I'm just wondering what to make of the latest coverage of issues relating to Islam in the news. Today we have the latest comments by Jack Straw about women having veiled faces, and also the story of a dairy being damaged by white youths. Over the last few weeks, there have been the inevitable pictures from Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza of violence, victims and angry protest. Add to that the atmosphere of suspicion following the 7/7 bombings and it is a recipe for communal tensions.
Many of the victims of violence depicted in the news were Muslims, and by no means all those perpetrating it were (notably the destruction in Lebanon and, recently, the vandalism to the dairy). However, I am very concerned that the overall impression given by the media is that Muslims are a problem. The most concerning thing about that is that it is a very short step from that to accepting restrictions and discrimination. I think this is where Jack Straw may have made a mistake - all the more unfortunate, given the commitment to community relations and human rights, which have been a feature of much of his political career.
If we create an atmosphere where Muslim women are seen as 'in the wrong' for wearing veils, we feed the prejudices latent under the surface of our society. Already the Sun and the Daily Mail have "ban the burkha" headlines.
How about this. Why don't we who are White Anglo Saxon Protestants ask Muslims to teach us communication with veils. Our culture does use facial expression, eye movement etc for much of what we say. Presumably Muslim women with full veils do that differently. Let's learn how, rather than make them feel outcasts and vulnerable in our streets. It would (ironically) be the Christian thing to do...