Boris and the Burqa

Boris Johnson,  Conservative MP and former Mayor of London, has written an article in the Daily Telegraph newspaper. In it he says that face covering garments worn by certain Muslim women in public should not be banned, as in some European countries like France and Denmark.

However, Mr Johnson also chose to share his personal impression that women wearing face coverings resembled letter boxes or even bank robbers.

Unsurprisingly there have been expressions of outrage. Both the Chairman of the Conservative party and its leader, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, have called on Mr Johnson to apologise for causing offence.

Now, these remarks by Mr Johnson raise questions about the nature of political discussion in the free world today.

A purist like myself would have hoped that people in public positions would express themselves in ways which promote rational debate, and try to remove the emotional heat on issues where people can have strong feelings.

However, as a realist who must live in the world as he finds it, I note that it is a centuries old tradition in our politics for people to gratuitously insult each other. And until we witnessed the emergence of what is now characterised as political correctness in the last 50 years, that was generally tolerated.

But now I notice that only those with a politically correct perspective may insult, and those who oppose them must be castigated as deeply offensive. 

The eminent London Times newspaper has published some very offensive material, both written and in its cartoons, about leading Right Wing figures this year. 

For example, about a prominent and practising Roman Catholic MP by the name of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Personally, I see Mr Mogg as a rational and sincere person who endeavours to see the world as it is, not through the prism of Utopian wishful thinking.

But Mr Mogg is fair game for the gratuitous insults of those who don’t like his prominent stance in favour of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, nor the fact that he is wealthy, doesn’t like abortion or agree with homosexual marriage.

Such views place Mr Mogg beyond the pale of the politically  correct paradigm regarded as THE TRUTH by today’s Centre and Left; therefore he is a heretic, and so whatever opprobrium is heaped upon him is entirely his own wicked fault.

As the Guardians of THE TRUTH, the politically correct see no double standard, no hypocrisy, no unrighteous intent or action in themselves because they are the Righteous: they have tried, judged and sentenced Mr Mogg for heresy – and he is guilty !

Therefore he deserves no respect, no consideration, and fully deserves gratuitous insult. Even though he himself always endeavours to treat others with respect.

But dare to discuss an article of faith in the PC mantra, and you are made to be the  issue. Never mind that Mr Johnson says that there should be no legal ban on Muslim face covering;  never mind that he is perfectly orthodox on that point.  Mr Johnson has been previously declared a heretic – he is a Brexiteer,  like Mogg.

Worse, Johnson may stand for election to the leadership of the Conservative party in the autumn when Mrs May could well face a leadership challenge; and if he wins,  he would pursue the dreaded NO DEAL Brexit – ie leave the politically correct EU protectorate totally and irrevocably.

As such Johnson makes himself liable to just and righteous condemnation by those of the True Faith.

So, to come to the underlying question Johnson raised: freedom to wear what you like.

Of itself, that is a pure principle. But pure principle exists within a cultural context, and culture is not logical. It is a blend of logic and custom according to the tradition of the country you happen to be in.

And habitually covering your face in public is not part of the cultural tradition of European countries, including the United Kingdom.

Recognition of this, and other factors, led France, Denmark and others to outlaw such face covering, no doubt taking account of matters such as:

  • this is a dress code for women but there is no such requirement for men: ie sexist
  • this is not necessarily a religious requirement, as many Muslim scholars will tell you: ie it’s a cultural – not religious – practice
  • as a cultural practice it may or may not have relevance in the burning heat and sands of the desert, but such conditions don’t obtain in the cities of Europe
  • this has been weaponised by certain radical Fundamentalists to make a point and to undermine any way of life at variance with their particular interpretation of their Religion
  • in any case, there are potential issues of security when someone masks their identity

Personally, I find it disturbing whenever anyone, for whatever reason covers their face in public, not just certain religious women.

And even more importantly, I find it disturbing that we should make laws either for or against any particular group in society, on any particular basis.

I respect our long standing tradition that our laws are made universally for all, to be applied equally to all, without fear or favour.

“To no-one will we sell, to no-one will we deny or delay right or justice” promised King John and his successors when they confirmed Magna Carta.

And I note with deep concern that the politically correct mentality, righteously zealous for minority rights to advance its imperium, created the very climate of fear which denied Magna Carta justice to hundreds, possibly thousands of vulnerable young girls abused by men from Islamic cultural backgrounds over more than two decades in English cities. Different culture. Different mindset.

In my view, it’s high time to restore the best of our traditions to ensure that whoever you are, as an individual you are free to live and speak without some bigoted reproach for heresy.

But liberty entails responsibility and cultural sensitivity on every one’s part.

Respect and sensitivity go both ways: sensitivity to European cultural norms, included. 

Ray Catlin

Copyright ©2018 Ray Catlin All rights reserved.

For an excellent contribution on this issue from a woman with a Muslim background, go to

https://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2018/08/munira-mirza-critiquing-islamist-fundamentalist-practice-is-not-an-attack-on-muslim-women.html?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Friday%2010th%20August%202018&utm_content=Friday%2010th%20August%202018+CID_2017346d98e563ca18099b6ca6b60f6f&utm_source=Daily%20Email&utm_term=Critiquing%20Islamist%20fundamentalist%20practice%20is%20not%20an%20attack%20on%20Muslim%20women