As I left the Blackwall Tunnel behind me this afternoon, emerging into the sunlight in Tower Hamlets, I rather wondered for a moment if I had taken a wrong turn and had come up in Cairo or Doha instead.

What struck me today was the number of women in full Hejab in this London borough.

Either I'm noticing this more or swathing oneself in black from head to foot has become much more of a statement in the last twelve months, I'm not sure which it is.

What concerns me as an Arabist, is that with present social tensions over Iraq and fundamentalism, a statement of genuine devotion can be misinterpreted by the uninformed as a political statement; the position of the French government in respect of wearing the veil in schools and in Britain, all sides should be working with an equal commitment towards the avoidance of any emerging signs of social division.


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