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Using the Burka: Boris Johnson’s Bid for Popularity

Comedy, Boris Johnson, and the Tories – these three share a certain comforting, if chaotic affinity, lobbed together in some nightmarish union that risks consuming itself. But times are serious – profoundly so, we are told: Brexit exercises the nerves as if Britannia were a patient about to expire, and there is the cultural irritation posed by those naughty elements who refuse to do the good thing and integrate themselves into the land of her Britannic majesty.

Thus far, Britain has resisted the moves of other states in Europe to impose public bans on such religious coverings as the burka and some of its more expansive cognates. But there is a prevailing appetite for such measures in a climate suffused with notions of civilisation, irate outsiders and insecure insiders. France was a pioneer in that regard, initiating a ban in 2004. In Denmark, rough measures have been implemented punishing those who don such headdress in public spaces.

A perfect chance for Johnson, who remains a smouldering menace to Prime Minister Theresa May, to strike form, even if only to rile critics and keep the blogosphere busy. “In Britain today there is only a tiny, tiny minority of women who wear these odd bits of headgear,” he noted in his regular Daily Telegraph column last week. Confidently, he claimed that, “One day, I am sure, they will go.”

His has little time for assuming that women have any choice in the matter. “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.”

Nothing is spared. The whole show is given, and any social or academic nicety is given over to a populist punchiness. “I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.” But Johnson returns to a traditional stance taken to such articles of wear: they should not be banned. The only resort, then, is to mock.

It becomes clear what this exercise was about. The burka, and Islamic dress, might well have found themselves objects of pure, unalloyed opportunism for yet another push for recognition from fellow Tories that Johnson remains a relevant contender for high office. He might have resigned from the front bench in an act of calculated sabotage, but he glows.

The Conservative Party has found itself in a bind. Something needed to be done, as the current wisdom goes, but what? An investigation is currently being taken, a fairly pointless exercise that serves to supply valuable oxygen to Johnson’s flame of embellished martyrdom. Communities and Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire told BBC Breakfast that an investigation into complaints made about Johnson’s comments was taking place and “that’s the right approach”.

If the investigation – being conducted by an individual officer – finds justification for the complaints, an independent panel will be convened (independence being in the eye of the beholders), which might decide to refer Johnson to the party’s board. From there, the power of expulsion can come into play.

At this stage, these are meaningless hypothetical points, and expelling Johnson will add a few streaks of popularity to him. If that ever unreliable metric called polling can be drawn upon, Johnson has allies on the score of whether he should receive some form of disciplinary action. The Sunday Express, noting the findings of its ComRes poll, found 53 per cent of respondents did not feel any such action should be taken.

The Muslim Council of Britain has also added to the exercise of giving Johnson form and profile, sending a letter to Prime Minister May that “no-one should be allowed to victimise minorities with impunity.” The Council was “hopeful” that the Tories “will not allow any whitewashing of this specific inquiry currently in process”.

A few murmurings of support have aired. That ever reliable period-piece Tory prop and member for North East Somerset Jacob Rees-Mogg is certain that the whole exercise against Johnson – a “show trial” no less – is tactical, a measure to protect May and see off a rival. There is envy in the leadership at his “many successes, popularity with voters and charisma.” He speculates: “Could it be that there is a nervousness that a once and probably future leadership contender is becoming too popular and needs to be stopped?”

Another element is the comedy line, suggesting the view that Johnson remains the permanent, immutable joke of British reaction. To censure Johnson would be to censure a certain type of eccentric, if indecent Britain. Rowan Atkinson, the genius behind Mr Bean and a range of comic adaptations, took the freedom-to-joke line in a letter to The Times. “As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one.” Pity that it has been a standard one for some time – was Atkinson perhaps referring to Johnson himself, the joke in harness?

It is all well and good to accept the necessary function of comedy to puncture, deflate and generally mock the role of faith, credulous attitudes and the devout. “All jokes about religion cause offence,” says Atkinson accurately, “so it’s pointless apologising for them.”

But Johnson has never been the font of sincerity in that regard, and his effusion was hardly intended as one of pure humour. He wishes to remain politically relevant, and persists sniping through his columns and from the back bench in the hope that he won’t be forgotten. As Britain leaves its awkward EU marriage, Johnson may well find himself presiding over the ruins of his own handiwork.


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  1. Noel

    When a man cannot even comb his hair who is going to trust him leading the country.

