Saturday 11 August 2018

Burqas, Boris and the BBC

There’s an ugly intolerance of honest expression afoot in our era, and we should notice. When entirely respectable people start saying that women who choose (or are forced) to cover their faces in public should be shielded from the knowledge that most of Britain hates this practice, then we’d better watch out. 

Not a woman in a burqa

If you spend too much time monitoring the BBC, reading Twitter and keeping up with the latest news and views from politicians and pundits via the media (guilty as charged) then you might find yourself surprised at the public's reaction to the Boris/burka story. 

And even I've been surprised at the dismissive/incredulous reactions I've heard about this story - especially as some of them have come from my most Boris-hating, Brexit-loathing friends. 

If even they think that that Boris in this case had done (and said) nothing wrong and that there's actually something sinister about the criticism of him then maybe his critics should pause for thought. 

(Naturally, a couple of them also expressed the hope that the row might, nevertheless, finish him as a politician.) 

How representative this is I can't say, but Sky News did a poll that reinforces my impressions. The number of people saying that Boris's 'letter box' and 'bank robber' comparisons aren't racist vastly outnumbered those saying the comparisons are racist. And the numbers for banning the burka were even starker (making Boris far more liberal than the bulk of the British public on the matter). 

Rod Liddle, writing in the latest Spectator, disagrees with Boris Johnson for comparing burka-wearing women to post boxes and bank robbers saying that comparisons to Darth Vader are more appropriate. 

I'd disagree with Rod too. I think the best comparison (albeit not a particularly funny one) is with the outfit sported by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Both white supremacist white-hooded KKK outfits and Wahhabi-inspired Muslim supremacist black-hooded burkas have a deliberately intimidating, hostile character and a ghost-like appearance. (Where are Scooby, Shaggy, Daphne, Fred and Velma when you need them?)

Not a woman in a burqa

I've not heard the totality of the BBC coverage of this story, or anything even approaching it (given the sheer scale of it), but I've seen and heard enough - and Sue's posts have reinforced my feeling that it's been 'very BBC' in spades. 

I was driving to work the other morning and heard Mishal Husain on Today giving some critic of Boris a staggering uncritical interview. I thought "I really must transcribe that - or at least the questions - to show how bad it was". I haven't yet. I'm not sure I can even be bothered to find it now. You can doubtless guess how it went....

....oh OK, I can't just write that and move on. Plus I've found it. It was on Tuesday morning at 7.20 and Mishal was interviewing Fiyaz Mughal of Tell Mama, who was sharply critical of both Mr Johnson and the Conservatives, accusing Boris of 'Islamophobia' and the Tories of doing "nothing". Here are her often leading questions in full:

  • Do you think this column amounts to Islamophobia?
  • And if you consider this, as you just said you do, Islamophobia and this is a serving MP that we're talking about, until very recently our Foreign Secretary, what should the Conservative party and indeed the Government do about it?
  • Yeah, just before we talk about that, just going back to the Government response - a Government spokesman did make a general response saying "all hate crimes are unacceptable". There was nothing specific about the Boris Johnson comments. What did you think of that?
  • And if these had been comments calling the dress of an ultra-orthodox Jew, for example, ridiculous do you think there would have been a very different response?
  • And yet you did meet the Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis, didn't you? Indeed you went to meet with this because these allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party have been around for a while. There was a statement that Brandon Lewis made after that saying that the party would and has acted swiftly in disciplining members who have expressed unacceptable attitudes towards Muslims, that he was going to work to improve awareness of discrimination, promote inclusion, you know, stress the importance of promoting tolerance and inclusivity. What happened after?

Mishal, incidentally, was back today, talking to two Muslim-background comediennes about Rowan Atkinson's defence of Boris. Guess what? Both comediennes disapproved of what both Boris and Rowan Atkinson had said. One pronounced herself "sad" at what Rowan had said, the other said she was "disappointed". Both then laid into them. I smiled when one of the talked of "the freedom to give both sides", as we certainly weren't getting that in this interview.

Not a woman in a burqa. (It's actually the BBC's John Simpson)

The other proper spot of monitoring I did of the BBC's coverage was to sample the BBC News Channel on Thursday, where the questions put by the presenters were much of a muchness. For example, here's Naga Munchetty to Minister for Sport and Civil Society Tracey Crouch on Breakfast:

  • Tell me, firstly let's address the whole thing about the row in the Conservative Party, do you think he should resign and do you think the Whip should be withdrawn from him? 
  • Do you think he should resign or the Whip should be withdrawn from him? 
  • What are you going to do when you turn up to the many events you go to where there are children, sports children, sports events, celebrating sport, celebrating women in sport and a woman turns up, she's wearning a niqab and someone says, "Well, you look like a letterbox. It's all right for me to say that because Boris Johnson said that"?

And Jane Hill to Conservative MP Andrew Lewer late on in the afternoon:

  • Before we let you go, as a member of the Conservative Party, I'm interested in your views on the former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. What should he do in light of the growing number of complaints that have been made about those comments he made about Muslim women who choose to wear the burqa? 
  • But has he spoiled the opportunity of having a debate which you and others has said should perhaps be had by using such intemperate language, by talking about "letterboxes"?

