The Muslim veil is very similar. It is a garment steeped in ancient tradition, praised in holy text and worn by a minority of the faithful. Like the mantilla, it is also noticeably at odds with the contemporary taste for baring flesh. Wear it, and you announce your difference.Yes there's a huge challenges in the Western world, especially in Europe, in relating with the presence of a growing Muslim minority. But repressive measures that further isolate and alienate are hardly the best response. What does a democratic society do? Tell some women they cannot dress in a certain way? France's headscarf ban (even Turkey's for that matter) was silly. As are Jack Straw's remarks.
Neither mantilla nor veil is calculated as an aggressive provocation to society — quite the opposite: these are soft and feminine folds of cloth that modestly conceal a face and figure. In a mantilla, as in a veil, even raunchy figures like Madonna and Posh would come over all romantic and mysterious.
But you don't wear the veil, the mantilla, as a counter-intuitive come-hither, the entrancing whisper in a room full of fishwives' cries. Both items prove your respect for an authority other than Kate Moss, Topshop – or Jack Straw.
This show of independence does not go down well with today's Westminster control freaks. The Government, which tells us what risks to take, what garbage we can throw away and when, now wants to tell us what to wear.
And yes, it certainly makes one think of all those voices (the strongest of which is hte Pope's) which are reminding Europe that perhaps it's not so silly to think about Europe's roots and calling for a rediscovery of its own Christian identity.