So what is Straw saying? He's not just saying that he finds it "uncomfortable" to talk to a Muslim woman whose face he can't see. He's saying that the fact that some Muslim women choose to cover their face is a direct cause of communal tension, and a confirmation from Muslim women themselves that they indeed are different, and do not wish to engage in society.
Straw later went on to elaborate that he'd rather those Muslim women who wear the veil simply don't do so at all.
Straw's little outburst comes hot on the heels of a series of remarks, observations and political maneuverings consistently pointing at the various problems that Muslim pose to British, and western, society. In August, we had the 'liquid bomb' plot which both former and active military and intelligence experts have found to be either impossible or barely existing.
The same phrase, a phrase he had never used before, he had also used that month to describe Israel's conflict with Lebanon. A conflict in which the preponderance of casualties was amongst Lebanese Muslims (as well as Christians).
And here in the UK, politicians, police and commentators described how the 'liquid bomb' plot proved that the threat came from British Muslims who, without any clear reason, without any obvious profile, from any social background even including a university education and a handsome employment, spontaneously decided to become suicide killers. By implications, we have a significant British Muslim problem. A problem of British Muslims spontaneously converting into Islamic fascists.
Sorry excuse me, it's just that this sounds a lot like me when I was, erm, busy failing my A-Levels at seventeen years old. Maybe I was spontaneously turning into an Islamic fascist but didn't realise? Maybe I should turn myself in?
Around the same time, the Pope decided to pipe in with a speech in which he quoted a Byzantine Emperor saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Some have suggested that angry Muslims took the quotation completely out of context, but an inspection of the rest of his text shows this not to be the case. The Pope, unfortunately, used the citation uncritically, and in support of his wider theological argument (a very questionable one at that) about the fundamental difference in Christian and Islamic views of the rationality of God's actions.
It took the Israeli military veteran and peace activist Uri Avnery, a self-described Jewish atheist, to take the Pope to task as follows:
"Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.
Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?
There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of 'Islamofascism' and the 'Global War on Terrorism'--when 'terrorism' has become a synonym for Muslims."