  2. Wam

    The burqa, niqab, chardor and hijab are cultural garment not religious apparel. They are associated with afghanistan/pakistan, saudi arabia, Iran and malaysia/indonesia. The men in these countries mandate their women to wear the cultural dress on the pain of a beating or worse. Arguably malaysia and Indonesia associate the covering of women’s hair, a sex symbol, outside of home with god but only indoctrinated women swallow this line.
    The media until very recently, knew no difference between a burqa and a niqab and made no effort to connect the countries to them.
    ps the burqa is unlike a post box that is a niqab.

  3. Kaye Lee

    Fraser Anning, the Senator who replaced Malcolm Roberts for One Nation and then defected to join Katter, made his maiden speech today asking for a return to the White Australia policy. He wants to ban all Muslims and then he said this….

    “We should go back to that and ban all immigrants from receiving welfare for the first five years after they arrive.

    “The final solution to the immigration problem, of course, is a popular vote.”

    How anyone could be insensitive enough to use that phrase in an immigration debate is flabbergasting. Some people in this country are getting seriously weird.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Today’s live Guardian feed ended with this (it’s long but it needs repeating)…..

    “Just in case I have to fact check Fraser Anning’s speech for anyone, Muslims have been in Australia since before federation.

    There is evidence Muslims from south-east Asia traded with Indigenous people as far back as the 1600s.

    If you want to talk nation building, their camel trains helped map out trading routes and then, actual train routes for this nation.

    There has been a steady stream of migration from largely Muslim nations, since the 1800s, including from Lebanon, where Fraser Anning’s party leader Bob Katter’s family hails from.

    Oh, and that is before we even consider that one of our largest trading partners, Indonesia, who are very, very fond of the products of our farmers, which Anning wants to support and protect, also happens to have the largest Muslim population in the world.

    I could go on. I would hope though, that I really don’t have to. Because it has been debunked. So many times. And we still have a representative of this nation’s parliament, standing in your house, not only calling for a ban of all Muslim immigration, but a plebiscite on non-European migration, because Whitlam never asked you if it was OK.

    And he did it while invoking the term, ‘the final solution’.

    Last month marked the 71st anniversary since Nazi leader Hermann Goering gave the order to SS General Reinhard Heydrich to enact the ‘final solution’.

    We all know how that ended. We all know what that phrase refers to. And it was just used in your parliament by someone who now claims that any sinister meaning taken from his use of that phrase is “simply ridiculous”.

    If you are not up in arms about that, or demanding that your political representatives are up in arms about that, then that’s exactly the reason someone just stood in this building and used the language the Nazi party used to order the murder of millions of Jews, LGBTI people, migrants, and dissenters.

    The standard you walk past is absolutely the standard you accept.

    I’m going to end the blog here tonight. I’m too angry to even attempt to come up with a witty comment to finish today on. Instead, I will just say a very big thank you to everyone at The Guardian for their response to that speech, to all the readers who immediately condemned it, and hope that tomorrow is better. It’s all we can do.

    Take care of you. And particularly, take care of all those who are continually made to feel like ‘the other’ in their own country, those who are consistently targeted by the ignorant and the hateful for reasons I could never even begin to understand.

    We should be better than that. I had hoped we were. I hope we will be.”

  5. Matters Not

    Senator Fraser Anning’s persona is now out and about. And he’s also in favour of women’s rights. (LOL)

    senator Fraser Anning moved a motion in the Senate on Thursday calling on the government to relax import laws for the weapons in response to horrific crimes against women.

    He wants state governments to legalise and promote the carrying of pepper spray, mace and tasers by women for “political protection”.

    I guess they do represent almost 10% of the population – at least in Queensland.

    Be very interested in Katter’s reaction because when it comes to the rights of minorities (including that of Aborigines) his track record is pretty fair.

  6. Kaye Lee

    “To describe the so-called safe schools and gender fluidity garbage being peddled in schools as cultural Marxism is not a throwaway line, but a literal truth,” Senator Anning said.

    Other issues he noted were countering the growing threat of China, slashing government spending, building coal-fired power plants and taking back culture from left-wing extremists.

    Senator Anning said Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s reign as Queensland premier was the state’s “golden age”.

  7. Matters Not


    Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s reign as Queensland premier was the state’s “golden age

    Yep! Citizens south of the border would be surprised at how strong that sentiment still is, particularly in rural areas and among those in their declining years. They are not for the turning. It’s like a belief in God – not up for any rational discussion – just a taken for granted assumption. And it includes many Labor supporters (as Peter Beattie recognised some years ago.)

