The burqa challenges our assumptions about individual rights vs public space

Ben Flatman

The row over the right to wear the burqa in public has blurred the traditional lines between conservative and liberal ideas

Boris Johnson’s recent article on the burqa has brought him unprecedented levels of media attention. The global coverage exceeds anything he got as foreign secretary and appears to have boosted his previously unfancied chances of challenging for the Tory leadership. For a vocal grouping on the left, the perception is that Johnson has jumped headfirst into Steve Bannon-inspired populism. His defenders point out that the article was arguing against a ban (a point seemingly lost on many) and claim the alleged offence caused by the article is largely manufactured. Whether the article was a cynical dog-whistle to Islamophobes, or a misunderstood defence of British liberal values, Johnson has sparked a debate that has ramifications that go far beyond the veil itself.

What makes the veil such a potent symbol in the West, is the way in which it challenges contemporary assumptions about how women and religion should interact with shared space. It is a religious, cultural and political statement rolled into one.

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