One hundred Muslim women who wear a burka or niqab have written to Tory chairman Brandon Lewis to demand Boris Johnson be thrown out of the Conservative Party.
In a letter to the party on Thursday, the women say Johnson made a “deliberate choice” to inflame tensions, which could pave the way for “bigots to justify hate crime”.
Speaking as “free women who are able to speak for ourselves”, the group warns “all personal choices should be respected”, adding that an apology from Johnson would be “insufficient”.
Former Foreign Secretary Johnson sparked outrage when he compared burka-wearing Muslim women to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers” in a Sunday Telegraph column, in which he argued against a ban on face veils.
The women also hit out at Tory MP Nadine Dorries, who called the row over Johnson’s comments “manufactured outrage” and joined calls, including those made by ex-party chair Sayeeda Warsi, for a full inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory Party.
Johnson is also facing an investigation by his party after several complaints were made about his remarks.
According to the party’s code of conduct, members should not use their position to “bully, abuse, victimise, harass or unlawfully discriminate against others”, with the prospect of suspension or expulsion for those found to be in breach.
Theresa May backed Tory chairman Lewis, who has called for Johnson to apologise, and said her former cabinet minister had “clearly caused offence”.
But a leading imam backed Johnson and said that facial maskings were “un-Muslim” and contributed to “gender-inequality and inhibiting community cohesion”.
Taj Hargey, the imam at Oxford Islamic Congregation, said while Johnson’s choice of language was unfortunate, the burka and niqab are “a nefarious component of a trendy gateway theology for religious extremism and militant Islam”.
Other Johnson supporters have said it is “ridiculous” his views were being “attacked”.
The Letter In Full
Dear Brandon Lewis,
We, the undersigned, write to you as British Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa.
We speak as free women who are able to speak for ourselves and make our own choices. Our decision to wear the niqab or burqa is not an easy one, especially given the hate that many of us experience on a regular basis. Nevertheless we do so because we believe it is a means to get closer to God.
We recognise that this is not the practice of the majority of Muslim women and that it is a very small number who make this choice in the UK. All personal choices should be respected.
Contrary to what you may have been told by sections of the media and columnists who profess to know what is best for us, we are not forced to make these clothing choices, nor are we oppressed.
As women who wear the niqab or burqa, we have not forfeited our right to be treated fairly and as equal citizens in this country. Yet we have representatives of our governing party who think otherwise and who use Muslim women in order to pander to far-right Islamophobes within the party, as Boris Johnson has done.
We understand that you have requested Mr Johnson to apologise.
As chairman of a party that seeks to represent the whole country, which protects individual liberty as a cherished British value, your call – we believe – is insufficient.
Given a deliberate choice was made to inflame tensions in a way that makes it easier for bigots to justify hate crime against us, we concur with Conservative peer, Lord Sheikh, who has demanded the whip be withdrawn from Mr Johnson.
Furthermore, given the responses from other MPs, specifically Ms Dorries, and the broader concerns that have been raised by the Muslim Council of Britain amongst others, we believe that there must now be an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Party to tackle this issue once and for all.
Our rights as equal citizens may be debated within wider society, but such vile language which has real consequences for us, should never be acceptable.
We are happy to speak to Members of Parliament to share our experiences and perhaps demystify some of the concerns they may have.
Zaynab, Chadwell Heath