VIDEO: The Veil – A Mark of Separation or Statement of Identity?

Jack Straw’s (the former UK Home and Foreign Secretary) comments on the ‘veil’ opened a debate that many in the mainstream thought was overdue.

[note from December 2023]The Muslim woman’s dress, most noticeably the face veil (nikab) is seen by many as a symbol of oppression and separateness.  Straw fomented these ideas stating that he felt ‘uneasy’ when constituents wearing nikab came to see him as their constituency MP asking for advice or support.

At some point post these comments, Straw was forced to make some sort of statement by way of apology.  However at a conference on Islamophobia held in Sarajevo in 2016, Straw reiterated his comments and stood by them (I was in attendance).

My contribution edited into these highlight, was to a panel organised not long after his comments.   More details on speakers etc after the video.

From the IHRC website (it was a non-IHRC event)


Arzu Merali
Islamic Human Rights Commission

Alexandra Shulman
Editor of Vogue Magazine

Deborah Orr
Independent Newspaper

Ibtihal Bsis
Islam Channel Muslim Women’s Dilemma Show

Chaired By:
Libby Purves Radio 4 Presenter

Jack Straw’s comments on the veil opened a debate that many thought was overdue. The Muslim woman’s dress, most noticeably the face veil is seen by many as a symbol of oppression and separateness.

Yet those Muslim women who have spoken supporting the hijab (headscarf), niqab (face veil) and jilbab (outer garment) talk about their dress variously as liberating, symbolic of their distinctive identity, and a deeply important part of their religious practice to them.

Does this gap in opinion just go to prove how different are the world views between practicing Muslims and others? Or are their parallels in clothing fashions representing other statements of identity? Is it really the business of others like Jack Straw to comment on the clothing of any woman – be she wearing a veil or a miniskirt?

Image: Adapted from bastamanography CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED