Wire Service: AP
Prime Minister Tony Blair and author Salman Rushdie praised a British official on Tuesday for raising the difficult issue of whether Muslim women visiting his office should remove their veils.
The comment by Jack Straw, a former foreign secretary who now is leader of the House of Commons, has plunged Britain into a debate over Islamic integration.
"It's important these issues are raised and discussed, and I think it's perfectly sensible if you raise it in a measured and considered way, which he did," Blair said of Straw during an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. television outside his office. "I think we can have these discussions without people becoming hysterical either way about it."
Rushdie, whose book "The Satanic Verses," once led to death threats against him by Islamic clerics, told BBC radio that Straw "was expressing an important opinion, which is that veils suck, which they do. I think the veil is a way of taking power away from women."
Straw said in a newspaper column published Thursday that he believes the veils favored by some Muslim women inhibit communication and are a sign of division in society. At his constituency office, Straw said he asks that veiled women reveal their faces, adding that the women have always complied, and a female assistant is always present.