Using accurate similes is a stylistic and therefore moral imperative. Using wrong ones is confusing, misleading and therefore indefensible.
That’s why I think Mr Johnson ought to apologise for claiming that burqa-wearing women look like ‘letter boxes’ and ‘bank robbers’. His similes were inexact.
I haven’t seen many black letter boxes around, while burqas are usually black. And bank robbers may cover their faces, but not necessarily with black stockings or masks. Nor do they always wear black over the rest of their bodies.
Burqas look more like Halloween costumes designed to scare passers-by out of their wits, and in fact I once asked a group of women thus clad if Halloween came early that year. The exchange took place in Hyde Park at midday, and I felt reasonably safe with so many people around.
Otherwise I could have been in trouble, especially if one of the Aishas carrying Gucci handbags had turned out to be an Abdul carrying an AK under his garment.
Avian similes could also have worked much better. At certain camera angles, for example, penguins look remarkably like burqa-clad persons (I’m not being sex-specific on purpose: we have no way of knowing if the garment conceals a fourth wife of a visiting sheik or a runaway male terrorist).
Also crows and starlings have a fair claim to looking just like one of those persons. Admittedly those birds fly and black-clad persons don’t – unless of course the bomb goes off prematurely. But hey, I’m not claiming a perfect simile, only one that’s better than Mr Johnson’s.
To sum it up, I agree with Mrs May, who demanded that Mr Johnson apologise for his inaccurate use of similes… Hold on a second. My wife has just looked over my shoulder and said I got it wrong.
That is, Mrs May did demand that Mr Johnson apologise, but not for a stylistic solecism. What she thought called for public contrition was that his remarks had “clearly caused offence”, presumably to the Muslim ‘community’.
Granted, said ‘community’ is notoriously sensitive about any disparagement of its customs, such as making women cover up head to toe, polygamy, forced marriages, stoning of adulterers, FGM, blowing up public transport or flying airliners into tall buildings.
Now heaven forbid we’d want to offend anybody, gratuitously or otherwise. Civilised people don’t insult one another, unless they are very young and/or very drunk.
Being old and, for the moment at least, stone sober, I wholeheartedly subscribe to that sentiment. However, ‘one another’ are the operative words there.
They communicate reciprocity: we don’t offend Muslims and in return they don’t offend us. Alas, one has to note with chagrin that the Muslim ‘community’ hasn’t exactly kept its end of the bargain.
I’m sure I’m not just speaking for myself when saying that I’m offended every time yet another atrocity is committed by chaps screaming “Allahu akbar!”.
Call me oversensitive, but yes, I’m offended when bombs rip apart passengers on London buses and underground. When knives are stuck into the bodies of my countrymen. When heavy vehicles are driven through crowds, with body parts flying in every direction.
The only thing that mitigates the offence is that those causing it usually die in the process. But there’s no mitigation to the offence of watching whole Muslim ‘communities’ dancing with ecstatic joy in their thousands every time one of those massacres is committed.
A milder offence, but an offence nonetheless, is caused by those ‘communities’ refusing to adapt to the mores of their host country, instead trying to impose their own.
Another offence, less mild this time, is the sight of signs saying “This area is governed by Sharia”. One country, one legal system, my friends, and, one hopes, it’s not going to be Sharia any day soon.
It also offends me deeply to read about Muslim children in places like Bradford who don’t even realise Britain isn’t a Muslim country. How would they if all the tots see around them are Muslims, if they listen to nothing but Muslim radio and watch nothing but Muslim TV, if they’re taught in schools where the Koran makes up the bulk of the curriculum?
Another affront is to see thousands of mosques in Britain, while there isn’t a single church in Saudi Arabia, where you can be arrested for bringing a Bible into the country. It’s that reciprocity again.
The nature of worship in many of those mosques offends me even more, with wild-eyed mullahs preaching hatred for everything I love and openly promoting jihad – against everyone I love.
And yes, now we’re talking offences, I am offended by the sight of those black-clad creatures making our streets look like a Kasbah somewhere in Sudan. I have nothing against Kasbahs, you understand – provided they are indeed in Sudan (and not, for example, in the reception area of every private hospital I know in London).
To his credit, Mr Johnson refused to apologise. To his discredit, he tried to explain himself by steering the discussion away from where it should be.
Full-face veils shouldn’t be banned, he said, but it’s ridiculous that people should choose to wear them.
This misses the point altogether. First, many women don’t choose to wear the burqa. The choice is made for them by their devout, which is to say violent, brothers, fathers and husbands – by the whole suffocating ethos thrust down their throats so deep it can’t be spat out.
And why not ban such veils? The idea lacks novelty appeal: 13 countries have already done so, among them those not known for their reactionary social policies: Denmark, Belgium, France, Austria.
In our civilisation, imperfect as it may be, people hide their faces in two situations only: at a fancy-dress ball or if they’re up to no good. Apart from aesthetics, there are legal concerns here, those I touched upon facetiously earlier: our authorities are entitled to see and identify the faces of people inhabiting our cities.
Moreover, in our civilisation women aren’t treated as men’s chattels, which is the attitude behind the veil. All men are entitled to see the faces of all women – this privilege isn’t reserved for the woman’s husband or next of kin.
Another irrelevant point Mr Johnson made is that there’s no scriptural authority for the burqa in Islam. True enough, the garment isn’t mentioned in the Koran.
But it’s not his remit, nor mine, to uphold the scriptural purity of Islam. Whether Muslims do what they do because the Koran says so, or because their culture dictates it is immaterial.
What’s important is that they do things that are clearly incompatible with our culture, one it would offend me to lose.