Boris Johnson hides behind veil of free speech to win support of Islamophobes

Oh Boris , was it worth it? If you wanted to persuade voters of your Prime-Minister-In-Waiting-worthiness, was this really the way to go about it?

Of all the topics you could have written about as MP for Uxbridge, you settled on the burka – an item of clothing worn by around 0.01 per cent of UK Muslims and 0.001 per cent of the public.

As a Muslim woman – and one who has repeatedly criticised the burka – I’ve barely given it a second thought lately.

At a time when our NHS is on its knees, gang-related stabbings are rife and a no-deal Brexit seems to be months just away, I’m really not that bothered about the Danes banning whole face veils in public.

In most people’s lives this is a non issue. But, as Boris brought it up, I want to make clear that I’m not offended by his comments.

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I believe in freedom of speech, as long as it’s not used as an excuse to spout hate. And saying burka-clad women look like letterboxes or bank robbers is not a hate crime.

Although it IS ill-judged, divisive and downright rude, even if he did eventually rule out a ban.

Google me and you will see that I have spoken out against the burka many times. I grew up in a Muslim family and had to dress modestly as a girl.

I was never veiled, but when not in school uniform I was expected to keep my body well covered. As a young woman I rejected all that.

I dressed like my non-Muslim friends, and decided that any Muslim who was not westernised like me was probably being controlled by a bullying man.

They were uneducated, oppressed and in need of rescuing.

Either that or they were hostile, anti-integration, and probably a ­religious extremist.

Then, a few years ago, I had a chance meeting that turned my thinking on its head. I’d just finished filming Celebrity Bake Off and was heading home when five women in burkas chased me in the street.

Oh no, I thought, as I walked faster and pretended not to see them waving at me. They’re going to tell me I should be ashamed of myself, that I’m not a proper Muslim – that I had betrayed the sisterhood.

But they caught me up and one asked: “Are you Saira Khan?”

I wanted to lie, but owned up and braced myself for the onslaught. Instead she threw her arms round me and said: “I love you – you were my favourite in The Apprentice.”

Then the others chimed in – praising me for putting myself out there as a Muslim woman and telling me to keep up the good work. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and felt a bit ashamed.

“I’m so sorry if I’ve ever offended you with what I’ve said about the burka,” I told them.

There was an awkward silence, then one of them said: “Saira, just because I’m in a burka, it doesn’t mean I can’t relate to Muslim women who don’t cover up. We don’t think anyone should be forced to wear what they don’t want.”

That little exchange didn’t make me approve of the burka. But it did make me change my perspective.

Because it’s not women who wear it that should be ridiculed or attacked – it’s the culture and rules that take away women’s rights to make their own choices.

And Boris, if you want to win the support of racists and Islamophobes, just be honest about it – don’t hide your intentions behind the veil of free speech.

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