Rowan Williams says veil helps Muslim women assert themselves
Archbishop of Canterbury has 'never been much of a feminist', says Janet Street Porter
THE OUTGOING Archbishop of Canterbury has shown he will not leave quietly after he reopened the debate over the veil by insisting that the controversial garment can help Muslim women "assert themselves".
Dr Rowan Williams has questioned the view that women hide behind their veils and warned against "what we sometimes think of wrongly as stereotypes".
Speaking at The Sunday Times Literary Festival in Oxford at the weekend, the Archbishop said that his views were influenced by a recent encounter with a teenage Muslim pupil at a Church of Wales school.
"She told me how she would wear her veil and yet take part, too, in some of the school's Christian lessons. It gave her an understanding of Christianity and yet wearing her veil was also very important for her to assert herself and her religion," said Williams, who will step down as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of this year.
But Janet Street Porter was quick to attack, writing in the Daily Mail: "I can't see how covering your entire body in a hot, shapeless piece of cloth is any step forward for womankind."
Adding that she had never seen Williams as "much of a feminist", she said: "If he cares so much about empowering women, how come he's dragged his feet for years over appointing female bishops?"
Dr Williams might find a more sympathetic hearing with Conservative party chairman Baroness Warsi, who said in 2010 - the last time the issue hit the opinion pages - that a full-face veil does not prevent Muslim women "engaging in everyday life". Others, including Jack Straw, have argued that it makes fostering good community relations more difficult.
This is not the first time the Archbishop has courted controversy with comments on Islam. In 2008 he called for aspects of Sharia law to be adopted in Britain to improve community relations, saying the UK had to "face up to the fact" that some citizens do not relate to the British legal system. ·