Saturday, October 7, 2006

The Niqab - a British freedom

We see the hysterical results of Jack Straw's comments this morning. The Daily Express leads the charge with "BAN THE VEIL": "CONCERNED Britons gave massive backing last night to calls for Muslim women to ditch the veil."

Jack Straw has a right to raise the issue of the Niqab. (I have to admit, though, that the idea of him asking ladies to remove their Niqab, while they are sitting in front of him, is rather creepy.) It also seems that Straw has been misrepresented, because he emphasised that he asks ladies wearing the Niqab if they would mind removing it. That is importantly different from simply "asking them to remove it" which is how the BBC has reported him.

Jack Straw is in one of the government's deadest of dead end jobs, which doesn't give him many opportunities to...well...get out and have a life. I waded through Robin Cook's memoirs of his time as Leader of the House rather like a mouse wading through treacle. One the main things Cook wanted to achieve, an elected second chamber, was continually frustrated by Tony Blair.

So I suspect that part of Jack Straw's reason for speaking out on this issue, is that, otherwise, he would hardly get his name in the press.

He does seem to have thought very carefully about "going public" on this. He has sought the view of Muslims on it.

In a free country, it is right that this issue is discussed. However, I was very taken by the remarks on Today this morning by Nadia Ajibade, a young muslim woman who started wearing the veil when she was 19. Ms Ajibade explained that she wears the niqab because she wants to feel closer to God. She doesn't do it in order to make a statement or hide herself or make herself "separate" (she described many conversations she has with strangers while wearing the niqab in public. They ask questions like: "Is it hot in there?" or "Are you a Muslim?".)

Jack Straw says that the niqab is a "visible statement of separateness and difference".

The "difference" part of that comment is easy to dispose of. What is wrong with being "different"? Surely the whole spirit of Britishness is the encouragement, nay the celebration, of difference?

As for being a "statement of separateness", is a nun's dress a "statement of separateness"? Nuns dress as they do for religious reasons. They don't cover their face, so Jack Straw doesn't get worked up about them. But if we accept nun's outfits, priest's dog collars, turbans and other religious headwear (and indeed non-religious headwear such as hoods, crash helmets and sunglasses), surely we should accept the niqab, which is worn for religious reasons?

Freedom of religion is an important part of Britain, which we rightly celebrate. Wearing the niqab is part of that religious freedom. We should therefore celebrate the wearing of niqab. We should accept those who want to wear it, not envelop them in a climate of hysterical persecution.

I emphasise that I do not blame Straw for the hysterical reaction to his comments. He was right to raise the issue.


  1. Paul, you defend the right of Muslim women to wear the niqab bacause they do it "for religious reasons". How do you know that they wear it for religious reaons? It hardly seems a requirement for Muslim women, since the vast majority of Muslim women don't wear it.

    Have you not considered other reasons why they might be wearing it? For example, political reasons, in order to make a statement about their hostility to western society? Or may they be forced to wear it by their husbands, brothers, or parents?

    "Cultural and religious" reasons for customs must be treated with more circumspection than you seem to show. The ancient Hindu rite of suttee, where a widow was burnt on her husband's funeral pyre, has been outlawed even in India, and no-one would suggest its continuation to be a good idea. Female circumcision is another cultural/religious practice which I assume you would not approve of - after all, you claim to be a liberal.

    You must be well aware of the liberal dilemma - how much freedom do we, as liberals, allow to our illiberal opponents. I would put it to you that the niqab, a symbol of the oppression of women, is one example of going too far. It seems incongruous that Muslims, who generally show little or no respect for women's freedom to choose, are so insistent on defending their right to choose to wear the niqab. It would be more believable if they also defended the right of Muslim women, for example in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, not to wear it.

  2. Anonymous posting with two edits by site owner shown as "xxx" for the sake of decency, 9th October:

    No - you are completely wrong. In human interactions, politeness, understanding, civility and simple display of the inborn human-nature "I come in peace" token via presenting yourself with perspicacity and openness, demands and requires that covering dress, expecially to the face, including sunglasses, helmets and other paraphernalia, be removed prior to a proper and evenly-balanced conversation between two people.

