Jack Straw's attack on Muslim women wearing the veil was not an innocent attempt to “raise debate”. He was speaking in a climate of Islamophobia fuelled by the “war on terror”.
It is this climate that promotes segregation and fuels racist attacks, not the decision of some Muslim women to cover their faces, as Straw claimed.
Leading anti-war campaigners have challenged the latest round of scapegoating.
Victoria Brittain, a journalist and member of Respect’s national council, said her immediate reaction to the comments was “amazement, and a foreboding that it would legitimise the crude Islamophobia so current now in some circles”.
She added that wearing the veil is “a choice made by some of the most dynamic, educated young women, who will certainly emerge as leaders of their communities by the time Mr Straw has disappeared from the political scene”.
Stop the War Coalition convenor Lindsey German said, “This argument is being framed in terms of women’s rights. If we’re serious about liberation we should accept the right of women to choose what they wear and when.
“We should reject the idea that liberation can be imposed by politicians who are cynically attacking Muslims to cover for their disastrous wars.”
Jane Shallice, a longstanding campaigner and national officer for the Stop the War Coalition, said, “Some cabinet members have distanced themselves from Straw’s views. But they have reiterated his right to raise this issue.
“It’s not a question of his right to raise this, the primary question is the right of all women to dress how they choose.
“That’s what we fought for in the 1960s and 1970s - the right to wear trousers to work, to wear miniskirts, or whatever!”
As we show on our centre pages this week, Labour ministers both accept the myths of “self-segregating” Muslims and increasingly seek to justify their wars as an attempt to drive back “radical Islam”.
But as the anti-war movement in Britain shows, Muslims and non-Muslims are perfectly capable of uniting - against the likes of Tony Blair and Straw. It is this that New Labour fears.
Rania Khan, a Respect councillor in Tower Hamlets, east London, said, “New Labour has lost the argument over the war. They have lost the argument with the left. So they are reaching out to the right - increasing Islamophobia and whipping up fear of terrorism. That is what’s behind the growth of racism.”