Martin Bentham, Home Affairs Editor
Cherie Blair has defended Muslim women who wear a veil and insisted that it is wrong to see them as a threat - weeks after her half-sister announced her conversion to the religion.
The former Prime Minister's wife also claimed that it was "not true" that women who covered up were oppressed and "incapable" of thinking for themselves. Her comments, in an interview with a Spanish newspaper, follow Lauren Booth's claims that the religion has given her "a new sense of respect".
Mrs Blair has previously claimed that full-face veils could prevent women from expressing their personality, but today struck a more positive tone.
"We use the appearance of women as a metaphor of our fear of a supposed Islamic threat," she told the El Pais newspaper. "There are thousands of Muslims in Europe who participate in our way of life and intend continuing to do so and if they want to dress in a certain way because of their beliefs, we shouldn't feel threatened. It's important to fight against certain stereotypes that affect above all Muslim women. We tend to believe they're oppressed, insecure and incapable of thinking for themselves and that is not true.
"One of the things I try to do is help to explain that Islam is an open religion in which women have influence, whether they hide their hair or not." Asked about Miss Booth's conversion, she replied: "It's her choice."
Mrs Blair's comments come amid increasing debate about the veiling of women and follow France's decision to ban full-face veils in public.