Boris Johnson faced criticism recently for saying that burkas are oppressive to women and that women wearing them look like letter boxes and bank robbers. This article in The Sun provides his full, in context comments (The original column by Boris was in The Telegraph, which is behind a paywall, so we won’t bother with that, silly Telegraph!)
According to The Sun, Boris’ Facebook account has attracted a lot of over racists, and he’s faced a considerable degree of criticism in the press. Some of the criticism is focused on the fact that comments such as this have no place in a liberal society where people have freedom of religious expression and wearing the burqa is a choice. Some even worry that such comments give fuel to the already intolerant minority who verbally and physically abuse the estimated 1000 women who wear the burqa in the UK. (See this New Statesman article as an example.)
However, there are also several commentators, along with the majority of the British public who support Boris’ right to publicly mock such women:
Using humor to ridicule certain beliefs is not the same as shouting abuse at people because of their beliefs, or the same as physically assaulting them. In fact humor is used all the time in politics to mock the views of others. It is also a favorite tool of protest groups.
Radical Feminists especially would argue that the burqa is an outdated mode of religious expression: one that is rooted in oppression and needs critiquing. Humor is a valid means of doing just this.
Outright banning of the burqa, as has been done in many countries such as France, Germany, Austria and even Muslim majority countries Chad and Niger, just seems to have a perverse effect: it just keeps women who would wear it indoors, and pushes even more women into this brand of ‘identity politics’.
Finally, surely if the 1000 women who choose to wear it are really doing so out of freedom of choice, then surely they are capable of withstanding a little ribbing from a politician?!?
You might like to consider the following questions for discussion! As always, comments welcome below.
- To what extent do think women who wear the burka in Britain are oppressed into doing so?
- Is it right for a politician to publicly mock women who wear the burka?
- Should Britain ban the wearing of the burka in public?
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