The ensuing debate over Islamophobia has revealed the extent to which political correctness is stifling free speech in Britain. It has also exposed deep fissures within the Conservative Party over its future direction and leadership.
In an August 5 essay published by the Daily Telegraph, Johnson argued that he was opposed to Denmark’s burka ban because the government should not be telling women what they may or may not wear in public.
The stout Boris Johnson has stood by his comments about the burka after the Conservative Party chairman told him to apologise.The former foreign secretary has been criticised for saying Muslim women wearing burkas “look like letter boxes” and comparing them to “bank robbers”.PM Theresa May has backed calls for Mr Johnson to apologise, saying the remarks have “clearly caused offence”.
But a source close to Mr Johnson said he “won’t be apologising”, adding it was “ridiculous” to attack his views.”We must not fall into the trap of shutting down the debate on difficult issues,” the source added.”We have to call it out. If we fail to speak up for liberal values then we are simply yielding ground to reactionaries and extremists.
However, the founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum said the remarks would harm community relations.Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis said he agreed with Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt that there had been degree of offence in Mr Johnson’s comments, and called on the former London mayor to apologise.The criticism pitted at Boris Johnson has largely been around the words that he used – “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” to describe Muslim women wearing face veils.
But Mr Johnson hasn’t directly responded to the accusation that it is his language which caused the offence.Instead, the statement that has come from a source close to him suggests Mr Johnson wants to turn this into a debate about whether or not women should wear the burka at all.
Keeping a high profile is important to Mr Johnson.He is seen by some in the Conservative Party as a contender for leadership – particularly since his resignation in which he criticised the prime minister’s plan for Brexit.
But he risks being seen as weak if he is forced into an apology by the party chairman.So his refusal to apologise, and an attempt to now put himself on the side of “liberal values”, could be an example of Mr Johnson trying to save face while maintaining his profile.