For me this row over Boris Johnson’s comments about the Burka is about one thing and one thing only; the question of Freedom of Speech not only as a right but also the consistency by which we apply it when we’re stating our opinion about what is “perceived” to be relating to religious beliefs – the key word here is “perceived” which I will address later. In my personal opinion freedom of speech is a fundamental right consistent with our values/traditions but we should also try and avoid prejudices and hateful remarks that do nothing but divide us – NOT through laws/regulations but through sense of common decency and so long as we don’t break existing laws. It is my opinion that these remarks by Boris Johnson were indeed hateful/disrespectful – sad that this also happens to come from a politician. We will not eliminate these kind of remarks by banning them or imposing restrictions, but only by calling them out and more importantly by applying fixes to our immigration system as mentioned below.
Now to follow up on highlighting the term “perceived” above it is because I fear that we are slowly being influenced by the toxic politics & religious trends of the Middle East, thanks in no small part to our flawed foreign policy & interference in the region; and now it seems the chickens have come home to roost. It is not only about foreign conflicts that we’ve helped create but also about our support for autocratic regimes through the Power of the Purse which has become our template for dealing with them. This approach has caused nothing less than infecting our own sense of values/democratic traditions, as well as influencing our culture and directly impacting our own security. In other words the financial incentives we gain through our transactional approach in dealing with these regimes is becoming a liability that is quite difficult quantify.
Let me also take this opportunity to share a few images that demonstrate the remarkable transformations in the “perception” of religion that has been happening in the Middle East – as of the late 80’s/early 90’s when religious scholars preaching the Wahabi/conservative version of Islam began arriving from gulf states and flooding the region – infiltrating family/social structures to preach a conservative – some would say radical – version of Islam. In most Middle Eastern countries where frustrations are many; economic, social and political there was understandably the the inclination to embrace this path; one that provides meaning for life & a comfort zone one that embraces a more philosophical/passive path towards the challenges of life that have become ever more complex; the ultimate bubble solution if you like, one that encourages reminiscing about the glories of the past rather producing a positive effort for Democratic change. Governments in the region by and large encourage or at least do not interfere with this trend because in autocratic regimes in the Middle East anything that helps you move away from the politics of the day – be it political, economic or social – and one that glorifies the leader as some sort father figure is to be encouraged. That’s my opinion/interpretation and we can see the outcome reflected in the informal attire of Cairo University students throughout the years;
Let me also make the point that we may analyse or criticise these regimes anywhere all we want but any form change should be strictly a matter of the internal politics of each nation though we must ensure we deal with them based on our own base value system/standards and nothing else. Let’s not allow the politics of the region affect/confuse our world view; right Covfefe, right Mike Pence of the Past Tense cause I know Present Tense Mike Pence is all but “Mutense”.
As for the Burka itself I have no issues of what some perceive as religious attire so long as it does not clash with the dominant culture/tradition of a nation; and the reason pretty simply is that culture/tradition are foundations for a nation’s identity and therefore these need to be protected. In other words we need to balance our freedoms with the interests of the nation and it’s sense of identity. That said there’s also a balance to be made in addressing this issue since the reason we are hitting this wall in the first place is due to flawed migration policies of the past and as such we need to a) make the necessary amendments to these policies and b) be more delicate in addressing this issue internally within our ethnic communities because we have been complacent in creating this problem. I also happen to believe that we can if there is political will and the right team in place overcome this issue effectively and in short order.
Anyway, some may agree or disagree with the views above, but let’s at least start an honest conversation/debate with an open mind so that we can finally resolve then ditch the subject altogether and move on to more exciting challenges. What do you think?
Hope this helps.