A veil between state and society

David Aaronovitch argues in The Times that most of the political contributions on the wearing of the veil have been right but foolish. Right because a teacher wearing the veil closes down an important channel of communication. Foolish because it elevates a trivial story affecting a tiny number of people into front page news; and because it makes the large majority of Muslims who do not wear the veil or threaten British society feel that Islam is the victim.

He makes some valuable points. We can choose to fight radical Islam or, by our careless attitudes, choose to fight Islam as a whole. A war with the radicals cannot be avoided. A war with the majority, perhaps, can.

But on the specifics of Jack Straw's article and the comments by David Davis on the veil, the real problem, as so often, is the pervasiveness of the state. A national debate on issues of integration is very welcome. But if it is led by the government, people are sure to feel victimised. The government has the monopoly on the legitimate use of force, so when the government leads a debate on clothing it, rightly, frightens people. They fear for their liberties.

Business has an ongoing and entirely peaceable debate about dress down policies at work. The government keeps out of it, and no-one's civil liberties are threatened.

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