AN MP who asked Muslim women to remove their veils has sparked anger in the community and sparked off a national debate.
Blackburn MP and former Home Secretary Jack Straw revealed he had asked Muslim women visiting his constituency office to remove their veils and later added he thought it would help integration if they did away with the veils altogether.
Government heavywieghts have since entered the debate, with Prime Minister Tony Blair saying women should be free to choose what they wear but backing Mr Straw's call for a debate on the issue.
Hyndburn's MP Greg Pope echoed the call for a debate as more women across the country were increasingly choosing to wear the veil.
He said: "I don't ask women to remove their veils at my advice surgeries. I have over 100 surgeries a year and I see a lot of Muslim women but very few choose to wear a veil.
"It is helpful to see somebody's face but I respect a woman's decision to wear a veil and I wouldn't ask her to remove it.
"The issue of veils is more prominent in other parts of the country. We have better integration between communities in Hyndburn than in a lot of other areas of East Lancashire."
However, the issue has raised tensions across the borough with some members of the Muslim community seeing it as a clear attack on Islam.
Asid Mahmood, chairman of Hyndburn United Muslims (HUM), said veils were a sign of modesty in the community and the comments weren't helpful in the current political climate following protests over cartoons of the prophet Mohammed and the Pope's recent remarks.
He said: "We want to have an open dialogue but tensions have been raised in Accrington and this is a distraction from the real issues."