And The Papers that night had two critics of Boris - Joan Bakewell and John Stapleton - who agreed with each other. (Typically the equivalent programme on Sky News had two people who didn't agree on the subject, which was much better).

No need for me to add a caption

But the most astonishing feature that day was the Victoria Derbyshire programme which had four Muslim women on to discuss the issue. And guess what again? Yes, all four of them, from different walks of life and leading different lives (one naturally with only her eyes showing, agreed with each other that Boris's comments were very wrong and that the burqa and niqab are perfectly fine for those who want to wear them. Not one dissenter appeared among them. And yet we know there are dissenting voices among Muslim women (see, for example, Qanta Ahmed's very interesting Spectator article in support of Boris), so why didn't one get an invite to this discussion?

When much of the population doesn't seem to be thinking what the BBC is thinking on this issue and when so much comment away from the BBC is asking questions that are completely different to those the BBC keep asking, then there's a very serious disconnect between the BBC and its paying public here.


  1. Craig,

    Thank you for that post. I can hardly bear to listen to Today anymore, but gave it a chance this morning for old times sake just in time to hear the Mishal interview with the two unknown "comediennes". I had to turn off when, as you noted BOTH of them were critical of Atkinson and Johnson, the second waffling on that that politicians shouldn't even be allowed to tell jokes.

    Maybe Boris has played a blinder here, or maybe this is just a very clear example of an issue where the metro elite has become detached not just from the public opinion, but from reality.

    I have known several Muslim women on my travels and none, repeat none, WANTED to wear a burqa, niquab or even hijab. BUT family and community pressure is there. "Pressure" btw includes beating and verbal abuse. The BBC (and Mrs May) not only ignores this, but is very effectively undermining Muslim women's freedom of choice by siding with the idealogues.

    It's not just that is not a good look, but it also exposes to us all that the priorities of the BBC and their ilk are not our priorities and that they would, and have, dissed our freedoms just as easily. A touchstone issue indeed.

    1. To wear a burqa, niquab or hijab suggests to me that the wearer would prefer isolation to engagement and wishes to have nothing whatsoever to do with anyone else on a personal level outside their home. This surely is the antithesis of an inclusivity which might in the future lead to a tolerant integrated and cohesive community. To point this out isn't being racist.

  2. Organisations subconsciously employ likeminded people whose values mirror their own. That how business cultures work. People who don’t fit in leave or don’t get promoted. Over the years, natural selection means that eventually everyone employed there have similar values and politics.

    The BBC and burqagate is a perfect example of this, they all think alike in their echo chamber even if they are completely out of sync with public opinion.

    Their faux outrage is pure politics in action where the liberal left clique within the BBC set out to damage Boris because he is at odds with the BBC groupthink.

  3. There now seems to be a new criticism of Boris comments on the grounds that his comments have made the “debate” about the wearing of burkas impossible. I can concede that a hardcore of burka wearers might become even more hardcore in response, but if anything the opposite is the case. I’m not even sure that up to now there has been a debate. The BBC position is most curious. If they were really so concerned about the fragility of this elusive “debate” why have they given such a disproportionate amount of airtime to the whole affair. They have no hesitation in closing down the discussion on subjects that they don’t like, by either not reporting them or deliberately leaving out important details. But not this time. I’m no particular fan of Boris Johnson, but this has clearly been a witch hunt from the beginning. It’s just another great anti-Boris story with the chance to virtue signal as an added treat.

  4. It’s these type of OTT news items that damage trust with the public. But they are not open minded enough to see it.

  5. Good to hear Parris state that. But Parris has been part of the problem through his intemperate remarks on Brexit and anyone who supports Brexit. Rather, than submitting to the democratic will, he has sought to subvert it. Rather than egnage in honest debate, he has sought to trash,vilify and belittle those who support it. He has been one of the big players in the "Anathametise Boris" campaign supported so strongly by the BBC. He got a big thumbs up from Billy Bragg for describing Boris as lying, reckless and unprincipled:

    The anti-Boris campaign provided the setting for trying to extinguish free speech in the UK (ably abetted by the Police - Cressida Dick reluctantly admitting that despite the best legal brains being applied to the case, it had to be concluded no crime had been committed).

  6. It's been all over the media, including the BBC, for seven days now. But try finding the quarterly employment figures or some important business news on the BBC News website. You'll have to search and search, trying one thing after another, until eventually you uncover it, tucked away in some corner. Someone says a 'wrong' word though or some singer decides to retire and you can't escape the headline, the image, the video, possibly the Q and A and the discussion, while looking for actual news.

    And after seven days of this saturation, the media haven't been discussing the actual social question but a deflection from it into the BBC's favourite topic: racism. Right up their street.

    1. It's been noticed elsewhere how they failed to report on the stabbing of an off duty Police officer by a moped gang. They have very weird priorities, and we know why they do, because they have their PC world-view.


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