So Boris Johnson describes women who wear the niqab as looking like letter boxes and bank robbers? I could stoop to his level and make some crude remarks about his appearance, but that would not be the English thing to do.
But the hypocrisy is certainly astounding. One minute Boris is fawning over and grovelling at the feet of rich Arab leaders, begging for crumbs from their lavish banquets. The next minute he mocks the dress styles that originate in the same Arab states. Consistency remains the first casualty of politics.
I do not wear the niqab but if some women choose to wear it, surely no politician has the right to mock them thus. Our TV schedules are increasingly filled with voyeuristic shows in which indecorous people parade themselves on various love islands, reality shows and housewives in various shades of grey. The damage these crude shows are doing to the self-image of young people may be beyond repair. In such a climate, many women are choosing to manifest their spirituality and rejection of obsessive consumer culture by wearing modest clothing or even the niqab. This is their choice and they need not answer to anyone.
Boris’s comments are worrying, not just because they are crass, but because they show the ease with which European leaders slip into Islamophobic language. Muslims are facing levels of discrimination and hostility across Europe and America not seen before. Banning minarets of Mosques, imposing fines on women wearing the niqab, banning the hijab, banning the burkini, banning halal meat; the list is growing. Muslims are feeling besieged and targeted as they become the fall guys for problems in society.
Many opponents of the niqab play the Integration card. Well, if we can talk on the phone to people we cannot see and listen to voices on the radio without falling to pieces, surely we can talk to women wearing the veil. Integration is a human activity that requires an effort from all parties, regardless of what they are (or are not ) wearing. Furthermore, the Muslims of Bosnia were fully integrated into every aspect of European society. Yet they were hunted down, raped, burned alive and butchered in full view of the world, simply for their faith. So forgive me if the integration violin does nothing for my heart strings.
Hateful comments about the way some Muslim women choose to profess their faith are not about integration. They are about patronising and bullying Muslims on yet another front. And they score an own goal for the violent extremists who want Muslims to feel they are hated strangers in their own homes.
Muslims are part of the landscape of Europe. They contribute to the wealth and success of their communities with passionate patriotism, and it does not behove a senior British politician to mock them thus.