By Morak Babajide-Alabi
No one, except Boris Johnson, the former United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, can explain his motive for condemning the wearing of burkas by Moslem women. In his column in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, last week Monday, Johnson, commenting on the ban of the burka in Denmark, had made a comparison of the women who wear them with “armed robbers” and “letterboxes”.
None other but Johnson can offer reasons why he decided to go this route. Being a public figure his comments, as usual, have attracted a lot of interests. While there have been criticisms of his views, some sections of the public believe he had only said what was on the minds of the silent majority. This is where the danger is, as there are fears that some citizens may seize on this golden opportunity to propagate their ideas against religious tolerance.
To be fair to Johnson, he had not canvassed the ban of the religious way of dressing in the UK, however, he was of the impression there is no religious injunction for any woman of faith to wear the burka. He had written – “If you tell me that the burka is oppressive, and then I am with you. If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree – and I would add that I can find no scriptural authority for the practice in the Koran.”
In this wise, the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP would expect his constituents to take them off if they come to his surgery for a consultation. He said: “In Britain today there is only a tiny, tiny minority of women who wear these odd bits of headgear. One day, I am sure, they will go.” There is no prize for perfectly guessing what Johnson would do if he has the choice of running the country.
He had cleverly instigated the debate on the burka in the UK, thereby satisfying the dream of some people. By his comments, Johnson had cleverly set the agenda for this. He may have written against the ban of this Islamic mode of dressing in Denmark, in the same vein, he has thrown the issue into the UK public sphere. Consciously or unconsciously, for six days running now, the discussions have been on the burka.
As expected there have been a few strong views on this, especially against the backdrop of the threat of terrorism. It is alarming that this simple mode of dressing of a particular religion is now perceived as a threat to national security. It is somewhat difficult to identify with some arguments put forward by supporters of Mr Johnson, as they are now obviously feeding into the “alt-right” views.
Some of these supporters have aired their opinions in straightforward and brutal formats than Johnson. They believe to allow the continued use of burka in the UK is multiculturalism taken too far. These individuals are feeding into Johnson’s tacit condemnation and inciting hatred and attacks.
A few people have been able to see through Johnson’s ploy. They have accused him of using Muslim women as a soft cannon to stake a bid at the Conservative Party leadership position.
You cannot describe Boris Johnson as a dimwit as this will be a great mistake. It will also be foolhardy to form an opinion of him by his dress sense, his hairstyle or his garrulous nature or manner of walking. He may not come across as a textbook description of an intellectual, but make no mistake he does make use of his brain.
Johnson comes across sometimes as a confused and ‘thick’ individual, but he always has plans behind the clumsiness. He may walk across a hall as giddy, but make no mistake; his eyes are always on the “prize”. He mumbles his sentences sometimes, but he has a coherence that suggests he is more intelligent than he is showing off to his audience.
You cannot stay on the fence in your opinion of Johnson or try to maintain neutrality. You either like or hate him. Johnson is a man who swims in controversies and also reputable for throwing his words around just like he does his weight. If you hail him as a man who freely expresses his opinions; you may be right, but his critics see a rabble-rouser.
His adult life, as a journalist or politician, has been of controversies and many analysts believe Johnson’s rise has been aided by the aura of confusion he usually causes around himself. He is a man of flamboyant character who speaks before thinking of what the repercussions are.
Following his comments, Johnson’s former boss, Prime Minister Theresa May was reported to have called him in a bid to make him apologise for the burka comments. So also was the Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis who spoke to Johnson about this and said on a radio programme that “I would never have made such a comment, I think there is a degree of offence in that, absolutely right.”
As at press time, Johnson had not tendered an apology. I am not sure if May, nor Lewis was actually expecting any from Johnson or the public rebuke is for political influence. But they have support from a few colleagues who had come out to condemn Johnson’s remarks. One of such is Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general and notable Tory Remainer.
In anger, Grieve said “If he (Johnson) were to become (the) leader of the party, I for one wouldn’t be in it. I don’t regard him as a fit and proper person to lead a political party and certainly not the Conservative Party.” This is a weighty condemnation of Johnson.
Johnson’s ambition at becoming the UK Prime Minister one day very soon has never been a secret. He was a pain in the neck of David Cameron, in his bid to take over from him. In the run off to the referendum, Johnson acted the role of a coy politician. He eventually became the face of the Leave Group. He and his band made a good job of the campaign as they whipped up emotions to discredit the UK’s membership of the union. We recollect Johnson stepping off the big red campaign bus with the bold slogan – “we send the EU £350 million a week”.
He brought his usual funny character into the campaign and won the hearts of many ordinary citizens. Some saw a man they could relate with and therefore believed all he “offered” on the reasons why the UK should exit the union. He may not have excelled in his role as the Mayor of London; there was an absolute trust in him to make a success of UK after its exit from the EU.
Unfortunately, most of Johnson’s arguments and standpoints were made without any empirical backing. Who cares? The referendum was won, anyway. He was appointed the foreign secretary in the Theresa May’s trophy government after he was backstabbed in his bid for the Premiership by his right-hand man, Michael Gove.
Until his recent resignation from the government of Theresa May, he was always in one spot or the other for a comment about important issues in and out of the government. He had never hidden his opposition to May’s approach to the BREXIT negotiations from the continental European Union. He publicly, while in government, canvassed a totally different path from the PM.
In a free country such as the UK, Johnson is entitled to his opinion, but he seems to have momentarily forgotten that his freedom stops where that of others’ begin. Johnson had stirred the hornet’s nest will this bukar debate, but will he survive the after effect? It is just a waiting game. This, however, goes beyond the burka, but time will tell how far Johnson will go.
As submitted to the Diaspora Matters column in the Sunday Vanguard of 12th August 2018.