Posted: 2018-08-13

Boris should apologise and spend a little time talking to the women who wear Islamic clothing

BORIS Johnson has compared burka wearers to letterboxes and bank robbers in an article in the Daily Telegraph, and caused a furore within the Tory party and the country over whether he should apologise. Compare this to the support given to the Charlie Hebdo publication after the shooting in January, 2015, when Islamic gunmen killed 12 of its staff and injured 11 others partly because of a cartoon of Mohammed it ran, with the words ‘100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter’. Cartoonist and Editor in Chief, Stéphane Charbonnier, along with three others, was put on Al Qaeda’s most wanted list in 2013 after saying that the weekly journal would carry on with its lampooning of Islam until it had been rendered as ‘banal as Catholicism’. People came out in their millions around the world enraged at this attack on free speech. So why is this any different to Boris using humour in his article, which in fact was not in favour of an outright ban on the burka?


My dermatologist would love it if I turned up for my six-monthly appointments (due to an immuno-suppressor I’m on) in a burka. Every time I go I get a lecture about wearing Factor 50 sunscreen, long clothes, long sleeves and a hat over the top. I once asked him how I could swim in the sea in that and he said ‘Give up swimming’, so I’m sure he’d be a big fan of the burkinis I saw in Turkey a couple of years ago.

But I’d ask those who favour a ban what we would then do about nuns who wear habits. Of course, the burka is the complete covering of the body and the face but what about people wearing hats and scarves pulled over their faces in cold weather? Or balaclavas?

Personally I think the Hijab, the scarf that covers the hair and head, is rather attractive in that it adds an air of mystery with its hint of long, luxurious hair worn up in a bun underneath. It also then focuses attention on the wearer’s eyes, which are often made more dramatic by being outlined in kohl. Which sort of negates the whole point, which is to make women less desirable and more modest in appearance. Why do men not have to be more modest I wonder? And why do I see little girls wearing hijabs? Why do children have to be modest?

I think Boris should apologise and spend a little time talking to the women who wear Islamic clothing, because although he is not for banning the burka his remarks will make it more likely that women, who may well be coerced into wearing it by their men folk, family and culture, will be attacked in the streets by racists to whom he has inadvertently given permission. The difference between him and Charlie Hebdo is that he referred to people who are alive today and not to a prophet, real or imagined, who is not here. And those poor women who are wearing what I must admit is the sinister looking burka under pressure will be driven indoors suppressing them even further. Some Islamic women claim they wear the various veils through choice, and some say they laugh at being called Darth Vader, but whichever it is I don’t agree with banning clothing either. Surprisingly for me I’ve agreed with a Tory.

Some say Boris will be the next PM (and I was hoping it would be Jeremy Corbyn, and we would be shot of the vile Tories for many generations to come, if not forever) and, as such, will be expected to represent all the people (yeah right). In view of that, his words were ill-advised, but I think we should keep up the conversation about items of clothing that symbolise the suppression of women – at least to our western eyes. As a burka–wearing woman pointed out on a radio programme, you have to remember the culture of these people was shaped around the deserts they came from where they had to protect themselves from the sun and sand. But why has that culture only transferred with women? Islamic men don’t cover their faces, do they?

It’s reasonable to expect teachers to have their faces uncovered as facial expressions play such a large part in communication, and for security face coverings should not be permitted in banks and airports. Apart from that women, and people in general, should wear what they want, although I shudder when I see padded bras for little girls. I wonder: is that more worthy of a ban? In my teens maxi clothes were all the rage and I had the most gorgeous tapestry coat with a massive Lady Godiva hood. Underneath I wore dresses to my ankles along with knee boots. When I put my hood up there was virtually nothing of me visible but my clothes. And I was never cold! However, women who wear the burka have been found to be Vitamin D deficient, and in our climate of little sun we need all the help we can get.  

So can we stand with Boris as we did over Charlie Hebdo? I don’t think so. The latter was consistent in its lampooning of religion. Boris, given his track record, might change his mind and insist all women should wear the burka next week. He once told constituents he would lie down in front of the bulldozers rather than allow a third runway at Heathrow. Instead, when his party voted on it Boris flew out of the country. Of course, like President Trump he may have misspoken and said ‘would’ when he meant wouldn’t’ …  

Shelley Leggett, August 2018