The last time I can recall Rowan Atkinson raising his head above the parapet to give an opinion on political matters, I thought he was right.
Not so sure about this one, though.
Mr Atkinson has defended remarks made by Boris Johnson in a Torygraph article, in which he suggested that women wearing burqas look like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.
Mr Atkinson reckons it was a good joke.
I can only say, paraphrasing one of his own sketches: “Good? No. Joke? … No.”
Boris Johnson is a man with a history of racist behaviour that has been well-quoted here and in the mainstream media. He has ‘form’ when it comes to offending people of other cultures.
Therefore we may assume there was a malicious intent behind his words.
If they had appeared in a comedy sketch on TV, spoken by a character we were supposed to find amusing for his views, then it would be a different matter.
That said, Mr Johnson has shone the spotlight on a difficult issue.
Some people do find the burqa a questionable item of clothing.
Some are intimidated by it, and by those who wear it.
Many have pointed out that there is no way of verifying the identity of the person wearing it. Mrs Mike has even suggested it would be hard to be sure, even, of their gender.
She referred to the question of how their identity is checked at airports, saying that women wearing face-coverings are routinely excused from the kind of checks that other people have to undergo. I can confirm that this is not true.
UK Border Agency guidance makes it clear that: “It is a requirement that Border Force Officers always establish the nationality and identity of all passengers. Officers are requested that passengers wearing veils or other face coverings ask to remove the covering in order that they may be identified as the rightful holder of their passport or travel document.”
(This sentence seems garbled. I think they mean officers are encouraged to ask passengers wearing veils or other face-coverings to remove them for the purposes of identification.)
“The UK Border Agency recognises that individual sensitivities must be taken into consideration, therefore if a passenger is uncomfortable removing their face covering in public they are escorted to a private room away from the border checkpoint and asked to uncover their face there.
“Female passengers, who are uncomfortable removing a face covering in public and/or in the presence of males, are checked in private by a female officer.”
The other issues are less easy to answer. It occurs to me that, as there is a perceived problem, perhaps Muslim women would be best-placed to tackle it, with an effort to allay the fears of those who question the use of this particular item of apparel, and the need for it.
This is an instance of culture shock – two cultures have collided and are finding it hard to reconcile themselves on certain levels.
The only meaningful way to do that is communication. If Boris Johnson’s remarks trigger an increase in fruitful discourse, then something good will have come from them.
But I don’t think for one moment that this is what that man intended and I look forward to the Conservative Party’s disciplinary proceedings against him.
Rowan Atkinson has defended Boris Johnson after his controversial comments about women wearing burkas.
The actor, known for his comedy performances in Mr Bean and Blackadder, said the remarks were funny.
Atkinson wrote in a letter to The Times: ‘As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one.’
He added: ‘All jokes about religion cause offence, so it’s pointless apologising for them.
‘You should really only apologise for a bad joke. On that basis, no apology is required.’
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