By Eline Jeanne
Boris Johnson, the UK’s former foreign secretary, wrote a piece for the Telegraph about Denmark’s recent burka ban, and whether we should adopt the same laws in the UK. Upon reading the title of the piece, which claims that Demark has “got it wrong”, you might be cautiously optimistic. Maybe this piece will show a different side to Boris – you start to think – a side that is willing to listen to Muslim women and recognise the burka ban as demeaning and oppressive. Sadly, this is not the case. The piece spreads degrading messages about women who choose the wear the niqab and the burka, and compares women who wear these Muslim garments as looking like letter boxes and bank robbers.
There’s a lot wrong with Johnson’s piece. With a high dose of hypocrisy, he claims that it’s “weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces” and that ‘we’, in the Western world, must liberate them by banning the Muslim garments. In other words, to liberate the oppressed, we must oppress them ourselves. it is He then goes on saying that he “should feel fully entitled” to ask a Muslim women to remove a face-obscuring garment were she to come to his MP’s surgery, and that universities should be allowed to do the same. Johnson, who claims he finds it horrible that women are ‘forced’ to wear hijabs and niqab’s, wants to solve this issue by forcing them to take it off. Do we see the hypocrisy here?
The claim that all women who wear some form of Muslim head cover are oppressed and forced to do so is false, as it has been said time and time again by the women who actually wear them. Of course, we don’t hear about these women in Johnson’s piece, and we often don’t in similar texts. The idea that women choose to wear these garments seems unfathomable to many, and because we might not understand it, we choose to brand it as wrong. It is easy to ignore the voices of these women, not bother to actually learn about their reasons for wearing the hijab, the niqab, and the burka. But shouldn’t they be at the centre of this discussion, the discussion about the things they choose wear on their bodies?
On whether the UK should adopt similar laws to Denmark, Johnson believes that we should in fact not ban the burka, but not for the sake of the women who wear it. He believes that such a ban would “play into the hands of those who want to politicise and dramatise the so-called clash of civilisation” and would inevitably “risk a general crackdown on any public symbols of religious affiliation”.
All in all, the piece is filled with Islamophobic generalisations, demeaning insults, and brushes over the arguments of Muslim women. Moreover, with anti-Muslim incidents being at an all-time high in the UK, a piece like this can be dangerous, which is why we also have to question why the Telegraph gave Boris Johnson the platform to share these views. Being one of the most influential news publications in the UK, the Telegraph has a duty not to host hateful language and ideas. Of course, being a journalistic platform, the Telegraph also has the responsibility to provide its reader with a variety of viewpoints and opinions, but this can easily be done in a way that does not include dehumanising and hateful tactics. In cases like this, we must not only condemn author, but also the organisation providing the author with a large audience.
Discussions should take place on current topics, and the recent changes in Danish law no doubt falls into that. However, these discussion should have at the centre those who are most affected by the changes. An article like Johnson’s one does not count as constructive discussion. Instead, it degrades women who wear the burka to objects like letterboxes, and gives them no voice whatsoever. You only have to follow the #burkaban hashtag on Twitter to see hundreds of Muslim women sharing their views; is it so difficult to include them?