I really do despair of the Church of England. The old Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, was fairly unique in that he didn't actually seem to believe in God. His successor, Bishop Tom Wright has done an interview for GMTV where he likens asking a Muslim woman to remove her Hijab as... well, read for yourself.
What do you make of the dilemma that’s been posed just recently that Allah wishes women to wear the veil. How do you assess that as someone who is a profoundly steeped in your own religion, how should we respond to that?
Bishop Tom Wright
Well there are several different layers there which have to do with what it means to live as a Muslim in a culture that is predominantly non Muslim and of course there are many many Muslim women in many Muslim countries who don’t believe that it is the will of Allah that they should wear the veil, that is a disputed point within Islam itself. However we are then facing other waves of culture for instance in France where they have tried to ban Muslim veils and wearing of crosses in classrooms and that sort of thing. There you see a militant secularism which is just as much a religion in its own way which says we want to win this one and we don’t want any other ‘isms’ on the block at all. It could be only secularism, so until we can name some of those swirling forces within our culture we’re going to be very very confused, the problem has been that for the last 200 years in western culture we have fooled ourselves that religion was about what I do with my solitude and that will do, the public live as thought there was no religion and actually I think we’re now realising in the 21st century that you can’t live like that for very long it’s a kind of luxury, and we can’t afford it.
It is difficult to negotiate the differences that exist that people assert and take the host society by surprise, do you have sympathy for Jack Straw?
Bishop Tom Wright
I haven’t studied what Jack Straw said and knowing what newspapers do it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s been quoted out of context…
[Interrupts] Yes, but he himself had said because we have seen his lips move on the screen, that when Muslim women come wearing the veil which only allows them to only see his eyes, he does ask them to remove it, so he can have communication with them, and that has caused something of a stir?
Bishop Tom Wright
Yes, as the Americans say, I don’t have a dog in that fight, I don’t know quite what he was trying to get at by saying that, I mean, obviously for us we are used to facial communication where we pick up signals from each others faces and we can actually understand what we mean by the facial language and the body language so if all you have is the eyes, I can see it’s a little confusing. But if for some Muslim women that’s like saying ‘I want you to take your blouse off’ or something, then if they feel deeply embarrassed at the thought of revealing this private thing called their face to a stranger, then the last thing I want to do is embarrass them in that way.
Now, do we really think this 'blouse' comment is valid? It might be if all Muslim women wore Hijabs, but they don't. How on earth can a face be a private thing? A friend of mine has just come back from Egypt and saw very few women wearing Hijabs. Personally, I take a fairly liberal line on this issue. I believe self expression is a fundamental human right and if people want to cover themselves up that's up to them. Obviously, I would prefer people who live in this country to abide by our customs. Wearing a Hijab is something which tends to exacerbate community divides, but do we really think we should emulate France and ban them in certain circumstances. I do not.
Having said that, there are quite a few people who would be better looking if they took up wearing a Hijab... Your nominations please...