I have refrained from commenting on the 'debate' about whether Muslim women should wear the veil or not as a) many others have done and b) I have genuinely mixed feelings on the issue.
Having now heard from Phil Woolarse and honest Tony on the issue my initial reaction that Straw's comments had a rather insidious whiff about them has been confirmed.
There is a genuine issue about whether the wearing of the full veil is helpful or appropriate, but of much greater concern is the tone of Blair and his various Minister's comments about the Muslim community.
Woolarse's comments are simply despicable. He must have known better than to comment in such a way while a tribunal is ongoing. It is quite unacceptable that a Minister should intervene in this way.
What I find distasteful about Blair's comments is the suggestion that it is the responsibility of the Muslim or other minority communities to strike the right balance in terms of their integration into 'our' society, whilst failing to mention the responsibility those of us in the majority community have to help integration and to be tolerant of differences.
I object to the idea that ordinary Muslims should be harangued about dealing with extremists in their midst as if they ought to have some magic solution to the problem. It was wrong when all Irish people were treated with suspicion when the IRA were active and it is equally wrong to label all Muslims in the same way.
And now University staff are apparently being asked to keep a particular eye on Muslim students in case there are signs of them being radicalised. That's really going to encourage young Muslim students to feel fully integrated into University life, isn't it.
The obvious results of all of this are that more Muslims will feel that they are being discriminated against by the Government and their reaction is likely to be that they will highlight their 'separateness' even more, sympathy for the extremists is likely to grow rather than lessen, and those inclined to go round pulling veils of Muslim women's faces or other racist activity will feel encouraged.
One final point, if a Muslim woman came to my surgery wearing a veil I would consider it extremely rude to ask her to remove it.