be available to any muslim woman (or anyone else, for that matter). But whether we like it or not, it will send a message to other people. Part of that message is presumably intentional - "I am a devote muslim." Part of that message may be an unintentional side effect - "I am part of a very different culture." Either way, the messages are there.

Only a fool fails to think about the messages - intentional and unintentional - that they are sending by what they wear. That's why we dress differently for weddings, funerals, football games, job interviews, hot dates and neighborhood picnics. There's a clear cultural divide between the conservative muslim world and the Western world. If issues as simple as the mistrust and misunderstanding caused by differences in dress cannot be openly discussed, we have no hope of bridging that divide.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 11:07 AM


'A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred...Of the total 655,000 estimated "excess deaths," 601,000 resulted from violence...'

I'm sure Straw's comments are far more important than this story, which will surely have no impact on world opinion.

After all, everyone in America knows that one baseball player who can't fly is more important than a few hundred thousand Iraqis.

Whining about Muslim women's fashion sense is much more productive than acknowledging the minor problem that your Armed Forces alone have wiped out about 190,000 Iraqis, dwarfing the violence of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Hey, Americans really, really care about Iraqi democracy. It's just that they couldn't give a flying f**k about half a million dead Iraqis.

Posted by: OD | October 12, 2006 11:07 AM

Being English I am very interested in this debate. I have many friends of different cultures and do not class myself as racist, but I do object to these so called minorities in some parts of England that are now majorities that do not want to integrate into our society, instead they want to change our laws to suit them.

Recently there was a report of a male terrorist escaping in full Muslim female dress (including the veil). Please tell me how we are to feel safe if this is possible.

Children in this country are banned from some shopping centres with hoods up, caps on and god forbid they wear something covering their face! Why should Muslim women be allowed to do what the other races in this country are not allowed to do?!

There was a woman who has had her driving licence photograph taken with full veil on including the mesh covering the eyes - how is this safe? How do we know that the person behind the veil is the one on the photograph?!

To integrate means to live as others live, I do not want people to lose sight of their religious values, but just to act as we would and accept that they are now living in a prodominantly Christian country. I am a Catholic and Catholics have taken a bashing over the years, but I do not complain every time it happens, I just say "oh well, it's happening again" and get on with it.

Racism works both ways, you can be Muslim, black, white, chinese etc and still be racist.

Posted by: Cest Moi | October 12, 2006 11:27 AM

Aren't we glad we can talk about ideas freely? Yes, about ideas not about people! The British leader brought forth an idea that has merits relative to relationships. The opposing sides must focus on the idea and the freedom under which it was stated - not judging motives and attacking people.

Posted by: Phil | October 12, 2006 11:34 AM

I see all sorts of complaints and passive aggressive quips lobbed by each side, but nobody seems to have a viable means to integrate societies. Beyond the scope of this Muslim immersion discussion, has there ever really been a smooth integration of foreign groups into a western society? People still tend to live in areas of their own racial background.

All this self-riotous indignation about politicians "offending" muslims by supporting a ban on veils is laughable. In a state that has freedoms and personal liberties, we should support the right to wear whatever you want, regardless of how others feel about it. In the United States, this is seen as an absolute inaleinable right. However, if you choose to wear clothing and cultural garb celebrating your national or religious heritage, be prepared for the comments from those free to express themselves as well. I'm by no means supporting people harassing others because of their appearance, that is just wrong. But there are people in this world will view your expression of your heritage as you not wanting to be a part of the society that you now live in.

Posted by: Patrick | October 12, 2006 12:05 PM

Sad to see such a sensitive issue raised for political reasons. As some comments of said, and my own scepticism suggests, the act was purely political headline grabbing ahead of blairs departure.

I would like to point out the veil itself is not really the issue. The issue should be the matter of whether the veil is a matter of choice or a forcable act of oppression on part of a parent.

I'm a roman catholic and I would note i went to church for 16 years without choice, and i do not see how this is any different. I was beaten for not behaving in mass, told repeated that gays are evil, and that women who have abortions are going to hell...

Is it just muslims that need to integrate to a non religious ideal of society? Ultimately this event will have little bearing on muslims.

655,000 dead in Iraq and Jack is off jabbering on about veils. It's so good to know how commited to serious issues Jack Straw and Labour really are.

Posted by: Louis | October 12, 2006 12:09 PM

The issue is not the scarf or veil. It is the husbands, brothers and mulahs (teachers) that beat or threaten women into wearing it.

If a woman chooses to where it as a statement of modesty and of her love for God, then it is her choice. Condemn the men that use force; not the women that use choice. Even Mary is always pictured with head scarf or shawl.

Catholic nuns wear their habit. Orthodox Jewish women cover their heads. Stop argueing about head coverings and start condemning and prohibiting the use of (male) force to manipulate and control.

Posted by: Daud | October 12, 2006 12:27 PM

I agree that a woman can wear a veil if she so chooses.

I think, however, that someone can voice a preference to be able to see the face of the person with whom he or she is speaking.

Does the woman have to remove the veil? No. And at the point, we have two wills in conflict. She does not have to remove it; and the other person does not have to continue speaking with her. They are both free to choose.

Posted by: Bilateral Freedom | October 12, 2006 12:28 PM

"I see all sorts of complaints and passive aggressive quips lobbed by each side, but nobody seems to have a viable means to integrate societies. Beyond the scope of this Muslim immersion discussion, has there ever really been a smooth integration of foreign groups into a western society? People still tend to live in areas of their own racial background."

Is it possible that assimilation is simply impossible? How would we know? (If this is an uncomfortable thought - how do we know that it is possible, and that the people involved want it?) If it isn't possible - or if the people involved simply don't want to assimilate - what does this mean for us?

My fear is that:

1) Assimilation is very hard and, in this case, effectively impossible because the individuals involvded do not want to assimilate; and

2) This implies that we will have ongoing conflict and struggle until one side suppresses the other.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 12:34 PM

I think it is silly for a religion to force women to cover their heads, or to wear a certain outfit in their service to the lord.

I think nuns should be able to wear anything they want.

Posted by: Thom | October 12, 2006 12:35 PM

>>the controversy illuminates the difficulties of Muslim assimiliation into Western societies.

No its illuminates difficulties of acceptance and understanding in some Western countries about basic Muslim religious practices.

When we have a calculating politician making such a divisive claim on the heels of Pope Benedicts "Islam brought ONLY evil" comment, the European caricatures mocking its Muslim minorities most intimate religious beliefs; its not hard to see why Mr. Straw would play the card which resonates with many white Britions considering an upcoming political leadership battle.

Posted by: Cheryl | October 12, 2006 12:50 PM

Whether they want to become a part of the local society or not is moot. By moving to the UK or US, they have austensibly forced the issue.

If the situation were reversed and a UK family moved to Saudi Arabia, you are expected to conform to their way of life. In western countries, if you even suggest this, you are branded a racist. Immigrants don't have to immerse themselves in local society. But locals don't necissarily have to accept them, or their customs.

Where I live, there is a convenience store that turns away women who wear the veils. The owner says that it is a safety concern, as the shop was robbed by local men dressed up in muslim women's garb. I imagine after a few more cases like this occur, governments will start legislating this issue. The US and UK already have laws about wearing clothing that hides the face in public areas.......

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 12:51 PM

An earlier poster pointed to the political cynicism behind the timing of this.

He is correct - it was timed to attract support.

Having said that, I think Straw is right.

As a male, I am offended at the notion that a woman has to protect herself from my lustful gaze.

The veil is an insult to ME.

Posted by: jh1241 | October 12, 2006 12:58 PM

Its shameful that Muslims already feeling under seige by Bush and Blair's "war on terror" are being used as a political boogeyman to be exploited and kicked around by various self-serving politicans.

Politicians are indeed goons swaying with ever-chaning winds of political expediency on issues that curry-favors maximum political advantage with the smallest blowback (Muslim groups are fracticious and unorganized in British politics.)

Posted by: Nazim Haq | October 12, 2006 01:00 PM

I believe the real issue,at least in a Western society, is whether a woman has a right to chose her partner and whether she can do that under the veil.

Guess what folks, even an American women, without her veil is incapable of chosing her partner. They have chosen to be treated as "objects" as far as their social life is concerned.

Posted by: VJ | October 12, 2006 01:02 PM

If you want to move to a western country and work and raise your children, but remain fundamentally Iranian etc, then maybe you should stay there. If people move to a country, work there, and become citizens, then you should make an effort to become a part of your new countries social and cultural fabric. As many have pointed out, this issue is undoubtedly politically driven. The issue is none the less valid, and needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, it is the power hungry, closed-minded politicians talking down to the public.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 01:17 PM

"When we have a calculating politician making such a divisive claim on the heels of Pope Benedicts "Islam brought ONLY evil" comment, the European caricatures mocking its Muslim minorities most intimate religious beliefs; its not hard to see why Mr. Straw would play the card which resonates with many white Britions considering an upcoming political leadership battle."

O.k. - let's get down to it. What truly good thing has Islam brought to the Western world in the last 500 years? And yes, I am willing to talk about the other side. The West has brought war - it's also brought modern medicine, sanitation, cell phones, the concept of universal human rights (not just rights for members of a particular religion or nationality) . . .

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 01:47 PM

"Guess what folks, even an American women, without her veil is incapable of chosing her partner. They have chosen to be treated as "objects" as far as their social life is concerned."

