This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
What do I have to say about this Boris and the Burkha row without igniting the wrath of our own readers? Personally I did not see this article as a racist attack on a minority ethnic group. Criticising the niqab and criticising Muslim women are two very different things. Boris, as a northern European man, was questioning why anyone would want to wear the niqab and therefore look as they do.
Thankfully we live in a country where there is freedom of speech and freedom of dress. We are hopefully taught by our elders to dress respectfully when entering a church or when attending a formal occasion. I sometimes look at the clothes my daughters wear and think why would they want to wear that outfit? Occasionally I might say something which is normally ignored however as they grew older they have come to accept that there is a code of dress for certain situations. Can I not suggest to my best friend that I think she would look better in a one-piece swimming costume rather than a bikini? At the end of the day it is her choice and my opinion which may not be one and the same.
My eldest daughter worked and lived in Qatar for a year where there is a strict dress code even for non-Qataris. She had to observe it and so she did. Once, when she was walking outside, she pushed her sleeves halfway up her arm, without thinking, and someone spat at her for revealing a few inches of skin. When she returned to the UK she admitted that she could not have lived in Qatar any longer because of their very restrictive lifestyle.
Presumably when Muslim families chose to live in the UK they realised they were coming here for the lifestyle that the UK has to offer. Perhaps a freedom that they no longer enjoyed in their country of birth. A freedom of religion, economic stability, and safety from wars and persecution that life in the UK provides. The UK allows Moslems to build their places of worship, something that most Muslim countries do not allow non-Islamic religions to do. I understand that the Muslim religion does dictate modesty, but there is no basis for the niqab in Islam.
I do not want our country to change so much that we cannot say what we think. It must always be respectful and not racist or defamatory as has been the case with the Labour Party and anti-semitism. My husband is Jewish and yet it is me that is far more incensed than he at anti-Semitic remarks. He has come to expect it because he was born at the end of the war and he learnt early on that anti-semitism comes out of ignorance and there will always be those people in the world. However he works hard to make sure that anti-semitism is never again allowed to grow into a movement such as the Holocaust.
I cannot understand how racism exists amongst so-called liberal thinking people but Boris Johnson is not one of those racists. He may have his faults as a politician but this is not one of them. He may be a controversialist and he may use his remarks to seek attention. This week I am sure many people have had a quick read of Boris Johnson’s comment piece in the Daily Telegraph in case he has started another Boris and the Burkha row. This time he has named and shamed a property company for building sub-standard houses and charging exorbitant prices yet failing to repair the construction faults. He has drawn attention not to himself but to a genuine problem. If someone like Boris has the sort of power that he clearly does have, where people do read his articles then he needs to use that power to help those who do not have his strength and connections. Others, Labour or Conservative, should not use his words in political or social point-scoring. He worries many Tories as he could be a threat to Theresa May and he is an easy target for Labour. He is not a villain however he may be plain-speaking in his articles which is not a crime. We do not need to share or understand his opinions but he does not need to be punished for stating these opinions.
I hope that we at The CountryWives can continue to suggest what we think women should wear at our age to make them look the best they can. However, at the end of the day, everyone can and will wear what they want, and people can and will say what they think – these are the joys of living in a free country. Boris and the Burkha row is, in my opinion, a storm in a teacup and there are bigger race issues that need to be addressed in this country right now.
More Poppy Patmore comment pieces here