Archbishop Williams joins faith symbols row

 Source BBC

The Archbishop of Canterbury has entered the Muslim veil debate by saying people should be free to wear visible religious symbols.

Dr Rowan Williams said aiming for a society where no symbols such as veils, crosses, sidelocks or turbans would be seen was "politically dangerous".

It would treat the state as a "central licensing authority" which creates public morality, he told the Times.

In recent weeks many politicians have debated the veil's place in UK society.

Commons Leader Jack Straw began the row by disclosing that he asks Muslim women to remove the veil at constituency surgeries.

Tony Blair agreed the veil was a "mark of separation", but Muslim groups complained they were being stigmatised.

There has also been debate about a Christian British Airways worker wearing a cross.

Writing in the Times, Dr Williams said his recent return from a visit to China had had a "slightly surreal" feel.

He had arrived in the middle of "what felt like a general panic about the role of religion in society", he said.

He said that, until now, it had been taken for granted that the state is "not the source of morality and legitimacy", but a mediator between the country's different communities.

"It is not secular in the sense of giving some kind of privilege to a non-religious or anti-religious set of commitments or policies," he wrote.

But he expressed a fear that the UK could be moving towards this kind of secularism, "which would change our political culture more radically than we imagine".

'Emotional' response

His stance has been backed by other senior churchmen.

The Bishop of Southwark, the Right Rev Tom Butler, said Dr Williams had provided a "helpful perspective".

"Religious symbols add to the richness of our society and we should not be too influenced by those who push such symbols to excess," he said.

Meanwhile, Muslims have been urged not to react "emotionally" to controversial statements about the veil.

'Political agendas'

Prof Tariq Ramadan, a visiting professor at Oxford University who addressed an interfaith conference on Wednesday, said: "Many Muslims do not realise that by reacting emotionally to the politicians they are alienating citizens.

"This may be the way to a critical and intellectual approach with wisdom that is profound about the questions Muslim are facing."

He said: "People made a calculated decision in raising this subject.

"Nevertheless we need to be careful that we do not get drawn into political agendas."

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