Friday 14 December 2018

Boris puts his foot in it - not for the first time

Boris Johnson. Photo: Neil Hall
Boris Johnson. Photo: Neil Hall
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Whoops, he just did it again. Again.

It often seems that the only time Boris Johnson opens his mouth is to change feet, and he walked into his own punch once again this week with his controversial/offensive (two words which are now indistinct from each other) comments about burkas.

Johnson actually expressed his disagreement with Denmark's recent decision to ban them, but Boris being Boris, he then had to go and ruin it all by saying something stupid.

He must have known that the size of the hole he was digging when he further expounded that while he opposed the ban, he also thought the burka was 'oppressive'. Then, for good measure, and just in case anyone hadn't been paying attention to him, he threw in the rhetorical hand grenade that those who wear it sometimes look "like letterboxes" and, just for good measure, "bank robbers".

Cue pandemonium. Light the fires of hysteria. Set your faces to stunned - BoJo just did a no-no.

Of course, the fact that he had actually opposed the Danish burka ban mattered nought in the fallout from the comments. But he would have known that and there was an undeniably weaselly element to him trying to have his cake and eat it too - on the one hand he opposed any ban, but on the other he kinda, sorta understood it.

There are many reasons why politicians shouldn't get dragged into a debate about whether it is appropriate to compare the burka to a letter box, and all of them boil down to the optics. He knew that, he just didn't care.

At a time when Corbyn's Labour are on the ropes over the anti-Semitism row that's engulfing the party, no sensible Tory would open the door to have their own party smeared with the same brush - which is exactly what his critics did, and did so gleefully.

Jewish Labour MPs and members are being hounded out of the party by a toxic combination of Muslim hardliners and Momentum fanatics, so the prudent course of action would have been for every senior Tory to shut the hell up, get the beers in and watch Labour implode.

Now, of course, nobody is talking about Labour's genuine anti-Semitic problem, but everyone is talking about Boris. Which, you suspect, is just the way he likes it.

It's his cynicism that really grates.

One of the best put downs of Ken Livingstone during the London mayoral race was that Livingstone was a buffoon trying to appear smart, while Johnson was a smart man trying to look like a buffoon.

The jury is out on just how smart Johnson really is, but he certainly has enough cop on to know the trouble his comments would cause.

As a general rule of thumb, it's usually best to avoid people who talk about the 'clash of civilisations' between Islam and the West.

But there is, self-evidently, a clash of cultures between Western social mores and the imported tribal customs of many Muslims. Not all, by any means, and it's important to remember that the burka is despised by many liberal, rational Muslims.

But its disproportionate presence on the streets of many major European cities has turned even the self-consciously tolerant Danes and Swedes against them. Those of us who still class ourselves as old-school liberals and follow a simple philosophy of live-and-let-live, tend to get rather twitchy whenever the State tells anyone what they can and cannot wear. That's why France was so utterly bang out of order when they tried to stop Muslim women wearing the so-called 'burkini' on beaches last year.

It is absolutely none of the government's business if a woman (or man, for that matter, we're all gender fluid now, don't you know) wants to dress modestly on the beach.

But the burka is different from the burkini because the burkini doesn't cover the face, whereas the burka, obviously, does.

With the usual grim, reflexive determination of those who see any criticism of Islamic culture as a declaration of race war, people accused Johnson of being Islamophobic. But he was merely articulating what many Muslim women, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and human-rights activist Maryam Namazie have been saying for years.

Even the phrase 'Islamophobic' is a bogus neologism coined by the Runnymede Trust to pathologise any criticism of Islam as a form of racial oppression.

And this is where we get into the interesting part of the debate - where are the feminists on this issue?

Are they all too busy fretting about Ladies Day (first they came for my fascinator and I said nothing...) to care about a genuine women's' rights issue?

After all, their sisters are being jailed and tortured in Iran for daring to defy the oppressive dress code, yet from Western feminists there remains not a peep.

But the whole Islamophobic slur is actually irrelevant - it is not unreasonable to expect everyone, of any religion or none, to conduct their business with their face showing.

So if you support the burka, ask yourself this - if a group of white, fundamentalist American Christians sought refuge in this country but also demanded that their women be dressed in Klan outfits, would we be so amenable?

We all know the answer to that one.

It is not illiberal to robustly defend Western values and the burka has no place in the West.

Our house, our rules.

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