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LONDON, England -- British newspapers on Saturday backed cabinet minister Jack Straw after the political storm sparked by his remarks that veils worn by Muslim women harmed community relations.
Former foreign secretary Straw wrote in his local newspaper that a veil was "a visible statement of separation and difference" and that he was more comfortable dealing with female visitors to his local political office with their faces uncovered.
Most UK dailies turned their leading articles to the nationwide debate -- and subsequent protests -- triggered by Straw, now in charge of government business in the House of Commons.
Many of them published picture guides explaining to readers the different styles of Muslim veils, including the chador, niqab. hijab and the burqa.
The issue of integrating Britain's 1.65 million Muslims has returned to the UK political agenda in recent weeks, a year after the deadly July 2005 London bombings, perpetrated by British Islamic extremists.
Under the headline "Ban the Veil," the Daily Express reported that "concerned Britons" had given massive backing to calls for Muslim women to ditch the veil.
The paper said that of around 10,000 readers who phoned or texted to its own survey, 97 percent of respondents wanted a ban on the veil to "help safeguard racial harmony."
Said Britain's No. 1 selling newspaper, The Sun: "The knee-jerk anger directed at Jack Straw by a section of the Muslim community is offensive. There is not a racist, Islamophobic bone in his body.
"His constructive observations about veils have sparked an absurd overreaction from some Muslims for whom even the mildest criticism of any aspect of their religion amounts to a declaration of war."
The theme of much of the coverage was that experienced politician Straw, 60, representing Blackburn, a town with a significant Muslim minority, was a diplomatic man who was talking responsibly.
The Daily Telegraph said Straw had "touched a raw nerve" by focusing on such an emblematic symbol of Muslim life but that "integration can't be achieved behind the veil."
The Daily Star tabloid, whose target audience is mainly young males, ran the headline: "Get 'em off!"
In CNN.com's own Quickvote on the subject, 78 percent said "yes" to the question: "Is Jack Straw right to say the wearing of veils by Muslim women makes community relations more difficult?"
After Straw's remarks became public, Muslim leaders in Straw's Blackburn constituency in northwest England said many Muslim women would find his comments "offensive and disturbing." (Full story)
The Lancashire Council of Mosques said the Commons leader had "misunderstood" the issue and it was "deeply concerned" by his "very insensitive and unwise" statement.
Opposition politicians rounded on his comments. Conservative policy director Oliver Letwin said it would be a "dangerous doctrine" to instruct people how to dress, while Liberal Democrat chairman Simon Hughes described the remarks as "insensitive and surprising."
Prime Minister Tony Blair's office at No. 10 Downing Street said that Straw was expressign a private view.
But another reader, Jackie Lewis, from Harrow in the United Kingdom, said: "I have to agree with Jack Straw's comments on the Islamic veil.
"I am personally offended to see any woman covered up in the 21st century. I often see them wearing the full burka in Harrow, yet they are always accompanied by men in baseball caps, jeans and trainers. As with a lot of faiths there are always double standards between the sexes."
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