DING ding! All aboard the Outrage Bus – Boris Johnson has written something offensive again in the papers.
The Twitter mob, digital flaming torches and pitchforks in hand, are in full cry demanding that the former foreign secretary be forced to apologise (he says he won’t), that he be sacked (although it isn’t clear from what as he has already quit his Cabinet post) and he be hoist by his unmentionables from the nearest lamp post (although even that would not sate the screeching fury of the rabble for a nanosecond).
So it was with a weary sigh that I hauled myself from the garden deckchair to buy a copy of Her Majesty’s Daily Telegraph to find out what all the fuss is about.
I do these things so you don’t have to (and it is not a patch on The Yorkshire Post).
So unlike 99.99 per cent of the outrage mob, I’ve actually read the article that they are all complaining about.
I am not here to defend Bojo. He is big enough to do that for himself.
But the first thing to say is that a distinction needs to be drawn between the content of the piece, which is a classically liberal defence of tolerance and individual liberty, and the way it is expressed, which includes a couple of cheap and unnecessary insults designed, I think, to provoke.
What many critics have failed to grasp is that Johnson is defending the right of Muslim women to wear the burka if they wish.
Although he describes the garment as “ridiculous” and oppressive”, he specifically argues against the type of draconian laws, enacted in recent years by countries such as Denmark, France and Belgium, which ban women from wearing the burka in public spaces.
Here, here! Indeed, I have made precisely the same argument in this column on more than one occasion.
Although it is reasonable to expect women to show their faces for security reasons, or when they are in public-facing roles in the health service, education and retail, the state had no right to tell free citizens what to wear in their private lives.
We shouldn’t be criminalising people for going for a walk in the park just because what of they are wearing.
No doubt some people find the sight of a woman in a burka to be offensive. Well, tough! Being offended once in a while is the price you pay for living in a free society.
If Johnson had stopped there, he would have received three hearty cheers from me. But, like a mischievous schoolboy, he couldn’t resist a final volley with his catapult at the greenhouse glass.
So he went on to describe women in burkas as looking like “bank robbers” and “letterboxes”. Crash!
The problem I have with this is it is targeted at women, many of whom may be forced into this oppressive garment by their misogynistic menfolk, who also face terrible retribution if they refuse – even though there is no justification for covering the face in Islamic scripture.
It is picking on the weak and vulnerable – the characteristics of a bully.
But was anyone genuinely offended by this? I doubt it. Much of it is confected outrage engineered by lefties wanting to distract from their own anti-semitism debacle and Tory Remainers who want to damage Brexiteer Boris.
What is clear is that the burka, niqab and hijab are used in misogynistic societies as tools to subjugate and oppress women. Some women may wear them willingly, but clearly many do not – as is evidenced by the Muslim women liberated from Isis rule in Syria who immediately rip the veil from their heads and stamp on the hated garments they had been forced to wear.
In many countries, for instance in Iran, there are laws forcing women to wear headscarves whether they want to or not.
Earlier this month, for example, an Iranian woman, Shaparak Shajarizadeh, 42, was arrested for taking off her compulsory hijab and waving a white flag of peace on the street as part of a “White Wednesday” protest.
She was beaten and tortured by the authorities before being sentenced to 20 years in jail.
Twenty years in jail for refusing to wear a scarf! If you want to get really outraged at something, how about that?