Now this statement is just plain dumb. There's not a guy in the country who hasn't been turned down by multiple women multiple times. Forcing women to marry particular men simply is not a part of American culture, British culture, or European culture. Mom & Dad don't get to pick any more - and haven't been able to for a very long time. Feminist ideology is fine - but please, try to keep it tethered to reality.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 01:50 PM

Bravo to Jack Straw. The soft-headed, PC viewpoint is to say the Muslims are entitled to "tolerance" and "deference" with respect to their religious choices. As noted above, however, this sort of tolerance and deference doesn't work for westerners who are in Muslim-centric countries. It needs to be a two-way street. Once a journalist can publish a cartoon of Mohammed, once women can go out in public, drive, or study - and once a westerer can buy a beer in Saudi Arabia, then maybe we can talk about being tolerant of these so-called benign cultural differences. Make no mistake, this is fundamentally about preserving Western civilzation as we know it, and to the British, about preserving "Britishness" and that society's norms.

Posted by: Marconi | October 12, 2006 01:50 PM

Moslems only discuss tolerance while they are in the minority.

Posted by: Rufus | October 12, 2006 01:55 PM

And how about those offensive Christians? they actually use as a symbol of their religion a Roman torture device! and sometimes they even depict some poor soul attached to it, actually in the process of being tortured to death!

It's almost impossible to sit across a desk and have a conversation with a person wearing such a hideous talisman in plain sight. I feel as though it stands in the way of effective communication!

They put them on their cars, in and on their churchs and even on television. It's frightening and obviously indicative of some kind of twisted mentality!


How many more trumped up, B.S., for media consumption only stories do we have to endure that attempt to further divide Muslim and Christian culture?

How does Mr. Straw feel about Bra's? a little too restrictive? how about pants on women?

Give me a break.


Posted by: J | October 12, 2006 01:56 PM

" . . . buy a beer in Saudi Arabia . . . "

Shoot, nevermind that. I'd be happy with a westerner being able to Saudi Arabia and simply talk openly about Christianity.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 01:58 PM

"They put them on their cars, in and on their churchs and even on television. It's frightening and obviously indicative of some kind of twisted mentality!"

Yes, and we're relentlessly taking them out of our public sphere, precisely to avoid offending (among others) Muslims. We can't waive it off with a drawn out "PLEEEEEAAAASSSE!!!!!" - Western societies have all but made tolerance a fetish, while Muslim societies have demanded acceptance by others but been almost completely unwilling to extend it in turn. We can't do it all - and we need to wake up to that fact.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 02:03 PM

Regarding assimilation, there's a commonsense old adage: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Posted by: ajp1474 | October 12, 2006 02:13 PM

Smart business and leisure travelers alike brush up on a country's culture and customs if he is to successfully achieve his mission or simply enhance his visit. Rules from country-to-country range from how to shake hands, how to eat, when to eat, whether or not you can look someone directly in the eyes -- and yes, even what not to wear. The U.S. Government gives the following advice when traveling to the Middle East, for example:

"Conservative Western street clothing (except for shorts) is appropriate in most areas. In more traditional societies, however, attire for women should be more conservative, garments should have sleeves, and dress length should be below the knee. On the other hand, in some areas of the region visited by many tourists - for example, the beaches of Israel and Morocco - attire similar to that worn in the United States is acceptable."

And in most western cultures, including the U.S. and Britain, facial expressions are an important part of effective communication -- something very hard to do when all you can see is a person's eyeballs. Respect for customs and cultures should apply to all countries.

Posted by: Nick in SF | October 12, 2006 02:15 PM

All Straw has to do is politely ask the woman if she's willing to remove her veil while conversing with him. If she denies his request, he ought to shut his hole and get on with it. He's an adult - deal.

I find niqab oppressive for women but if a woman chooses to do so, live and let live. We are talking a religious and cultural issue here. If I wanted to walk around with a ski mask covering my face, why is that your business?

C'est moi, how can you feel safe while nuns dress as they do. You can have a murderer dress in a nun's habit to escape capture. Are you going to prohibit nuns from their mode of dress? To integrate doesn't mean to live AS others live. It means to live with others, "to meld and become part of the dominent society." That doesn't necessarily mean I have to give up my own culture or traditions.

Tony raised good and relevant points - good post. But OD brought the chickens home to roost: The news that nearly 655,000 Iraqis should stop us all in our tracks. It's looking as though the "cure" is worse than the disease...

THAT is the major issue.

Posted by: Yankee common sense | October 12, 2006 02:19 PM

Show me an American women who can show interest in the opposite sex (that this open society provides to her) by either approaching him, looking at him, smiling, asking him for a date/dance etc.

It does not happen. I consider American women "under the veil" and that is their own choice. They have failed to take advantage of the open society (in their social life).

Also to my Muslim/American friends: How about looking at your countries (place of birth) and see that they are based on religion (Islam). Can you as American residents can do something about your "home" countries to make them more tolerant, secular etc. so that I (as an Ameican Christian) have the same rights (religious, dress, work, drink, eat, etc) as I have in USA?

Posted by: VJ | October 12, 2006 02:26 PM

I don't know the entire story, and I'm not Muslim, but when I was growing up my Mom demanded that we look at her when we spoke. I now have trouble talking to people who don't look at me during conversations... I have never had interaction with a fully covered Muslim woman, but I think if I were carrying on a conversation with her I might have trouble with it. It's not about the veil or whether she's Muslim. I want to see the person's facial expression because I have a better understanding of the conversation. It's also the extra step of a personal connection. (Besides, what's the point of a face to face meeting if you can't be face to face. In this case a teleconference would be better and work just as well.)

Maybe Straw was political, maybe he is a racist, but for my part, I want to see who I'm talking to.

Posted by: dc native | October 12, 2006 02:29 PM

VJ, what planet are you living on? American women show interest in the opposite sex all the time. Speaking from experience here but don't want to give too much away.

As an aside, I spent several months in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and found it a profoundly depressing experience. The Saudi women all cover their faces. It's as though they have something to be ashamed of. How sad.

Posted by: Alexandria | October 12, 2006 02:33 PM

VJ - You said: "Show me an American women who can show interest in the opposite sex (that this open society provides to her) by either approaching him, looking at him, smiling, asking him for a date/dance etc."

Here I am. I asked a man to dance at a bar, a year and a half later I asked him to marry me, and three years later we are happily married. I may be an exception with meeting your spouse in a bar, but I'm not the only one I know who's taken the first step with a man.

I think generalizations are what get people into trouble, that's how racism gets root... a color is generally bad, a style of dress indicates trouble, a gender is less capable than another...

Posted by: dc native | October 12, 2006 02:36 PM

In his book "In the Shadow of the Prophet" Milton Viorst remarked, with regard to France and religious freedom, "They don't get the concept", but I think, in general, Europe doesn't get the concept. The difference between the U.S. and Europe with regard to civil rights, is that religion is an individual Civil Right which Government is not allowed to touch or control. In Europe, there is no real separation between Church and State because state recognized religions receive support from the government, and are allowed to instruct their church members in the public schools. With the purse comes control and regulation, and a loss of religious freedom.
Under the Bill of Rights, government cannot regulate religions or any religious dress code. There was an incident here in California where a community college instructor tried to get a Muslim female student to remove her head covering. He was reprimanded and later resigned. In America, She had a right to wear her head cover. As a government employee, the Instructor had no right to approve or disapprove of a religious practice.
European governments are the problem, and not Islam, because religion is not treated as a Civil Right, and they attempt to micromanage religion through legislation.
It has been the American experience that, over time, immigrants assimilate into the general customs and practices of the country, but it is not required.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | October 12, 2006 02:37 PM

Well written, PJ Casey. Yet another good reason for separation of church (religion) and state.

Posted by: Alexandria | October 12, 2006 02:42 PM

"Show me an American women who can show interest in the opposite sex (that this open society provides to her) by either approaching him, looking at him, smiling, asking him for a date/dance etc."

That happens all the time. Granted, sometimes guys are too clueless to notice - but that's not because the actions of women are restricted. I don't know what sort of restrictions you've built for yourself in your own head, but go to any college campus and you'll see plenty of self-assured young women going for what they want. It is absolutely possible - and not all that uncommon.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 02:44 PM

In America (USA), covering your face is considered pagan or duplicious or criminal. Bank robbers, Ku Klux Klan, Halloween, and so on. At best it is a form of hiding your identity for delusional superheor theatrical purposes--Zorro, Batman, the Lone Ranger. It would be intelligent of Muslim leaders to recognize this. We also use forks, which the Moroccans I know think figure is a no-brainer here, even if at home the tradition is quite different. When in Rome, use common sense.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 02:56 PM

As a woman I have always been offended by other women wearing the veil. Their doing so is admitting that women are second class citizens and not worthy of entering society without covering up their shameful selves. I agree with Salman - "veils suck!"

Posted by: Amy | October 12, 2006 03:02 PM

Assimilation and integration can not be translated into copying others, in this case, the majority of the population. The assimilator who simply copies others is nothing but an imposter. Who would have respect for someone who has no core values, no beliefs and no clear lines for personal conduct. Would Mr. straw buy a used car from a person who copies others to assimilate and gives up readily his own beliefs, if he had any to give up?
The assimilation proccess is more intricte than that. It involves understanding other folks who are not like us and truly respecting them for their unique qualities. Mr. Straw has no right of asking women with hijab to reinvent themselves so they become worthy of communicating with him. According to his line of thinking what would be our reaction if he had asked that only women with short skirts are allowed in his office in the summer time? We would call him a sexist pig, would not we? But the situation is different. We seem to be witnessing this western onslaught of Islamic culture, so it becomes hip to debate the issue, whereas short skirts would create a women's lib. outrage.
Categorically the two situations are the same. requesting short skirts, or removal of some attire are asking for some modiofication of the dress habits.
Mr. Straw is clearly misguided and those who support his right for requesting a special dress code don't understand the implication of his ignorance.

