Am I so cynical that I think New Labour would raise an issue that plays well with the working class labour base and the Daily Mail reading floating voter at just this point, even if it exacerbates ethnic and cultural tension? You betcha.
2. He was talking about full facial covering, not about headscarves. The large number of comments in e.g. the letter columns of the Independent which talked as if he were attacking all those items of clothing worn by some Islamic women for the sake of modesty were knee-jerk nonsense
Nor did he say he refused to talk to women who would not remove their veils, just that he expressed a preference.
I happen to think that he underestimates the dilemma that this puts his constituents in and the extent to which he is exploiting white middle-class male privilege, but simply saying that he would rather see their face is pretty low on the scale of oppression.
Compared to, e.g. , invading Iraq.
3. He actually has a very good reason for asking to see their faces which he did not mention in the article and which hardly anyone has mentioned in the newspapers, which is that Jack Straw is reasonably well-known to be seriously deaf and to need to lip read.
Possibly this is something he is going to mention later, but I think that it has rather more to do with the deeply oppressive cultural attitudes to deafness in this country as not a proper disability, or as funny. He can't mention it, because being deaf is not being in a minority people respect.
The point several commentators made about Straw implying Blunkett, who is blind, couldn't do his job properly because he couldn't see people is accordingly in rather bad taste.
(I have noticed that even so-called progressives in the UK are insensitive to a number of disability issues - when I was at Liberty, everyone went on and on about inclusiveness while occupying a building with no disability access whatever, loos on upper floors up windy dangerous staircases. No-one with mobility issues could possibly have worked there or served on committees.
Similarly, there was a deep hostility to anyone who admitted even mild mental illness as part of their history - in a complicated internal vote-rigging case, I pointed out that the alleged actions of the accused made no sense. 'They don't have to make sense' someone said, 'he admits to being mentally ill.' Which is to say, that in Civil Liberties land, certain disabilities mean that you get a lower standard of proof...)
4. There is a question I ask in all ignorance and because I would have liked to see an answer in all the acres of newsprint that have been expended on this. How do women who wear the niqab or the burqa feel about Muslim women who do not, and about non-Islamic women who don't even begin to understand the question? I see that from the various interviews they see themselves as justified by religion and that they claim feelings of liberation from the male gaze. After years hanging round in contexts where e.g. radical separatists despised almost everyone else, and made their contempt manifest, I find myself wondering whether veil-wearing women are similarly patronizing, or not.
Difference and separation is one thing; thinking that you are a whole lot better than anyone else is quite another. And this applies to many groups apart from Muslims.
5. I noticed that one correspondent in The Guardian was asking whether Straw was offended by women displaying cleavage. Hmm, that's a bit of a giveaway about where he's coming from.
The trouble with modesty/immodesty dress codes is that they blend rather neatly into Madonna/whore dichotomies in the way you treat and regard other women. This creates pressure inside communities to comply and be Good if you don't want to be treated as Bad.
And yes, there are a lot of other pressures on non-Muslim women in our society about which we can go on and on forever. Breast enlargement and fuckme shoes and Trinny and frakking Susanna - and as someone sensible said, freedom to choose includes bad choices.
6. I am trans and so are many of my friends. One of my ex-flatmates was whipped with barbed wire by her father for wearing dresses; another was thrown out of school for wearing makeup.
Are all the people who express the view that no-one should be penalized for wearing what they choose prepared to apply this to young trans people? Or not.
Answers that say that do so would offend their Invisible Friend of choice are not acceptable.
7. I am thoroughly sick and tired of having to pretend that I think that weird things people do because of religion are made more acceptable and less contemptible because they are God-Botherers.
I detest George W. Bush for fixing elections and invading countries and failing to help the inhabitants of New Orleans. I particularly detest the fact that he goes on and on about answering to a higher power, who, if it existed, would presumably smite him with boils for being an irritating asshole.
I detest faith schools and the attempt to destroy science and the oppression of sexual and (yes) religious minorities in the name of god.
