Jim Radford, a member of Lewisham Respect sent this letter to the Respect office on 8 October.
Re. your unsigned declaration of opposition to Jack Straw’s comments on the niqaab. (http://www.respectcoalition.org/?ite=1199)
I have supported Respect since its inception and have encouraged comrades in other progressive groups, like the Socialist Alliance and the Green Socialists, to do so, on the grounds that whatever less important differences we might have it provided a real opportunity to build an effective anti-war party around George’s principled stand, that could hope to attract votes and have some effect. In any party there will be differences of opinion and Respect is no exception, but I have maintained my support in the belief that we were united on basic common principles and that members were generally prepared to listen to each other, to discuss contentious issues and to present reasoned arguments, as opposed to allowing anonymous spokesmen to ram opinions down their throats.
I would like you to tell me who you are and by what right or record you claim to speak for Respect. Because if it turns out that you do, I have a problem.
You may have guessed that I do not share your view that Jack Straw’s comments were disgraceful or Islamaphobic. I disagree with him on many things and I would defend the right to anyone to make “a visible statement of difference” by dressing how they wish, but I too would request and indeed require, anyone seeking my counsel or collaboration to uncover their face when talking to me and I would be offended if they did not. The niqaab is clearly a major barrier to communication and I would no more accept and trust a woman woman who did not trust me enough to remove her veil, than I would tolerate a man who wanted to attend a political meeting in my house wearing a balaclava.
I have been out of touch for the last few months but I was about to renew my subscription and thinking of attending the conference. However, if you are indeed the authentic voice of Respect and if you are right, that must mean that I am an Islamaphobe (in spite of my long standing anti-racist credentials). In which case neither of us would want to be associated with each other. Be good enough to consult and advise me.