Boris, Burkas and Bigotry

East London Humanists examine Boris Johson’s burka comments and  refusal to apologise in this piece for the ‘Spiritual Life’ column, Ilf0rd Recorder 24.8.18

Boris Johnson’s crude comments about the burka and refusal to apologise have driven a tank through what should be a nuanced debate.

Like many Humanists I have issues with the burka. I believe it can demean women and is a barrier to normal communication. But as a Humanist I also defend the right to freedom of religion and belief. With that right comes the freedom to criticise religion and to cause offence. However it’s one thing to lampoon a politician born into privilege like Johnson. It’s another when a powerful man uses language which picks on a tiny minority and leads to them being attacked on the streets.

Most religions are male-dominated and have a history of treating women as ‘lesser.’ Women are generally excluded from the priesthood; prescriptions for modesty include various head and body coverings and shaven heads; women’s control over their own bodies and reproduction is commonly denied. Of course, some women are happy to be treated in these ways, and some choose to wear the burka. But many have no real choice. Johnson’s criticism of religious oppression is highly selective.

What also sticks in the throat is Johnson’s pretence to concern about oppressed Muslim women when as Foreign Secretary he defended the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive states in the world.

Make no mistake, Johnson’s language was designed to normalise abuse of a particular minority. This is a slippery slope which should alarm anyone genuinely concerned with community cohesion.

Paul Kaufman, Chair East London Humanists

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