Over the last week we’re still seeing the fallout from an article that Boris Johnson, former Foreign Secretary of the British Government, wrote in the Times on his stance towards the Burqa and Niqab, head to toe garments worn by some Muslim women.
A lot of the British and International media was highly critical of remarks made that have been construed as offensive. The irony being that the article in question was a critique on Denmark and various other nations banning such garments from the public sphere.
The article in question is…eh. It’s not necessarily poorly written as it feels overwhelmingly stuffy. It reads like a moron trying to come off as smart and charming, which is how Johnson usually acts- but it’s hard to transmit that sloppy personality into words. The same way Trump’s charisma doesn’t translate well into the form of a tweet and he just sounds like a raving lunatic.
Which he is, but he sounds a hell of a lot nicer in person.
So the article starts out with Johnson’s own unbelievable anecdote about life in Copenhagen. Such as the locals stripping down to dive into the river, weird. But the most unbelievable aspect of the article is that Boris claimed he got up early to go for a run. Go for a run? Where? To McDonalds?
Of course he gives a few little jibes to the EU, all of which would have a lot more depth if the author wasn’t a snivelling coward who campaigned for leave purely for his own political gain, fully aware that there was no plan and jumped ship when he realised how gullible the British public was. Essentially forfeiting the responsibility of leaving an economic powerhouse to a cabinet of Remainers and bumbling idiots.
Then of course he gets onto the topic of hand, which is the condemnation of the recent Burqa ban in Denmark- one of several countries to have banned such garments, which includes China, France, Belgium, Cameroon, Chad, alongside some regions in the Congo, Niger and Switzerland.
For the vast majority of the article he seems reasonable albeit pretentious. He’s right in his consideration that the ban on the Burqa does little to nothing other than irritating the community you intended to help and driving them away. It also fails to appease the Far Right, who don’t want to ban the Burqa- but Muslims entirely.
He’s even right that the Burqa and Niqab are tools of oppression, both of which aren’t really clarified in the Qur’an and hence have lead to the vast majority of Muslim scholars to admit that both garments are at most optional but shouldn’t be enforced. In most Muslim societies, such garments are seen as oncoming Fundamentalism in the religion and society as a whole.
These garments are a form of internalised Misogyny transmitted from a medieval patriarchal society that out-dates the Prophet Muhammad himself. While some women say they wear it because it makes them feel closer to God and allows them to express pride in their beliefs and community, it’s important to acknowledge that for the vast majority of women across the world- there is no choice. There is a man, a mob or a state that forces you to wear that garment because they want to control you. Because to them you are not an equal, you are a piece of meat that belongs to them.
Such men should always be criticised. Their ideas should always be torn to shreds and thus is is necessary to repeat, again and again, that the Burqa and the Niqab are the most dire forms of misogyny.
If Boris simply kept on message and said that the Niqab and Burqa were a disgusting form of Misogyny and oppression that has been internalised in many communities around the world and thus are rightly due criticism, but not an outright ban on such garments, then there would be no story.
But of course he didn’t. He tried to be funny by suggesting that women wearing Niqab’s looked like letterboxes and bank robbers. Which is a bit prickish- something you’d hear from one of the more moderate drunkards down the pub and not from a former Foreign Secretary and current Member of Parliament. But the worst part of the entire article is this jem;
“If a constituent came to my MP’s surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled – like Jack Straw – to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly. If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto: those in authority should be allowed to converse openly with those that they are being asked to instruct. As for individual businesses or branches of government – they should of course be able to enforce a dress code that enables their employees to interact with customers; and that means human beings must be able to see each other’s faces and read their expressions. It’s how we work.“
The latter point is a little sound, as it covers a lot of dress code regulations on business. You wouldn’t be allowed to work or enter a shop wearing a mask, so why is it ok to wear a Niqab? So long as you’re remaining consistent with your previous policies and not going out of your way to discriminate, then it’s fine.
Obviously he’s wrong about schools enforcing such dress-codes. Hell, schools shouldn’t even have dress-codes. You know how much money is wasted on school uniforms that don’t keep you warm in the winter and overheat you in the summer? It’s absolutely ridiculous.
But to say that you feel entitled to tell a woman to remove an item of clothing is exceptionally dodgy. For starters it’s incredibly pretentious at least and at most remarkably misogynistic in that you feel obliged to tell another human being, that does not work, for you what to wear. Secondly, it undermines the entire fucking argument you tried to construe in your shitty article.
If you feel entitled to tell a Muslim woman to remove her face veil, then why in holy hell is Denmark and all these other countries in the wrong?
The media reaction, as I said before, has been mostly negative. Johnson’s behaviour has been unacceptable. At the very least he was trying to be funny but came off as a dick, but at the most it was a desperate plea to gain the favour of the Far Right- a very fine dog whistle, if you will. A form of racism so fine that there is a sense of plausible deniability in it.
The latter observation is held by most on the left and the Muslim community. In fact Mohammad Amin, the chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum, warns that Boris’ article will be used by the Far Right to further their agenda;
“This [article] is from a man who is a master of the English language, he knows exactly what effect his words will have. They are very divisive, they feed a narrative that Islam and Muslims are alien and have no place in Britain. I’m just appalled that he chose consciously to write such an article…There are lots of anti-Muslim bigots in this country who will be celebrating reading stuff like that. They’re going to ignore his calls for making sure we don’t have a ban on the niqab and and the burka in this country. What they’re going to seize on is what he said about Muslim women.”
Now these accusations of Racism or appealing to Racists by Boris Johnson wouldn’t hold nearly as much weight if he didn’t have a history of saying stupid and ignorant things. Such referring to Black people as “Piccaninnies” that have Watermelon smiles or reciting a racist colonial poem upon entering a temple in Burma. Hell, his entire tenure of Foreign Secretary was just offending each and every person he met- his staff are said to have grown extremely wearisome in trying to hold him back from such offensive remarks. He’s like if Prince Philip were an MP and less Racist.
Though most of the media were justified in the fury, some outlets were a little questionable. Such as the comedy program the Last Leg, which tiptoed around the topic of the Burqa and Niqab citing that they were not members of the Muslim community hence why they’re unable to critique it or even joke about it.
I personally find their logic a bit faulty. The jist of the argument is that so long as it’s not hurting anybody and you’re not apart of the community, then you have no stand on criticising or mocking it. There’s a huge problem with this argument, namely because it can be used to justify the most abhorrent argument.
You could argue that circumcision doesn’t hurt anybody because the baby is young and thus won’t be traumatised by it, but it’s still a fucked up practice that should be condemned by everyone. Even if you’re not a member of the Jewish or Muslim communities or just un-circumcised in general- you should be extremely critical of such a practise.
Then of course there’s the fact that this argument can be used like this; if you are not a member of a nation, then you have no business critiquing, satirising or simply mocking their domestic policies and practices.
In other words if you’re not American you can’t make fun of Trump, if you’re not Russian then you can’t condemn his awful stance on Gay rights and the free press, if you’re not from Saudi Arabia then you have no right to satirise their treatment of women or their use of capital punishment- do you see the problem here with that logic?
If you are incapable of making a joke, no matter how vulgar or cruel, then you cease to live on a free society. But of course everyone with a bit of sense in their brains knows there’s a time and place to say something and not to say something. With great power comes great responsibility, a person of influence can empower the most vile of bigots to become more open about their vile bigotry- can interpret that confirmation that your opinion is valid into a license to kill.
With people like Boris Johnson, words matter. And they must never forget that.