    That said, the religious bullshit attire that bedecks the frame of any person subscribing to any religion whatsoever should be outlawed, since all religion is sectist, mind-bending,lies and mendacity. When is the human race going to grow up and come to its senses, and see that we are deluding ourselves and others around us by even contemplating religion of any kind? It is all hocus-pocus muck and garbage, embroiling the world in conflict, mis-allocation of resources, effort, belief and everything else. Religion makes me quite literally sick - by which I mean vomit, puke, throw up. All religion is fraud, and on a par with the deception, deceit and inhumanity wrought on mankind by the evil bastards who peddle and manufacture cigarettes.

    I don't give a fuck who you are in your sad, misguided capacity in the church - all I can tell you is that you and people like you are evil, evil because you are guilty of wasting the short lives of fellow humans on a load of total crap and rot. And as for the corrupt and immoral child molesters of the Catholic church - if I had my way I' xxxxxxx well rip their xxxxx off and shove them right up their noses, then shred the whole coprolitic lot and muck-spread it over the Vatican. Unspeakable bastards.

  3. Anon - who is to say why people dress in any way? I simply believe that people should be allowed to dress how they want. I appreciate your point and it is a good and, indeed, troubling one. However, and this is of course anecdotal and unreliable as a guide to the whole picture, I have heard many Muslim women say on the media recently that they wear the Niqab for themselves and that their menfolk have categorically not requested it, let alone demanded it. That said, I accept that dress and oppression of women is closely linked, so like all these sorts of subjects, the answer is never simple. I would add that some women feel under pressure to wear mini-skirts and low slung tops, to comply with peer pressure and comply with what they think males want (perish the thought!), but we never stop them from doing so.

    In a free society, the only restriction on dress, or more correctly lack of it, should be the indecent exposure laws, as we have them in the UK.

    To the other Anon, who I assume is the same Anon, but then again could be another Anon (please let me know), I would say that I fully accept that religion has been responsible for untold misery, early death and pain.

    I would simply state that religion is man-made. Faith is from God. There is a key difference. Jesus did not ask for his followers to divide themselves up into denominations and throw bombs at each other. Quite the opposite. The divisions between denominations are all man made and in direct contravention of the spirit and words of Jesus ("Blessed are the peacemakers") as expressed in the gospels. And St Paul was very keen on encouraging Christians to be nice to each other.

  4. Firstly, Paul, there are two Anons posting here. I would have been happy to leave an identifier, but the software made it difficult. So I, the first of the two Anons, shall refer to myself as John O Hart.

    Paul, you "simply believe that people should be allowed to dress how they want". Sounds simple enough, but how do we know "what they want"? All we can know is what they say they want, often not the same thing.

    The point about liberal society is that we expect people to say and do what they want. In practice, people's motives are often obscure, and pressures of various sorts are applied, but not always acknowledged. Thus women say that they wear the hijab or niqab "for religious reasons", but what we take that to mean is that it is their choice. In our liberal society, people are free to accept or reject parts of their religion. Muslims see things rather differently. A Muslim woman has no choice about being a Muslim, and therefore no choice about what she wears. Unfortunately, Muslims don't agree about what she should wear. Hence my point about the incongruity of the Muslim attitude to all this. They don't accept that a woman has the right to choose anything, but they expect western society to respect her choice. Incongruous or what?

    As for your response to the second Anon, many of whose sentiments I share, but not his (for I assume it's a he) choice of language. I agree with you that religion is man-made, but then surely so is faith. You accept that "the divisions between denominations are all man-made", so why can't you accept that your "faith", whatever it is, is also man-made? Apart from a vague belief that there is (must be?) a god or gods of some sort, what is faith anyway? All I know about faith is that it's something that you, a man, have, but I, also a man, don't have. Therefore I must conclude that it is man-made. If it's "from God", why don't I have it?

    John O Hart

  5. John

    If (which I don't entirely accept but for the sake of discussion..let's assume it) Muslim women are wearing the veil because they are forced to, then telling them not to is going to put even more pressure on them.

    I have a faith , you don't have one. Fine. I respect your non-faith. Thank you for respecting my faith. My faith is that I believe in God, and that Jesus was the son of God, and God himself, so the word of Jesus is the word of God and I believe in the word of Jesus. So my faith comes from God, not from man. It is all extremely logical.

  6. Sorry, Paul, but your logic and mine seem to differ. Your faith, you say, is that you believe in god. That seems to be the start of your faith, and that surely comes from you, not from god. Since you can't prove that god exists, but you can prove (at least to my satisfaction) that you exist, I must logically believe that god is a concept generated by you, not that you and your faith are generated by god.

