22 October 2006

The Full Veil Debate Continues

When I watched Question Time (Thurs, BBC 1) this week, I learnt two rather surprising things.

One, the Muslim teaching assistant, who lost her employment tribunal case this week over wearing the full veil, works at a Christian faith school. Two, most of the rhetoric has focused on how her full veil is a barrier to her teaching her children. Well, she takes off her veil when teaching. What she objects to is wearing the veil in the presence of adult male staff.

It's indicative of the media debate that despite being soaked in news stories about the case, I was unaware of either fact.

The debate is becoming focused on: "those damned Muslims, why can't they be just like us ... if 97% of Express readers think the veil should be banned, they why shouldn't it be banned?" It's revealing a dangerous level of intolerance towards Muslims, any Muslims with any headgear, in British society.

And another thing, why is all the rhetoric focused on Muslim attitudes being the barrier to integration?

The Lancaster University study, commissioned by the Home Office, examined the attitudes of 435 15-year-olds on race, religion and integration. Nearly a third of pupils at a predominantly white school believed one race was superior to another, compared with a tenth from a majority Asian Muslim school and fewer than a fifth at a mixed school. The study found that about one in 10 of white students had any interest in learning about other religions, compared with four in 10 Muslims.

Andrew Holden, of the University of Lancaster, said: "White children seem to benefit more from mixed schooling in encouraging positive attitudes to other ethnic groups. A lot of attitudes from the white children seemed to reflect their parental influences. We have discovered a lot of findings that challenge those assumptions that Muslims are a problem. It does fly in the face of what ministers have been saying."

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