Debate on veils could cause race riots, Phillips warns

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The Independent Online

Britain's race relations watchdog has warned that the debate on Muslim women wearing veils could trigger race riots.

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said the discussions surrounding the issue "seems to have turned into something really quite ugly". He publicly defended the right of Jack Straw, the leader of the Commons, to raise the issue of Muslim women wearing the veil, saying he started the debate "in a perfectly courteous and proper way" this month.

In an article for The Sunday Times, he said divisions risked becoming "the trigger for the grim spiral that produced riots in the north of England five years ago. Only this time the conflict could be much worse".

He wrote: "All the recent evidence shows that we are, as a society, becoming more socially polarised by race and faith."

In an interview, he said the veils debate had deteriorated into "bullying". He added: "I, this morning, really would not want to be a British Muslim because what should have been a proper conversation between all kinds of British people seems to have turned into a trial of one particular community, and that cannot be right.

"My job, I guess, is to be the referee here and to say stop. We need to have this conversation but there are rules by which we have the conversation which don't involve this kind of targeting and, frankly, bullying."