    Sorry if you don't like my logic, but I must live by my faith in my logic, as you must live by yours.

    As for putting pressure on Muslim women, it is surely by resisting the pressure put upon them that we can help them. The Muslim Council of Britain put out a press release stating that "we must respect their freedom to choose to wear the niqab", when Muslims don't defend women's freedom to choose not to wear the niqab or hijab. It's all about defending liberal attitudes against authoritarian religious diktats.

    John O Hart

  7. I love your logic. It is totally logical and so is mine. The reason both opinions can be logical is because they start from two opposite beliefs.

    If God didn't exist I wouldn't have a faith. He does, so I have a faith which starts from God existing. How long do you want to carry on this discussion, which boils down to: I believe in God, and you don't?

    I don't need or want to prove that God exists to you. Why would I want to do that? I respect your non-faith. I don't know who you are. God has proved to me that he exists, obviously, and through my life I hope to bring other people to that same belief. But it is a belief that comes over years and much experience of life.

    For the purposes of this discussion, I can prove that the teachings I try to follow are not evil and indeed prohibit evil, because they stem from Jesus, who is God not man. But even if we assume for the sake of discussion that Jesus was simply a man, then can you point me in the direction of anything Jesus said that is evil or leads people towards evil? Please let me know the references. And there is proof that Jesus existed, of course.

    As you don't believe in God, it follows that you think my faith starts from myself - so what? That is bound to be the situation because you don't believe in God and I do.

    "when Muslims don't defend women's freedom to choose not to wear the niqab or hijab."

    Muslims may not do so, but I do.

    Why the anonymity? You are not Joe Otten are?

  8. I do like a bit of religious bating. God did lots of things in the bible that encouraged violence and evil. I guess the genocide of the entire population of Jericho (with the exception of a few virgins) doesn't count, or the wholesale slaughter commanded by god when moses came down the hill to see the jews worshipping a golden calf.

    Then we are asked to believe that the omnipotent Jehovah changed his mind just over 2000 years ago and got all cuddly and liberal through his anointed god-made-flesh son and we got introduced to the whole Holy Ghost/Trinity sci-fi burble. At this point we can really dig all the groovy things Jesus said, but perhaps we should ignore some of Paul's more vitriolic and zealous ideas becase they're a bit, you know, mental. John on the other hand was much more grounded. Revelation, anyone? Antichrist? Wow.

    My sarcasticly made point is you either believe all this stuff, or you don't. I don't believe in fairies, I don't believe in pixies, I don't believe in angels or the devil. Why do intelligent people believe these religious delusions, and more importantly, why do even non-religious people support the idea that religious belief is somehow sacrasanct. If I mocked you for believing in the tooth-fairy or santa no-one would bat an eyelid.

    The veil is a ridiculous invention. Human faces were 'designed' (by natural selection) to be expressive and are central to our ability to communicate with one another -ostensibly they are the windows to our 'soul'. They are a symptom of an oppressive society dressed up as a religious symbol - which somehow protects it from criticism or even rational argument.

    Banning stuff is always a bad idea. Don't ban - educate.


  9. I asked: "can you point me in the direction of anything Jesus said that is evil or leads people towards evil?"

    The question wasn't: "Can you tell me a load of stuff from the Old Testament?".

    THe reason I believe is because my 16 month old son died in front of my eyes in 90 minutes from meningitis and I was overwhelmed by God's love after that.

    I have not criticised you or the other Anon for slamming my faith. I am quite happy to explain my faith.

    Whether or not the veil is ridiculous is beside the point. People should be allowed to wear what they want.

  10. "I do like a bit of religious bating"

    Don't get out much then?

  11. lol, I don't get out as much as I'd like, that much is true. Also, sorry about the anonymity - this software is confusing bu I think I've created a profile for myself now.

    With regard to Paul's point about his religious conversion, many people go through what feels like spiritual upheaval as a reaction to extreme stress and emotion. Your brain will produce endorphines and your body adrenalin to counteract shock and stressful situations. Although please don't think that I am in any way belittling your loss, the physical effect of grief is not disimilar to the way in which the human brain will react if you are subjected to extreme pain such as a broken limb. There are countless cases of people experiencing profound revelations when in near death or extreme situations. Peter Sellers used to have different one every time he had a heart attack.

