In the past week, discussion has been firing over the controversial comments made by former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. His comments regard the burqa, wearers of which Johnson compared to ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’. Ironically these reckless comments appeared within a column that warned against the UK taking similar action to the Danish Parliament. Earlier this year in Denmark the wearing of the religious veil was banned, with the first arrest taking place recently. However upon looking in the comments section of any article covering this topic, regardless of the platform, opinions and insults far worse than Johnson’s are rife.
The internet is something of a Wild West of opinions: anyone with a smartphone can become an armchair commentator. As a result, comments sections and Twitter replies can make for some alarming reading. Many of them are British citizens expressing irrational, bullish attitudes towards other UK citizens who simply wish to worship their religion in a way that is important to them. In this case, Muslim women and their use of the burqa.
One of the most common arguments on these forums is that the burqa isn’t ‘British’ or ‘done in our country’. Well - what is ‘British’? To some, it is something to be proud of. It’s the 2012 London Olympics or the royal wedding. For others, it’s colonisation. The systematic conquest of almost a third of the planet as well as the enslavement and oppression of indigenous populations. It is an idea of the past, the present and the future. It is ideals unique and different to each person. Part of British culture involves granting liberties and freedoms to its citizens. Much has progressed in the past few decades with more freedoms and liberties being granted to more citizens. One of these fundamental rights is freedom of religion and the practice of such religion. Many factors, including our colonial past, our EU membership and hopefully globalist future, have made this country a diverse and multicultural nation, including a diversity of religions. This being said, wearing the burqa therefore is a very normal, British thing! It is an expression of one’s beliefs that makes them feel comfortable as a person. It is a right that this country bestows to its citizens. It is a sign of the multiculturalism that benefits this nation and it is something that should not be restricted.
Another of the arguments that is prevalent is the comparison of the burqa to garments such as a ski mask or a motorcycle helmet, which should not be worn in public. To be frank, these comparisons are incredibly insulting. All of these head covering items have their specific purposes, the burqa is one worn to express belief. It would be like comparing the Bible to the Harry Potter books, Buddhist robes to pyjamas or a Jewish Kippah to a Frisbee. So why are such remarks apparently acceptable when it comes to Muslim women and their religious clothing? If expressing one’s religion and following religious rules is something that makes a person comfortable, it should not be discriminated against.
I am not religious and personally am not a fan of the burqa, but what I do believe is important is people having the right to express themselves, to worship in their own ways. People should wear what they like and feel comfortable within our society. While I don’t worship, I respect people who do and as long as it is their choice, they should be free to do so.
It is something to be valued, the many differences we have upon these islands. And while Boris Johnson’s comments are irresponsible and childish, they have opened up a discussion which will hopefully come to a positive conclusion. These rights should be respected so everyone is comfortable and free to do as they please, no matter who they are.