Posted by: fahminatour | October 12, 2006 03:14 PM

"Mr. Straw has no right of asking women with hijab to reinvent themselves so they become worthy of communicating with him. "

Mr. Straw is saying absolutely nothing about "worthyness" - he's commenting on something that hinders cross-cultural relations with Westerners.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 03:19 PM

Fahminatour, you're wrong. Masking your face has a negative connotation in most western cultures. When I lived in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, I dressed accordingly. In Turkey I always dressed conservately and in Saudi Arabia I wore a scarf over my head. You can't move to a western nation and then complain that you don't like having to deal with western standards and values. I wouldn't waste my time talking to a woman who insisted on hiding behind a veil. She's not adhering to any religious requirement. She's playing a power game.

Posted by: Alexandria | October 12, 2006 03:23 PM

Why I Refuse To Defend Western "Values"

I notice a lot of recent talk about defending western liberal values in the face of those who hate our way of life - especially the "islamaofascists". However, as a British citizen, I feel no pride about the role this country plays or has played in the world. It is a shame that the information of about this country's history is so hard to come by in a supposedly free society.

As far as I can tell, it goes like this...western Europe, around the late 15th early 16th century, spurred on by economic need at home and by the profound human desire to expand and exploit to fullest potential, and justified by it's missionary belief that it had to save the savages of the "new world" from themselves, set out to steal other people's land by force.

Eventually, between us, Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands ruled what we now call the third world, in fact pretty much everywhere excluding parts of China (much of which was effectively an economic colony), Japan, and the rest of Europe.

We used these lands entirely for our own economic gain. The whole infrastructure of these country's was dedicated to finding the quickest ways to export the goods which we wanted at the time to our lands, and development of any other goods and services, infrastructure, or socio-economic structure was severely limited.

When these country's eventually gained independence (often after a devastating struggle which in itself left them even more backwards) they were, inevitably, in no fit state to function as coherent nation states. In many cases (ie the Arab world) they were simply in existence because of lines we had drawn in the sand, and had populations who largely had no wish to form any part of such a country. So, in order to take the first steps towards developing as nation states, they had to turn to the west. We had the money to provide loans, and the expertise, capital, and technological advancements they needed in order to develop the infrastructure needed to survive as nation states. A large part of the reason we had all these advantages over them in the first place was because of the wealth we had accumulated by colonising them. So they began their stint as nation states dependent on, and indebted, to us. Ever since, they have not had the chance to develop any sort of socio-economic structure or political reforms which serve the interests of the majority of their people, because they have been simply fighting for day to day survival and the need to please the foreign investors and money lenders who have deliberately made themselves indispensable since these nations came into being and have used this power to make sure these country's governments serve their interests when at all possible..

I feel, therefore, that it is impossible to judge the third world by first world standards when it has always been forced to be dependent on more established economies. Furthermore,the industrialization which occured in much of the third world between the 1930s and 1960s came at a time when many of these country's exports were declining in value, and therefore the money earned to buy much needed technology from the first world was getting less every time. Exporting more was not an option as it would only further depress prices, and exporting less was not a possibility when they were depndent on foreign capital and therefore unwilling to take on it's interests. Also, even when this was not the case, the industrialization which did take place came at a time when fairly advanced technology had already made industry much-less labour intensive, therefore denying the third world the chance to enjoy high employment and wages and a growing domestic market such as that which was enjoyed by European countries at a similair stage of their development, therefore allowing a large middle class and a strong working class to establish itself.

This lack of an established middle class has also made liberalism in the third world unviable. This is because such an ideology depends on a large middle strata which is economically powerful and with interests which clash with the traditional elites, a middle strata which has faith in itself as the guardians of the country's future and which has faith in the country itself. In the third world, this middle strata has been firstly too small, and secondly, where it has existed, it's interests have, as a result of the middle strata being made up largely of the urban population which lives off the trade generated by the export of commodities to and the import of commodities from the first world, been dependent on the established economies of the US and western Europe and the traditional third world elites who guard those interests. Liberalism has only appeared to be viable when the middle strata has believed itself to have interests different to the traditional elites and overseas economies, but in times of crisis this has been exposed as a lie, and their lack of faith in their own countries - often expressed in racist terms - has become apparent. In this instance, they have tended to form alliances with the representatives of the elites and foreign capital.

The first challenge I think is to make sure that people in the third world are given access to these ideas. It seems to me that because the traditional elites of the third world, backed by the west, fear the left so much, they have tolerated and even encouraged religious fundamentalism and nationalism as a way to divert the masses away from the leftism which they have invested all their energy into crushing. This same fascism (not saying that western imperialism is not fascism in itself) which the ruling classes have tolerated, and even encouraged, in order to keep the masses from turning to the left, be it for example white supremacism amongst the white working classes of Europe and North America/Oceania, or Islamofascism, has often come back to hurt them strongly, and in many cases they have lost control of it completely. But, ultimately, it is a result of the current system we live under, and is just a symptom - and the only way to cure this is to fight the root cause - imperialism (which I believe to be more of a class issue than a nationalism issue, seeing as it can benefit the elites and some of the middle classes in exploited country's and harm the working classes in imperialist country's).

So, like I was saying, we need to first make sure that disenfranchised people, whether they are racist whites in the west, or muslims, or africans, Asians, Latin Americans, whatever, are no longer allowed to live in a vacuum of ideas and be forced to turn to the only available reaction against (as they see it) the system which disenfranchises them - and often they will not even be targetting this system but another percieved enemy. We hav to make sure that they realise who the real enemy is, and to stop people fighting each other based on religion, race or nationalism.

After this has been acheived, I think the result will be an eventual, much needed, overthrow of this corrupt, exploitative system.

Call me idealistic, but this society we live in is no more "concrete" than the Roman or Aztec or Egyptian civilisations, and when historians look back on it they will marvel at the carefully designed social structure of our time, and how it was upheld through various deliberate and tenuous counter-balances, compromises and lies. There is no reason why it cannot change (or, conversely, fall into a smoking wreck), and although it would be impossible and stupid to put any sort of timespan on this, I think we should start to make a serious effort to change it now, if only so that when we view ourselves from history's eyes we need no longer be embarrassed by our uselessness and stupidity. I see no reason why a better world is not possible other than our own refusal to believe in it's possibility.

Sir Charles Menzies

Posted by: Sir Charles Menzies | October 12, 2006 03:27 PM

The jews appointed themselves "god's choosen people" for two reasons:

1) to cover up the fact that they are an immoral, blood-thirsty conspiracy against all of humanity

2) because any group of people known as "god's choosen people" will most certainly benefit from being known as such. The following two quotes touch on this further: When judging the writings one encounters, some philosophical principles should be employed. First, judge the words, actions, and results of all power systems by "who benefits."
Secondly, the results of men's actions are infinitely more indicative of intent than the words of men. So, always judge by results. It takes no rocket scientist or great mind to ascertain that only a group of people called Jews can or could benefit from a religion in which Jews are called "God's Chosen People." In effect, this group called Jews hired the decadent Roman Empire to murder everyone in Europe who would not accept a new universal religion (christianity) in which the Jews were God's Chosen People and destined to own all Gentiles as slaves. - David Lane

Could we permit ourselves to suppose that the Almighty would distinguish any nation of people by the name of His Chosen People, we must suppose that people to have been an example to all the rest of the world of the purest piety and humanity, and not such a nation of ruffians and cut-throats as the ancient Jews were; a people who, corrupted by and copying after such monsters and imposters as Moses and Aaron, Joshua, Samuel and David , had distinguished themselves above all others on the face of the known earth for barbarity and wickedness. - Thomas Paine The Age of Reason

Posted by: Thomas Paine | October 12, 2006 03:31 PM

This incident is emblematic of the clash of cultures in a western setting. If western women are required to go veiled in a muslim country, then muslim women should conform to the general cultural protocols of the country that they are living in. If no one makes an issue, that is one thing, but to formally attend/petition another country's government and then want to demand compliance with your own cultural precepts is another. I agree with the French. I don't believe that these "muslims" are at all tolerant of open, western societies, and politically correct or not, I think that they should not be admitted to residency or citizenship, if this is the outcome.

Posted by: LSterling | October 12, 2006 03:32 PM

"As far as I can tell, it goes like this...western Europe, around the late 15th early 16th century, spurred on by economic need at home and by the profound human desire to expand and exploit to fullest potential, and justified by it's missionary belief that it had to save the savages of the "new world" from themselves, set out to steal other people's land by force."

Yep - but don't stop there. Go a few centuries further back, and look at how Islam was spread by the sword in the first few generations after the Prophet.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 03:34 PM

The Holy Quran does not require women to wear a veil. Some muslims believe that wearing a veil is a islamic requirement and they are absolutely wrong.

The important thing is for muslims and non muslims to understand the difference between religion and culture.

I would be angry with Jack Straw if he was attacking Islam. As he is not, I see no problem with his request.

Posted by: Mohamed Rafeek | October 12, 2006 03:38 PM

You're pretty selective in your quotation of Thomas Paine. The Age of Reason is a Treatise against all "revealed" religion, Judaism, Christanity and Islam. Thomas Paine considered himself a Diest(sp?). He did not find the Bible, old or new testament credible. All three of the major religions listed above were "revealed" to individuals (Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, etc...) who then told others who were then supposed to fall in line and worship accordingly. As a non-believer, I like his reasoning, but not the ugly invective against Jews.

Posted by: Alexandria | October 12, 2006 03:42 PM

"Yep - but don't stop there. Go a few centuries further back, and look at how Islam was spread by the sword in the first few generations after the Prophet."

