The former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson recently found himself censured by members of his own party for a newspaper column he wrote opposing Denmark’s decision to outlaw the burka, in which, however, he also stated that the garment—which covers the face entirely except for the eyes—is “oppressive” and that “it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes.” Sohrab Ahmari comments:
[M]ore than most of the dullards who rise to the higher echelons in Europe, [Johnson] has his finger on the popular pulse. He knows that anxiety over the burka courses through the whole European body politic.
Few native Europeans dare voice it honestly. If a former top diplomat is raked over the intersectionality coals for doing so, imagine what would happen to Average Joe. But the anxiety is real enough. And it is legitimate, because the sight of the burka in the public square crystallizes the sense that European immigration and assimilation policy has gone horribly wrong. Concluding that this is so isn’t tantamount to hatred. Constantly bottling up anxiety, moreover, is no less unhealthy for a collective psyche than it is for the individual. . . .
I never got accustomed to the burka. But it was an encounter that I had no choice but to tolerate. I was born and raised in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Muslim veiling was thus not alien to me. Imagine, then, the discomfort of the plumber or electrician from London’s more blue-collar precincts. Now add to that cultural discomfort a prohibition against expressing any discomfort, enforced on pain of social ostracism and joblessness. It’s a recipe for populist backlash.
Does all this mean that I would support a blanket ban against the full-face veil? Probably not. As much as I fret about the incohesive society bred by the burka’s presence in Europe, I also worry about the Continent’s high-handed secular progressivism. I wouldn’t want to give state agents the right to regulate religious practices in Europe, because I’m sure that those agents would go out of their way to target faithful Jews and Christians, not least to shield themselves from the same charge of Islamophobia that they casually hurl at the likes of Johnson.