It wouldn't surprise me at all if Gordon Brown thought that emulating Nicolas Sarkozy and banning the burka was one way of boosting his electoral popularity.
Until the last few years very few muslim women in Britain wore the burka or hijab. Why have they taken to doing so now? Feminists believe that they are being enslaved and that it signifies being owned by a male. Others believe it protects female dignity. The one thing we do know is that nowhere in the Koran does it say that women should wear the burka.
I don't like banning things and I want to uphold the right to freedom of expression. Seeing women wearing the full burka may make me feel vaguely uncomfortable but that is not reason enough to ban it. However, it is a symbol of cultural apartheid. The message it sends out is clear: I don't want to be part of British society even though I live here. The burka further ghettoises the women who wear it. But is that enough reason to ban it? We'd never ban a sari, but then saris don't shield a woman's face, do they?
Two further points. Burkas should indeed be banned by employers if they wish. How can you possibly teach wearing a veil covering your face? How could you be a social worker or TV presenter? In addition, the police and airport security must be able to order a woman to show her face if required. Jack Straw was right to feel uncomfortable when he had a burka wearing woman at his surgery. I would have been too.
Western women who go to Saudi Arabia are required to respect the dress code of the country and clothe themselves accordingly. Our liberal values don't require the same in return. Sometimes we may be too tolerant for our own good.
The day a woman can wear a bikini on a beach in Saudi Arabia will be the day I will totally accept the burka.