Boris and the Burka Berserker

By | 2018-08-10T20:37:47+00:00 August 11th, 2018|
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Chimpanzees are something like political animals. Much of their lives revolve around manipulating those around them. They hide their feelings. They hold grudges. They have an inherent sense of fair play—they brutally punish the selfish.

In his book Selfie: How the West Became Self Obsessed, journalist Will Storr doesn’t take long to transfuse human blood into the chimp’s bloodstream.

“They keep track of political alliances: if one chimp defends another, it will expect that support in later conflicts,” writes Storr.

Failing to uphold this honor can lead to crisis; fracturing coalitions and unleashing violent pandemonium. Chimps even mete out calculated beatings and political murders.

Once a chimpanzee tops the tribe, he changes tack. He becomes a politician. Though, violence is never off the menu.

Professor Frans de Waal, a primatologist, says in Selfie that ambitious chimps flip from winning fights to building alliances, once they emerge at the top.

“Chimpanzees are so clever about banding together that a leader needs allies . . . as well as the greater community’s acceptance,” he writes. “Staying on top is a balancing act between forcefully asserting dominance, keeping supporters happy, and avoiding mass revolt.”

Ripped from Trump’s Playbook
As you’ve no doubt twigged: Human political theater works the same way.

Though our own political landscape, thankfully, lacks the spectacle of simian punishment beatings, and political murder, the path to power is similar.

This week, Boris Johnson made a few risqué remarks ripped straight from the Trumpian playbook. Naturally, however, he doused them in buttery British eloquence.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the effulgent Boris, now unshackled from Prime Minister Theresa May’s doomed cabinet, likened the Islamic “burka” favored by some Muslim women to a “letterbox” before quipping that the veiled often resemble “bank robbers.”

Crucially, Boris opposed any notion of banning the burka. The column, in fact, was set against the Danish government’s recent decision to join France, Germany, Austria, and Belgium in restricting the niqab and the burka—religious headwear that shrouds the female wearer’s face and body—in public.

Of course, the London claque stewed in its familiar infernal rage, and, as they do, took to the digital bedlam of Twitter to hijack this latest outrage and bathe themselves in confected faux-virtue.

Predictable Outrage
What is telling is that the shrillest voices demanding Boris apologize in an all-too-familiar public shaming ritual, are those most terrified he will soon be prime minister. If Boris gets in, we, the British people, get out. Boris wants a true Brexit. The Metropolitan clique does not.

Picking up on the scent of Etonian blood, Conservative grandee Sayeeda Warsi said she welcomed an inquiry into Boris’s comments, calling them a “dog whistle” to apparently anti-Muslim elements of the Tory base. That base, it should be noted, recently declared its preference for Sajid Javid as the future leader of their party. Javid is of Muslim heritage.

So, despite Boris taking the admirably liberal stance of opposing an illiberal measure, and pointing out that the burka and its peculiarities have no Koranic scriptural basis, his detractors still call for his floppy blonde mop. The party chairman has called for an investigation.

Even the Prime Minister demanded an apology, which is so far, unheeded.

Surprising Agreement
But the London set has lumbered into a minefield. Not only are grassroots Conservatives foaming at what they call a “kneecapping” of their now preferred choice to replace Theresa May, but the wider public is behind him, too.

Awkwardly for the enbubbled, a Sky Data poll found 60 percent of British people didn’t think Boris’ comments were “racist.”

They’ll be undoubtedly aghast to find out that Boris is actually against majority opinion. When asked, 59 percent of people told the same pollsters that wearing the burka in public should be banned.

If the Metropolitans hoped to score virtue-points with their designated victims, they are again set for disappointment. Dr. Taj Haregy, a leading Imam, said that Boris should not apologize for “telling the truth,” before arguing that his comments didn’t go far enough.

Saying that face coverings held no “Koranic legitimacy,” Hargey said Arab fashions such as the burka were a lurid cudgel of “a toxic patriarchy controlling women.”

“If Britain is to become a fully integrated society then it is incumbent that cultural practices, personal preferences, and communal customs that aggravate social division should be firmly resisted,” he told The Times newspaper. “For this reason Britain must emulate France, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria and Denmark in banning the burka.”

Maajid Nawaz, a reformist Muslim and head of the left-of-center counterextremism Quilliam think tank, said the burka invited “ridicule,” dubbing it the “uniform of medieval patriarchal tyranny.”

It All Boils Down to Brexit—and Greatness
But that isn’t what this skirmish is really about. Boris has been on maneuvers since bouncing from Theresa May’s cabinet following the release of her plan to leave the European Union in name only. The fallout has been nuclear. May’s standing has plummeted with the working-class who deserted Labour to vote Tory, many for the first time.

They want Boris. And so does President Trump, who told The Sun newspaper recently that Boris would make a “great Prime Minister.”

Because the two share similarities, it’s easy to see the appeal. Both speak from the hip. Both have a molto simpatico with the working-classes. Both can play the media like a fiddle. Both offer a vision which rejects the status quo and its progressive historical guilt-trip.

Like in America, the deposed and the defenestrated haven’t grasped the nettle. Politics has changed. Countries across Europe are turfing out the mild-mannered in favor of those who say they’ll get things done. They don’t believe that a managed decline into irrelevance is the best they should hope for.

Trump wants to Make America Great Again. The Brexit campaign urged us to “Take Back Control.”  Boris has a Churchillian obsession with a Britain which quite rightly used to claim to be “Great.”

This is offensive to the progressive chatterati because to look back to former greatness negates their insistence that only their progression will make for perfection.

But spend the odd afternoon frequenting the many drinking houses of this country, those still inoculated from the puzzlement outside, and one will find that most ordinary people don’t buy the narrative foisted upon them by their self-appointed betters. Things were better when they were growing up.

And, yes, they do “cling” to it. It’s often all they have. They are humans. They are not monkeys.

Photo Credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

About the Author:

Christopher Gage
Christopher Gage is a British political journalist.