Dear ignorant person, please read the article by : By Uri Avner (Jewish atheist)
Muhammad's sword

Pope Benedict XVI in the service of George W. Bush

By Uri Avner

09/24/06 "Information Clearing House" -- -- Since the days when Roman emperors threw Christians to the lions, the relations between the emperors and the heads of the church have undergone many changes.

Constantine the Great, who became emperor in the year 306 - exactly 1700 years ago - encouraged the practice of Christianity in the empire, which included Palestine. Centuries later, the church split into an Eastern (Orthodox) and a Western (Catholic) part. In the West, the Bishop of Rome, who acquired the title of Pope, demanded that the emperor accept his superiority.

The struggle between the emperors and the popes played a central role in European history and divided the peoples. It knew ups and downs. Some emperors dismissed or expelled a pope, some popes dismissed or excommunicated an emperor. One of the emperors, Henry IV, "walked to Canossa", standing for three days barefoot in the snow in front of the Pope's castle, until the Pope deigned to annul his excommunication.

But there were times when emperors and popes lived in peace with each other. We are witnessing such a period today. Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the present emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week's speech by the Pope, which aroused a worldwide storm, went well with Bush's crusade against "Islamofascism", in the context of the "clash of civilizations".

In his lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God's actions, Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah.

As a Jewish atheist, I do not intend to enter the fray of this debate. It is much beyond my humble abilities to understand the logic of the Pope. But I cannot overlook one passage, which concerns me too, as an Israeli living near the fault-line of this "war of civilizations".

In order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the Prophet Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul?

To support his case, the Pope quoted - of all people - a Byzantine emperor, who belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had - or so he said (its occurrence is in doubt) - with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:

Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

These words give rise to three questions: (a) Why did the Emperor say them? (b) Are they true? (c) Why did the present Pope quote them?

When Manuel II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.

At that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the Danube. They had conquered Bulgaria and the north of Greece, and had twice defeated relieving armies sent by Europe to save the Eastern Empire. On 29 May 1453, only a few years after Manuel's death, his capital, Constantinople (the present Istanbul), fell to the Turks, putting an end to the empire that had lasted for more than a thousand years.

During his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of Europe in an attempt to drum up support. He promised to reunite the church. There is no doubt that he wrote his religious treatise in order to incite the Christian countries against the Turks and convince them to start a new crusade. The aim was practical, theology was serving politics.

In this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim "Axis of Evil". Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.

Is there any truth in Manuel's argument?

The pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian, he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the Qur'an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, Verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant Verse 257) which says: "There must be no coercion in matters of faith."

How can one ignore such an unequivocal statement? The Pope simply argues that this commandment was laid down by the Prophet when he was at the beginning of his career, still weak and powerless, but that later on he ordered the use of the sword in the service of the faith. Such an order does not exist in the Qur'an. True, Muhammad called for the use of the sword in his war against opposing tribes - Christian, Jewish and others - in Arabia, when he was building his state. But that was a political act, not a religious one; basically a fight for territory, not for the spreading of the faith.

Jesus said: "You will recognize them by their fruits." The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: how did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to "spread the faith by the sword"?

Well, they just did not.

For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

True, the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosniaks. But nobody argues that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favourites of the government and enjoy the fruits.

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith - and they were the forefathers of most of today's Palestinians.

There no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the "spreading of the faith by the sword"?

What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics reconquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi ("Spanish") Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.

Why? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the "peoples of the book". In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll tax, but were exempted from military service - a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion - because it entailed the loss of taxes.

Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.

The story about "spreading the faith by the sword" is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims - the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.

Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of "Islamofascism" and the "global war on terror" - when "terrorism" has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush's handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world's oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers' expedition becomes a Crusade.

The speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire consequences?

Uri Avnery is an Israeli author and activist. He is the head of the Israeli peace movement, "Gush Shalom".


Posted by: Sir Charles Menzies | October 12, 2006 03:45 PM

Thank you, Sir Menzies for raising the level of the discussion. However tolerant Islam might have been in the past it certainly doesn't seem to be any more. Having said that, I certainly don't think Christianity is any more tolerant. The difference is that in western societies where Christianity is predominant, secular governments are the norm. The Christian clerics don't have the ability to impose their beliefs on others. Something many would certainly do if they could.

Posted by: Alexandria | October 12, 2006 04:13 PM

If muslims want to live in the UK, they should assimilate -- as at least one of my forbears did in the nineteenth century.

They should realise that their "old" ways are rotten and need to be swept away.

If they want to live in a wonderful free country like the UK they should fit in with the local population.

Posted by: David Lewiston | October 12, 2006 04:27 PM

"However tolerant Islam might have been in the past it certainly doesn't seem to be any more. Having said that, I certainly don't think Christianity is any more tolerant. The difference is that in western societies where Christianity is predominant, secular governments are the norm."

There's another significant difference. The early setting for Islam was a theocracy - the Prophet held both religious and political leadership. This is reflected in the Quran. Leading the community in war - for a mix of political, economic AND religious reasons - was part of the Prophet's experience and discussed in the Quran. That's part of the DNA, if you will, of the Islamic world.

The early setting for Christianity was very different - it was several centuries before Christians held any meaningful political power. Neither Jesus, nor his apostles, nor any of the authors of the New Testament had a legislative, judicial or military role. None of them led a community at war or used the powers of the state to punish criminals or dissidents. In later centuries Christians have done all of that - as have members of just about any other religion you'd care to name - but it is not part of the defining period that gave Christianity its scriptures, and is not built into the core DNA of the Christian religion in the same was as in Islam. No one can point to the example of Jesus (or his immediate followers) as a warrior.

What this means is that "back to the Bible" movements in Christianity tend towards pacifism - in contrast, current "back to the Quran" movements in the Islamic world are having unfortunate consequences for everyone involved.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 04:30 PM

"What this means is that "back to the Bible" movements in Christianity tend towards pacifism - in contrast, current "back to the Quran" movements in the Islamic world are having unfortunate consequences for everyone involved."

Go to YouTube and look up Jesus Camp. This will disabuse you of that fallacy.

Or just use this link


Posted by: Thom | October 12, 2006 04:34 PM

"Dear ignorant person, please read the article by : By Uri Avner (Jewish atheist)"

Interesting article. But as always, there's more context. Manuel was standing on the edge of a wave of Islamic conquest. Of course he was looking for support. But we tend to forget that Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Cairo, Constantinople & Carthage had been Christian for centuries before they fell to Islam. Yes, Christians went to war too, and yes, Christians in those days were bigoted as well. (Regarding bigotry - thank you so much for addressing me as "Dear ignorant person.") I've looked at the Crusades with open eyes - they were a perversion of Christianity. Look also at the rapid spread of Islam in its first three centuries. It was due to one of the most remarkable series of conquests the world has ever seen - conquests fueled by religious fervor. Was that a perversion of Islam, the way the Crusades were perversions of Christianity? If so - how so? I don't think most of the Muslim world would agree that those initial Islamic conquests were in any way inappropriate or inconsistent with the Quran - and that's a problem, if they try to bring the same point of view into the 21st century.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 04:43 PM

May I be allowed to be personal, for a moment?

With so many crucial issues that we should put our efforts at resolving, between "them" and "us", I cannot help feeling that this controversy is futile, and only part of our "you do as we do, you do as we say, so you be as we are, dammit!" syndrome. Indeed, scared out of our wits, as we are, wouldn't we be so much reassured and relieved, being only able to see what "they" really think, behind the veil... better, to get visual confirmation at all times, that "they" indeed do think exactly as "we" do, God be blessed?

In recent years, here in Montreal, we have come to see more and more young women wearing a veil. Nowadays, I see veiled women everyday. They seem to be everywhere!

I rather enjoy seeing those young women, often in pairs, going about their business, unconcerned about what they are wearing on their head, just being themselves, moving about well dressed, serious, reserved, yet often smiling, laughing wholeheartedly, just happy at being so beautifully young.

Oftentimes, my wife and I could not help mention how pleasant we thought they were to watch! My wife even keeps on repeating how she envies so many of them being fluent in both French and English, as well as in Arabic, at such an early age.

I never saw any of them being victimized. Yet, I deplore some having been insulted, some physically molested, for being so openly, so publicly Muslim. I must say I admire those women for their courage and determination at being who they are, and for showing fearlessly the world what religion they profess. I may add that all Muslims I have known have deeply impressed me by how profoundly religious they were; yet not in the least inclined to proselytize. For years now, Mr. Maher Arar's wife has been seen, in public, defending her husband, unjustly suspected of being a terrorist, deported to Syria by US authorities while in transit in New York, and tortured. The energy, courage, determination and dignity that veiled woman has constantly shown the Canadian public are remarkable, truly admirable!

That being said, I keep wondering what the problem is? How could those women possibly be more integrated to Canadian society than they currently are? Can anybody seriously claim that they would be more integrated, were they not wearing a veil? How absurd! As much as I can tell, those women are as Canadian as can be. Having proven they can be one of us, without having to be exactly the likes of us, isn't that more than enough? Who so much wants to live amongst clones, in our societies? But more importantly, WHY would anybody want to?

Posted by: Robert Rose, Canada | October 12, 2006 04:45 PM

VJ - what part of the US do you live in? I can certainly imagine that different areas of the country are more conservative in how they believe women should approach men, but I doubt it is as common as you suggest.

As for me, I asked my husband out on our first date but he asked me to marry him.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 04:45 PM

VJ - what part of the US do you live in? I can certainly imagine that different areas of the country are more conservative in how they believe women should approach men, but I doubt it is as common as you suggest.

