Boris Johnson’s niqab ‘jokes’ are on all of us in Britain

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Sunday 12 August 2018 18:44 BST
Nigel Farage 'I suspect these burka comments make Boris Johnson more likely to be Prime Minister, not less'

As Tammy Wynette knew well: sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. And this week it has been especially hard to be a Muslim woman.

Apparently, according to various circles of public opinion, I am not getting the joke, I’m over sensitive, I’m bullied, oppressed, unintegrated, politically motivated, dividing Britain – this list goes on and it is exhausting.

The latest line in defence of Boris Johnson as upheld by Rowan Atkinson is now: “why can’t you just take a joke?” Letterboxes are well known for their undeveloped sense of humour.

But the joke’s not on me and Muslim women, the jokes on all of us in Britain because this just isn’t funny. In a time of austerity, Brexit chaos, anti-Semitism debate, trade sanctions and growing division across the world Mr Johnson thinks the most pressing issue is the handful of women who dress in a way he doesn’t approve of.

Perhaps his Etonian education did not enable him to understand that in polite society, it’s rude to comment with ridicule on the way women dress. If a woman did so, she’d be called catty, or something worse. I have been teaching children in my care to laugh with, and not at, someone for many years – why should politicians not also apply this principle?

We as a nation and a society have got bigger fish to fry. How many days will this debate drag on with more and more desperate people trying to jump on the bandwagon in the hopes of getting a little speck of the spotlight on them?

And it’s not really about clothing. This is about manners and a simple principle. Are people in Britain free to dress the way they choose? Should a man in power ridicule and mock women and their clothing? It’s about the freedom to choose what you wear and upholding of common decency because something I’m sure Johnson did learn, but has perhaps has forgotten, is that manners maketh man. And that is no laughing matter. So, unlike Ms Wynette, I won’t be standing by my man, but will the Tory party feel the same?

Sarah Khan

Some have correctly compared Boris Johnson’s comments to Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech but not quite in the manner they imagine.

Powell committed the unforgivable political sin of being unable to suppress his old academic training, demanding facts be illuminated, and thus read out loud the public’s own words right back at them exposing that small minded nation the elites ignored, hoping it would clear up in time by itself like a bruise. Johnson, by contrast, wrote what he thought was jokey social commentary before his summer holiday on the absurdity of restrictive clothing with a clear misogynist agenda during one of our hottest Julys on record. Powell felt duty bound Johnson was only Italy bound.

What both have in common is that they are weak, prickly, distrusted leaders with overinflated senses of their own talents. Both have felt threatened by media popular colleagues with a fine turn of phrase, and have been perceived by the general public as having a refreshing air of honesty to them in a period where alienation between society and state has become a chasm. In both cases they’ve espied an opportunity to get rid of the pretender to their throne for good under a hypocritical cloak of political correctness, only for it to backfire spectacularly by proving whom is in tune with public opinion and whom is hopelessly out of touch.

If the Tories don’t get why the public loves Boris, they’ll never get why Jeremy Corbyn will crucify them at the next general election, no matter what bumbling gaffs he also makes.

Mark Boyle

So now Rowan Atkinson has now jumped into the burqa fray, supporting Mr Johnson’s description of burqa wearers as resembling letterboxes, arguing that “all jokes about religion cause offence, so its pointless apologising for them”.

Mr Atkinson has long been a proponent of the right to make jokes about religious belief, seeing this as a fundamental freedom of society. However, in doing so, he has made a declaration of what constitutes a belief that is open to criticism. For millions of Muslims and followers of other religions, their “beliefs”, which Mr Atkinson has deemed worth of ridicule, are the very foundation of their existence, and give meaning to their lives.

Free speech is a fundamental right. We must be free to ask questions of any faith and practice, but the way we do so, forms the basis of a civilised and peaceful society. We need to be clear where the boundaries of this freedom lie. When jokes about a faith cause offence to a whole group, a boundary has been crossed and instead of creating greater interfaith understanding, fracture lines are created in communities.

Millions of Muslims were deeply hurt by the Danish cartoon attacks on the character of the holy prophet Muhammad, who we hold to be dearer to ourselves than our own family. Where does this right to ridicule end? In London, we have a seen a rise in anti-Semitism, and increased calls to the “Tell Mama” anti-Muslim hate reporting line.

To create greater understanding between various faiths, The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has, since its inception over a hundred years ago, held regular interfaith meetings, where faith representatives can share their beliefs with others. These happen not only in the UK, but across the world. The experience has been that this leads to greater understanding and mutual respect. Perhaps Mr Atkinson should try and come to one of our events and learn more about why faith is so much more than a set of “beliefs” to us. I know that he would be warmly welcomed.