I know how many people who are believers are thoroughly virtuous sorts who do a fair bit of good in the world. I also know how many entirely godless people are also quite virtuous in our way - I am too fond of gossip and spending money I haven't got and have a tendency to intemperate scorn and to vague lechery about firm young bodies, that I don't act on, but I have put in a fair amount of time on committees in an attempt to serve the public good, I give money to the odd beggar and I buy fair-trade goods and I try to help people out when I can. What little good I do is as motivated by my godlessness as believers' good by their beliefs - and my godlessness should get some frakking CREDIT for it. Or alternatively we should notice good works and not go on blethering about the link between them and faith, because there is nothing so stupid that someone cannot justify it in the name of some holy book or other.
8. On the one hand, the Pope solemnly abolishes Limbo, about which I have no words at the present time; on the other hand, leading figures in Al Quaida call on Christians to convert to Islam because it is more logical.
By which he means, OK, that it is not Trinitarian, a doctrine that very few Christians not actually involved in theology ever remember to believe in except in the sense of vaguely believing that God is a man with a beard, and is also Jesus Christ, and might be some other being too.
He also means that Christians believe that the Crucifixion happened.
Now, there are all sorts of reasons why one might be sceptical about the Gospel accounts, which are written decades later, and then winnowed. Yet one crucial fact is that, over the same period of time, none of the various people who dissed the early Christians - Tacitus, Pliny, Josephus - ever doubted that their fouonder had been crucified. It was, after all, what the Roman state did to any non-citizens who pissed them off. It is not a historical fact in the way that Magna Carta is a historical fact, but, like much of what we know in the period when it happened, it is a pretty safe bet based on those documents we actually possess.
After all, our major sources for much of what we know about the Julio-Claudian emperors were written down an equivalent number of decades later.
What the Al Quaida guy means is that Christians are wrong to believe in the Crucifixion because the Koran, written not decades, but half a millennium later, says it didn't. And the Koran is the word of God, dictated by the Angel Gabriel and pre-formed before time began, so it trumps mere historical likelihood.
Which is logical only if you accept the premise. And it is not only Christians who do not.
Muslims are quite right to complain about the patronizing arrogance of Christians and the certainty they have that they are right, and Muslims are wrong. And the Gospels include that useful remark about not talking about the mote in one's neighbour's eye and failing to be aware of the beam in one's own, a saying both traditions might usefully apply.
And the rest of us might stand around and snicker, but too many people have died and are dying over the murderous hatred between sibling religions.
There are issues like Palestine over which one can understand people having murderous feelings.
What amazes me about Muslims and Christians - those two religions in particular - is the quite mind-bogglingly trivial issues over which they have been prepared to kill both each other and their co-religionists.
I could, if I seriously put my mind to it, spell out the issues between Catholicism and Protestantism, between Orthodoxy and Arianism and Nestorianism and Jacobitism and Monophysitism and Montanism. I might get wrong which group thought what, some of the time, but I know the basics becasue the Jebbies taught me well. But honestly, given the blood shed over e.g. prepositions and statues, I find myself quite seriously tired.
Inasmuch as I udnerstand the divisions between Sunni and Shi'a, and all the various flavours of Shi'a - were there Twelve imams or only Five? - they run Christianity at least a very close second for the staggeringly obscure ideas over which people are prepared to kill each other.
And feel that they are great and everyone else is crap.
9. And here is the paradox, that I detest organized religion and boycott it for its crimes, and yet miss the spirituality that I often found in being part of a sung Mass, or which I feel in big gloomy cathedrals when someone is practising on the organ, or in the couple of Quaker meeting I've been to. In trouble,like planes in serious turbulence, I find myself saying the rosary on my fingers, and knowing that prayer beads are one of those things that various religions have in common.
I am agnostic about the existence of anything it would be meaningful to call God, but not about the spiritual.
Sometimes I ache for the lack of a religion that does not fill me with distaste and contempt, and then I listen to Mozart's Serenade for Thirteen Wind Instruments, or look at a storm-cloud filled sky, and that ache goes away remarkably quickly.
I sometimes think that believers should consider boycotting the actual practice of their religion until their religious leaders start behaving themselves. I wonder how long the Catholic Church would go on threatening to excommunicate scientists who work with stem cells if all the Catholics who disagree went to Mass and stood outside and made it clear that they were refusing to take the Eucharist until the Church just stopped being silly.
And now I am very tired and going to bed.