  8. Kaye Lee

    “Cultural Marxism” is a common snarl word used to paint anyone with progressive tendencies as a secret Communist. The term alludes to a conspiracy theory in which sinister left-wingers have infiltrated media, academia, and science and are engaged in a decades-long plot to undermine Western culture. Some variants of the conspiracy alleges that basically all of modern social liberalism is, in fact, a Communist front group.

    It’s an ongoing Marxist plot to destroy the capitalist West from within, spreading its tentacles throughout academia and indoctrinating students to hate patriotism & freedom. Thus, rock’n’roll, Sixties counterculture, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, homosexuality, modern feminism, and in general all the “decay” in the West since the 1950s are allegedly products of the Frankfurt school. It’s also the work of the Jews.

    The conspiracist usage originated in Nazi Germany, where Kulturbolschewismus (“Cultural Bolshevism”) was used to abuse political opponents. In particular, Jews purportedly were secretly orchestrating the spread of Communism (Jewish Bolshevism) as well as promoting sexual & gender permissiveness (“sexual Bolshevism”).

    If anyone rants about “Cultural Marxists taking over culture!”, feel free to remind them that they’re spouting literal Nazi propaganda updated for the modern era.

  9. Matters Not

    Yep those dreaded cultural Marxists:

    This, in turn, suggests they need to do some homework on the Western intellectual tradition; that free and untramelled spirit of inquiry that has given us everything from Pythagoras’s famous thereom to the atomic bomb; from parliamentary democracy to Marxist theory; from the great Cathedrals of Europe to the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and a lot of other good and bad stuff as well.

    Would you believe that a study of Marx lies within the Western intellectual tradition?

    By the way, Hanson, George, Anning et al can easily be located in the Joh political/cultural tradition. Even clearer at the local (State) level. Queenslanders are different.

  10. johno

    What a dreadful shameful speech from Anning, not to mention Barnaby’s brainfart on Kmart.

  11. New England Cocky

    Yawn …… now the ranks of the fascists and racists in the Australian Parliament have been expanded by the addition of Fanny Anning we can sleep soundly at nights knowing that Toxic RAbbott, Crazy Bernardi, and Loathsome Leyonheljm will continue to reject their migrant heritage.

    The Abbott family escaped unreconstructed Britain in the 1950s, a decade after the war ended and the Establishment fought against social justice for the masses as government housing and the national health; Bernardi appears to have been an altar boy and Leyonheljm is reported as being a refugee from South Africa. All personally insecure because of their life experiences, all poor choices for politicians.

  12. Kyran

    “The Conservative Party has found itself in a bind. Something needed to be done, as the current wisdom goes, but what? An investigation is currently being taken, a fairly pointless exercise that serves to supply valuable oxygen to Johnson’s flame of embellished martyrdom.”
    It seems odd to note that, on both sides of the planet, we, the people, seem to have an expectation of insight from our parliamentarians, and all they are capable of is incite.
    There are two components of Dr Kampmark’s article that came into full play in our senate yesterday. Women and religion.
    It is funny that women’s attire has been the source of judgement on shifting criteria for millennia. Invariably, men will take offence at the way women dress and prescribe character interpretation based on nothing more than your attire. There are more than enough women also content to offer their opinion as to how the manner in which you dress is a fair reason for people to assess you, judge you and discriminate against you, based solely on your clothing.
    The wearing of a bikini was a shamefully immodest flaunting of temptation, a challenge to the moral fabric of society, a corruption of the worst order. Fifty years later, our complaint is that some women wear too much clothing. There is only one question to consider. Did the wearer of the clothes chose the clothes? If there was an element of compulsion in wearing the clothes, it is easily argued that the clothing becomes a measure of subservience, that someone is forced to wear particular items to supplicate their existence to another. Before you answer that, think of the thousands of men wearing dresses across all religions, before the convention of ‘men wearing pants’ was even considered.
    Yesterday, the senate voted on a censure motion about a moron and his ranting. Dr Kampmark’s question poses a scenario where an idiot is charging around the ‘China Shop’ and some measure has to be found to contain the damage. In Lay-on-him’s case, he took offense with a delusion, a creation of his own sick, twisted mind. He imagined Hanson-Young said ‘All men are rapists’ and took umbrage that he, allegedly a man, was tarred with the same brush because of his gender. The censure motion has no effect other than a tokenistic slapping of the wrist. As mentioned above, Amy Remeikis does a live feed when parliament sits. Yesterdays feed goes for 12 pages and canvasses all manner of subjects from Turnbull’s GBRF to NEG, and lots of shenanigans in between.