Sarah Waseem
Worcester Park, Surrey

Jacob Rees-Mogg says the Boris Burqa row is being used to prevent Boris from becoming the Tory leader. Excellent! In this case the ends really do justify the means.

David Rose
Sutton Coldfield

We are living in the 21st century, where are my rights?

I am a 23-year-old Muslim woman living in Britain who chooses to wear a hijab and cover parts of my face. I have been doing this since I was around 15, out of my own choice and to follow my faith. I do not wear a niqab or burqa but I find it highly offensive and appalling that a British politician ridiculed and insulted Muslim women who wear burqas by comparing them to “letterboxes” and ‘bank-robbers”. We are living in the 21st century Great Britain, which proudly speaks of its freedom of choice and rights of women. It is a society where people from diverse backgrounds, cultures and beliefs are celebrated rather than reproached.

Politicians like Boris Johnson are doing nothing but damaging the peace of society at a time when we need unity. It is very highly duplicitous of him to speak against the burqa ban in Denmark and revile the Muslim women at the same time. He speaks of “live and let live”, but can’t restrain himself from criticising a section of society who doesn’t dress as he likes. I would like to tell him that they do not care if he likes their appearance or not, because they are grown-up women who have every right to decide for themselves what they want to or do not want to wear.

I would also like to tell all the people defending Mr Johnson’s comments in the name of free speech, including Rowan Atkinson, that there is a difference between free speech and hate speech. Mr. Johnson is not a comedian who needs to make jokes to make people laugh. He is a politician, a public representative and he owns a responsibility to represent and unify all types of people in his country. Lastly, I would like to tell all of those who think that burqa should be banned, that they shouldn’t for one second, think that they are any better than the governments and individuals who force women to wear the burqa.

Stop telling women what to wear.

Basira Ajmal​​

Free parking won’t help the high street crisis

Ian McNicholas is right to complain about access to high street shops but wrong to believe that free parking would help (Letters). Town centres are densely populated – there is little land available for car parks. And do we really need more exhaust fumes? The answer surely is free public transport, regulated and provided by local authorities.

It seems, though, that we can’t afford local services at all because the government has run out of money. And like a household or a company, it must shut down. I just can’t figure out how quantitative easing worked…

Carol Wilcox

We hear of more shops every year sequentially closing on the UK’s high streets. M&S is just one example of the ongoing destructive saga that is happening to the high streets in the UK due to their 2022 hatchet closure announcement of many of their stores. Many others have gone before them, like British Home Stores and many are only just surviving. But this is inevitable with all the destructive forces that are at play. The nails in the coffin of retail businesses are as follows:

1. Out of town shopping centres

2. Outdated planning systems that are responsive to business needs and take years for town centre developments to get the green light.

3. Uncompromising and non-innovative councils who, instead of reducing rates et al, do the opposite and put the council’s costs up on those that are remaining, making it even harder for those left standing to survive on the high street.

4. Property owners who incessantly put up their rents and cause business to close due to their shareholder’s insatiable demands for ever more dividends.

5. Councils that deter people visiting the high street by putting in place obstacles such as penalty fine bus lanes together with higher than should be parking fees in town centres where they do not understand the psyche of why people actually do shop.

6. Online retail giants like Amazon who took £11.4bn of the sale of goods out of the UK economy last year, where equivalent growth rates are not seen in other sectors annually, draining ever more the retail sales from the high streets.

Eventually, the high street’s days will definitely be over for retail. It is only a matter of a couple of decades, in my opinion, before town centres become purely leisure centres and high street retail sales are just a distinct thing of the past. But it has to be said that although this is the way that things are currently going by the year, there is an even more severe case in that without innovative council and business thinking, ghost towns will emerge. In this respect, all the major overwhelming forces are currently growing stronger against the existence of high street retail shops.

David Hill
Address supplied

Absence of evidence is not proof of absence

Monsanto vice president Scott Partridge states that “there have been over 800 medical scientific peer review published studies that have established there is no link whatsoever between glyphosate and adverse health effects”.

As head of a company that must employ many scientists, he should be aware that no matter how many studies are done – even those not directly or indirectly sponsored by Monsanto – which fail to find links, does not prove there is no link whatsoever. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!

G Forward

Media is leading opinion, not reporting it

I strongly believe that the finding of the BMG opinion poll for The Independent that one person in four believes that Jeremy Corbyn is prejudiced against Jews is a reflection of the influence of media reporting, rather than a true picture of the Labour leader’s conviction. While I agree that Corbyn’s stubborn adherence to his principles serves him better as a campaigner than as a party leader who seems unable to predict, or respect the importance of public opinion, I’ve noticed a disturbing tendency towards the media leading opinion, rather than reporting it. I hope The Independent won’t follow this trend.

Mary Wilson
North Berwick, Scotland

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