A few thoughts on Boris and the Burka silly season storm

The “storm” that has been generated by an article that Boris Johnston wrote in the Telegraph regarding the Burka is perhaps partially explained by the timing – it’s the silly season. It chokes me to say this but for once, and it is damn rare for this to happen, I agree to some degree with what he wrote.

Let’s dig into a bit.

Burka Ban

There are today 13 nations that have actually legally banned people from wearing a Burka, specifically Austria, Denmark, France, Belgium, Tajikistan, Latvia, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Netherlands, China, and Morocco. The argument Boris was making is that the UK should not ban it.

He is correct.

The moment you start making laws about how people should dress is the moment you start falling in line with dark human rights abusing regimes such as Saudi Arabia that mandates that women must dress like this. Do you really want to live in society where lawyers drum up business on the sole basis of what women wear?

He also makes the observation that it is a silly costume that makes those that wear it look like a letter box or bank robber. Well yes, it is a silly religious costume and in that respect it is not unique. Many different variations of belief have silly costumes. Some are very familiar, for example nuns and monks.

UK Politics in Play

The “crime” that Boris has actually committed is that he has political ambitions and so his equally ambitious colleagues will happily use this as fodder to stick the knife in and use this as an opportunity to tar him with a racist brush.

No, he is not being racist or even xenophobic. Remember that he was not advocating for a ban, but was arguing against it. He was also in his usual supposedly bumbling and inept way attempting to make a humorous comment but it fell flat … by design.

Islamic Criticism of The Burka

You don’t need to be an outsider to criticise the Burka. Islam, like most beliefs, is a vast collection of diverse and conflicting thinking on various topics, and so while some do embrace it, most do not. The vast majority of Muslims would take the exact same stance – it should not be banned, and yes it is silly.

Here for example is well-known LBC broadcaster and Muslim Maajid Nawaz making his views quite clear …

Here is a Telegraph article by Saud Farah who writes …

The burka looks ridiculous, and those who defend it do Muslim women like me no favours

…I think I have the right to make these jokes, because, even as a Muslim woman, I am scared of the niqab and the burka. What they represent is a choice to opt out of the democratic society we live in, and the one that has given me, my friend and so many of us education and the ability to achieve.

Those who wear the veil will tell you voting is sinful; they will say the veil makes them feel safe and empowered, yet they are not allowed to travel without a mahram. This word literally means “unmarriageable kin”, with whom marriage or sexual intercourse would be considered haram, illegal in Islam. They, or other people for whom purdah is not obligatory, must escort a woman during any journey longer than a day and a night.

But as a feminist and a Muslim, to not question, reject and, yes, ridicule this garment would be to accept that my faith, the one that gave women rights well before anyone else, is now nothing more than a symbol of violent misogyny taken up in the name of Islam in the countries where women are forced to wear it.

Wearing the full face veil is deeply controversial even within Islam itself.

Here is a letter in The Times by a leading Islamic Iman, Taj Hargey of the Oxford Islamic Congregation …

Boris Johnson should not apologise for telling the truth. His evocative analogy is unfortunate but he is justified in reminding everyone that the Wahhabi/Salafi-inspired fad of female facial masking has no Koranic legitimacy. It is, however, a nefarious component of a trendy gateway theology for religious extremism and militant Islam.

The burka and niqab are hideous tribal ninja-like garments that are pre-Islamic, non-Koranic and therefore un-Muslim. Although this deliberate identity-concealing contraption is banned at the Kaaba in Mecca it is permitted in Britain, thus precipitating security risks, accelerating vitamin D deficiency, endorsing gender-inequality and inhibiting community cohesion.

The retrogressive Islamic clergy has succeeded in persuading ill-informed Muslims through suspect secondary sources that God wants women to cover their faces …

If your going to listen to any voices on this topic, then listen to the majority of those inside Islam who not only reject it, but also ridicule it.

Nitpicking terms

It is perhaps also appropriate to point out that you have probably never seen anybody in the UK wearing a Burka, nor do any of the pictures that are associated with the various media stories actually show you one.

In the context of taking the veil, there is a vast diversity, so let’s clear this up. The picture below is a burka.


What you have most probably seen, and what is often mistakenly referred to as a Burka is the picture below of a Niqab …

There is a huge variation in the types of Hijab that are worn, and the associated reasons for wearing it are also vastly diverse … as a fashion symbol, for religious reasons, simply to conform to social expectations, etc…None of these are Burka’s and none of these are banned or even debated, so please don’t make that mistake.

diversity prevails

Why is it like this, why the covering up?

The root of it all is that the Quran instructs Muslims (both men and women) to dress modestly.

How such verses are interpreted leads to a vast diversity of thinking. There is no universal agreement and so debate has raged over the centuries regarding how much and which part of the male and female body should be covered to qualify as the required modesty.

One Last Thought – Why all the Flack?

To some degree the criticism of Boris is wholly justified. While what he is saying is actually correct, the wider context is that he is rather transparently attempting to tap into a seam of xenophobia in order to garner right-wing support.

He might in public play the role of the jolly buffoon, but under the covers he is highly ambitious, power-hunger, utterly ruthless, and devoid of any real empathy. You know that the motivation of his Telegraph article is not being driven by a deep desire for the freedom of women to wear what they want, his track record as a feminist does not exist.

His colleagues in parliament are well-aware of who he really is, and so when it comes to almost anything he says or does, these days they are almost falling over themselves queueing up and standing ready to be offended. In other words, it is not really about what Boris wrote about the Burka. Instead is is all about giving humpty-dumpty Boris a jolly good shove off the political wall.

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