Boris, Burkas, But Most Of All, Bicycles

Surprisingly, however, I’m in support of banning the burka
Aaron Chown - PA Images via Getty Images

Say what you like about Boris Johnson’s burka blunder, his comments have resulted in a level of debate even he couldn’t have optimistically hoped for. Rather more conveniently, they’ve cemented his position as the next Tory leader at a time when several other aspirants to the Conservative crown might wish they could cement him into the foundations of a newly built motorway flyover.

Before continuing, it’s worth noting that nothing about the former Foreign Secretary is ever misjudged. His clownish persona is developed and honed to perfection as if he were the reincarnation of a Hollywood blonde bombshell who was constantly told: “Give them ditsy, honey, they eat that act up”. Of course, thanks to the media coverage of Johnson’s seemingly anti-Muslim rhetoric, it’s still the thing many folk are talking about. Last Friday, for instance, my dentist couldn’t help regaling me with a tale of how he was once chatted up by a woman wearing a burka at Abu Dhabi airport.

Now, I admit this may have been wishful thinking on his part and that the good lady was instead wanting nothing more than advice on a loose filling. All the same, the episode apparently left him feeling scared. As his fountain of knowledge gushed forth like an untapped oil well, he informed me that when we talk to someone, only 7% of what we say is verbally communicated. The remaining 93% is said non-verbally by our facial features. So, if the face is covered up, you’re only getting a fraction of the message.

Living in the heart of Whitechapel, London, I feel slightly qualified to discuss the whole subject. The area, despite undergoing huge development and being blighted by sky-rocketing property prices, remains predominantly Muslim. Indeed, right next to my home, a mosque extension is being built. This has caused a great deal of local upset and consternation.

On the plus side, the extension will include a Women’s Prayer Hall, meaning that for the first time, ladies can enter the mosque, having previously not been allowed in to pray with their menfolk. No doubt the Imam sees it as a modernising step forward. In fact, it’s anything but. To my mind, it’s another example of the segregated oppression of Muslim women by their husbands, fathers, brothers and assorted male family members, who insist that they hide their faces so other men can’t covet them sexually.

Unlike Boris and my dentist, I don’t feel fear when I see women in burkas. On the contrary, I feel an uneasy sadness. As I pass people wearing them, I look directly into their eyes and I don’t see happiness. I don’t see inner peace. I don’t see a human being glad to be under a supposed loved one’s thumb, not to mention the topic of ridicule from a toffee-nosed Tory with an extended vocabulary, who’s taking part in a piece of shameless political profiteering at their expense.

Surprisingly, however, I’m in support of banning the burka. Not from a religious perspective. Not from an equality perspective. Nor from a comfort perspective. Although in the recent heatwave, it must have got pretty toasty under there.

The reason I want there to be an end to the wearing of the burka is for my personal safety and the safety of other cyclists, including those with little or no peddling experience who insist on wobbling down the road on their “Boris bikes”.

I’ve lost count of the number of car windows I have had to bang on as I’ve been regularly carved up and nearly careered into by a careless motorist. And more often than not, the driver behind the wheel is wearing a burka, which severely curtails their ability to see what’s going on around them and especially to notice the increasing number of cyclists on London’s roads - more specifically East London’s roads.

Therefore, I think Johnson was perfectly correct to highlight the issue of the burka. Just not for quite the reason that he thought.


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