You don’t have to regard the Islamic hijab, the headscarf worn by women to preserve their modesty, as a symbol of oppression to object to the spectacle of western diplomats wearing them when negotiating with or meeting with representatives and leaders in the Muslim world. The late Oriana Falacci, in a gesture celebrated later by Christopher Hitchens (who, sadly, has also left us), famously tore off the garment she had been made to wear–in the midst of an interview with Ayatollah Khomeini. In diplomacy, respect must flow in both directions.
To see the European Union’s chief negotiator, Catherine Ashton, show up for talks in Iran wearing a hijab is therefore somewhat disconcerting. It suggests an undue deference to the dictates of a theocratic regime that shows no sign of deserving such respect. It not only represents the subjugation of women, but also the subordination of the western world, which has agreed to flout binding resolutions of the UN Security Council and to accept Iranian nuclear enrichment, knowing that the regime’s likely purpose is to build nuclear weapons.