As for me, I asked my husband out on our first date but he asked me to marry him.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 04:45 PM

Menzies, in posting that little essay, makes a point - but it only goes so far. History - like religion - can be written to favor any point of view.

If one looks at the treaties imposed during the Muslim conquests, it is not toleration, but oppression (as opposed to suppression). Christians and Jews had to wear distinguishing clothing, they could not build new places of worship, they could not convert Muslims, and in some instances, were forbidden from adopting Arabic and other markers of the conquering culture, and often were confined to ghettoes. Yes, some did rise to positions of power, but these were exceptions rather than regular occurences - and it only happened in places such as Al'Andalus were the Islam practiced was very loose (Andalusian Muslims were known for consuming alchohol, for example).

As for coercion, well, define coercion. Interfaith marriages were frowned upon; children of such marriages were considered to be Muslim, whether that was their faith or not; and there were many subtle pressures to convert that were not based on personal belief. So while those Islamic societies then may have been better than their Christian contemporaries, they were not "tolerant" - go ask those who were beheaded for converting to Christianity or who chose to speak their mind, or the many who lived in fear. In the end, Christians and Jews in those societies were allowed to retain their religion because it was either valuable (the head tax or access to trained administrators/collaborators), politically expedient (avoiding retribution), or not worth the effort (they are only peasants). Christian regimes were less tolerant, in part, because they were not winning; they did not have the luxuxry of the Ottoman Turks, for example. And, in places where the Christians were winning, the Muslim societies became less tolerant, expelling the Christians, even if they were loyal.

Just to clarify, I personally don't think that Islam is a violent religion any more than Christianity or Judaism or most religions. But that does not make it a tolerant religion, either. To return this to the topic (on veils) - in many ways, Islamic society has not changed, whereas the West has become much more tolerant, in large part because of secularization.

Posted by: isangeles | October 12, 2006 04:47 PM

To poster at 04:30. Thank you. What you say about Jesus and early Christians is certainly true. I don't know much about Islam other than what I learned while living in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. I guess what I see as the built in intolerance in Christian teaching is the assertian that it is the only way toward salvation and believers are told to spread the faith and convert others. This seems like a recipe for trouble. As for "back to the Bible" Christians being pacifists, I certainly don't see that among our U.S. evangelicals, who are among the biggest supporters of our current administration and it's wars. I sure they would consider themselves, "back to the Bible" Christians.

Posted by: Alexandria | October 12, 2006 04:50 PM

"""What this means is that "back to the Bible" movements in Christianity tend towards pacifism - in contrast, current "back to the Quran" movements in the Islamic world are having unfortunate consequences for everyone involved."

Go to YouTube and look up Jesus Camp. This will disabuse you of that fallacy."

Yes, we have our share of nutcases. Couple of significant differences, though. The broader Christian world very publicly, loudly and unconditionally disowns and condemns any violent extremists that arise among us - we don't make excuses for them. It's not at all uncommon to see hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the streets chanting "Death to . . . " Christians just don't DO that - and we condemn anyone who would do that in the name of Christianity.

Second, those back-to-the-Bible movements that have had any real depth and longevity have been pacifist - see for example the Amish and Mennonites. Many people have mined the New Testament for quotes to support their hatred and violence, but long term, it just doesn't work because it's not in there.

So fine - I watch the youtube clip. But let's be serious. Can you find any Christian movement the size of the Mahdi army that's engaged in anything like the same level of hatred and violence (against other Christians, yet?). Can you find any example in recent memory of Christians rioting, in response to an insult against Christianity, on a scale similar to the riots following the Danish cartoons about the Prophet? If so, then maybe I'm wrong. Otherwise, I still contend that there's a streak of violence in Islam - as understood and practiced by current Muslims - that's not paralleled in Christianity.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 04:54 PM

To Robert Rose, I don't think Mr. Straw objected to women wearing scarves covering their heads, but he felt uncomfortable speaking with women who veiled their faces. That's something I seldom see in Virginia where I live. I frequently see Muslim women with their hair covered, no problem, but covering your entire face is quite a different thing. Those face coverings are a visual symbol that the individual wishes to be invisible. I'd like to think of myself as tolerant but I have trouble with that and can't imaging that any woman would do so without some sort of coercion.

Posted by: Alexandria | October 12, 2006 04:59 PM

Sir Charles Menzies;

I am not as well versed in Islamic history as you are. But you seem to be grateful to Islam. When Europians expelled Jews they settled in Muslim countries and servived, otherwise Jews would have diappeared either converting to Christianity or Islam. Muslims accepted Jews and let them keep their religion. That is why you are grateful to Islam.

You seem to forget that the Prophet himself expelled two Jewish tribes from Medina and exterminated the third tribe. The third tribe pleaded for mercy and offered all their properties to the Phophet and asked him to let them leave and settle some where far away. Mohammad killed all men of the tribe, sold all females including children into slavery.

Then he raided other countries, looted their properties, invited them to convert to Islam. If they accept Islam they can live as Muslims. If they didn't accept Islam they were asked to live as Dhimmis, pay double taxes etc. If they didn't accept Islam and refused to live As Dhimmis, they were put to sword and killed. That is how Islam spread.

Those who lived under Islamic rule lived as Dhimmis. The Muslim Gov't gov't got double taxes who were not Muslims. If Dhimmis were hard working and smart, it would be better for the Gov't as they get more money from them. That is the Greeks and other people remained as Christians. Mohammad was smart and ruthless. Many converted to Islam to get away from the hardships imposed upon Dhimmis.
What would they do if America imposes double taxes on non Christians? My answer is they will accept Christianity and a few may not convert but most will. What will you think of america then?

Posted by: athiest | October 12, 2006 05:00 PM

"As for "back to the Bible" Christians being pacifists, I certainly don't see that among our U.S. evangelicals, who are among the biggest supporters of our current administration and it's wars. I sure they would consider themselves, "back to the Bible" Christians."

Yes, they would - and compared to many mainline denominations that no longer see the Bible as authoritative, they probably are. But those groups that really try to live a distinctive life that's completely ordered by the Bible tend to be more pacifist than not - mainly due to the direct teachings of Jesus in the gospels, such as the sermon on the mount. Personally, I probably split the difference. I'm not sure that Christianity prohibits all violence, per se, whatever the cause (e.g., self-defense, defense of others, etc.), but I have a strong disapproval of religious war, and I believe churches have more important things to do than to meddle in politics (not that I'm opposed to individual Christians speaking out on political topics). But bottom line, I do believe that the more seriously a group takes the New Testament - and particularly the words of Jesus in the gospels - the more hesitant they are to sanction violence without a powerful reason.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 05:02 PM

to poster at 04:54. I think a lot of that violence and hypersensitivy to insult is a cultural thing as much as a religous thing. I suspect that if Christianity rather than Islam was the predominate religion in the middle east, Arabs would still be pissed off and rioting about insults to Jesus when they occur. I think the religion just gives them a cause to rally around and express their anger. They have a since of injury and feel victimized by the western world.

Posted by: Alexandria | October 12, 2006 05:07 PM

" . . . what I see as the built in intolerance in Christian teaching is the assertian that it is the only way toward salvation and believers are told to spread the faith and convert others."

Believing that Christianity is true - and that other, contradictory beliefs are false - is just that, a belief. It may be right, or it may be wrong, but it's a belief like many other religious and philosophical beliefs. And just like animal rights activists and vegitarians, people who are firmly convinced of it try to convince others. Nothing sinister there. The only problem is when you tie spreading your beliefs to coercion. The West seems to have gotten over that a long time ago.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 05:08 PM

"to poster at 04:54. I think a lot of that violence and hypersensitivy to insult is a cultural thing as much as a religous thing. I suspect that if Christianity rather than Islam was the predominate religion in the middle east, Arabs would still be pissed off and rioting about insults to Jesus when they occur. I think the religion just gives them a cause to rally around and express their anger. They have a since of injury and feel victimized by the western world."

Could be. So how the heck do we fix it before it kills us? I really don't think a Neville Chamberlain approach is going to work - but I don't know what else will, either. My fear is that our fates are hostage to the willingness of mature Muslims to stand up and deal with the problem.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 05:10 PM

