Respect for Religion

Boris Johnson’s comparison of women in burkhas with pillar-boxes was impolitic, certainly, and could be regarded as worse than that if he was deliberately using it to garner support among racists for his bid to become leader of the Conservative party. But how was it ‘disrespectful’? And if so, so what? Why should we have more respect for ancient superstitions than for other ways of life and systems of belief? Can’t Muslims live with a bit of ribbing based on the unusual mode of dress of some of them; just as I had to for being made by my school to wear a ‘boater’ (a flat straw hat) in the summers, or my college to wear a mini-gown in the streets? Is their religion too fragile to allow them to deal with that? (As our pride in the sort of school and university we went to – a sort of religion in itself – was supposed to enable us to laugh off the abuse we got hurled at us in our boaters and gowns by the plebs.) Why should the feelings of burkha-wearing Muslims be regarded as particularly sensitive and important; something, indeed, that should be protected by law?

I have no love, or even ‘respect’, for Boris Johnson (look at how he was made to dress at Eton!); but in a free society insulting people on grounds of their religion should surely be as acceptable as satirising them on the grounds of their political beliefs. Otherwise what happens is that superstition simply gets a free run; with the sorts of terrible results the blessed Polly Toynbee writes about in the Guardian today: Tolerate religion, by all means – peacefully and as politely as you think it deserves; and there’s some good stuff there – but don’t privilege it.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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