Blair Seeks Ban on Habits

London, December 2, 2006 -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair said today he will seek a ban on all public displays of habits, the traditional garments worn by monks and nuns, calling them "marks of separation".

Titus in a Monk's Habit (artist's impression)Titus in a Monk's Habit (artist's impression)

The move echoes similar trends in France and Canada, where laws are already in effect banning the wearing of nun's habits in schools and other publicly-funded institutions, and in the United States, where lawmakers have proposed anti-habit legislation that would also proscribe "visible unmentionables".

Prime Minister Blair's call for a habit ban echoes remarks made earlier this year by House of Commons leader Jack Straw, who asked that nuns visiting him in his office should remove their habits, arguing that the habits made communication more difficult.

Mr. Straw, who suffers from seventy percent hearing loss and refuses to wear a hearing aid, calling them "an affront to his personal vanity", explained that he finds it impossible to lip read effectively when speaking to a nun wearing a full habit.

"It [the nun's habit] is a mark of separation, and that is why it makes other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable,” Mr. Blair said at a news conference, echoing some of Mr. Straw's sentiments.

The habit is a garment traditionally worn by both male and female members of various religious orders, often members of the Catholic faith.

For males, the traditional robe is complemented by a hood that effectively obscures a large portion of the head; for women, a veil serves the same purpose, but may cover the nose and mouth as well. The mouth covering can be optionally removed by the wearer when, for example, singing songs such as "How do you solve a problem like Maria".

Mr. Straw has said he thought community relations were not improved by nuns wearing veils covering their faces, as they were "a visible statement of separation". He said he now asked nuns to remove full-face veils when they come to meet him. While the nuns are free to choose not to accede to his request, he said, if they do refuse his practice will be to plug his ears, close his eyes, and screech "la la la la la" in falsetto until they leave.

"Communication is a two-way street," Mr. Straw said. "You have to practice give and take."

While the Blair Habit Ban has been applauded by some members of the British community, others have expressed doubts regarding both its legality and its efficacy.

"What's wrong with hobbits?" Michael Coles, a bartender at the Goose and Gherkin in the Clerkenwell area of London, said. "I think it's bollocks to ban Bilbo."

Hermione Rumpet, a social anthropologist with Oxford University, said Prime Minister Blair's habit ban will likely have the reverse effect than intended.

"In the annals of social history," she said, "one can demonstrate again and again that the act of banning something, such as a nun's habit, will nearly always fuel a backlash that will undermine the intention of the ban. It becomes an instant symbol of repression. I'm not a nun, but if they go ahead with the ban I know I, for one, would be tempted to put one on simply as a form of social protest."

Prime Minister Blair's official spokesman Tom Kelly said Mr. Blair "is not particularly concerned about whether the ban results in fewer visible nun's habits on the street, or if it paradoxically leads to more of them."

"The actual result is immaterial," he said. "What the ban is about is about saying in no uncertain terms that we don't like to be made to feel uncomfortable by other members of our society. And if being told to remove their habits makes the nuns and monks feel uncomfortable or reinforces the feeling that they are not accepted in our society -- that's it's us vs. them, insiders vs. outsiders -- well, that's a shame, but it's a price we're willing to pay. It's all about principle."

By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Editor

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