It would shock and possibly even offend most Americans to learn the truth that the reason they are here, their power, their affluence and position in the world is directly because of the Islamic religion and the Arab culture. That's right, the very "ragheads" and "hajis"(as Limbaugh, Liddy, and some of the others often call them) that the US is now fighting are directly responsible for the preeminence and power of not just the United States, but of the entire Western world in general.
Besides the fact that Western Civilization began in the area of the Fertile Crescent, also known as Mesopotamia (present day Iraq), it is as well an historical fact beyond dispute that it was the learning and sophistication of the Arab culture that led to many of the scientific developments that would later make Europe the cradle of science, learning, and advancement. After the institutionalization of the Islamic religion throughout the Mediterranean region, the extent of Arab learning and culture was such that European Kings, Christian Kings, would send their sons and daughters off to be educated in Moslem places such as Cordova and Toledo. Christian Crusaders coming back from the Middle East told of the richness of Arab culture, leading to Europeans' desire for Arab goods, which in turn led to trade routes between Europe and the Middle East. The resulting wealth created from that trade with the Arabs led to the ascendancy of power for European city-states such as Venice and Florence, which became the birthplaces of the Renaissance in Europe. Arab advancements in navigation, from the Astrolabe to the compass to the fast sailing ship known as the Caravel made possible the arrival in the New World of the Europeans. Let's not forget, Spain and Portugal, those two powers who held a virtual monopoly on exploration in the New World for quite a while, were, for 700 years, held by the Arabs. What will gall Americans even more, especially those who call themselves Christian, is the idea that it may be the Arab and Muslim culture that will be not only the birthplace of Western Civilization, but the savior of it as well.
As evidenced by the nightly news right now, there is a war going on. Superficially, it is about things like "terrorism" and "freedom." There are some who will go a step further and blame oil and banking, not to mention "lebensraum" for Israel. And while all these things do play a part, some greater than others, the real war here is between two world views. During the debates that took place in the UN between the internationalist cabal led by France, Germany, Russia, Belgium, and China on one side and the nationalists led by the United States, Great Britain, (and behind the scenes, Israel) there was this "tossing around" of phrases in coded language. The nationalist crowd, represented in the debates by Colin Powell, spoke of "Old Europe" in a castigating attempt to portray those opposing the war against Iraq as somehow backwards in their thinking, as opposed to those in the New World, who were enlightened and were here to save humanity against dangerous men and dangerous ideas. And although we know that the reasons for the internationalist crowd opposing the war against Iraq had little to do with anything other than protecting their own business interests as well as staving off US hegemony in the world in favor of internationalist hegemony, it did illustrate that there is, at least on the part of the "coalition of the willing" a desire to do away with that ethos held by the Old World (meaning the Middle East) that serves as an obstacle in building that New World Order that Bush the Elder discussed more than a decade ago, even if it means seeing the US leading it rather than the UN.
To the "New World," and by default the New World Order, the Arab/Muslim world is backwards in its values. It prohibits abortion and birth control. They have large families, as opposed to the West, where the average family has only 2 children. It prohibits usury banking, to which the West credits its own economic superiority. Theirs is a "closed" society (read into this no institutionalized sodomy, pornography, gay lifestyle, et al) Theirs is a "cruel" society (read into this no people on death row for 20 years) And finally, they will not play the game the way the market wants it played, meaning, they want a just price for their only real source of wealth, their oil, instead of giving it away to the West for a fraction of its worth. In other words, the picture that has just been painted here is, the Muslim world is now what the Christian world once was and should be.
One can already hear the roar coming out of the mouths of many who have not been thinking of this critically, and in particular those well-paid mouthpieces on TV and radio masquerading themselves as Christians. "The religion of Mohammed is better than the religion of Jesus Christ?!" No, rather, what is meant here is that the religion of Islam resembles Christianity more so than does the Christianity of the West today, because the Christianity of the West today isn't Christianity at all, but rather a watered-down amalgamation of New-Ageism mixed with certain common spiritual attributes that, although called Christian, can be found in almost every known religion. Through decades of destructive influence and propaganda through media and academia, mainstream Christianity in the West has been reduced to one remaining commandment, vague and hard to pin-point which is "be nice."
The fact of the matter is, putting aside all the other reasons surrounding this war that were enumerated at the beginning of this essay, what exists in the Middle East, or in The Old World, as some would call it, is a culture that is still devoted to principles concerning basic moral values, values that have not yet surrendered to the corrupting influence of Western media or Western money. Within the last 50 years, every culture has fallen before this corrupting power that seeks to enslave all men in such a way that the individual is reduced to the value of what he produces and what he consumes, and in pursuit of that method, the individuals behind this program have quietly but decisively removed every obstacle in their way, be it religion, culture, morals, tradition, or world view, through the methods of media, academia, and finance; that is, except the culture encapsulated in the Arabic/Islamic World. By the description "Arabic/Islamic," it should not be understood as solely a "Muslim" thing. The culture existing in the Arab world is held by both Christian and Muslim alike. Indeed, there are millions of Christians in the Middle East, who have in essence the same culture with their Muslim counterparts in much the same way as most Americans, regardless of religion, have the same culture. It is those Christians and Muslims alike who reject these "modern" notions such as abortion, birth control, sodomy, pornography, usury banking, and "market value" of services and resources. They still view the family, the traditional family, with all its traditional roles, as the most important building block of their society, and they take very seriously anything that threatens it. They recognize the value of their children, as well as how dangerous the moral relativism of the West has become, and whose ideology threatens the stability of society directly. They recognize that if their children and society as a whole are subjected to ideas that promote moral decay for an extended period of time, what will eventually and unavoidably be produced is national decay.
One should consider the fact that the New World Order has used and is using all its resources and influence to emasculate and neutralize all opposition to its agenda in the world. The Catholic Church, once a political power to be feared by presidents and prime ministers the world over, has been rendered obsolete. Through mouthpieces such as John Paul II, the New World Order has been openly embraced, and if at times the church gets a little rambunctious and steps out of line, well, the NWO crowd merely runs news stories revealing allegations of pedophilia and abuse in reminding them of just who is boss. The mainstream Protestant groups, led by influential people on the television and radio, may talk of the dangers of the NWO and the secularization of the West, yet still openly embrace Bush when he pushes through various pieces of legislation that rob us of our freedoms under the guise of protection from terrorism, as well as the practice of conveniently "forgetting" about Bush's caving in to the pro-abortion lobby in various instances. So, with the exception of a few pockets of token resistance, there is no one left standing in the way of the NWO except the Arab/Muslim World.
If by some miracle the Arab/Muslim world is victorious against this onslaught, and the secular/atheistic influence of the NWO agenda is reduced to such a level as to allow the Christian West to regain its foothold where it once stood, it will be necessary to credit the religion of Islam and the Arab world for not buckling under in the face of attempted extermination. And it will be we, the Christian West and Western Civilization, who will be the beneficiaries of "Islamic Extremism."

Posted by: Mark | October 12, 2006 05:11 PM

"Could be. So how the heck do we fix it before it kills us? I really don't think a Neville Chamberlain approach is going to work"

I wish I knew the answer, boy wouldn't I be in demand then? I don't think attacking them such as we have in Iraq helps. I think our reliance on their oil is a big part of the problem. Saudi Arabia uses their oil wealth to spread their very intolerant version of Islam. If the rest of the world were not dependent on their oil, Saudi Arabia would become irrelevant and would have to learn to play nice to get along in the world. It's a big problem. I'm doing my part, I got rid of my car and walk, bike and ride the train. Not everyone can do that but we need to demand more from our government in terms of finding alternatives to oil. Alternative fuels, better public transportation, communities designed for walking, etc...

Posted by: Alexandria | October 12, 2006 05:18 PM

"The only problem is when you try spreading your beliefs through coercion. The West seems to have gotten over that a long time ago."
Mmm, I see a lot of coercion in tactics used by evangelicals in the U.S. They're not usually violent true, but they certainly seem to want to impose their beliefs (intelligent design, etc...) at every opportunity. I think it's our secular government that keeps religion from becoming a destructive force in society, but they continually push the threshold. I'll admit, I'm a non-believer and see all religions as problematic. I can't give Christianity a pass just because it's more destructive elements have been controlled by secular governments.

Posted by: Alexandria | October 12, 2006 05:27 PM

"I can't give Christianity a pass just because it's more destructive elements have been controlled by secular governments."

I should have said, I can't give Christianity a pass just because it's more destructive elements have been kept under control or kept in check by secular governments.

I know there are many who would disagree but that's the way one atheist sees it.

Posted by: Alexandria | October 12, 2006 05:35 PM

Alexandria, I don't know what Mr. Straw's problem is (apart from having supported blindly and despicably his boss's line on Iraq, with the results we are all familiar with), and honestly, I do not care.

Mr. Straw felt "uncomfortable speaking with women who veiled their faces?" I don't. There is always body language, you know, and more often than not two beautiful wide brown eyes to stare at and look into, with everything the world can express passing through them, from one moment to the next.

I don't know about Mr. Straw, but such eyes can arouse many interesting feelings in the undersigned, some poetic, some not, but all interesting to notice. Curiosity is one of them. It keeps a man on his toes. Could Mr. Straw prefer being more in control? Possibly. But as Muslim women will tell you (and Mr. Straw, if he will just listen), they need not wear a veil and/or cover their faces at all times, which explains they sometimes do drop it, after all... I believe we should do the same.

Posted by: Robert Rose | October 12, 2006 05:40 PM

Well at least these Muslims still have their heads attached to their torso, unlike non-Muslims who suffer beheading and other cannibalistic and uncivilized tortures in the "name of Allah".
Excuse me when I say, enough is enough with garbage complaints such as you are referrin to. When (AND if the Muslim sect) rids itself, or at least attempts to rid itself, of the obvious uncivilized mindset that has overtaken it, perhaps intelligent and civilized minds will consider their spewings of non-sense. Until then, "take a hike" and stop wasting the time of civilized society.

Posted by: B Johnson | October 12, 2006 05:43 PM

For the first time the British are treating
muslims as muslims treat non muslims.

And what a lot of BMW.

Turkey has banned women wearing veils from
government jobs, universities and so forth,

And Turkey is the only muslims country
which is doing relatively better then the others,.

Anyway Britain is the home of the British
Its a christian and not a Islamic country.

Its time that muslims accepted this. Otherwise they should leave Britain.

Forget all the defence of muslim fundamentalsis by pseudo pseculars.

Both are a danger to civilisation.

Posted by: lalit Callaway | October 12, 2006 05:46 PM

B Johnson
""take a hike" and stop wasting the time of civilized ."

You mean the civilised society that had supported the bombing of two uncivilised Islamic countries back to the 'stone age' which had killed at least 500,000 ?


One more question:
Q)What is the difference between a 'stealth bomber' and a 'suicide bomber'?

Clue- one kills many more civilians than the other.

Posted by: Joe Bloggs | October 12, 2006 06:03 PM

The amazing thing is, if Morley had done his job and put up an article about the 655,000 dead Iraqis, he'd probably have about four comments by now.

