Aaargh - a blinding flash of the obvious
Apparently, and this may astonish some of you so be careful, it is harder to establish meaningful communication with someone if you cannot see any part of their face. This explains why I hate talking on the phone, and try to remember to take my sunglasses off if I speak to someone. It also creates an impression of shiftiness/secrecy, which is why motorbike helmets and balaclavas are frowned on in banks or shops.
It has long seemed to me, and Jack Straw appears to have come around to my way of thinking, that the full veil, or niqab, worn by some Islamic women (though by no means all) is equally detrimental to community assimilation/ease of contact. Living as I do close to the Edgware Road I routinely see gaggles of burqa'd women (presumably women - they might be tethered barrage balloons for all I know), some even with that peculiar brass faceplate that makes them look like an Islamic Viking.
I dislike the sight on purely visceral grounds. Firstly I can never fully reassure myself that it is purely voluntary (I admit this is only my opinion) since it looks so uncomfortable and restrictive that I cannot imagine anyone willingly subjecting themselves to it. Secondly it smacks of possession, especially when the men are often dressed in entirely Western fashion. Thirdly, and for me perhaps most offensively, it implies that men are all ravening beasts, ready to assault any woman if only we can see her chin.
Westerners who visit or live in Middle Eastern countries are routinely urged to show respect for local customs and traditions. Sadly this appears to be one-way traffic only. Still don't like Jack Straw though.