A couple of events in the last few weeks got me thinking about the debate about whether we as a nation should ban the burka and other such items of women's clothing deemed socially unacceptable.
The first of these was a very brief incident of inter-cultural awkwardness between myself and a veiled lady, while the second was an occasion on which this weighty issue was given the glaring gaze of simplicity of the eyes of a small child.
Now first of all let's briefly remind ourselves of some of the arguments against the burka, or to be more precise the niqab (I've not once seen anyone wearing an actual burka in Britain despite living in close to proximity to one of the most heavily Muslim-populated areas of London).
Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, who has put forward a private members bill that would ban niqabs and burkas, says that they are "against the British way of life" and that they prevent social integration. He also claims that covering one's face prevents people from greeting and smiling at each other in the street, which all British people like to do apparently. All I can say to that is clearly he has never lived in London but that Kettering, where he's an, MP, must be great.
Despite some of the flaws in his argument he does have a point about social integration. The veil does put an effective wall between Muslim women and the rest of society and makes even the most simple interactions awkward and uncertain as my first incident will demonstrate.
I was recently walking down the street and there was a niqab-garbed lady in front of me with a young man who could have been her brother, son, husband, friend or other acquaintance, but of course not being able to see her face I could not say.
As she was walking she dropped some kind of cloth or scarf and both she and her male associate continued walking apparently oblivious to the loss. So despite not being from Kettering I thought I would do the decent thing, pick it up and give it back to her.
"Excuse me" I said, "I think you dropped your scarf". Both she and the gentleman thanked me and the lady gave a short laugh suggesting to me that she might be a younger rather than older woman.
However as I continued on my way I realised that when holding the aforementioned scarf I was doing so with the very tips of my fingers and that I may well have looked like I was holding a used nappy rather than an ordinary scarf.
Now this was not because I did not want to get my hands dirty by touching a "filthy Muslim rag" or some other ignoble thought. Quite the reverse in fact. She being a very religiously dressed Muslim lady and me being what some might ungenerously call a kafir man, I was not sure I was allowed to touch her possibly religious garment and nor was I sure what it might mean to her and her friend that not only had I picked up her scarf but I was now talking to her, albeit briefly.
As I walked away however it occurred to me that the chances of her realising that this were quite small and that she may have felt rather that I was disdainful of her.
The whole episode left me realising that the veil certainly does put a barrier between people and does block integration and understanding and can turn even the most basic interactions into uncomfortable and uncertain situations. The message it sends very loud and clear is "don't talk to me and don't look at me". It is a way of hiding from the public while simultaneously being in plain sight.
The second incident which got me thinking was when an acquaintance of mine told of her two year old son's reaction to seeing a niqab-clad woman, while taking a journey on the London Underground.
The little boy, who apparently had never seen a woman so dressed, kept pointing and loudly asking "What's that?" Most of the other passengers appeared quite uncomfortable, with the exception of a gentleman sitting next to the niqab wearer who tried to contain his grins.
Of course no one could tell if the lady being pointed at was also grinning or crying behind her veil.
My acquaintance spoke of her own embarrassment and said the whole thing would have been a bit more bearable if only her son had at least said "Who's that?" rather than "what".
However was this little boy so far off the mark? When he saw this woman he could not see her face, nor most likely any of her limbs, neither did he hear her speak, all the characteristics that would have identified her as a human being were concealed. She was for all intents and purposes a black shroud to his young eyes.
The most disturbing aspect of the niqab, is the way it dehumanises those who are wearing it. A woman walking down the street wearing a niqab no longer appears as a person you can interact with and maybe even get to know. She is not young or old, happy or sad, friendly or aggressive, confident or shy. She has no characteristics and she is very much in danger of becoming a "what" rather than a "who".
Clearly this clothing is not desirable and it is an affront to our society. In fact the message it sends is that those who wear it do not want to be part of our society.
This leads us to two more questions. Firstly we need to ask ourselves why, when immigration and Islamic extremism are such sensitive issues, we are allowing people into our country who appear to have absolutely no desire to become a part of its society and may in some cases be actively working for its destruction.
The second is a harder question to answer. We should look at our society and ask why people would not want to integrate into it. Earlier this week the pop mogul Mike Stock described modern pop music as "soft porn".
On our TVs we see the likes of Lady Gaga singing while wearing next to nothing, while this week Rhianna managed to shock audiences by appearing to mimic doing something obscene with a microphone during one of her performances. These are the people our society looks up to.
While on our streets of a Friday and Saturday night there is much drunkenness and disorder among both brawling men and women who are increasingly dressed as prostitutes. This week one 25 year old girl spoke to a magazine claiming that she had had sex with 5,000 different men since she was a teenager and was proud of this "achievement".
If this is what our society has come to is it any wonder that some would rather not be a part of it, whether Muslim or not. Can we really say that the woman in the burqa is doing worse than the drunk woman pictured in the papers earlier this year with her knickers round her ankles in the middle of the street?
Ban the burka? Yes its horrible and anti-social, but it's not necessarily the worst thing we allow on Britain's streets.