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Muslim veil row escalates; School assistant should be sacked - minister.

Byline: By James Tapsfield

A MUSLIM teaching assistant's refusal to remove her veil was threatening to spark a fullblown row over religious relations last night as exchanges became increasingly bitter.

A series of controversial interventions from politicians in both main parties drew angry responses from Muslim community leaders, with neither side prepared to back d ow n.

The Government's race minister demanded 24-year-old Aishah Azmi be sacked, accusing her of "denying the right of children to a full education".

Phil Woolas said Ms Azmi's stand meant she could not "do her job" at Headfield Church of England junior school in Dews-bury, West Yorkshire, and insisted barring men from working with her would amount to "sexual discrimination".

But the Muslim Council of Britain quickly condemned Mr Woolas for his "outrageous" and "reckless" foray into a "matter that should be decided by the school - and if necessary by the courts".

The Department for Communities and Local Government signalled it would not be withdrawing by responding: "It's far better to debate the issues than sweep them under the carpet when the question of children's education is at stake." Meanwhile, shadow home secretary David Davis launched a stinging attack on Muslim leaders for risking "voluntary apartheid" in Britain, and expecting special protection from criticism.

In an article for a Sunday paper, Mr Davis warned of "closed societies" being created in the UK, and said religious divides threatened to "corrode" fundamental values such as freedom of speech.

In an apparent hardening of the Conservatives' attitude to radical Islam, Mr Davis also supported Jack Straw's practice of asking female Muslim constituents to lift their veils during private discussions.

The Leader of the Commons was accused of "selectively discriminating" on the basis of religion when his comments emerged 10 days ago, and the row over integration has been gathering pace ever since. But Mr Davis wrote: "What Jack touched on was the fundamental issue of whether, in Britain, we are developing a divided society.''

Labour's Lord Ahmed, the first Muslim peer, delivered a furious broadside against politicians and the media for "demonising" the community. It also emerged that the MCB had sent a letter to Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, accusing her of pandering to an "Islamophobic" agenda.

Monday Question: Page 11
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 16, 2006
Words:374
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