    With regard to Lay-on-him, there was much ado about nothing. The to-ing and fro-ing over an inconsequential censure motion would be funny if Monty Python did it.
    “Attempts to censure David Leyonhjelm begin
    There is just a bit of debate over whether it is sub judice or not to have this motion, given that Sarah Hanson Young has launched legal action against Leyonhjelm.”
    The senate eventually censured the sick, twisted delusions of a moron. How did they vote?
    “To answer your censure motion questions:
    For: Labor, Greens, Hinch
    Against: Liberal/Nationals, Anning, Bernardi, Burston, Hanson, Leyonhjelm,
    Crossbenchers who did not vote: Griff, Patrick, Georgiou, Storer”
    To add further insult to the female injury, buried in the live feed is this;
    Fairfax’s Dana McCauley reports Barnaby Joyce has passed on a letter written by his partner Vikki Campion to Emma Husar, through Bill Shorten’s office, offering her “support and sympathy”.
    You can read the story here.”

    That disgraced philanderer, still being investigated for his transgressions against women, became the messenger for his current partner to deliver support to Ms Husar.
    “The former journalist, who dropped her Press Council complaint against the Daily Telegraph for exposing her affair with Mr Joyce after accepting $150,000 to appear on Seven’s Sunday Night with their son Sebastian, advised Ms Husar to let the controversy “wash over her” and move forward.”
    That isn’t ironic. It’s perverse. Keen to persist with his ‘rebranding’ of himself, the messenger offers his two bobs worth.
    “My Joyce, who six months ago called for his privacy to be respected after Ms Campion gave birth to their child, has re-embraced the media spotlight to promote his “warts and all” memoir, Weatherboard and Iron: Politics, the Bush and Me.”
    Of course that was buried by the anal offerings of Anning, an ignoramus soon to be consumed by ignominy. How could you be so stupid to confuse the ‘White Australia Policy’, a specifically Anti-Asian doctrine of the 40’s and 50’s, with a religious persecution? How could you be so stupid as to issue such a decrepit edict on the eve of the governments much heralded and anticipated (yawn) release of the ‘religious freedom’ tome?
    From Ms Remeikis’s feed yesterday;
    “For those who can’t access the video, here is what Tony Burke said in full in response to Fraser Anning’s speech:
    “Don’t give them what they want. That’s a question that you always ask when there is an appalling speech. Don’t give them what they want. They want to incite a debate and the debate when it happens when you hit back is exactly what they might have hoped for. But there has to be a point when this parliament says enough.
    “If we haven’t reached that point tonight then, for some of us, there is apparently no limit at all. In the other place Senator Anning has just delivered his first speech and in giving the sort of bile that we get from time to time against Muslim Australians he has decided to invoke the term ‘final solution’. Another speech belittling Australians. Another speech dividing the nation. Another speech wanting to incite debate. Those who have thought that maybe the best thing is to not give them what they want? I say if we continue to hold back they got exactly what they want. Muslim Australians, African Australians, Chinese Australians, when you invoke the final solution Jewish Australians in the same way as in years gone by Greek Australians and Italian Australians have been the subjects of prejudice the bigotry of today is no different to the bigotry of yesterday.
    “The bipartisanship against it that we had in years gone by we don’t have right now and it must return.
    “The words that happened in the other place are not the words of a proud Australian. They are the words of people who hate modern Australia, people who hate who we are as Australians.
    “The overseas voices have been encouraged and welcomed into this country. We had Lauren Southern turn up to my local area. She arrived with a camera crew here from North America looked around said it’s all monoculture, all monoculture just like we had the so-called person in charge of multicultural affairs claim that we’ve got all these monocultural areas throughout Australia.
    “The film crew and the journo there were good enough to say well which monoculture? Is it the Arabic culture represented by that shop? Or the Vietnamese culture represented by that shop? The Pakistani, the Pacific Islander, which monoculture are you talking about? To which Lauren Southern said there isn’t even an English pub and they said well there’s actually one immediately behind you.
    “Our diversity is nothing to be afraid of but the silence that has come from those opposite is everything to fear because the fight for modern Australia when it’s under attack in this way is only going to be won when we get to the point of bipartisanship again and be in no doubt we are not there right now. If anyone wondered whether we were there a lot changed at the last election. Immediately after the last election members of One Nation were returned to the Parliament. At that time instead of adopting the sort of language that John Howard had adopted the Government members started to refer to One Nation today as being more sophisticated than they used to be.
    “Bigotry is not sophisticated.
    “In the Longman by election they are now allocating preferences to One Nation, not following John Howard’s lead on putting One Nation last. We had the 18C legislation not referred to during the election campaign suddenly brought on the parliament to give extra licence for racist hate speech.
    “We had the immigration minister stand right there and refer to Australians not as second and third generation Australians but as second and third generation Lebanese Muslims and then described them as a mistake. We had the government introduce university level English test but you didn’t have to read university level English if you were immigrating from the five English speaking nations that are predominantly white.
    “Canada, the United States, Ireland, the UK or New Zealand, they didn’t have to do the test. Only the people from the non-white countries if they had grown up with English had to do it. We had the member for New England constantly in his book Weatherboard and Iron referring to the poor, white regional fringe. Why is the white reference there all the time? I say to those opposite it’s not good enough to turn up to the community fundraisers and events and say all the right things there and think people won’t notice what’s been happening in the parliament.
    “Don’t apologise for racism don’t imitate it and don’t preference it.”
    Updated at 8.32pm AEST”
    Mr Lord recently wrote how he call’s out this disgraceful behaviour when he sees it locally. Once again, it is going to fall on ‘everyday’ Australians to stand beside other Australians and offer support. We know that every time one of these fools in parliament opens their ignorant potty mouths to belittle or shame a member of OUR community, there is a spike in the persecution of those named.
    It’s ironic that Lay-on-him wants to promote discussion of Euthanasia as a ‘state rights issue’. Ironic because I want to write to Philip Nitschke and suggest he trial some of his ‘methods’ in Canberra.
    Our parliament would be funny, if they weren’t so fecking dangerous.
    Thank you Dr Kampmark and commenters. Take care