    Physiologically this reaction makes a lot of sense. We are 'designed' by natural selection to cope with terrible pain, loss and grief without giving up, thus rendering our genes impotent. I much prefer to accept a scientific, provable rationale than an undefinable, yet overwhelming 'feeling'. You obviously don't.

    I reserve the right to cite the old testament as evidence that the bible (and thus the teachings of Jesus) is hypocritical, contradictory and ultimately unreliable. Regarding your religion, you either believe in all of it or none of it. How can you pick and choose which bits to believe, and which bits not to? Do you believe in a virgin birth? Do you believe in water into wine? Do you believe Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? (eeew!) Or was Jesus just a nice guy who had some mellow ideas?

    The modern christian religion is, for some, a simplistic moral philosophy by which to live your life in a nice, tea drinking, Church of England kind of way where nobody really wants to upset anyone and we can all get along together peacefully, whilst only believing the nice bits of the bible - or alternatively it is the eternal damnation, pits of hell, second-coming, supernatural fundamentalist dogma that causes so much of the trouble in this world. The trouble is that the acceptance of the former supports and encourages the latter.

    Do you believe in the supernatural stuff, or don't you? If so, how do you know which bits are true and which are hogwash?

    Or do you rely on 'faith' to guide you? do many thousands of fundamentalists who are blowing each other and themselves to kindom come in the delusion that there are seventy-odd virgins waiting for them on the other side. In the words of Richard Dawkins, "pity those virgins".

    Faith is dangerous. It removes our need to question ourselves, our actions and our environment - and it is the enemy of reason.

    Your final point is valid. People should be able to wear what they want, including a veil or a mohican or a "Jesus is a Cxxx" t-shirt without fear of reprisals or discrimination. However, the fundamentalist religious culture (that actively encourages this kind of oppression towards women as part of a supernatural construct) needs debunking for the superstitious clap-trap it so patently is. Religion should not be sacred (sic) and immune from criticism.

    I stand by my original point. Don't ban this stuff, just try to educate the world towards an enlightened perspective that will expose religion for the cultural lobotomy that it is.


  12. Oh... I just wanted to make it clear that although I agree with many of the sentiments posted by our erudite yet sweary friend above, it isn't me. I'm somebody else.


  13. "I reserve the right to cite the old testament as evidence that the bible (and thus the teachings of Jesus) is hypocritical, contradictory and ultimately unreliable. Regarding your religion, you either believe in all of it or none of it. How can you pick and choose which bits to believe, and which bits not to? Do you believe in a virgin birth? Do you believe in water into wine? Do you believe Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? (eeew!) Or was Jesus just a nice guy who had some mellow ideas?"

    The dictionary defines a Christian as a follower of Christ. That is what I am. I follow Christ. His interpretations of the scriptures (where he cleared up many misinterpretations) are the ones I follow.

    I am not going to continue this postboard discussion because it is boring and tedious. I have better things to do with my life. If you want to meet me to discuss the subject further I will happily do so. Please leave your contact details on a posting which I will not publish.

  14. Hi Paul,

    I'm sorry if I have bored you. I would have thought you would have relished the opportunity to witness to the atheists. Are you really 'bored' of this discussion, or do you just not relish the prospect of defending a position that you know deep in your rational mind is indefensible?

    I think that the foundation of your religious belief must be a bit shaky if you have to resort to a hackneyed dictionary definition of a Christian in order to define your faith. I thought that is what the Bible is for.

    I would love to meet to discuss this face to face, but I live in Leeds, and you live in Berkshire. You are off the hook! I will leave you, and this thread, in peace.

  15. "Sammy Kipper"

    If you hadn't written: "I do like a bit of religious bating" I would have engaged more seriously with you. You gave the game away there, mate! Ooops!

    I am quite happy to respect atheists' beliefs and leave them be. At least they, and you, have thought through their position and I respect that. The very idea of me being STUPID enough to try to act as a witness to a Yorkshire Atheist who hides behind a pseudonym on the internet and is a self-confessed "bater" of religious people is hilarious! I know us southerners are soft in the head, but not that soft!

    I do not have to "defend" my faith to anyone. I am answerable to God.

