British newspapers yesterday backed a government minister embroiled in a political storm sparked by his views on the problems posed by Muslim women wearing a veil.
Several dailies turned their editorials to the nationwide debate -- and subsequent protests -- trig-gered on Thursday by Jack Straw, a former foreign secretary.
Straw, now responsible for arranging government business, said the veil made it harder for Muslims to integrate and that he preferred talking to constituents face to face, often asking Muslim women to remove their veils.
The issue of integrating Britain's 1.65 million Muslims has been high on the political agenda since the deadly London bombings last July.
"It is perhaps understandable if Muslims feel under siege at the moment," said the Sun, the biggest-selling daily in Britain. "That is the unhappy consequence of Islamic extremists bringing terror and death to the UK and the world."
But Straw's "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."
Several newspapers said Straw, 60, a skilled diplomat and politician, representing a town with a significant Muslim minority, was just the sort of carefully-worded man who could launch such a topic.
The Times newspaper said "community relations might be improved by genuine face-to-face contact," adding that the veil "precludes a basic form of human contact in a way which the Sikh turban or the Buddhist robe" does not.
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."
Approximately 10,000 readers of the Daily Express phoned or texted in to the newspaper's survey, which found that 97 percent of respondents wanted a ban on the veil to "help safeguard racial harmony."
Prime Minister Tony Blair has expressed support for discussion of the issue.