Instead, by aiming for the gutter with this BS manufactured story, he's dragged in legions of blowhards whose lifetime reading seems to consist of 'Clash of Civilizations' and 'What Not To Wear'.

How totally boring.

The only thing I want to hear from Jack Straw is when he'll be turning himself in to the ICJ at the Hague.

Posted by: OD | October 12, 2006 06:03 PM

"Mmm, I see a lot of coercion in tactics used by evangelicals in the U.S. They're not usually violent true, but they certainly seem to want to impose their beliefs (intelligent design, etc...) at every opportunity."

There's a difference between strong advocacy and coercion. PETA is certainly as pushy as the Southern Baptist Convention.

"I should have said, I can't give Christianity a pass just because it's more destructive elements have been kept under control or kept in check by secular governments.

I know there are many who would disagree but that's the way one atheist sees it."

I would disagree. I a Christian who's pretty conservative theologically, but I have no desire to coerce you into sharing my beliefs. I certainly don't want to start some sort of pogrom against atheists (or Jews, or Muslims, or Budhists . . .) Frankly, I think churches should spend their time preaching, teaching and reaching out to people rather than getting involved in politics. Frankly, the larger questions of life are more important than who to vote for in the next election cycle.

What does that mean? It means that I oppose anyone who uses Christianity as an excuse for violence. The Branch Davidians were a perversion. Jim Jones was a perversion. Neo-Nazi skinheads who talk about preserving a Christian nation are a perversion. It's not Christian, and it's not right. 99% of Christians in this country would agree with me on that - and that's why we don't need a government to be "kept under control" or "kept in check." We've no desire to get out of control.

Posted by: | October 12, 2006 06:03 PM

I am an American of Pakistani descent, and I feel "assimilated" and "American." I heard the idea of Muslim assimilation being impossible tossed back and forth, and this is simply not true!

I am appalled by the fact that people in DC area have such views when they are living in the area with of the biggest Muslim-American population.

I guess it is easier to identify a non-assimilated Muslim than it is spot an "assimilated" Muslim.

The comment above is if one is to take the very primitive definition of "assimilation." I believe being American is loving your country and supporting its ideals and values. You can do all of these without giving up the veil. In America we have the right to choose. Live or let live.

Also, a lot of people said "love it or leave it." That such hypocrisy! If we love this country, we want to make changes for the better, just like rest of Americans. How can we improve if there is no constructive criticism?

And for God's sake stop these whole "go back to where you came from" and "in your home country comments." It is preposterous to make comparisons to Middle East etc. People came here because they wanted the freedoms, so why say "be glad for what you have as in your country ..."

We are Americans just like everyone else. We need to stop this whole "us vs them" nonesense. If you see Muslims just as Americans than your perspective will probably be a bit different.

In this great country of ours a lot of religious minorities are offered considerations e.g. Amish, Mormoms, orthodox Jews etc.

Stop thinking of your fellow Americans as outsiders!

United we stand, divided we fall!

Posted by: Saad | October 12, 2006 08:56 PM

Send the muslims back to the Middle East. They don't belong in Europe, and they don't belong in America. Problem solved.

Posted by: Jon | October 12, 2006 09:02 PM

"Send the muslims back to the Middle East. They don't belong in Europe, and they don't belong in America. Problem solved."

Send the whites back to Europe, blacks to Africa etc etc

If your argument is correct that only people who "belong" here are the Native Americans.

And thank you Saad for a very insightful post. We are all just Americans, and if we start differentiating then only American Indians are the true Americans

this whole blog is so disgusting. so much for America being the land of free, melting pot, country of immigrants, beacon of liberty

Posted by: Jason | October 12, 2006 09:25 PM

These things are tricky. It used to be that anyone who entered a room without doffing his hat was committing a serious faux pas--which put religious Jews in an awkward situation. But so far as I know, they have all been permitted to keep their skullcaps on. By contrast, in Melanesia around the time Margaret Mead visited in the 1920s, women went around bare-breasted, since the mammary was never sexualized. I don't remember any authority figures requiring that she take off her bra when talking to them.

So tolerance of different traditional costumes is basic to social coexistence. But clothing is not neutral. Sometimes, especially in periods of rapid change, you do have to figure out where to draw the lines: is nakedness acceptable? Whose costumes are appropriate in what settings? There is always political struggle over such things. This sounds like one of them.

Posted by: Aaron | October 12, 2006 09:39 PM


What do ordinary Muslims understand by Modernity? Have they absorbed Western ideas, which may or may not be mythical? But which are in any case masculine, westernocentric, and seemingly oblivious of what women and other cultures might think? Is there an Islamic vision of Modernity? Or does the caricature serve as a straw man for both the West and the unsettling pace of Change and modernization in their indigenous societies?

Islamists and Traditionalists reject modernity, by which they mean Western secularism and the banishment of religious values from most aspects of daily life in what Mohammad Arkoun calls the mythical West. In this world view, reason and the Enlightenment have become the new devils, modern blasphemies because they dare to set Man up as equal to God. The original sin of modern Man is therefore to have rejected the sovereignty of God and put in its place the sovereignty of the Individual.

The very words secular and individualism are anathema to many of today's Islamists. But what they understand by both terms often seems superficial, a cliched vision of life in the West as seen on cable television and films - a world of sex, violence and desperate loneliness - that overlooks the role religion, custom and tradition play in the lives of most people in Western countries. Such rejection is also part of a wider process that seeks to recast Islam as the quintessential Third World ideology, the obvious successor to Marxism, inheritor of the mantle of nationalism, a repudiation of colonial weakness and the glorification of a mythologised Islamic Past that stands alone and defiant from Western civilization. But this simply flies in the face of historical evidence. Islam is part of Western civilization. Just as Western civilization is part of Islam. The DNA of both are inextricably entwined. But as Bosnia has shown, non-Muslims are just as capable as the most committed Muslim of doing the impossible in the name of an imagined national, racial or religious purity.

Most Muslims do not really think of Modernity in terms of a break with the Past. Modernity means new and better technology and an improved standard of living. But unlike in Western societies, it also means a renewal with the Past, a return to the original ethos of Islam, of Mecca and Medina. If that society remains the perfect society, which must be copied in the late Twentieth century, then the idea of Progress, or a break with the Past is a nonsense.

This mind set has other subtle and important implications. Universal suffrage is welcomed, but not necessarily the idea that individual freedom or freedom of opinion are essential preconditions for the exercise of democracy. An Islamist would understand Hurriyat al-ra'y, or Freedom of Opinion, to mean the right to think what you like but only within the boundaries of what is permitted in Islam. Too often, it seems, Islam is defined in a narrow and restrictive sense.

The dilemma raised by Hurriyat al-ra'y is rooted in Islam's early history. The first century of the Islamic state is marked by murder, intrigue and civil war, epitomized by A'isha's struggle against Ali, and, soon after, by the bloody schism between Sunni and Shi'i which resulted in a state of fitna or chaos. Freedom of Thought, for many Muslims, therefore is synonymous with dissent and fitna and must be avoided at all cost. For a traditional Muslim, freedom of thought therefore signals a return to Jahiliyya, the Age of Ignorance and Darkness.

Western cultures, in varying degrees, claim that human beings should act and think according to their own desires and beliefs. But for many traditionalist Muslims, individualism thus defined also opens the door to selfishness, a denial of God, and, once again, chaos or Fitna. Passions, desires and, above all, the human imagination, must therefore be tightly circumscribed. Loudspeakers outside the compound of the Tabhlik-i-Islami (a powerful Islamic missionary society) in Raiwind ( Pakistan) declare apostate anyone who dares to praise Reason. Reason is an attempt to set oneself up above God. Human Reason is an act of blasphemy that must be punished! the loudspeakers blare. At such moments, the most innocent and unspoken thoughts can take on the terrors of blasphemy.

Most human beings, especially in the West, operate under the belief that their decisions are governed by reason alone. Reason implies Free Will. But most human acts are, at best, a mix of Reason, Emotion and Custom. The antithesis: West = Reason = Secularism (as opposed to the equation Islam = Belief in God = Salvation) is a false one, both in its description of the West and in its denial of Islam's own past. Mohammad Arkoun, and others, have argued that Islam is part of the Western tradition; that the Western tradition is part of Islam; that they therefore share a common belief in the power of reason.

Islam, in short, is no more nor less pro- or anti-Modernity than Western civilization. Indeed, some scholars argue that Islam actively encourages Reason and Free Will more actively and explicitly than either Christianity or Judaism. The concept of Original Sin, for example, is simply absent from Islam. Far from abhorring individualism, Islam encourages any Muslim to seek their own path to God. A good Muslim should be anything but rigid or obedient to anyone other than the Divine. No one person or caste has a monopoly of wisdom or access to God. Any Muslim, literate or illiterate, can discover the essence of God without intermediary or catechism, but in their own way, and in their own time.

Setting Religion up against Religion is, in Arkoun's judgment, a false dichotomy, false to Islam and to Judeo-Christian traditions, a legacy of the exclusionary nature of Greek thought. There is really little, if anything in Islamic thought, therefore, that contradicts or even opposes Modernity. What critics of Modernity may really fear is loss of control or privilege. Or simply fear of Change itself.

Islam can modernize and accept the new, even from outside its own tradition. This is achieved through qiyas or analogy. A situation arises for which there is no obvious textual solution. A Muslim could seek analogous situations in the life of the Prophet, apply the principles of Shari'ah and so extend the law. However, the current climate is not particularly favorable. Orthodoxy is the order of the day.