  13. Josephus

    I listened yesterday to the self-satisfied, smarmy voice of Leyonhelm (sp?) talking insultingly about a Greens Senator, then for good measure made myself listen to Anning’s stupid, slow voice say how he loved Bjelke Petersen, went on to quote Gramsci (mispronounced) several times both for being a communist and not being a communist, to utter Nazi terms and call repeatedly for Christian values, managing also to wipe out the ancient civilisations of this continent by assuming history started with Christian whites. My mind drifted to the chapter in Voltaire’s Candide where he describes with furious irony the edifying spectacle of clandestine Jews being burnt alive at the stake to the sound of cantata. Shame on Australia. Shame on a system that allows such vile people to speak in our Parliament.

  14. wam

    Those who think the jew/christian/muslim theme of god – clay – man is as unlikely as a rainbow serpent, are able to accept that women made from and for man is a logical extension for bible-based men and their god-flawed women concluding religion is by men for men.
    When TV came to town it was via a microwave link from Queensland. The news was all about jo and we laughed at him. Little understanding we were in for a 30 year copy of arrogant boys and their sconed ladies. Till, in the new century, a woman ‘miraculously’ rescued us. With but a giles blip, women are still leading. Soon to be followed throughout Australia. (If god becomes genderless)

    ps the hijab supporters might think about the sexism of ‘letting your hair down’?

  15. Kaye Lee


    ” the hijab supporters might think about the sexism of ‘letting your hair down’?”

    And we all might think about why people dye their hair. Or why people wear make-up. Or why women wear stilletto heels. Or why we think women are houseproud and like to shop and cook. Or why people chant meaningless phrases during arcane rituals pretending to eat the body and drink the blood of a supernatural being.

    If people are forced to do these things then I will protest. If they do them by choice, then that is their right.

  16. Rhonda

    I’m speechless. ’tis a pity many in power are not. Kudos to Binoy and others here and elsewhere for your eloquence and critiques. We are living in brutal times & ugly times

  17. Matters Not

    Clearly Anning wasn’t the only contributor to that speech (too many stumbles, mispronunciations and the like) and now Pauline Hanson has belled the cat:

    The One Nation leader said former staffer Richard Howard was behind the address, which has been widely condemned.

    Senator Hanson said Mr Howard’s words were straight from Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels’ handbook.

    “I am appalled by Fraser Anning’s speech. We are a multiracial society and I’ve always advocated you do not have to be white to be Australian,” Senator Hanson told parliament on Wednesday.

    Lots of irony nevertheless, given Hanson employed Richard Howard in the first place and included Anning on the PHON ticket after a supposed careful screening.

    Looking at the bigger picture, it was Hanson who demonstrated that an outrageous maiden speech can enhance future electoral prospects. Thus Anning is probably well satisfied with the outcome. Monkey see – monkey do.

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