My Right to Speak My Mind

All this week there has been a rumbling furore in the British press around comments made by former British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson about wearing face-covering garments such as the burka in public places. For example, Labour MP David Lammy has accused him of fanning the flames of Islamophobia for political advantage.

Unlike the people of Denmark who have recently banned anyone wearing the burka in public (following the lead of France, Germany, Austria and Belgium) Johnston said Muslim women should be free to wear face-covering garments.

This is a liberal stance but it was tempered with personal opinion.

“If you tell me that the burka is oppressive, then I am with you. If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree – and I would add that I can find no scriptural authority for the practice in the Koran.

I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes, and I thoroughly dislike any attempt by any – invariably male – government to encourage such demonstrations of ‘modesty’.”

It is this last paragraph that has caused the outcry.

There are many possible reasons why the Press and politicos are on Johnston’s back and not least because it is all about internal, Brexit driven politics.

However, what worries me most is that now no one can say anything that may upset or even offend without calls for a resignation. That is what has happened to Boris. At least, most say that he should apologise and many, including Muslim leaders, say he should be thrown out of the Conservative party.

I hold many opinions, many of which will upset a proportion of the population.

For example.

I think organised religions are the biggest source of world disorder and I want to have nothing to do with them.

I think that the paraphernalia of the Catholic Church is bizarre and their attitude to modern day problems including abortion and child sex scandals baffling.

How a population in Ireland and a handful of other countries can be divided by religion is, to me, inexplicable.

At the same time, I don’t understand why so many are so upset by nudity or complain that there is too much sport on the television. If men want to dress as women down at the local pub then let them.

I want addictions treated as both a social and medical problem and under this regime would legalise the sale and use of many drugs.

You may disagree with me.  I may not understand why you hold your alternate views, but I respect that you have the right to have them. That is your right but it is also how a civilised society works. We discuss, debate, compromise and agree on how to move forward.

But I am not offended by the views of others and this is the point about Boris Johnson’s article.

It happens in this instance that I agree with him.

I have worked in Africa and my boss was a great Malawian, Frank Mvula. I worked in Dubai for Arab bosses who were Muslims. I didn’t mind and when Ramadan came around I followed the routine and enjoyed the end of day Iftar meals. I am not racist nor Islamophobic and nor do I think is Boris Johnson.

If they want, I think that anyone could wear a burka but, as Johnson suggests, why would you want that? It is beyond me.

I don’t know what motivated Boris and what drove him to write that piece in the Daily Telegraph but remember that he was proposing a liberal view peppered with personal observations.

Detractors may argue that this goes beyond free speech and the right to proffer an alternative perspective is instead, inciting public disorder. That will only happen if those that read his words have become totally intolerant to any belief that isn’t their own. What we have seen over this last week is mass hysteria and insensitivity, which is perverse as these are the very same characteristics flung at Boris as an accusation for his article.

The right to say what you think, to explain a belief is crucial for any functioning society. As was said of Voltaire, I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.