Ironically, we find this new orthodoxy and condemnation of Modernity in cities, not in the countryside. Westerners tend to think of cities as modern, villages as traditional and conservative. But rural Islam is generally more flexible and practical than its urban counterpart. Ernest Gellner once wrote that Islam and Modernization were absolutely compatible. But he meant urban, disciplined Islam, not the relaxed, generous Islam of the countryside that still quite cheerfully accommodates other traditions and learns to adapt dogma to the practical needs of getting in the harvest, or simply getting along with one's neighbors. Village Islam is often Sufistic in nature, something today's urban orthodox abhor.

Islamisation is also less a reaction against modernization than a product of it. Islam as an ideology offers millions of urban, rootless men and women a simple and effective ideology, what one scholar has called - the Shari'ah plus electricity. Islamisation offers these Mustadafin (the oppressed) the dream of access to the world of development and consumption, from which they currently feel excluded. The parallels with Marxism are many and obvious - a revolutionary vanguard, a mythologised version of History, a revolutionary break with the corrupt ways of the unbelievers, combined with blind faith, a simplified credo, hatred and demonization of all who refuse or deny the inevitable Sense of History, now given divine sanction. But does this mean that the current Islamic resurgence is also destined to experience the same fate?

Religions are not rigid and immutable. They adapt or shrivel, or mutate into other forms. There is no reason why Islam should prove different. There is nothing in the Qur=an that suggests that Islam is less open to democracy, or equality of the sexes than either Christianity or Judaism. Nor is there any inherent reason why Islam should prove less able to accept the challenge of Change. It is entirely possible that it can formulate an alternative and effective theory of Modernity that integrates faith into a more realistic theory than the largely mythical Western model. Indeed, there is much that suggests it may prove more open and flexible as a religion than either of the other two great monotheistic faiths.

But religions are not always what or where intellectuals say they are. They are essentially how individuals live them and use them to seek guidance or comfort, or both. They are also tools with which the saintly, and the unscrupulous, exploit their latent power to mobilize human beings for very different ends. Islam has demonstrated great flexibility in adapting to local customs and to Change. The future of Islam may lie, paradoxically, in those societies where Muslims are a minority, not a majority, where Islam can do what it does best - adapt itself to external stimuli - and change to meet Modernity halfway; where the presence of its own past is largely absent.

Posted by: Living Islam | October 13, 2006 08:47 AM

*"Poverty and disenchantment"*?
Is that the same as "unemployment and lack of educational opportunities" of which I hear so much?

The London bombers weren't poor, had good jobs en enjoyed good education.

And WHY is everyone saying the multicultural society has taken a blow?
It has not.
We live happily with the Chinese, Russians, Israeli, and African citizens.
As long as they aren't Muslims.

So, don't you think the failure of living with a certain group of people might have something to do with their religion?

Jack Straw didn't 'discriminate' anyone.
On the contrary.
WE are the ones who suffer from Islamist bigots

Posted by: GJ Klaver, Amsterdam | October 13, 2006 09:08 AM

Amsterdam is a sin city, full of evilness, god will soon destroy it mark my word. 1 in every 3 is either into beastility or is gay.

Posted by: Destroy Amsterdam | October 13, 2006 09:47 AM

"The only problem is when you try spreading your beliefs through coercion. The West seems to have gotten over that a long time ago."

Um, if that's the case, why are we trying to force democracy down other people's throats?

It seems to me that Democracy has become America's Secular Religion. And we are converting people by the sword (ok the gun).

Posted by: Thom | October 13, 2006 10:23 AM

'Democracy' is being spread by stealth bombers.

650,000 dead Iraqi's didn't get vote.


Posted by: Impeach Bush Now! | October 13, 2006 10:58 AM

"Um, if that's the case, why are we trying to force democracy down other people's throats?"

Two reasons:

1) We have come to believe that certain non-democratic regimes represent serious threats to our own existance; and

2) We believe that everyone has the right to certain personal liberties, and that those liberties cannot be secured under the regimes in question.

Posted by: | October 13, 2006 12:57 PM

Or if they're dead.

Posted by: | October 13, 2006 01:00 PM

"We believe that everyone has the right to certain personal liberties, and that those liberties cannot be secured under the regimes in question."

Be that as it may, it is not our responsibility to go and free them. We may help, we can cajole and encourage, but when you free someone at the point of a gun, he begins to wonder about your alterior motives, especially if you are the same color and from the same religion, as those who once tried to conquer you, and almost succeeded.

Face it. By definition, one cannot impose democracy.

Posted by: Thom | October 13, 2006 04:25 PM

"Be that as it may, it is not our responsibility to go and free them."

My gut instinct is to agree with you - but I've come to believe that instinct to be, in my case at least, ultimately selfish. It's easier to look the other way, and much cheaper in terms of lives and money. If we take a lack of personal freedom as seriously as we do serious physical deprivation (such as, say, starvation or disease), then we do have a moral obligation to try to bring freedom to countries under totalitarian regimes. The best tactics to use are, of course, completely open to debate.

Posted by: | October 13, 2006 04:43 PM

Muslim male chauvinism
I see reason in Jack Straw's statement that Muslims, while migrating to greener pastures (read, the West), refuse to shed their mediaeval practices like forcing their women to wear the hijab or burqa. The complaint of the Western countries that Muslims are not assimilating with their societies is a legitimate grievance. In fact, France has banned wearing the veil along with other symbols of religious identity, much before Britain started mulling over the socio-political implications of religious separatism on similar grounds. The only plausible explanation for the anachronistic practice of wearing burqa may be the Byzantine times when war-fatigued men sought sadistic pleasure in ravaging the honour of women, who were advised to 'hide' behind the veil. But such code meant that women were made to pay the price of freedom because of men's reckless libido. Clipping the wings of the victims because the law is unable to catch up with the predators cannot be called justice. Now that the situation is much better, why live by a 13th century code? Actually, men dominate Muslim society and force such practices on women in the name of religion. The fact that most educated Muslim women have shunned the veil supports this premise. Educated Muslim women should refuse to wear the hijab or burqa and join the mainstream of societies in which they live.

posted by a.seshagiri rao.

Posted by: a.seshagirirao | October 14, 2006 01:31 AM

Obviously the Arab nations with their Moslim religious juices and powers are getting closer to and more integrated with Western Europe - and they seem to be winning, just look at the massive changes these past 5 years in their favor. Perhaps the time has come for the "original" Europeans to re-establish the rules. Jack Straw is doing this by telling women to take of their veils, French schools are trying this by saying everybody should be dressed the same way, Denmark is trying this through rather dumn religious jokes. One exception, the Dutch continue to be tolerant, primarily because they are scared and then totally surprised when Van Gogh is killed because Moslems, borne in Netherlands, are outraged by the fanatic anti-Moslem movie he made. The writing is on the wall and the original European Rulers better get stronger - if not, they will loose. And yes, it will involve physical fighting and pain - what else is new. But to be weak (like Netherlands) will destroy the "old" European spirit for many years to come.

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Posted by: Christine | October 15, 2006 12:52 PM

"If western women are required to go veiled in a Muslim country, then muslim women should conform to the general cultural protocols of the country that they are living in."

The issue is not about adhering to the "standards" and "protocols" of western countries. For a majority of people who emigrate to the West, it is the desire to be able to choose to live freely and without interference in their daily lives. This is what they escape from in a lot of their own societies. If Europe wants to essentially impose their own version of Saudi Arabia style "protocol" (i.e. you do as we tell you to do since you are in our country) then make sure you clarify that at your Embassies and Consulates and drop this charade of "freedom loving societies". Secularism is an ideology like any other religion. And like any religious ideology, it can be pushed to intolerance and discrimination. The call for "assimilation", as it is being framed now, is nothing but extremism at the opposite end of the spectrum from Saudi Wahabism.

To quote fahminatour from earlier:

"The assimilation proccess is more intricte than that. It involves understanding other folks who are not like us and truly respecting them for their unique qualities"

Posted by: Zain | October 16, 2006 07:42 PM

The discrimination against minorities has a very long history in the West. The Holocaust is a prime example.

The war to colonise hearts and minds of the Muslims has been underway for a long-time.

It is a part of a wider strategy to strengthen the Western hegemony in Asia. There is a continuous spate of propaganda against China's political, economic, and cultural affairs as a part of this strategy. Occasionally, India is also targeted.

The Western media fails to understand that the Asian continent has multicultural and multi-religious civilizations renowned for their rich and diverse culture. The war against Asia is doomed to fail. Hearts and minds of the Eastern people will never be colonised.

Read More ...


Posted by: Muhammad Azeem Akhter | October 17, 2006 02:40 PM

This is all pretty ridiculous. If a woman chooses to wear a veil, she certainly has a right to. Should she expect to be noticed, particularly in a part of the world where the veil is not common? Yes. Should those of us in this part of the world get excited about it? No. Outer dress is symbolic and each and every one of us adheres to a symbolic style of dress. Let me suggest other styles that need to be changed:

1. Perhaps we should require African women to remove their elaborate head wraps (sorry, I don't know the name for them)

2. Perhaps we should require Amish and Mennonite women to remove their head coverings

3. Perhaps we require those with piercings other than through their ears to remove them or hide them.

I could go on, but you get the message.

Posted by: Pam | October 20, 2006 03:23 PM

Can a christian country tolerate the attack on JESUS in KORAN.? See KORAN is attacking the very funda of christianity for the last 1400 years by making GOD jesus comparable to the killer,rapist,pedophile MOhemmed.? If you can tolerate this then the issue discussed is very simple. You can tolerate the viel issue also. Only thing is that terrorist will get a cool passage throuh the hijabs.
Bear that also

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