As is traditional during the silly season, we have seen outpourings of rage and anger regarding a story which at other times or other authors would be seen as fairly trivial. Boris Johnson’s Telegraph article may have used some uncomplimentary language in its description of burka wearers, but the interpretations that have been placed on the article since then have far more to do with the current internal politics of both the Conservative and Labour Party, than a garment worn by any religious fundamentalist.
Let’s examine what Boris actually said. He said we should not ban the Burka as many of our European neighbours have done, but expressed an opinion, that he found it strange that women would choose to wear these items of clothing using what in retrospect may have been some unflattering terms.
Looking at those who have jumped on the bandwagon of protest, the vast majority appear to be ardent Remain campaigners ,who still bewildered that the public could have a different viewpoint to them, still seek to lay the blame at their defeat at the door of Boris Johnson. These same people remained stoney silent when lifelong Remainer Ken Clarke enlightened us with his views of the burka: “I do think it’s a most peculiar costume for people to adopt in the 21st century, but that’s not to me for decide, when they’re not engaged in some serious issue such as giving evidence. That’s the bit that I think it’s almost impossible to have a proper trial if one of the persons is in a kind of bag.”
Indeed those from the left of those who seek to attack the comments might wish to reflect on the words of Emily Thornberry, another ardent Remainer who said on Question Time in 2013: “I wouldn’t want my four year old looked after by somebody wearing a burka. I wouldn’t want my elderly mum looked after by somebody wearing a burka. They need to be able to show their face. I wouldn’t mind if they worked in records in the hospital.” She was backed up in this by Anna Soubry, who appeared on the same panel.
It is clear that this is not about standing up for the rights of Muslim women to wear the burka, if that is what they really want to do? This is about getting Boris. The great irony of all of this is many EU Countries who those criticising Boris are desperate to stay in political union with have in fact banned the burka. Not the fringe countries but France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria and now Denmark, with a partial ban even in the uber-liberal Netherlands.
I myself, am the chairman of the All-Party Parliament Group for Uzbekistan, a country which is 90% Muslim, enjoys great religious harmony and interestingly which banned face coverings in 1992.
Unfortunately, in using this issue as a stick to beat Boris, Theresa May and some of the members of her government have shown themselves to be once again totally out of step with the views of the majority of members of the Conservative Party and indeed of the public as a whole. A Sky News survey has suggested 60% of the public support an outright ban and do not think Boris’ comments were racist. It is clear Number 10 have seriously misjudged the mood of the public, but after our 2017 manifesto and the recent Chequers proposals, perhaps that should not come as such a surprise?
Boris should take heart from the old adage “what does not kill you only makes you stronger”.