    The reason for quoting the dictionary definition of christianity is to define my faith as one of following Christ, in very simple terms. It emphasises that the word of Jesus is what I follow above all else. I have read the entire Bible word for word from cover to cover, and much of it twice, so I know that anyone would have to be complete barking mad to say that they believed in the literal truth of every single word in it.

    (I do say and believe in the Creed, however, which I attach below for information.) And why on earth should I take lectures on belief in God from an atheist?!!! It is a bit like taking lessons in butchery from a vegetarian.


    The Creed:

    I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets. I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
    I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

  16. Hi Paul,

    Are you interested in continuing this discussion? Really? Although I find your religious beliefs hilarious in isolation I assure you I take the idea of religion very seriously.

    If you want to continue this discussion I am more than happy to dissect and consider your arguments rationally and with an open mind. If you don't want to continue the discussion and just wanted to have the last word I shall leave you in peace.

    I suggest that your logic is seriously flawed. Restricting your knowledge of butchery to fellow butchers hardly constitutes a balanced opinion of anything other than comparative technique. It offers no perspective of butchery from a moral or philosophical context. Will you only discuss your liberalism with fellow liberals? Baby-eating nappy wearers would all continue to eat babies and wear nappies happily forever if the only people whose opinion mattered were other baby-eating nappy wearers. Stupid people would never need to know how stupid they were, if the only other people's opinions that counted were other stupid folks.

    From your pious regurgitation of the Creed litany, can I take it that you believe Jesus' mother was a virgin? Anything else you'd like to share with the group?

    I would like to assure you that I am more than happy to put a name to my beliefs. My name is XXXXXXXXXXXX. I live in Headingley, Leeds. Careful examination of the electoral roll will now give a fundamentalist nutter my address. Because of this I would like you to edit my surname (a row of xxxx might be nice) from this response before (and if) you post it.

    Finally, please don't let this become a north/south thing. I know some very clever southerners, and most of them are atheists.


  17. Sam

    As I said previously, I find this discussion boring and tedious. I have taken part in a similar discussion many times and I find such discussions absolutely pointless. I would like to end this discussion. However, I believe passionately in free speech. So if someone sends me a comment, I publish it. (I have only ever made three edits, two to edit out sharp obsenities and one for your name.) If someone has taken the trouble to write a comment I believe it is good manners to reply to it.

    You were telling me that my faith was "shaky". I don't need an atheist to tell me my faith is "shaky". I know my faith is shaky. The nature of my faith is a continuous journey of discovery, confession of sins, learning and challenging. I just don't see what an atheist can add to that process in terms of assessing my faith in God. If you don't believe in God, how can you say to what extent my faith is "shaky" without even knowing me?

    The Creed I believe in, have already quoted in full and say every Sunday says: "For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man." I am a Christian. So it is no surprise that the virgin birth is part of my beliefs.

    I was not trying to make this a northerner/southerner thing. I was just highlighting that I am not daft enough to try to bear witness in this sort of discussion to someone who is an avowed atheist and has confessed to enjoying "religious bating".

    By the way, you mention "Anything else you'd like to share with the group?" There is no "group" to share with. One of my hit counters informs me that there are only two people reading this discussion. You and me.

    Yes, my views are of course "hilarious in isolation". And of course I come across as a "fundamentalist nutter". Of course. Well done. Brilliant phrases. The mystery is this: Why are you bothering to take part in a personal correspondence with an hilarious fundamentalist nutter? Haven't you got better things to do? Like listening to Bob Dylan, drinking rum and ginger, doodling, painting, drawing, making very lifelike oragami badgers, playing online Pictionary..?....the list of life's opportunities is endless and you chose to use a big chunk of your life corresponding with a nutter like me. Why?

    Do you ever watch the cricket at Headingley? I am a great cricket fan. I particularly revere Lord Hoggard of Ilkley.

    Love from

  18. Paul,

    I didn't mean to imply that YOU were a fundamentalist nutter. You very clearly aren't. The Church of England mercifully is very thin on the ground when it comes to fundamentalists, and for that I'm sure we are both very thankful. I wouldn't have furnished you with my name and address if I thought for a moment that you were. I asked you to hide my full name FROM the nutters who might be reading this.

    When I refer to 'the group' I am making a facetious "one flew over the cuckoos nest" reference. I'm not implying that anybody else out there actually cares, though it might be nice if they did.

    Why do I bother with this thread? Firstly I actually enjoy a good natured scrap, particularly theological ones.

    I was brought up in a religious environment (can you tell?) so I know from first-hand that a considerable proportion of our country harbour religious delusions (including my poor deluded folks). This wouldn't bother me as much if I didn't see the way in which religious ideas are becoming more and more entrenched in the politics and policies of this country.

    I believe Blair's Christianity is a factor in his Faith school initiative and also in his recent support of Opus Dei member Ruth Kelly's opposition to equal rights for gays - both terrible policies in my view.

    Then we look at the USA and the way in which religion is used to support and legitimise a right-wing neo-conservative framework for war and hegemony.

    And then consider Al Qaeda - terrorists and fundamentalist nutters extroardinaire with a culture of violence based on an interpretation of the Muslim faith.

    So many of the problems, wars, racism and intolerance in the world are legitimised by religion. Belief in the supernatural has never been so harmful to so many since the Crusades.

    The reason I have decided to discuss this with you, personally, at such length is because you are a politician. I believe that religion and politics should be mutually exclusive. I wouldn't suggest for a moment that you should give up your political career - but I think you should seriously reconsider your stance on religion to ensure you are equipped to do your job responsibly.

    Policy should not be formulated with a supernatural facet because religious morality is entirely subjective - it represents the most invasive (yet widely accepted!) form of mass hysteria. I strongly believe that our political thought would be much healthier if it weren't for God.

    The cricket at Headingley almost makes up for the fact that we are continually overun by over 100,000 drunk students wearing centurions costumes and naughty nurse outfits.

    Please don't feel compelled to reply out of sheer politeness.

  19. Sam

    Thanks for your response. Your responses seem be getting more and more sensible!

    I am a town councillor. The town council here looks after allotments, parks, bus shelters etc but not the big stuff such as schools, the fire bridage, social security etc which is looked after by the District council. As a town councillor I am only eligible for a very small amount of exepnses (£50 a year) for printer ink, stationery etc if I want it and claim it. I have never claimed that amount and will never do so. So I am an unpaid part-time town councillor. My main job is as a manager in IT. Calling me a politician is somewhat over-egging the pudding, but I know what you mean.

    I was asked a while ago to explain examples where my faith has influenced my behaviour as a councillor. I found it very difficult to think of examples. Partially, I am a councillor because my faith informs my motivation for politics. So my faith has led me to being a councillor, partically, in the hope of being some use and help to my fellow human-beings. But the only times that my faith has influenced my behaviour as a councillor has been a couple of occasions when there were confrontational impasses and I saw my role as trying to act as a 'peacemaker', which I did. I have certainly also restrained myself from gratuitous point-scoring remarks, as a result of my faith.

    In terms of your fears about Tony Blair, faith schools, Kelly and Bush, I share them. I agree with Church of England schools but they tend to be very liberal in their admission policies (some having 90% Muslim pupils). I certainly do not agree with exclusive faith schools. They are an abomination. I fully supported and support Evan Harris' attempt to make all faith school's admission and employment policies complete equal.

    Incidentally, I support the disestablishment of the Church of England. I think it is daft to have one faith propped up by the state - we should stand on own two feet.

    As for Ruth Kelly I don't think her position has been made clear yet - but I certainly support gay/lesbian equality to the hilt and wrote emails of warm support to Dr Jeffrey John and Bishop Richard during the controversy over the appointment of the Bishop of Reading. Kelly ought to resign if it is found that her Opus Dei membership is influencing her policy-making in a way which is disadvantaging people (such as gays) who should be treated equally.

    As for Bush and Blair over Iraq, I agree with you. The Iraq war is crazy and I was one of the million marchers in London protesting against it shortly before it went ahead. The fact that Bush and Blair seem to think God told them to go ahead with it is dangerous madness. What is ironic is that Bush only had to go as far in the Bible as the text quoted and followed by his father ('go the extra mile for peace') to hear what God was really telling him.

    I find it abhorent that Bush went to war without UN authorisation and used religion, however quietly and unstatedly, as support for it. And yes, of course, religion has had a terrible impact on the world. But I come back to faith, as opposed to religion, and the words of Jesus, which I follow. I can't see anything which Jesus said that would lead anyone to anything other than an entirely peaceful life. People tend to screw round the meaning of the Bible to meet their own ends. That is why I prefer to focus on Jesus words and as a Christian I think this is mainly what I should do.

    Al the best